Sunday, February 8, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.67: Sitting Now, In an Act of Standing

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bhadrā)
bodhāya karmāṇi hi yāny anena ktāni teṣāṁ niyato 'dya kālaḥ |
sthāne tathāsminn upaviṣṭa eṣa yathaiva pūrve munayas tathaiva || 13.67

For now is the time determined by those actions

Which he did for the sake of awakening;

Thus, in this act of firm abiding, he is sitting –

Just like the sages of the past.

The opening word of today's verse, bodhāya means “for the sake of awakening” or “in service of the truth of bodhi.” And the lovely idea is that a bodhisattva's practice is done not in a self-serving way, not out of any personal agenda, but solely for the sake of awakening.

If only that were more often true, the world might be a place where buddhas were very easily met. The fact though is that we human beings usually have in us somewhere some sneaking sense of “what's in it for me?” – as described at great length, which much repetition, in this old sutra.

The 3rd pāda of today's verse is an open invitation for a translator to cause centuries of havoc by interposing his own view.

Remembering, as per the concluding verse of Nāgārjuna's MMK, that the Buddha, taking pity, taught the true Dharma as the abandoning of all views, how are we to handle sthāne tathāsminn upaviṣṭa eṣa ?

EBC translated:
To-day is the appointed period of all those actions which have been performed by him for the sake of knowledge, — he is now seated on this seat just as all the previous saints have sat.

EHJ translated:
For to-day is the appointed time for the ripening of those deeds which he has done in the past for the sake of illumination. Thus he is seated in this place exactly like the previous sages.

Both EBC and EHJ thus translated upaviṣṭa eṣaḥ as “he is seated.”

EBC read sthāne... asmin as “on this seat” and EHJ as “in this place.”

Taking the first word given in the MW dictionary for upaviṣṭa (seated) and for sthāna (the act of standing), leads to
  • Thus he is seated in this act of standing...
Other possibilities include
  • Thus he is sitting in this posture
  • Thus he is sitting in this position
  • Thus he is sitting in this state
  • Thus he has entered into this state
  • Thus he has settled in this act of staying firm
  • Thus he has settled on this act of staying firm
  • Thus he has come to this act of staying firm
  • Thus he has devoted himself to this act of staying firm
  • Thus is he applying himself to this act of staying firm... et cetera, et cetera
When we see it in this light, translating Aśvaghoṣa is an exercise in seeing the futility of trying to be right. All of these translations are right, in the sense of being literal, or in accord with the dictionary.

But, for example, “Thus he is sitting in this posture” is a translation that might warm the hearts of Zen devotees described yesterday as following approach (1), whereby the one great matter is just to sit in the right posture. The same translation, however, might exasperate devotees of approach (2), in whose view there is no such thing as a right posture or a right position – although there is such a thing as a right direction.

Again, “Thus he is sitting in this state,” might be a a very nice translation for you, if you think that Gautama Buddha's One True Buddhism all boils down in essence to the balanced state of the autonomic nervous system.

If, like me, you see Aśvaghoṣa as one who was always encouraging the reader to take nothing at face value but to dig below the surface, then a good translation might be one that stops the reader up short, causing him or her to stop and think -- for example:

Thus, in this act of standing, he is sitting – just like the sages of the past.

In conclusion, because one cannot win, there might be nothing for it but to follow one's nose, in full acceptance of the truth that translation is a losing game.

That said, there are times when a translation, having been sweated over for long ages, suddenly seems to do itself. The sense on such rare occasions is not so much that I hit the target, and more that I somehow managed to get out of the way and allowed to do itself a translation that now seems blindingly obvious... so how come nobody had seen it before now?

I have in mind, in case you hadn't guessed, the first line of MMK26.10:
saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do.

Coming back to today's verse, I had the idea this morning, having sat on it, to change the translation of the first line from the more literal 
"For this is the time determined by those actions 
which he did for the sake of awakening"
"For now is the moment in which are culminating 
those actions he did for the sake of awakening." 

"Determined" did not seem to hit the target... but there again neither does "in which are culminating," which fails to reflect the Sanskrit grammar, even if it is closer to the original spirit. 

Anyway, when I went online to check the meaning of "to culminate," the Merriam-Webster dictionary offered me at random, as its Word of the Day, 
Revealing smug or false earnestness. 

I think that word jumped out of the screen at me for a couple of reasons. 

First of all, it is exactly the word I would have used yesterday, if I had been erudite enough, to describe Zen behaviour that disgusts me. 

Secondly, as a kind of confirmation that the mirror principle is at work -- so that I am mainly disgusted by those faults manifested by others which I would hate to see in myself -- I realized that I had formed the intention, while sitting, to write something that might be smug. 

With as little smugness as I can manage, I am going to write it anyway. 

I can't help rejoicing that bodhāya and sthāne in today's verse kind of confirm that I have been on the right track in the preceding six verses by seeking to elucidate the underlying meaning in terms of Nāgārjuna's teaching of non-doing, as contained in his description of the 12 links. 

I think the underlying connection has to do with the opposition between 

the ignorance which gives rise to doings 
and that act of knowing which is medicine, a lantern, and a tree that is growing. 

The point might be that truly to do anything just for the sake of the truth of awakening is already to be free of ignorance and free of doings. But we Zen practitioners, in our false earnestness, and in our smug belief that our one-to-one link with the ancient buddhas makes us the ones who are right, very rarely act in practice with such pure motivation. The truth is exactly described, again, in  this old sutra as recorded in Shobogenzo chap. 87. 

I think that sthāne... asmin, then, which I have translated in the end as "in this act of firm abiding," might most truly  be understood to as synonyous with āne... asmin, "in this act of knowing." 

So sthāna (firm abiding) in today's verse, I am suggesting, represents jñāna (knowing) in the preceding verses.

If we truly understood sthāna and jñāna like that, then we might all be sitting in exactly the manner of the sages of the past. In fact, however, we in our ignorance do not understand it like that. We in our ignorance do not sit in this act of knowing; we rather sit, with varying degrees of smarminess, in an act of doing, still wondering -- somewhere in the murky depths of our unconsciousness -- what might be in it for me? 

The problem, then, in a very real sense, is that, earnest though we may be in our devotion to "Zazen," that earnestness is ever liable to be false. We all, as demonstrated with spectacular clarity by the totally smarmy Jundo Jim Cohen, are liable to lie to ourselves. 

The problem, then, in other words, boils down to our not yet having grasped what my Zen teacher used to call "true Buddhist theory." And the solution, as he intuited, might depend on clear understanding of Nāgārjuna's  Concise Statement, from Bang in the Middle, of the Fundamental (mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā). 

So here we go again: 
The doings that lead to rebirth one veiled in ignorance, in three ways [with body, speech and mind], / Does do; and by these actions he enters a sphere of existence. //MMK26.1 // Consciousness seeps, with doings as causal grounds, into the sphere of existence./ And so, consciousness having seeped in, pychophysicality is infused. //26.2// Conversely, once psychophysicality is infused, there is the coming into existence of the six senses; / The six senses having arrived, contact arises; //26.3// And when the faculty of sight, going back, has met a physical form, and met indeed a meeting together, / – When sight has gone back, in this way, to psychophysicality – then consciousness arises. //26.4// The combination of the three – physical form, consciousness and faculty of seeing – / Is contact; and from that contact arises feeling. //26.5// On the grounds of feeling, there is thirst – because one thirsts for the object of feeling. / While the thirsting is going on, grasping hold takes hold in four ways.//26.6// While there is grasping hold, the becoming originates of the one who grasps – / Because becoming, in the absence of grasping hold, would be set free and would not become becoming. //26.7// The five aggregates, again, are the becoming. Out of the becoming rebirth is born. / The suffering of ageing and death, and all the rest of it – sorrows, along with lamentations; //26.8// Dejectedness, troubles – all this arises out of rebirth. / Thus there is the coming about of this whole mass of suffering. //26.9// 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. //26.10// In the destruction of ignorance, there is the non-coming-into-being of doings./ The destruction of ignorance, however, is because of the bringing-into-being of just this act of knowing.//26.11// 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//

bodhāya (dat. sg.): m. waking , becoming or being awake , consciousness ; m. the opening of blossom , bloom
karmāṇi (nom. pl.): n. actions, deeds ; former act as leading to inevitable results , fate (as the certain consequence of acts in a previous life)
hi: for
yāni (nom. pl. n.): which
anena (inst. sg.): by him

kṛtāni (nom. pl. n.): done
teṣām (gen. pl. n.): of/for those
niyataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. fixed, established; determined, appointed
adya: ind. today, now
kālaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the time

sthāne (loc. abs.): n. the act of standing , standing firmly , being fixed or stationary ; position or posture of the body (in shooting &c ); staying , abiding ; firm bearing (of troops) ; state
tathā: ind. so, in that manner
asmin (loc. sg. n..): in this
upaviṣṭaḥ (nom. sg. m.) mfn. seated, sitting ; come to , arrived , entered (into any state or condition)
upa- √ viś : to go or come near , approach ; to sit down , take a seat (as men) , lie down (as animals) ; to enter ; to stop , settle one's self ; to set (as the sun); to apply or devote one's self to , cultivate
eṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. this one, he

yathā: ind. in which manner
eva: (emphatic)
pūrve (nom. pl. m.): former, ancient, of old
munayaḥ (nom. pl.): m. sages
tathā: ind. so, in that manner
eva: (emphatic)

決定成於今 於此正基坐 
如過去諸佛 堅竪金剛臺

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