Tuesday, February 17, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.3: What's In a Name?

amutrāham ayaṁ nāma cyutas tasmād ihāgataḥ |
iti janma-sahasrāṇi sasmārānubhavann iva || 14.3

“There I had this name;

Passing from there, I arrived here” –

Thus, thousands of births

He recalled as if reliving them.

For the less than 30 thirty verses that remain to be translated from Aśvaghoṣa's Sanskrit, I intend to make essentially the same comment as I made yesterday, connecting the present Canto with MMK Chap. 26.

That being so, one thing I would like to clear up is that the description of anybody (e.g. myself) as an end-gainer, or as the ignorant one, should be understood as a kind of shorthand.

Thus in MMK26.10, when Nāgārjuna speaks of “the ignorant one” (avidvān) being “the doer” (karakaḥ), he is describing a deluded tendency in a person who has yet to realize his or her Buddha-nature. And this intention is indicated in the opening verse of the chapter (MMK26.1), which begins, “The doings that lead to rebirth one veiled in ignorance, in the three ways does do.”

The clue is in the compound avidyā-nivṛtaḥ“the one veiled in ignorance.”

The point is that even the most despicable mirror of my own ignorance – the very embodiment of self-serving money-grubbing fame-hungry position-seeking – is not originally ignorant. It is rather that he or she, like me, has yet fully to lift the veil which obscures his or her true Buddha-nature. And so in MMK26.10 Nāgārjuna says, for short, “The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do.” But, to express it more exactly,  “The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does one veiled in ignorance do.” 

FM Alexander used this kind of shorthand in his books. One chapter of The Use of the Self, quoting from memory, is entitled “The End-Gainer's Difficulty with the Means-Whereby.”

When during a lesson with FM's niece Marjory Barlow, however, I described myself as an end-gainer, Marjory was having none of it. “Listen!” she told me. “You either end-gain, or you follow the means-whereby. It is your choice.”

It is the same principle that Marjory had in mind when she cautioned parents not to criticize the child himself or herself, but rather to focus on the behaviour which is undesirable (in which case undesirable generally means, Marjory observed, inconvenient for the parent).

With respect to the thousands of births referred to in today's verse, there is more than one way to understand the teaching of karma and rebirth.

When I expressed yesterday a sense of having been born to solve a particular problem, that way of thinking sort of implies a belief in – or at least an openness to the possibility of – a karmic inheritance that preceded my being born.

What is less speculative, and what I can recall as if reliving them, is births that I have had in this life, each represented by a name. I have been called, for example, (by my maternal relations) “our Michael”; I have been called, (to distinguish me from my friend Philip's older brother, also called Michael) “little Michael.” I have been called (when adopted as an honorary Scot by Glaweigans in Cordoba for the World Cup in Argentina in 1978) “big Mike.” My nickname at school, because I had bright blonde hair was “Snowy.” When I lived in Japan I was variously called “Cross-kun” (by my Zen teacher), “Cross-sensei” (when I worked as an English language teacher), “Mike-san” (when I worked in an office). I have also been called “Chodo.” Again, when I was a student in Sheffield, people often called me “Love” or sometimes “Duck.” In Birmingham “Mate” was more likely. Sometimes people in Aylesbury use “Guv.” In France of course they say “Monsieur.” When my sons were infants in Japan, I seem to remember they called me "Papa." Since we came back to England twenty years ago, it has been "Dad." So that is double figures already, and I realize as I relate them that each name does indeed seem to have strong power to stimulate memory.

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"? 

Maybe that is true for roses, but not always true for the human births which are expressed in today's verse by the word janman, which means birth or re-birth. In the twelve links as listed in MMK chapter 26, the word is jāti, which also means birth or re-birth. 
The doings that lead to rebirth one veiled in ignorance, in the three ways, / 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// There again, 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 (jātiḥ) 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 (jāteḥ). / In this way 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//
So the main point to understand, again, is that the bodhisattva, starting with the suffering (12) that arises out of birth (11), is working his way backwards to the doings (2) that the one veiled in ignorance (1) does do. 

But this should not be confused with some kind of abstract philosophical doctrine. In practice, for example, I catch myself being concerned about my sitting posture and feel tempted to intervene to adjust my posture. But that would be a physical doing. The concern is in fact, already, a mental doing. Waking up somewhat, I see that behind the doing is a kind of ignorance, a desire to feel right which  manifests itself in a trying to be right. I remember Marjory Barlow's words "Let it be wrong!" Then I go up. Then I can breathe. 

This is how I understand the core teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, not as "dependent origination" or "interdependent arising" but as complete springing up, by going back.

amutra: ind. there ; there above i.e. in the other world , in the life to come ; there i.e. in what precedes or has been said ; here
aham (nom. sg. m.): I
ayam (nom. sg. n.): this
nāma (nom. sg.): n. name

cyutaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. moved ; gone away from (abl.); flying away from (abl. or in comp. ; said of missile weapons) ; expelled from , deprived of (abl.) ; fallen
tasmāt: ind. (abl. ta) from that
iha: ind. here
āgataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. arrived, come

iti: “...,” thus
janma-sahasrāṇi (acc. pl. n.): thousands of births

sasmāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. smṛ: to recall, remember, be mindful of
anubhavan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. anu- √ bhū: to enclose , embrace ; to experience
iva: like, as if

從某處某名 而來生於此
是百千萬 死生悉了知 

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