Monday, February 9, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.68: Earth-Moving Samādhi, Right Here

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
eṣā hi nābhir vasudhā-talasya ktsnena yuktā parameṇa dhāmnā |
bhūmer ato 'nyo 'sti hi na pradeśo vegaṁ samādher viṣaheta yo 'sya || 13.68

For this place here is a navel in the surface of the earth,

Wholly possessed of deepest-seated core power;

For there is no other place on earth

That could absorb the shock waves 
from the coming back into balance of this one here. 

As a Sanskrit source text, EH Johnston only had one old Nepalese manuscript to go on (together with some later copies made from it, upon which EB Cowell had previously relied).

For the 4th pāda of today's verse, this old Nepalese manuscript had 
veśaṁ samādhe vviṣa yo sya 
(with a gap for two missing characters).

EBC's text had 
veśaṁ samādher viṣayo hitasya, 
which EBC translated “the home of contemplation, the realm of well-being.”

EHJ conjectured, based on various bits of evidence summarized below, that veśaṁ must have been vegaṁ  and the two missing characters must have been heta, so that original text must have read 
vegaṁ samādher viṣaheta yo 'sya.

The bits of evidence included these:
  • The Tibetan translation, which has gaṅ-zhig ḥdi-yi tiṅ-ṅe-ḥdzin-gyi śugs bzod-paḥi.
  • The Chinese translation, which has 能堪受妙定 (EHJ trans. “able entirely to bear the wonderful resolution”; but see below).
  • Similar references to the earth's navel in the Rāmayana (v. 3, 78) and the Mahā-bharata (v. 55).
Subsequent to the publication of EHJ's Buddha-carita text and translation in 1935, six fragments of Buddha-carita manuscripts were discovered in Central Asia, as documented by Richard Salomon (Aśvaghoṣa in Central Asia: Some Comments on the Recensional History of His Works in Light of Recent Manuscript Discoveries; 1999), further to the work of the German scholars Friedrich Weller and Jens-Ewe Hartmann.

Not one but two of Hartmann's fragments happened to cover today's verse.

And so here is the very reassuring fact, which should cause us all to want to tip our hats in the direction of EHJ.

Hartmann's manuscript a has vegaṁ samādher viṣa......
Hartmann's manuscript b has vegaṁ samādher vviṣaheta yo 'sya.

Hartmann's manuscripts thus perfectly confirm EHJ's conjectures.

Having thus established the text of the 4th pāda with a fair degree of confidence, how are we to translate it?

EHJ's translation of today's verse was:
For this is the navel of earth's surface, entirely possessed of the highest power; for there is no other spot on earth which can bear the force of his concentrated thought.

Understanding that samādhi means “concentrated thought” is what caused EHJ to translate the Chinese characters 妙定 as “wonderful resolution.”

The Chinese character  means decided, fixed, settled, set. If you go to a Japanese restaurant and go for the set menu, you will be ordering 定食, “lit. “the set meal.” So expresses samādhi as a state that is settled, and at the same time invites the easy misunderstanding that samādhi might be something rigidly fixed.

But sam-ādhi literally means “putting” (ādhi) “together” (sam-); and hence, in the order cited by the MW dictionary, “union” or “setting to rights, adjustment, settlement” or “bringing into harmony” and thence “intense application or fixing the mind” on “concentration of the thoughts , profound or abstract meditation.”

In light of the definitions of samādhi as “putting together” and “setting to rights, adjustment, settlement,” I think Aśvaghoṣa may have had in mind in today's verse the metaphor of an earthquake in which, after a build-up of tension between tectonic plates, tension is momentously released as those plates come crashing into a new equilibrium.

If we thus want to read today's verse as a figurative description that emphasizes the whole physical aspect of the bodhisattva's sitting – encompassing navel, seat bones, double-spiral musculature, vestibular reflexes, the autonomic nervous system, et cetera, et cetera – EHJ, although he translated samādhi as “concentrated thought,” provided a footnote which, ironically enough, supports such a body-centric reading:
This idea of the navel of the earth goes back to the Rigveda, where the place of Agni and Soma is repeatedly called the navel of the earth. That the poet had this in mind is shown by dhāmnā, a word specially applied to the seat of Agni and Soma, and which should therefore possibly be understood here as also meaning the supreme 'seat', the vajrāsana [diamond seat] described at Abhidharma-kośa II, 145-6.

When we hear of a coming back to balance which is like a setting to rights of the earth's crust, as tectonic plates come shuddering into a new state of balance, if we want to experience such rebalancing, our instinct would be to do something that we feel might be likely to take us in that direction. But the Buddha's teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, as I understand it, turns out to be the very opposite of an exhortation to do something. The Buddha's teaching takes us back to seeing that initial impulse to do, as being grounded in ignorance.

Ostensibly, then, yesterday's verse was about that time, more than two thousand years ago, when that person was sitting: 
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.//

But on further reflection, the upaviṣṭa eṣaḥ in yesterday's verse need not necessarily mean that he, that one, was sitting. It might be intended to mean that I, this one, am sitting. Hence (revised translation): 
For now is the time circumscribed by those actions which he did for the sake of awakening; / Thus, in this act of firm abiding, this one is sitting – just like the sages of the past.//

Ostensibly, again, today's verse is about that special place under a special tree in Northern India. But on further reflection, having slept on today's verse and sat, I think that Aśvaghoṣa might have intended me to understand that eṣā nābhir vasudhā-talasya "this navel in the surface of the earth," could be this place right here;  that is, the earth beneath me. And vegaṁ samādher asya, which EHJ translates as "the force of his concentrated thought" could mean the shock waves from the coming back into balance of this bloke here. So not on his zafu, and not on your zafu. Just on my zafu. 

If there has been any such realization on my part of coming back to balance, it has not left me any clearer at all when it comes to knowing what to do. 

What I am confident about -- and I dearly hope that this is not me being in any way smarmy -- is that something dropped into place for me in July of last year, so that now I understand more clearly than my own Zen teacher understood what Nāgārjuna clarified about ignorance  (avidyā) and doings (saṁskārāḥ). 

When on this basis I reflect back on the past 20 years I strongly feel that I have been wrong to call my teacher stupid, or ignorant, for the way he responded to me coming back to England to train as a teacher in the FM Alexander Technique. 

I wish I had had the confidence to smash my fist through the wooden table in his room and tell him to his face that he had been a complete fucking idiot. 

He had been a complete fucking idiot to write me a letter expressing his hope that I would "come back to Buddhism." He had been a complete fucking idiot for allowing, on that basis, Michael Luetchford to drive a wedge in the translation partnership between me and him. He had been a complete fucking idiot for not seeing that the only reason I had come back to train as an Alexander teacher was so as to clarify what he called "true Buddhist theory." 

But instead of that, instead of telling my teacher the truth, when I saw him in 1998, after an absence of three years, I bowed down in front of him with my forehead on the floor. 

Why did I do that (doing being the operative word)? Simply because, like some lumbering oil tanker that cannot be turned around in any kind of a hurry, I was still trying to be right. 

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

eṣā (nom. sg. f.): this
hi: for
nābhiḥ (nom. sg.): f. navel
vasudhā-talasya (gen. sg.): n. the surface of the earth , the earth ; the ground, soil
vasu-dhā: f. 'producing wealth' ; the earth
tala: n. surface , level , flat roof (of a house)

kṛtsnena (inst. sg. n.): mfn. all, whole, entire
yuktā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. furnished or endowed or filled or supplied or provided with , accompanied by , possessed of (instr. or comp.)
parameṇa (inst. sg. n.): highest, of the highest order, deepest, furthest
dhāmnā = inst. sg. dhāman: n. dwelling-place , house , abode , domain ; effect , power , strength , majesty , glory , splendour , light

bhūmeḥ (gen. sg.): f. the earth , soil , ground
ataḥ: ind. (ablative of the pronom. base a , equivalent to asmāt) , from this , than this
anyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): another, one who was different
asti: there is
hi: for
na: not
pradeśaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a spot , region , place , country , district (often in comp. with a part of the body e.g. kaṇṭha-pradeśa , hṛdaya-pradeśa)

vegam (acc. sg.): m. violent agitation , shock , jerk; a stream , flood , current (of water , tears &c ); circulation , working , effect (of poison); impetus
samādheḥ (gen. sg.): m. samādhi; putting together ; bringing into harmony
viṣaheta = 3rd pers. sg. optative vi-√sah: to conquer , subdue , overpower , be a match for (acc.) ; to bear , withstand , resist ; to endure , suffer , put up with (acc.)
yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who
asya (gen. sg. m.): of this one

諸方悉輕動 惟此地安隱
能堪受妙定 非汝所能壞 

, able
, totally
, to accept
, the wondrous
, state of balance, samādhi.

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