Monday, December 1, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.119: Back to Pristine Nature

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
tato bhujaṅga-pravareṇa saṁstutas tṇāny upādāya śucīni lāvakāt |
kta-pratijño niṣasāda bodhaye mahā-taror mūlam upāśritaḥ śuceḥ || 12.119 

Then, his praises having been sung by the best of serpents,

The sage accepted from a grass-cutter some pristine grass,

And making a vow in the direction of awakening, he sat

At the foot of the great tree,
placing himself in the compass of the great pristine tree.

If we analyze today's verse in four phases
  1. the 1st pāda relates to songs of praise, i.e. expression of religious veneration;
  2. the 2nd pāda points, antithetically to the 1st pāda, back to the natural world and the material world, where grass grows, where people earn a living by cutting grass, and where grass is a material traditionally used for making a seat to practise yoga (see e.g. Bhagavad Gītā 6.11)
  3. the 3rd pāda contains the verse's main verb – the action word – which is ni-√sad, to sit;
  4. the 4th pāda, with its repetition of śuci, pure, pristine, brings the verse together, all under the spreading compass of the great fig-tree.
Probably the hardest word to translate in today's verse is upaśritaḥ, which means to place one's self near to, but with connotations of (a) leaning against or going to for support, and (b) accommodating one's self to. So the sense is of the bodhisattva placing himself in the lee, or the protective shelter, of the mighty tree, and at the same time being influenced by the direction of the tree's growth, upward and outward.

But the real turning word in today's verse, as indicated by its repetition and by its position as the last word in the verse, is śuci. The meaning of śucīni in the 2nd pāda and of śuceḥ in the 4th pāda seems to be pure in the sense of pristine, i.e., in its natural state.

So today's verse seems to invite a connection with the Buddha's exhortation that each should purify his or her own mind, viz (in Pali):

sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṁ, kusalassa upasampadā,
Not doing any bad deeds, undertaking wholesome deeds,
sacittapariyodapanaṁ - etaṁ buddhāna' sāsanaṁ.
and purifying one's mind - this is the teaching of the buddhas.

At the same time, Alexander's words spring to mind:
"When an investigation comes to be made it will be found that every single thing we do in the work is exactly what is done in Nature, where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously." 

As I sat just now, I worried for a while about the state of the global financial system. Will sharply lower oil prices cause an unwinding of derivatives positions that brings the whole horribly deformed edifice crashing down? Then, after worrying like this for a good while, I reflected, due to no merit on my part, but due to the merit inherent in sitting in the full lotus posture, what a long journey it has been to come to the point of understanding that śuci in today's verse means the same as asaṁskṛta, and asaṁskṛta means the same as  śuci

In the opening sentence of Shobogenzo, Dogen describes Zazen as 無為 (Jap: MU-I), which my teacher Gudo Nishijima had translated as "natural." But the character 無 means "free of" or "without." It expresses absence. So I wanted to know: absence of what?  I considered this question in my introductory notes to the Shobogenzo translation, first published in 1994. I knew that 無為 represented the Sanskrit asaṁskṛta but, not being familiar with how the word asaṁskṛta was actually used, that didn't get me very far. asaṁskṛta was given in the MW dictionary, I knew, as not consecrated, unpolished, rude. 

Only recently, since I have been studying the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, has the penny dropped. The key is in Nāgārjuna's statement, quoted many times on this blog in recent weeks, that 
saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the dopey do.

So asaṁskṛta  means "not done" or "not done by doing," and  means 無為 "free of doing."

And freedom from doing is the whole point of the teaching of FM Alexander. 

So a person that could be really useful in the world today, it occurs to me, is a Zen master in the lineage of Aśvaghoṣa, Nāgārjuna, and Dogen who was also relatively well steeped in FM Alexander's teaching of non-doing. 

Hey, wait a minute... that ought to be me. 

tataḥ: ind. then
bhujaṅga-pravareṇa (inst. sg.): by the best of serpents
pravara: mfn. most excellent , chief , principal , best
saṁstutaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. praised or hymned together ; praised , celebrated , extolled

tṛṇāni (acc. pl.): n. grass , herb , any gramineous plant , blade of grass
upādāya = abs. upā-√ dā: to receive , accept , gain , acquire , appropriate to one's self , take away , carry off
śucīni (acc. pl. n.): mnf. pure, clean
lāvakāt (abl. sg.): m. a cutter , reaper

kṛta-pratijñaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who fulfils a promise or agreement
niṣasāda = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ni-√sad: to sit or lie down or rest upon (loc.)
bodhaye (dat. sg.): m. awakening, enlightened wisdom

mahā-taroḥ (gen. sg.): m. " great tree " , Tithymalus Antiquorum ; Euphorbia of various kinds
mūlam (acc. sg.): n. root
upāśritaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. lying or resting upon , leaning against , clinging to ; having recourse to , relying upon , taking refuge with ; taking one's self to ; approached , arrived at , abiding in
upa- √ śri: to lean (anything) against ; to lean against , support , prop ; to cling to , fit closely (as an ornament) ; to place one's self near to , go towards ; to accommodate one's self to
śuceḥ (gen. sg.): mfn. shining , glowing , gleaming , radiant , bright ; clear , clean , pure (lit. and fig.) , holy , unsullied , undefiled , innocent , honest , virtuous ; pristine, immaculate

以是知菩薩 當成正覺道
從彼穫草人 得淨柔軟草


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