Wednesday, March 4, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.18: A Question of Impurity

sukhārtham aśubhaṁ ktvā ya ete bhśa-duḥkhitāḥ |
āsvādaḥ sa kim eteṣāṁ karoti sukham anv api || 14.18

As for these who, with a view to happiness,

Have acted impurely and are greatly pained:

Does that enjoyment do anything for them, 

Even slightly, in the way of happiness?

These who did something evil for the sake of pleasure and are now grievously pained, — does that old taste produce even an atom of pleasure to them now? (EBC)
Those did evil for the sake of pleasure and are now exceedingly tormented. What pleasure, even the slightest, does that enjoyment of theirs cause? (EHJ)

Again, as with yesterday's verse, the kind of irony the bodhisattva ostensibly has in mind is the irony that pursuit of sensual pleasure easily results in painful outcomes like heart disease, diabetes, lung cancer, alcoholism, drug addiction, sexually transmitted diseases, messy divorces, et cetera. 

Ostensibly then, the bodhisattva's question is a rhetorical question: has doing an evil deed that they relished doing brought them any lasting happiness? And the expected answer is: No, of course it has not.

The dictionary definition of aśubham as “a shameful deed, a sin,” tends to support such a reading.

At the same time, aśubham means not beautiful or impure. And so, in a deeper reading of today's verse, the ugliness or impurity in question might be down to nothing other than the sukhārtham, i.e., the view to happiness. The impurity of the act, in other words, might reside in happiness itself, as an agenda. 

Such a reading of today's verse brings to mind the teaching of the teacher of Zen Master Dogen, who emphasized that breaking the precepts was the kind of mistake from which one can recover, whereas to allow the truth of the Buddha's teaching to be distorted by a view to one's own gratification (i.e. with a view to one's own fame and profit, with a personal agenda) is a much more serious hindrance to realizing the truth. See especially Shobogenzo chap. 73, Sanjushibon-bodai-bunpo (The 37 Things on the Side of Awakening). At the same time, the view which tends to negate cause and effect -- irresponsibility -- is also a distortion, as described in the four Shobogenzo chapters on cause and effect. 

Ostensibly, then, the bodhisattva has in his sights in today's verse the doing of a specific “evil” (as per EBC and EHJ) of the kind proscribed by the bodhisattva precepts -- like an act of needless killing, or an act of theft, or an act of sexual misconduct.

But at a deeper level impure action that produces painful side effects, or collateral damage, might be the act of an ignorant do-gooder who is trying to be right -- lighting a stick of incense, or doggedly translating a Buddhist magnum opus, with one's mind still being influenced by a trace, albeit a homeopathic dose, of "what's in it for me?". 

True, in the 3rd pāda āsvādaḥ (MW: “eating with a relish”) does primarily suggest sensual gratification. At the same time, it is also true that self-righteous religious types feel a certain smug gratification in the doing of their religious thing. I could name names, but might only be demonstrating the mirror principle.

FM Alexander wrote of the end-gainer's desire to feel right in the gaining of his end. 

Does such indulging in feeling right in the gaining of an end -- whether sensual or spiritual -- bring to the doer even a bit of lasting happiness?

In light of the Buddha's teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, one would tend to think that the answer, below the surface just as on the surface, is a resounding No! Because one cannot do an undoing. Rather, doings -- whether their intention is good, bad or indifferent --  are the very root of saṁsāra....
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 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. / 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//

Going further, however, if the impure action of one veiled in ignorance can never open a way out of saṁsāra, how in hell are we ever going to get out of saṁsāra?

A clue, I think, might be contained in Shobogenzo chap. 87, Kuyo-shobutsu (Serving Buddhas).

That chapter tells the story of a practitioner who, when he served buddhas, did so not with a totally pure mind but rather with an agenda. As a result he didn't receive affirmation that he would become buddha, but only received suffering in life after life of sacrificing himself to serve buddhas. Eventually, though, he did see the light, and did receive affirmation.

So, in the end, did the indulging in agenda-based doing bring this bodhisattva any happiness?

Well, yes, it took many lifetimes but eventually it did.

Finally, then, I come back again to Marjory Barlow's prescription for working on an impure self. 

When you feel you are wrong, Marjory said, 
  • Say No! (to the ignorance of trying to be right)
  • Give your directions (spine to lengthen, back to widen, et cetera)
  • And go into movement, without a care in the world – let it come out in the wash! 

sukhārtham: ind. (acc. sg. n.) for the sake of pleasure
aśubham (acc. sg.): n. a shameful deed , sin
śubha: mfn. splendid , bright , beautiful ; pleasant , agreeable , suitable , fit , capable , useful , good (applied to persons and things); good (in moral sense) , righteous , virtuous , honest ; pure (as an action)
kṛtvā = abs. kṛ: to do

ye (nom. pl. m.): [these] who
ete (nom. pl. m.): these, these here (especially as pointing to what is nearest to the speaker)
bhṛśa-duḥkhitāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. very much afflicted , very unfortunate or unhappy
bhṛśa: (ibc.): strongly , violently , vehemently , excessively , greatly , very much
duḥkhita: mfn. pained , distressed ; afflicted , unhappy

āsvādaḥ (nom. sg.): m. eating with a relish , tasting , enjoying (also metaphorically) ; flavour , taste
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
kim: (interrogative pronoun)
eteṣām (gen. pl.): of these ones

karoti = 3rd pers. sg. kṛ: to make , cause
sukham (nom. sg.): n. pleasure, happiness
anu = aṇu: ind. minutely
api: even

味著須臾頃 苦報甚久長

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