Tuesday, December 2, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.120: Giving Thanks for 1 Non-Derivative g

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
tataḥ sa paryaṅkam akampyam uttamaṁ babandha suptoraga-bhoga-piṇḍitam |
bhinadmi tāvad bhuvi naitad āsanaṁ na yāmi yāvat kta-ktyatām iti || 12.120 

Then the supreme, unshakeable cross-legged posture –

In which sleeping serpents' coils are rolled into a ball – he took up,

As if to say, "I shall not break this sitting posture on the earth

Until I have done completely what is to be done."

As luck would have it, I made a first attempt at translating today's verse six years ago to the day, on 2nd December 2008.

At that time I analyzed the verse according to four phases, observing that in the four pādas full lotus sitting is praised as: 
  1. supreme in value;
  2. a bodily mass;
  3. a sitting position on the ground;
  4. total realisation.
That analysis seems to me still to hold good.

On the ground -- bhuvi -- I am reminded afresh, means on this planet earth, with its pull of 1g remaining equal, so they say, to 9.80665 m/s2 . (I must admit I didn't do this calculation myself.)

Otherwise, three lines of the Chinese translation of today's verse strike me as featuring combinations of characters that I recognize from Shobogenzo and which seem worthy of comment. The three lines I refer to are:

righting the body and so sitting at ease, 
cross-legged, without inclining or moving,
like a dragon with tightly wound body...

In the line 正身而安坐, “righting the body and sitting at ease,正身 can be translated as “righting the body” or “allowing the body to be true.” 正身 is a compound of Chinese characters that Dogen uses in his instructions for sitting-zen (Fukan-zazengi). He uses it in the phrase 正身端坐 (SHOSHIN-TANZA [shi te...]), “Sit upright, righting the body” or “Sit upright, allowing the body to right itself” or, more simply, “Sit upright!”

In the line 加趺不傾動, “cross-legged, without inclining or moving,” 加趺 is as in the phrase 結跏趺坐, KEKKAFU-ZA, “sitting with legs fully crossed” i.e. “sitting in full lotus” – the practice which Dogen praises so highly in Shobogenzo chap.72. And 不傾動, “without leaning or moving” is also a phrase quoted in that chapter (para. [235]). The Chinese text quoted there – a Chinese translation of the mahā-prajñā-pāramitopedeśa – ends with the line 安坐不傾動, “sitting at ease, without leaning or moving.”

In the line 如龍絞縛身, “like a dragon's tightly wound body,” the Chinese translator took uraga to mean a dragon, i.e. a nāga, or “semi-divine serpent” (MW). And 如龍 is also a combination that appears in Fukan-zazengi, in the phrase 如龍得水 (RYU NO MIZU O URU GA GOTOKU), “like a dragon that has found water.”

This nāga, incidentally, is the nāga of Nāgārjuna (nāga + arjuna). In Chinese, Nāgārjuna's name is represented as 龍樹 Dragon Tree." 

In Dogen's instructions for sitting, 如龍得水 is not derivative. RYU NO MIZU O URU GA GOTOKU is Dogen speaking in his own language – “like a dragon that has found water.”

But in the Chinese translation of the mahā-prajñā-pāramitopedeśa, and in the Chinese translation of today's verse, 不傾動 is derivative. In today's verse the Chinese translator's 不傾動 represents Aśvaghoṣa's akampyam somewhat in the manner that a gold exchange-traded fund (etf) represents physical gold.

A gold etf might be a more solid investment than a futures contract, and a gold etf might turn out to be a good and safe investment if the price of gold goes up, but a gold etf is still a kind of paper gold, a derivative product – as compared with the gold that Aśvaghoṣa often refers to, which is physical gold, gold that a person could hold in his hand, gold bullion that a king could guard as a store of a kingdom's wealth.

Sharp movements in the financial markets like the recent sudden collapse in the price of oil, or recent extreme volatility in the price of silver, reflect the use of financial derivatives, especially trading in futures contracts, and especially high-frequency (or flash) trading by big bullion banks like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.

At the present time there are thought to be at least one hundred paper claims on every ounce of physical gold. That every ounce of paper gold is not backed by an ounce of physical gold is in accordance with the principle of fractional reserve banking, and there is no problem with this system so long as confidence in the banking system is maintained. But if confidence becomes a bubble that bursts, then the result is a run on banks, as happened following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Central banks of course want to avoid such a run on the banking system at all costs. One of those costs is the misallocation of resources, and growing inequality, caused by central bank creation of cheap money.

The first central bank to act to save its banking system in this way by “Quantative Easing” (ryoteki kanwa) was the BoJ, the Bank of Japan.

For the past few years, while working on this translation, I have been trying to get my head around what has been happening in the gold market, partly as a gateway to understanding what is happening in the financial markets in general, and what is happening in the world at large. And one of the things that has become obvious is that a lot of distortions in the global economy have originated in Japan. A lot of the money that has been borrowed for trading in financial derivatives, for a start, has originated in Japan.
And, though it may seem fanciful, I see a parallel between (a) real gold and paper gold, and (b) Aśvaghoṣa's gold and the paper gold of derivative Japanese Zen.

Paper gold and derivative Zen are already in a bubble.

Real gold and Aśvaghoṣa's gold can never become a bubble. They simply are what they are. As such, they might be the very antidote to bubbles.

In derivative Zen, which is like paper gold, the emphasis is on sitting upright in the right sitting posture, and the illusion of “right posture” is pursued by direct means.

In the original teaching, which is like real gold, we go back to the root of suffering in ignorance, and springing upright is the indirect result of inhibition of the doings which the ignorant one does.

Can't state it any clearer than that.

Let's hope that when the money bubble bursts there is a soft landing and an amicable resetting of the rules of the game. Let's hope that there is no nuclear war between America and Russia. 

Nobody knows what will happen in the world after the bubble bursts... except that the world will continue to be impermanent, full of suffering, and impersonal. 

But within the totally impermanent world, some things are more constant than others. The pull of the gravity, for example, barring some unforeseen intervention by a very large comet, can safely be assumed to remain at 1g at least for the duration of human civilization – bhuvi – on the non-derivative earth.

tataḥ: ind. then
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
paryaṅkam (acc. sg.): m. a bed ; a partic. mode of sitting on the ground (a squatting position assumed by ascetics and Buddhists in meditation)
aṅka: m. a hook ; a curve
pary- √ añc : to turn about or round , revolve
akampyam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. not to be shaken
kamp: to tremble , shake
uttamam (acc. sg. m.): uppermost, highest; best, excellent

babandha = 3rd pers. sg. perf. bandh: to bind , tie , fix , fasten , chain , fetter ; to join , unite , put together or produce anything in this way , e.g. fold (the hands) , clench (the fist) , knit or bend (the eyebrows) , arrange , assume (a posture) ,
suptoraga-bhoga-piṅḍitam (acc. sg. m.): with sleeping-serpent coils rolled into a ball
supta: mfn. sleeping ; lain down to sleep (but not fallen asleep) ; paralysed , numbed , insensible ; resting , inactive , dull , latent
uraga: m. " breast-going " a serpent , snake ; a nāga (semi-divine serpent usually represented with a human face)
bhoga: m. any winding or curve , coil (of a serpent) the expanded hood of a snake ; a snake ; the body
piṇḍita: mfn. rolled into a ball or lump , thick , massy , densified ; mixed , mingled with (comp.) ; heaped , collected , united , added
piṇḍ: to roll into a lump or ball , put together , join , unite , gather , assemble

bhinadmi = 1st pers. sg. bhid: to split , cleave , break , cut or rend asunder , pierce , destroy ; to open, expand ; to loosen , disentangle , dissolve
tāvat: ind. meanwhile , in the mean time (the correlative yāvat being often connected with a neg. e.g. tāvac chobhate mūrkho yāvat kiṁ-cin na bhāṣate , " so long a fool shines as long as he says nothing ")
bhuvi (loc. sg.): f. the earth
na: not
etad (nom. sg. n.): this
āsanam (nom. sg. n.): sitting, posture, sitting-posture

na: not
yāmi = 1st pers. sg. yā: to go towards or against , go or come to , enter , approach , arrive at , reach
yāvat: ind. so long as
kṛta-kṛtyatām (acc. sg.): f. the full discharge of any duty or realisation of any object , accomplishment , success
iti: “...,” thus

加趺不傾動 如龍絞縛身 
要不起斯坐 究竟其所作

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