Friday, December 5, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 13.1: Sitting There (Not Just Doing Something)

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
tasmin vimokṣāya kta-pratijñe rājarṣi-vaṁśa-prabhave mahārṣau |
tatropaviṣṭe prajaharṣa lokas tatrāsa saddharma-ripus tu māraḥ || 13.1

As there he sat, having formed his vow, in the direction of freedom –

As that great seer, sprung from a line of royal seers,

Sat right there – the world rejoiced.

But Māra, the enemy of true dharma, trembled.

In four phases, again,
  1. the 1st pāda of today's verse says what was in the bodhisattva's mind;
  2. the 2nd pāda describes his genealogical origins;
  3. the 3rd pāda contains the action words sitting and rejoicing; and
  4. the 4th pāda is a figurative suggestion of imminent realization of true dharma.
More natural English would be to put the subject first, his sitting second, and his vow third.

Hence EBC:
When the great sage, sprung from a line of royal sages, sat down there with his soul fully resolved to obtain the highest knowledge, the whole world rejoiced; but Māra, the enemy of the good law, was afraid.
And EHJ:
When the great sage, the scion of a line of royal seers, sat down there, after making his vow for liberation, the world rejoiced, but Mara, the enemy of the good Law, trembled.
Wanting to preserve the progression through four phases, then, has caused me to resort to a repetition which is not in the original Sanskrit – and this is a shame, because it detracts from the elegance of Aśvaghoṣa's original Sanskrit. On the positive side, the repeated element is maybe the element in the verse that deserves to be emphasized, and that element is namely tatropaviṣṭe, “sitting there” or “sitting in the here and now” or “sitting right there.”

Read like this, today's verse serves as a reminder of the truth in the ironic Zen saying, “Don't just do something. Sit there!”

This, as will transpire in the course of the present Canto might be the most effective means of defeating Māra – not doing anything, but just sitting there.

Last night I went to the Argos Aylesbury Superstore and spent the proceeds of an Alexander lesson on a DAB radio and some batteries. When I got back I tuned the new radio in to BBC Radio 4 and what was on but a discussion about Zen -- "a distinctly East Asian form of Buddhism." For the last 15 minutes of the programme, I just sat there on the rug, listening, legs crossed in lotus but with no zafu and therefore in something of a slump, saying nothing but periodically shaking my head at the bitter irony of it all.

One of the academics contributing, Lucia Dolce from SOAS, talked of the importance of correct posture in Zazen. She was singing from the same hymn sheet as I sang from 25 years ago. Maybe the Nishijima-Cross translation of Shobogenzo, with its misleading translations of SUNAWACHI SHOSHIN-TANZA SHITE...  (from memory, something like "Just sit upright, keeping the body straight!") has contributed to the misconception she expressed.  (A truer translation would be "Just sit upright!" or "Just sit upright, allowing the body to come back into balance.") 

The gist of the misconception I refer to is that in Zen the physical, the formal, the ritualistic, takes precedence over the mental. 

This misconception is the essence of Zen ignorance and it is the causal grounds for all sorts of postural doings. 

And this is what the Zen patriarch Nāgārjuna was addressing when he wrote: 

saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ |
avidvān kārakas tasmān na vidvāṁs tattva-darśanāt ||MMK26.10
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra
Thus does the ignorant one do.
The ignorant one therefore is the doer;
The wise one is not, because of reality making itself known.

What Lucia Dolce was expressing was a Japanese philosophy of doing. Having been instrumental in spreading abroad this philosophy of doing, I now find myself in the ironic situation of wanting to clarify the misconception inherent in it. 

The translation of MMK26.10 published in 2013 by Sideris and Katsura, by the way, goes like this:

Thus does the ignorant one form the volitions that are the roots of saṁsāra. 
The ignorant one is therefore the agent;  the wise one, having seen reality, is not. 

So the basic gist of what Nāgārjuna was saying is not in doubt. The grammar of the two translations is pretty much the same. As a translation of   tattva-darśanāt, "because of reality making itself known" and "having seen reality" are both defensible. I wouldn't claim that my translation is right and Sideris & Katsura got it wrong. 

But a sort of breakthrough I had while in France over the summer was in realizing that in the words saṁskārān... saṁskaroti, in which verb and object are from the same root  saṁ-s-√kṛNāgārjuna was giving us an important clue to the real meaning of the 2nd of the 12 links, saṁskārāḥ. 

The clue is that saṁskārāḥ  are not already out there, independent of us. Rather, we form them. We do them. They are our doings. 

Since  saṁ-s-√kṛ is given in the dictionary as "to put together" or "to form well," my first thought was to translate  saṁskārān saṁskaroti as "he forms formations." But the words didn't really seem to resonate with any experience. For some reason it took me some time to see that a much more meaningful way of translating  saṁskārān saṁskaroti is "he does doings" or, better still, "doings he does do." After I started translating Nāgārjuna's words like that, they assumed very potent meaning. That is why I have kept coming back to them again and again in these comments over the past few months.  

"The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the dopey one do." 
That is the story of my fucking life! 

Not only that, it is the story of the Nishijima-Cross Shobogenzo translation effort 
-- The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus did the stupid ones do. 

So now that I have seen it, it seems blindingly obvious to  me. And it is only a matter of time before it will seem blindingly obvious to others. The 2nd link in the 12-fold chain, in the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, is saṁskārāḥ "doings."

saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ |
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do.

That is Nāgārjuna's intention. By clarifying it, ironically, I am repaying my own teacher who encouraged me more than 20 years ago to study Nāgārjuna in Nāgārjuna's original Sanskrit. As I sit in my office now, I see on the shelf above me the copies of Nāgārjuna's MMK (translated by Kenneth Inada), and Coulson's Teach Yourself Sanskrit, that my teacher gave me at that time. 

The irony is that the repaying of my teacher's generosity requires me to be quite ruthless in pointing out the distinctly East Asian form of ignorance which lay beneath his own philosophy of doing. 

Not for the first time, I think of the US soldier surrounded in the Vietnamese jungle by enemy fighters, who called in an airstrike on his own position. 

Inada's translation of MMK26.10 (first published in 1970), by the way, goes like this: 
Consequently, the ignorant creates the mental conformations which form the basis of saṁsāric life. Thus the ignorant is the doer while the wise, seeing the truth (tattva), does not create. 

And here is Michael Luetchford's, from 2002: 
Hence the ignorant produces the roots of samsara, formings. From this the ignorant is the agent, not the wise, because of seeing reality. 

In chronological order, then:
saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ |

Consequently, the ignorant creates the mental conformations which form the basis of saṁsāric life. (Inada; 1970) 

Hence the ignorant produces the roots of samsara, formings. (Luetchford, 2oo2)

Thus does the ignorant one form the volitions that are the roots of saṁsāra. (Sideris &; Katsura; 2013)

The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do.

I am showing it like this not because I want to highlight that my translation is more elegant than previous translations -- although it obviously is -- but because I want to show that the translation which preserves Nāgārjuna's elegance of expression also conveys his original meaning.

The point is that that postural doings in sitting-mediation -- pulling the chin in, arranging the ears symetrically, doing this and that with the diaphragm and abdominal muscles, pushing the floor with the knees, and all the rest of it -- are all born of a fundamental misconception about human upright posture. Those doings are all grounded, in short, in ignorance. 

Quad Erat Demonstrandum

tasmin (loc. sg. m.): at him
vimokṣāya (dat. sg.): m. the being loosened or undone ; release , deliverance
kṛta-pratijñe (loc. sg. m.): mfn. one who fulfils a promise or agreement ; his vow having been made

rājarṣi-vaṁśa-prabhave (loc. sg. m.): sprung from a line of royal seers
prabhava: ifc. springing or rising or derived from , belonging to
mahārṣau (loc. sg. m.): the great sage

tatra: ind. there
upaviṣṭe (loc. sg. m.): mfn. sitting
prajaharṣa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra- √ hṛṣ: to rejoice , be glad or cheerful , exult
lokaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the world

tatrāsa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. tras: to tremble , quiver , be afraid
saddharma-ripuḥ (nom. sg. m.): the enemy of true dharma
tu: but
māraḥ (nom. sg.): m. (with Buddhists) the Destroyer , Evil One (who tempts men to indulge their passions and is the great enemy of the buddha and his religion ; mfn. killing, slaying

仙王族大仙 於菩提樹下
建立堅固誓 要成解脱道
鬼龍諸天衆 悉皆大歡喜

法怨魔天王 獨憂而不悦 


Rich said...

I was thinking of reading a translation of Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. Do you recommend one or are you planning on doing one here?

Mike Cross said...

Hi Rich,

The doings which are the root of samsara thus might the stupid one do.

I intend to do the translation of MMK chapter 26 anyway, for a start, since it seems to correspond to much of the missing part of BC Canto 14.

Rich said...

Ok, will waitforthat