Saturday, March 21, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.35: Making Merit and Burning in Heaven

[No Sanskrit text] 

| ’di gźan bsod nams las rnams kyis | | mtho ris su ni skyes pa rnams |
| ’dod chags me yis drag tu ni | | me ltar rab tu sreg par byed | 

di: this
gźan: other
bsod: merit (Ch: )
las: karma
rnams: [plural marker]
kyis: [instrumental particle]
mtho: high; elevated
ris: lineage ; region
skyes: be born ()
chags: to desire; to become; to form; formed; having; desire; attachment ()
drag: fierce; violent; terrible
ltar: as, like, similar to
sreg: to burn ()

EHJ's translation from the Tibetan:
35. These others, who have accumulated merit, are born in heaven, and are terribly burned by the flames of sensual passion, as by a fire.

乘福生天者 渇愛常燒身
福盡命終時 衰死五相至

Then (he saw those who) by a higher merit were enjoying heaven ; a thirst for love ever consuming them, their merit ended with the end of life, the five signs warning them of death (their beauty fades), (SB)
If they were reborn in heaven because of their merit, their thirst constantly burned them. When their merit was exhausted and their life was at its end, the five signs of decay and death arrived. (CW)

If the Buddhist thesis is that seeking merit causes the merit-maker to become liberated from the cycle of saṁsāra, today's verse was probably designed to suggest a non-Buddhist anti-thesis.

Thus, for example, when the Chinese Emperor Wu asked Bodhidharma what merit the Emperor had accumulated by having sutras translated and temples built, Bodhidharma's answer, in so many words was:

saṁsāra mūlaṁ saṁskārāṇ avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ.
The confections which are the root of saṁsāra 
thus does the one veiled in ignorance confect.

The products which are the root of saṁsāra 
thus does the one veiled in ignorance manufacture.

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

The task has been, and the task remains, to clarify that the ignorance which the Buddha targeted is related particularly with doings (saṁskārāṇ), and the knowing which the Buddha taught as the antidote to ignorance is embodied in sitting not as doing but as an act of non-doing.

Thus when Bodhidharma went from India to China, as the 28th Zen patriarch in India and no. 1 in China, he didn't find it necessary to teach the Chinese how to read the Buddha's teaching in Sanskrit. Rather, he passed on the essence of the teaching as embodied in the act of sitting.

With his silent act of three prostrations, the 2nd Zen patriarch in China showed that he had got this point.

Insofar as words could be of service in the transmission of the teaching, Bodhidharma and his Chinese successors must have thought that the pre-existing Chinese word 無為 (wu-wei; Jap: MU-I) was close enough to what Nāgārjuna had called saṁskārāṇām asaṁbhavaḥ, “the non-coming-into-being of doings.”

Thus, twenty-odd generations later, when Dogen returned from China as the 1st Zen patriarch in his lineage in Japan, Dogen was content to say, in the opening sentence of Shobogenzo, that
When the buddha-tathāgatas, each having received the one-to-one transmission of the splendid Dharma, experience the ultimate awakening of bodhi, they possess a subtle method which is supreme and free of doing (無為).

Being good from an early age at reading and word-games, but sometimes pitifully slow on the uptake in practical matters, it took me a hell of a long time to connect Dogen's 無為 with non-doing -- as taught in the internal martial arts that evolved in China; and as taught similarly by FM Alexander in England from the beginning of the 20th century.

The essential basis, then, it seems to me, has already long been in place from which to bring down the whole edifice of human suffering. But it takes the time it takes for us, even as we bow in reverence before the ancient blueprints, actually to join the dots . . .

saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ |
avidvān kārakas tasmān na vidvāṁs tattva-darśanāt ||MMK26.10
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra
Thus does the one veiled in ignorance do.
The ignorant one therefore is the doer;
The wise one is not, because of reality making itself known.

avidyāyāṁ niruddhāyāṁ saṁskārāṇām asaṁbhavaḥ |
avidyāyā nirodhas tu jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt ||MMK26.11
In the destroying of ignorance,
There is the non-coming-into-being of doings.
The destroying of ignorance, however,
Is because of the allowing-into-being of just this act of knowing.

tasya tasya nirodhena tat-tan nābhipravartate |
duḥkha-skandhaḥ kevalo 'yam evaṁ samyaṅ nirudhyate ||MMK26.12
By the destruction of this one and that one,
This one and that one are discontinued.
This whole edifice of suffering
Is thus totally demolished.

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