Tuesday, February 24, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.10: There Is No Good Doing (But Much Do-Gooding)

ime duṣkta-karmāṇaḥ prāṇino yānti durgatim |
ime 'nye śubha-karmāṇaḥ pratiṣṭhante tri-piṣṭape || 14.10

“These creatures of deeds badly done

Go to a bad place;

These others, good-doers,

Abide in the triple heaven.

The greatest blessing in life, it occurs to me this rainy morning, is also the greatest curse.

Dur-gatim “a bad place” or “sphere of misery” means mainly hell, but it could also describe any of the other lower saṁsāric realms, including the realms of animals, hungry ghosts, and struggling human beings.

Do-gooders – or “doers of beautiful karma,” “doers of gorgeous karma” – are different from us who are struggling in these lower realms.

Today's verse, then, turns Aśvaghoṣa's usual use of anye on its head. Anye usually means those who are different (from what people expect). But in today's verse anye means those who are different in the sense of being special, or morally superior -- at least in their own minds. In short then, anye, "those who are different," which Aśvaghoṣa generally uses to indicate non-buddhas, in today's verse suggests moral snobs, the sanctimonious.

Reading the word śubha, which means good and at the same time gorgeous, I can't help thinking of a meeting of the venerable that was held in Tokyo some years ago. I was cc'd on an email in which the chairman of the meeting thanked all concerned for their “gorgeous” discussions. From where I sat, the discussions were not so gorgeous, since they were discussions about the publication of the Nishijima-Cross translation of Shobogenzo, discussions that had no right to take place without my agreement. It struck me at the time as bitterly ironic that these religious group-thinkers were getting together in the common delusion that they were doing the right thing, calling each other “Venerable,” when from where I sat their doings were nefarious indeed.

Such irony in today's verse, as I read it, translates itself very easily into English, since we already have in English the ironic term “do-gooder,” by which we mean a person who, with the best of idealistic intentions, intervenes to make things worse.

So in today's verse on the surface ime 'nye śubha-karmāṇaḥ means “these others, under the influence of good actions” (EBC) or “those others whose deeds are good” (EHJ). But the real meaning, below the surface, is “these others who are do-gooders.”

The do-gooders are the ones who think that they are right and are out to prove it. Islaamic fundamentalists are the easy target. But remember the “moral majority” in America of the 1980s – whatever happened to that bunch of hypocrites? The saddest hypocrites of all, as I see them (or see us, I should probably say, in light of the mirror principle), are Zen Buddhists who are proud of themselves for knowing what the right posture is and for sitting in it.

The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the one veiled in ignorance do.

The one veiled in ignorance is the the doer of deeds badly done, who goes to a bad place. Of course he or she is. Of course I am. Of course that applies to us all.

But the one veiled in ignorance is also the do-gooder, the Venerable So and So, who abides from time to time in the Triple Heaven of his or her own gorgeous self-righteousness.

My fifty-five year old self could have helped the sixty-five Gudo Nishijima to see more clearly what Nāgārjuna's words mean. I could have helped my teacher to see more clearly that the whole Japanese religious conception of Zen Buddhism, centred on sitting in the right posture, has been totally and utterly fallacious, founded on a misconception. My teacher sort of knew intuitively that the whole of Japanese Buddhism had strayed off the mark, but he couldn't see why exactly, and it was hard for him to recognize to what extent his own teaching was part of the problem.

Neither, in fact, could my forty-year old self clarify this for the benefit of Gudo's eighty-year old self.

That's why it occurs to me this morning that getting old is the greatest blessing, and also the greatest curse.

ime (nom. pl. m.): these
duṣkṛta-karmāṇaḥ (nom. pl. m.): of deeds badly done

prāṇinaḥ (nom. pl. m.): m. a living or sentient being , living creature , animal or man; mfn. breathing , living , alive
yānti = 3rd pers. pl. yā: to go
durgatim (acc. sg.): f. misfortune , distress , poverty , want of (gen.) ; hell

ime (nom. pl. m.): these
anye (nom. pl. m.): others, ones who are different
śubha-karmāṇaḥ (nom. pl. m.): of good or virtuous deeds ; acting nobly

pratiṣṭhante = 3rd pers. pl. prati-√sthā: to stand , stay , abide , dwell ; to establish in , appoint to (loc.)
tri-piṣṭape n. = tri-diva , indra's heaven
tri-diva: the 3rd or most sacred heaven , heaven (in general)
piṣṭapa = viṣṭapa: n. forking or bifurcation (of an udumbara branch) ; a world = viṣṭap
viṣṭap: f. top , summit , surface , highest part , height (esp. of heaven)

觀察惡業者 當生惡趣中
修習善業者 生於人天中 

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