Friday, January 23, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.51: When Non-Doing Cheese is Like Doing Chalk

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
gurvīṁ śilām udyamayaṁs tathānyaḥ śaśrāma moghaṁ vihata-prayatnaḥ |
niḥśreyasaṁ jñāna-samādhi-gamyaṁ kāya-klamair dharmam ivāptu-kāmaḥ || 13.51

One who, again, was different,
lifting up a heavy millstone,

Exerted himself for nothing,
his efforts coming to naught;

He was like one seeking to obtain,
through toilsome physical doings,

The peerless dharma that is to be realized
by the act of knowing and by the balanced stillness of samādhi.

Today's verse is another brilliant one. It is also, as we would expect from the last in a series of verse, a difficult one. It would have been more difficult if Aśvaghoṣa had not primed us, in the preceding five verses, to see that the metaphor he has been developing is of a higher order than the similes he has been using along the way.

Each verse in the series of six verses from BC13.46 has featured a simile in its second half which, on the face of it, has carried the main teaching point of the verse. Below the surface, however, we have seen that the main teaching point of each verse has been contained not in the simile, but in the underlying metaphor.

The way to attack today's verse, then, is as we attacked yesterday's verse – by clarifying the metaphor, clarifying the simile, and clarifying the relation between the metaphor and the simile.

The subject of the verse, again, is anyaḥ – one who is different, a buddha who transcends any lingering view you or I might have about how a buddha ought to be; in short, a non-buddha.

The metaphor of lifting the heavy millstone, then, brings to mind Dogen's confession in the opening chapter of Shobogenzo that, when he came back from China to Japan, he felt like he was carrying a heavy burden on his shoulders.

Equally, one thinks of what the Buddha said to Nanda at the end of Saundarananda:
Therefore forgetting the work that needs to be done in this world on the self, do now, stout soul, what can be done for others. / Among beings who are wandering in the night, their minds shrouded in darkness, let the lamp of this transmission be carried. // SN18.57 //

These efforts, in the direction of transmission of the Buddha-dharma, in Aśvaghoṣa's ironic metaphor, are exertion for nothing, labour that comes to naught. What the Buddha calls a lamp Aśvaghoṣa calls a heavy stone, held aloft with great effort but not necessarily with any specific aim in mind. 

So much for the metaphor. What about the simile?

To make sense of the simile there is no better string of sentences than – you've guessed it – the conclusion to MMK Chapter 26:
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. //MMK26.10// In the destruction of ignorance, there is the non-coming-into-being of doings./ The destruction of ignorance, however, is because of the allowing-into-being of just this act of knowing.//MMK26.11// By the destruction of this one and that one, this one and that one are discontinued. / This whole edifice of suffering is thus well and truly demolished.//MMK26.12//

The point is that expecting to obtain the peerless dharma by doing the doings which are the root of saṁsāra is just ignorance. The peerless dharma is truly to be obtained precisely NOT by toilsome doings, but rather by jñāna (same word in today's verse and in MMK26.11) and by samādhi.

The genius and the irony of today's verse, then, is that Aśvaghoṣa is comparing two attitudes which are like each other in the way that a cake of chalk looks, from a distance, like a cake of cheese.

gurvīm (acc. sg. f.): mfn. heavy
śilām (acc. sg.): f. (perhaps connected with √1. śi) a stone , rock , crag ; the lower mill-stone ; the lower timber of a door ; the top of the pillar supporting a house
udyamayan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. ud- √ yam: to lift up ; to be diligent , strive after (only P. e.g. udyacchati cikitsāṁ vaidyaḥ , " the physician strives after the science of medicine "; with dat. or acc. or without any object)
tathā: ind. likewise, again
anyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): another ; one who was different

śaśrāma = 3rd pers. sg. perf. śram: to make effort , exert one's self (esp. in performing acts of austerity) , labour in vain
mogham: ind. in vain, fruitlessly
mogha: mfn. ( √1. muh) vain , fruitlets , useless , unsuccessful , unprofitable
muh: to become stupefied or unconscious , be bewildered or perplexed , err , be mistaken , go astray ; to become confused , fail , miscarry
vihata-prayatnaḥ (nom. sg. m.): 'his efforts baffled' [EBC/EHJ]
vihata: mfn. torn up , furrowed ; struck or beaten away or dashed out (of a person's hand)
vi- √ han: to strike apart or asunder , disperse , shatter , break , destroy ; to hinder , interrupt , disturb , prevent , frustrate , annihilate
prayatna: m. persevering effort , continued exertion or endeavour , activity , action , act ; great care , caution ; (in phil.) active efforts (of 3 kinds , viz. engaging in any act , prosecuting it , and completing it)

niḥśreyasam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. " having no better " , best , most excellent
jñāna-samādhi-gamyam (acc. sg. m.): to be attained by knowing and integration
gamya: mfn. to be attained, accessible

kāya-klamaiḥ (inst. pl.): by acts of bodily exhaustion
klama: m. fatigue , exhaustion , languor , weariness
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. dharma
iva: like
āptu-kāmaḥ (nom. sg. m.): desiring to obtain

[No corresponding Chinese translation]

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