Thursday, February 19, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.5: This World Carries On Doing

ktveha sva-janotsargaṁ punar anyatra ca kriyāḥ |
atrāṇaḥ khalu loko 'yaṁ paribhramati cakravat || 14.5

“Having abandoned kinsfolk here,

Only to carry on at the next place, doing its performances,

Vulnerable indeed is this world,

As it rolls round and round like a wheel.”

Some license in translating the 2nd pāda is warranted, since the wording is puzzling, as pointed out by EHJ:
The words ca kriyāḥ are very puzzling and can only be construed by understanding kṛṭvā from a;  in view of the assonance with cakravat in d, the original reading may have been cakriyaḥ, 'travelling onwards,' (Aitareya-brāhmaṇa, i, 14. 4). In either case the thought is that the Buddha and the world generally both have to abandon their kindred, but the world does it to repeat the performance in the next life, while the Buddha intends never to have to do it again. But C's 'The wheel turns round in the six gatis, birth and death (= saṁsāra) are never exhausted,' suggests that the reading should be cakṣayam, 'without ever stopping' which is paleographically sound and expresses the sense more clearly.

I am never inclined to rely too much on the Chinese translation, which provides an interesting point of reference, but which mainly seems to be the result of a Chinese monk being happy to do his own thing -- i.e. to paraphrase freely.  In the phrase EHJ quotes, for example, 輪迴六趣中 (the wheel turns in the six spheres;) 生死無窮極, (birth and death are never-ending), the  (six) is totally of the Chinese translator's own invention, since in the present Canto Aśvaghoṣa covers only the five spheres of saṁsāra enumerated yesterday. Those five, again, are hell; the worlds of animals, hungry ghosts, human beings; and heaven. Aśvaghoṣa does not mention in this Canto the world of asuras; i.e., angry demons, opponents of the gods.

In general, without EHJ, where would students of Aśvaghoṣa be? Up the creek without a paddle, much of the time. And yet, when EHJ said that the Buddha intends never have to do the performance again, what did EHJ mean? Did EHJ even know what he was talking about?

I suspect that EHJ, along with Buddhist scholars everywhere who are looking at practice from the outside, might have had an idealized picture of what it means never to have to repeat the same performance again.

The real question is what it means on the inside, in practice, never to have to repeat the same performance again.

And this is just the question that is answered by the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, or springing up by going back.

Here we go again, then:
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 bringing-into-being of just this act of knowing. //MMK26.11// By the destruction of each, each is discontinued. / This whole edifice of suffering is thus well and truly demolished. //MMK26.12

As Nāgārjuna clarifies it, the discontinuation of the repetitive doing of performances is synonymous with cultivation of the act of knowing. And the act of knowing Nāgārjuna has in mind, I am sure, is intimately related with the kind of knowing that Marjory Barlow cultivated, using me like a field. I have the sense that, as I lay on her teaching table, not moving a leg, Marjory Barlow dug me like a field. And her intention was to clarify how, in good time, the act of knowing is to be cultivated. 

Let it all be wrong,” Marjory said. And “being wrong is the best friend you have got in this work.” Those words were the antidote to the ignorance of wanting to feel right, and the ignorance of trying to be right. And with those words, in combination with the skillful use of her hands, Marjory cultivated the act of knowing. 

The knowing is not the kind of intellectual knowledge for which we are so indebted to EHJ, for his great scholarship. The knowing has to do with the truth by which the wise one is not the doer. The wise one is not the doer, Nāgārjuna asserts tattva-darśanāt, because of reality making itself known. Because of the truth coming into view. Because of reality being realized. Because of reality realizing itself. 

Because, in other words, “the right thing does itself"... but not if we impede it -- and we all do -- by trying to be right. 

Sitting in the winter sunshine, with the sun on my right and a gushing stream on my left, there is absolutely no contradiction at all between Nāgārjuna's words and what Marjory Barlow taught. No gap.

So it is in that light that I understand today's verse.

If, like EHJ, we misunderstand that Aśvaghoṣa wanted to convert us to Buddhism, that misunderstanding will invariably lead us in the direction of being religious, which generally means trying to be right. In that case, our efforts to walk the Buddha's path, as we conceive it, will condemn us to carrying on doing the same old performance, again and again and again. The whole thing is too ironic for words.

Apropos of which, yesterday on BBC Radio 4 (Laurie Taylor's “Thinking Allowed”) Roger Scruton made the point very eloquently that when central planners try from on high to change things for the better, they invariably make things worse. Too true. And that again is a demonstration of what Nāgārjuna was talking about:
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//

At the individual level, the proof is there in the pudding, every time we sit. When we feel wrong, the wise policy is to let it all be wrong. In that way reality is given a chance to make itself known; in other words, the right thing is given a chance to do itself.

The alternative is to intervene in some ill-conceived top-down manner, pulling in here and pushing down there. 
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do.

The global money bubble, I venture to submit, is the human arrogance of "pulling in the chin to keep the neck bones straight vertically" writ large.  

Stupid Zen teachers talk of "adjusting the posture." Ignorant central bankers in Japan have been talking for more than twenty years of ryo-teki-kanwa, or "quantitative easing." Alan Greenspan took US monetary policy down a similar route, so that in their desire to safeguard the banks, central bankers have allowed to inflate a global money bubble which is precarious in the extreme.  Until the bubble bursts, however, the world carreis on under "extend and pretend." 
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do.

Politically, Roger Scruton is regarded as being of the right, and Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis as being of the left. But each, in his own way, as I hear him, as the merit of challenging prevailing ignorance. I admire people who do that, whatever their political or religious allegiance. 

Finally, as a cautionary post script about sitting in the sunshine, though it is the dead of winter, I woke up this frosty morning with a sun-burned nose. 

kṛtvā = abs. kṛ: to do, make
iha: ind. here, in this world
sva-janotsargam (acc. sg. m.): the abandoning of one's own people
sva-jana: m. one's own people, kinsman
utsarga: m. pouring out , pouring forth , emission , dejection , excretion , voiding by stool &c  ; laying aside , throwing or casting away ; loosening , setting free , delivering ; abandoning , resigning , quitting , retiring from , leaving off

punar: ind. back , home ; again, once more ; further
anyatra: ind. to another place, elsewhere
ca: and
kriyāḥ (acc. pl.): f. doing , performing , performance , occupation with (in comp.) , business , act , action , undertaking , activity , work , labour.
cakriyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. belonging to a wheel or carriage ; going on a carriage , being on a journey
akṣayam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. exempt from decay , undecaying
kṣaya: m. loss , waste , wane , diminution , destruction , decay , wasting or wearing away (often ifc.); end , termination

atrāṇaḥ (nom. sg. m.): being without protection, helpless
trāṇa: n. protecting , preserving , protection , defence , shelter , help (often ifc.)
√ trai: to protect , preserve , cherish , defend , rescue from (gen. or abl.) ;
khalu: ind. indeed , verily , certainly , truly
lokaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the world
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this

paribhramati = 3rd pers. sg. (or loc. abs. pres. part) pari- √ bhram: to rove , ramble , wander about or through ; to turn or whirl round , move in a circle , describe a circle round , revolve , rotate
cakravat: ind. like a wheel , in rotation

大悲心念已 又觀彼衆生
輪迴六趣中 生死無窮極

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