Saturday, January 10, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.38: Like Chopping Down the Mountain, by the Wisdom of Doing Nothing

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Vāṇī)
ke cit samudyamya śilās tarūṁś ca viṣehire naiva munau vimoktum |
petuḥ sa-vkṣāḥ sa-śilās tathaiva vajrāvabhagnā iva vindhya-pādāḥ || 13.38

Some, having lifted up rocks and trees,

Were quite unable to unleash them at the sage;

With their trees and likewise with their rocks, down they fell –

Like the Vindhya foot-hills when smashed by the thunderbolt.

Integrity (śīla) no more propagates the shoots of affliction than a bygone spring propagates shoots from seeds. / The faults, as long as a man's integrity is untainted, venture only timidly to attack his mind. // SN16.34 // But balance (samādhi) casts off the afflictions like a mountain casts off the mighty torrents of rivers. / The faults do not attack a man who is standing firm in balanced stillness: like charmed snakes, they are spellbound. // 16.35 // And wisdom (prajñā) destroys the faults without trace, as a mountain stream in the monsoon destroys the trees on its banks. / Faults consumed by it do not stand a chance, like trees in the fiery wake of a thunderbolt. // SN16.36 //
Read, again, in this light, today's verse seeems to suggest that when a bodhisattva sits immovably in the balanced stillness of samādhi, then faults implicated with negative emotion and the desire to do harm, like anger and malice, are also rendered immobile. More than that, by the prajṇā which the bodhisattva's sitting embodies, faults are positively felled. 

In terms of a philosophical progression from verse to verse, the reference in yesterday's verse was to the god Indra as a mythological figure, or object of religious belief. The Vindhya hills, in contrast, are geographical features which, though not as high and imposing as the Himālayas, do nonetheless really exist. They can be seen, climbed up, mapped and photographed – rocks, trees, and all.

To put the philosphical progression another way, if you had studied Indra's club at school, it would probably have been in the context of an R.E. (Religious Education) class.  But if you had studied the Vindhya Mountain Range, it would probably have been in a Geography lesson.  This is how Gudo Nishijima taught me to read the mind of the Zen ancestors whose thought processes, below the surface, invariably reflect their past efforts to penetrate the Buddha's teaching of four noble truths. 

As another memory aid, today's verse is also linked to yesterday's verse by the word vraja, the thunderbolt. And today's verse and tomorrow's verse are joined by the word pāda, “foot.”

EHJ translated vindhya-pādāh “the spurs of the Vindhyas,” and spur (merriam-webster: a mass of sharp rock on the side of a mountain) might be the word that best conveys the sense of what is left behind when rocks and trees have fallen down. Just as yesterday's verse and today's verse are joined by the word vajra, “thunderbolt,” however, today's verse and tomorrow's verse are joined by the word pāda, “foot," which I have preserved in today's verse with the translation "foot-hills." 

Finally, on a personal note, speaking of the wisdom of doing nothing, and remaining mindful of Majory Barlow's "I think of doing nothing and then ask myself: What kind of nothing am I doing,"  a person of no little wisdom criticized me a few days ago for seeming to take life more seriously than life deserves to be taken. 

Naturally enough, my first instinctive response to this attack was a kind of deep-seated wish to throw toys out of the pram, to spit out the dummy, and to flounce off in a huff like a big girl's blouse. 

But as I lay in bed this morning, gradually emerging -- I hope -- from the grip of a flu virus, I couln't help suspecting that, insofar as taking one's own efforts too seriously is a kind of doing, the criticism might have had some merit in it. For, in Nāgārjuna's immortal words...

saṁsāra mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra, thus does the dopey one do. 

He who would be the one who clarifies the principle is the last one, in regard to his own doing, to see it. There must be a rich vein in there somewhere for a comedian. I wonder if 55 is too late to begin a career in stand-up?  

ke cit (nom. pl. m.): some
samudyamya = abs. sam-ud- √ yam : to raise up , lift up
śilāḥ (acc. pl.): f. a stone , rock , crag
tarūn (acc. pl.): m. tree
ca: and

viṣehire = 3rd pers. pl. perf. vi-√sah: to be able to or capable of (inf.)
na: not
eva: (emphatic)
munau (loc. sg.): m. the sage
vimoktum = inf. vi- √ muc: to unloose , unharness ; to throw , hurl , cast

petuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. pat: to fall down
sa-vṛkṣāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with the trees
sa-śilāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with the rocks
tatha: ind. equally, likewise
eva: (emphatic)

vajrāvabhagnāḥ (nom. pl. m.): broken off by the thunderbolt
avabhagna: mfn. broken off
ava- √ bhañj: to break off , smash
iva: like
vindhya-pādāḥ: the feet of the Vindhya
vindhya: m. N. of a low range of hills connecting the Northern extremities of the Western and Eastern Ghauts , and separating Hindustan proper from the Dekhan (according to a legend related in MBh. iii , 8782 &c , the personified vindhya , jealous of himālaya , demanded that the sun should revolve round him in the same way as about meru , which the sun declining to do , the vindhya then began to elevate himself that he might bar the progress of both sun and moon ; the gods alarmed , asked the aid of the saint agastya , who approached the vindhya and requested that by bending down he would afford him an easy passage to the South country , begging at the same time that he would retain a low position till his return ; this he promised to do , but agastya never returned , and the vindhya range consequently never attained the elevation of the himālaya)
pāda: m. the foot or root of a tree ; the foot or a hill at the foot of a mountain

抱石不能擧 擧者不能下

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