Monday, January 26, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.54: Not Wobbling, Not Doing

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Rāmā)
teṣāṁ praṇādais tu tathā-vidhais taiḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣv api kampiteṣu |
munir na tatrāsa na saṁcukoca ravair garutmān iva vāyasānām || 13.54

But even as those individuals,
by such sonorous expressions of themselves,

Were causing all beings to tremble,

The sage did not wobble, and did not make himself small,

Any more than would Garuda, at the cawing of crows.

The ostensible meaning of today's verse is once again conveyed by EHJ's translation:
But although all beings shivered at such howls of theirs, the sage, like Garuda at the noise of crows, neither trembled nor quailed.

The irony might be, again, that the sonorous roars Aśvaghoṣa had in mind were the vocal teachings of buddhas, alerting living beings to the truth of suffering.

So why did the sage himself not waver or wobble (na tatrāsa; EHJ: neither trembled); and how did he not make himself small (na saṁcukoca; EHJ: nor qualied)?

If we follow the ostensible meaning, the answer is simple: whereas all other beings were afraid of the howls of aforementioned beasties, the sage was not afraid.

In the hidden meaning, when individual buddhas give voice to the truth of suffering, all beings are stimulated to react unconsciously, except for the bodhisattva who remains single-mindedly devoted to just sitting. In other words, he or she, in just sitting, DOES NOT DO.

All beings are stimulated to react unconsciously because, in Nāgārjuna's words, “The doings which are the root of saṁsāra, thus does the dopey one do.”

The dopey one therefore is the doer. The bodhisattva who just sits is not the doer, because he is the one who allows the right thing to do itself.

This is how, below the surface, I understand na saṁcukoca in the 3rd pāda of today's verse.

This na saṁcukoca (he did not make himself small) contrasts with the saṁcukucur of BC13.52 (they made themselves small). Both verbs are from the root saṁ-√kuc which means to contract, to shrink or to close (as a flower)

In 13.52 I translated saṁcukucur as “made themselves small” and read it as suggesting, below the surface, the opposite of being puffed up with arrogance, or bigging oneself up. But in today's verse the sage na saṁcukoca, DID NOT make himself small.

Ostensibly the contrast is that those untrue beings contracted into themselves when they cowered in fear, whereas the sage was not afraid. But if the real meaning is that those true beings were modest in their attitude, thus making themselves small, in what sense did the sage NOT make himself small?

And the answer that presents itself, having asked this question, is that the sage DID NOT DO anything to make himself small. Equally he DID NOT DO anything to make himself big. He rather allowed a big bamboo to be a big bamboo and left a small bamboo to be a small bamboo.

In that case, what is negated in na saṁcukoca is the idea that I am here to do something. What is negated, in that case, is not the fearful reaction, but the idea of doing something.

The point is that when I am in a state of trembling, I cannot intervene directly to stop the trembling. But insofar as the trembling is the manifestation of the will to do something, I might be able to stop the problem at source by giving up all idea of doing anything. This, as I understand it, is the wisdom of FM Alexander's principle of indirectness. 

When I was at primary school, I was precocious at solving problems. So deep down I developed a certain confidence in my problem-solving ability. Then when I was aged ten, I skipped a year of primary school and passed an exam to go to King Edwards School Birmingham, which was full of people who were much better at solving problems than I was.

Recently I came in passing on the name of an Oxford economics professor named Paul Klemperer. Recognizing the unusual name from school, I checked online and sure enough the dates tallied with the Paul Klemperer I knew from school:

Cambridge University, BA in Engineering 1975-78,
1st Class Honours with Distinction (1st of 240 graduating Engineers).
Stanford University, MBA 1980-82,
Top Student Award (1st of 285 graduating students)

So relative to that kind of superlative brain-box at King Edwards School, I no longer felt so precocious at problem-solving.

Especially in Maths in the first year at King Edwards, this came as one hell of a shock. My confidence took a hell of a battering. Suddenly I had been thrust into an unfamiliar situation of not being top of the class, and being asked by teachers questions that I did not know how to solve. In one maths lesson I burst into tears, which was embarrassing to say the least.

At one stroke, my strength seemed to have been taken away, and my underlying emotional weakness revealed.

As my secondary school career progressed, I manned up somewhat and found chances to shine on the rugby pitch, if not in the classroom. I ended up going not to Cambridge but to Sheffield University, and I didn't shine academically there, either. I put more energy into karate training than into academic study. And thus I ended up, a few months after graduating, in Japan, with the idea of finding a teacher who might teach me Zen and the martial arts.

When I met Gudo Nishijima in June of 1982, he sort of re-kindled my confidence in my problem-solving ability. “You have a very excellent mind for philosophical problems,” he told me. And underlying emotional weakness, evidently, was a problem that could be solved simply by the non-intellectual task of sitting with the spine kept straight vertically. 

If only it really were so simple. 

Gudo Nishijima seemed to me to have the answers to all questions. Everything seemed to make perfect sense... except something did not quite add up.

Setting aside any nagging doubts, we joined forces to make the first full translation of Shobogenzo from Japanese into English. This was a mammoth undertaking initiated, guided and mainly financed by him, but in which the donkey work was mainly done by me. It was a partnership. I have never said anything else. For better or for worse, it was a joint effort. It was incredibly sad that my teacher, in his senility, would come to describe it after the event as “my personal job” and to encourage various of his Dharma-heirs who did not have their own eyes to treat the Nishijima-Cross Shobogenzo translation as if it was the work of Gudo Nishijima and not me. Brad Warner actually stated as much in an email that was circulated among Gudo's Dharma-heirs. I wasn't on that particular list. But I heard from somebody who was on the list Gudo's reply to Brad: “Thank you for your beautiful words.”

After this Brad back-tracked, realizing that he had read the situation wrongly. But the exchange was symptomatic, as I saw it, of wrongness emanating from Gudo. In other words, from where I sat, quite apart from all the garbage that tends to follow in senility's wake, I was aware that it was part of something in Gudo's teaching that had never quite added up. 

This past year, 2014, was the year in which, on one level, I sort of arrived at the point where 12 x 12 finally, at least to  my own satisfaction, equalled 144. And the key – ironically enough, since Gudo had been encouraging me for many years to study Nāgārjuna – was Nāgārjuna's phrase

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

In my “Notes on the Translation” first published in February 1994 I discussed the meaning of 無為 (Chinese: wu-wei; Japanese: MU-I). In the opening sentence of Shobogenzo chap. 1, Bendowa, Master Dogen describes sitting-zen, as transmitted by the buddhas, as 無為. Gudo Nishijima's translation of 無為 was “natural,” and for him “natural” meant in the state of natural balance of the autonomic nervous system. To go back to this natural state, nothing was necessary but just to sit, keeping the spine straight vertically. 

It was all patenly true. And yet something did not add up. On some level, I knew that I had been presented with a problem that I had not solved, either verbally or emotionally. 

For a start 無為 is a negative, meaning “without or “free of .” Free of what, exactly?

From the work of scholars like William Soothill, we knew that 無為 represented the Sanskrit a-saṁskṛta, given in the Monier-Williams dictonary as not prepared ; not consecrated; unadorned ; unpolished , rude (as speech).

What I did not know at that time, was that saṁskṛta is the past participle of saṁ-s-√kṛ, from which root is also derived the word saṁskāra:
(pl. , with Buddhists) a mental conformation or creation of the mind (such as that of the external world , regarded by it as real , though actually non-existent , and forming the second link in the twelvefold chain of causation or the fourth of the 5 skandhas) [MW]

Now in Nāgārjuna's sentence which somehow seemed, some time in the summer of 2014, to cause a light-bulb to start glimmering, saṁ-s-√kṛ is used in the verb saṁskaroti, in connection with the object saṁskārān. Hence:

saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ

In some strange way, it was the desire to find an elegant translation of these words that caused the light bulb to start flickering. In other words, I hit upon the translation first, then the meaning hit me. 

If we follow MW:
The mental conformations that are the root of saṁsāra, the ignorant one thus mentally conforms.

At some point in the process I emailed Ānandajoti Bhikkhu and asked him whether, on the basis of his deep knowledge of the twelve links as they recur in the Pali Suttas, he could permit “doings” as a translation of saṁskārā. His response was not very encouraging, but he did not seem to dismiss “doings” as being totally without merit as a translation of the 2nd in the 12 links.

Then, at some point, the translation seemed to do itself.
saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do.

It was the nearest I shall ever get to a moment like Einstein realizing that e = mc2.

Once the translation had done itself, I wondered how it could have taken me so long to see it.
saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do.
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the dopey one do.
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the idiot do.

The 2nd link in the 12 links is saṁskārāḥ, doings. Simple as that.
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//

This is not the teaching of causality. It does not belong to a doctrine of “dependent arising.” It belongs to the four noble truths. It is the practical teaching of cessation, completely springing up by going back. 

It is the teaching of Nāgārjuna and equally of Aśvaghoṣa.

The big difference between Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna is that Aśvaghoṣa teaches primarily by metaphor, whereas in Nāgārjuna's MMK metaphor seems conspicuous by its absence.

In today's verse, then, Aśvaghoṣa does not describe the bodhisattva's sitting as asaṁskṛta. This meaning is hidden behind Aśvaghoṣa's description of the bodhisattva na saṁcukoca, not making himself small.

But the real point, as I have endeavored to clarify above, is that when the bodhisattva just sat under the bodhi tree, his sitting was asaṁskṛta, not done, and was 無為, free of doing.

This is my right answer, from which I will never wobble. Quad Erat Fucking Demonstrandum.

When it comes to helping others to work this answer out for themselves, however, I am not quite sure yet, after finishing work on BC Canto 14, what my next step might be.

But I shall continue to err on the side of making myself scarce, knowing that, at the emotional level, I have never overcome the kind of weakness that caused my ten-year-old self to burst into tears in the maths class. At that level, there has been no right answer -- except the acceptance that emotional difficulties very often have vestibular roots, in which case unconscious attempts to keep the spine straight vertically turn into a vain and fruitless effort to stop doing by doing. 

While standing on the platform of a train station in Tokyo sometime in the mid-1980s, Gudo Nishijima said to me, "As translator of Shobogenzo, you can become very famous!" With what kind of intuition I don't know, and not fully understanding my own answer, I told him back something along the lines of, "But when that happens I won't be around." I wasn't picturing myself as being dead already.  I was rather picturing myself as sitting in seclusion in some forest somewhere. I do remember that my teacher seemed very pleased with my reply.  He often seemed to have very good intuition about things, even though, when it came to Nāgārjuna's saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ, he was very much the dopey one. 

teṣām (gen. pl. m.): of them
praṇādaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. a loud sound or noise (esp. expressive of approbation or delight) , shout , cry , roar , yell , neigh &c
tu: but
tathā-vidhaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. of such a sort or kind , being in such a condition or state , of such qualities

taiḥ (inst. pl. m.): those
sarveṣu (loc. abs.): all
bhūteṣu (loc. abs.): beings
api: even, though
kampiteṣu (loc. abs.): mfn. trembling , shaking ; caused to tremble , shaken , swung
kamp: to tremble , shake

muniḥ (nom. sg.): m. the sage
na: not
tatrāsa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. tras: to tremble , quiver , be afraid of
na: not
saṁcukoca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. saṁ- √ kuñc / √ kuc: to contract , shrink , close (as a flower) ; to contract , compress , absorb , destroy

ravaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. ( √1. ru) a roar , yell , cry , howl; clamour, outcry
garutmān = nom. sg. m. garut-mat: 'winged' ; m. the bird garuḍa
garut: mn. the wing of a bird
iva: like
vāyasānām (gen. pl.): m. (fr. vayas) a bird , (esp.) a large bird , a crow
vayas: n. a bird , any winged animal , the winged tribe (esp. applied to smaller birds)

[No corresponding Chinese translation]

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