Wednesday, March 11, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.25: Infighting as a Less-than-Fully-Upright Stage

satsv apy anyeṣu duḥkheṣu duḥkhaṁ yatra viśeṣataḥ |
paraspara-virodhāc ca parādhīnatayaiva ca || 14.25 

Though there are other sufferings too,

Suffering here arises especially

From mutual infighting

While in the very thick of subjection to the other.

This morning I was reflecting on a comment that Rich left yesterday in connection with elephants: 
Ringling Brothers Circus just announced they will be retiring their 20 something elephants to a preserve in Florida over the 3 years.

Old elephants retire from the circus.


Between the ages of 10 and 17, I was devoted in autumn, winter and spring to rugby football, which is a kind of battle between people divided into two teams. So one's male adolescent aggression is whole-heartedly but relatively safely focused on players on the opposing side. Infighting between members of one's own team was something I very rarely witnessed on a rugby pitch. The one or two occasions where I experienced discord among members of the same team really stand out in my mind as being aberrations. 

After leaving school aged 17, I worked for some months as a porter at the bedding department of Rackhams in Birmingham. Right there on the floor of the bedding department was a little circus, with plenty of subtle infighting going on among the sales women. I would be glad to escape with my trolley laden with  mattresses to the staff lifts, where I would park my trolley and escape to the staff toilets to read Carlos Castaneda books. 

When I was 21, shortly before coming to Japan, I trained at a karate dojo in London. In that period I was mildly intimidated by a bloke from the dojo, while I was on the top deck of the bus, and he was one of a gang of non-karate brothers sitting behind me. I was more shocked than afraid. He had challenged my assumption of what it is to belong to the same team or the same dojo. Maybe that was his intention, to challenge my rugger ethos, and wake me up to starker political realities. "All the black guys on the bus start something" was his suggestion -- in so many words. 

The kind of infighting to which Aśvaghoṣa is alluding in today's verse, one suspects, is what Dogen cautioned against in the opening part of Shobogenzo chap. 60, Juppo, The Ten Directions.

Among buddhas, Dogen asserts, infighting is totally impossible. Hence,
the buddhas alone together with buddhas of the ten directions praise and admire each other. They never see maligning each other and discussing each others' relative merits or likes and dislikes as the turning of the Dharma wheel or as the preaching of Dharma.

Where there is mutual infighting, then, the implication is, it is between people who are not yet fully awakened buddhas but who, on the contrary, are still given to unconscious reactions on the level of what FM Alexander called “subconsciously controlled swine.”

Understood like this “the other” in the 4th pāda of today's verse could be understood, in Aśvaghoṣa's historical context, following on from the discussion yesterday, as the Brahmanical other, the lion out to lord it over the elephant. But more broadly “the other” might better be understood as ignorance, or unconsciousness – as in the war against sleep.

Reading between the lines, I think Aśvaghoṣa must have observed infighting between Zen practitioners of his day, and found it, in a world full of many kinds of suffering, particularly painful to watch.

As I have observed many times before on this blog, Aśvaghoṣa nowhere uses the word saṁgha in the sense of a religious circus congregation. The words buddha and dharma appear in Aśvaghoṣa's poetry too many times to count, but the word saṁgha does not appear once in the sense that it is generally used today -- to indicate a community of infighters people sharing the same religious beliefs and values. 

A word that Aśvaghoṣa does use is vihāra, by which he seems to mean somewhere very different from a saṁgha circus. My conception of a vihāra is of a place in nature, though furnished also with the shelter of a roof, where individuals are free to walk up and down and to sit, as individuals. It may sound like an idealistic conception, but actually it is not -- it is a place where for the past seven years of doing this translation, I have been very fortunate to be able to live, doing whatever I have wanted, pretty much free from blighted infighting. 

What I have mainly wanted to do, in between sitting, is this translation itself. Lucky old git, I hear you think, and it is true. But all good things come to an end. And the circus is always in town. 

As a PS to this comment added while working on BC14.26, I realize that what I have done above is to comment only on the ostensible meaning, which is the negation of infighting. The hidden meaning might be that rivalry between members of a group, in the sense of competitive effort to be excellent, is to be affirmed. Which is to say that, even if such competition is not to be affirmed as a Buddhist ideal, there is no choice but to affirm it is a fact of life. So, for example, if I would like to think that I haven't spent the past seven years endeavouring, verse by verse, to go beyond what other translators have so far done, or at least to dig deeper than they have dug.... then I might only be kidding myself. 

satsu (loc. abs): there being
api: even
anyeṣu (loc. abs.) other, kinds that are different
duḥkheṣu (loc. abs.): sufferings

duḥkham (nom. sg.): n. suffering
yatra: ind. wherein, in which state
viśeṣataḥ: ind. especially , particularly , above all ; individually , singly

paraspara-virodhāt (abl. sg.): mutual hostility , infighting
paraspara: mfn. mutual, each other
virodha: m. opposition , hostility , quarrel , strife between (gen. , rarely instr. , or comp.)
ca: and

parādhīnatayā (inst. sg. f.): being subject to the other
para: m. another (different from one's self) , a foreigner , enemy , foe , adversary
adhīna: mfn. (fr. adhi) ifc. resting on or in , situated ; depending on , subject to , subservient to
adhīna-tā: f. subjection , dependence
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and

展轉相殘殺 無有自在力

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