Sunday, March 22, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.36: Going Down, with Eyes Turned Up

[No Sanskrit text]


| yul rnams kyis ni ṅoms med rnams | | gaṅ las ’di rnams gzi bcom ste |
| phred ba yoṅs rñiṅs źags pa rnams | | gyen du mig phyogs rnams lhuṅ ṅo |  

yul: place, sensory realm, object (deśa, viṣaya)
rnams: [plural marker]
kyis [instrumental particle]
med: absence; free from; left behind; departed
las: action (karma)
gzk: shine, brightness
bcom: conquer[ed], subjugate[d], defeat[ed]
gyen: upward
mig: eye
phyogs: direction, place

EHJ's translation from the Tibetan:
36. And from there they fall, still not satiated with the objects of sense, with eyes turned upwards, their brilliance gone, and wretched at the fading of their garlands.

猶如樹華萎 枯悴失光澤
眷屬存亡分 悲苦莫能留

Just as the blossom that decays, withering away, is robbed of all its shining tints ; not all their associates, living still, though grieving, can avail to save the rest; (SB) 
Just as the flowers of a tree become pale and withered, they became drawn and lost their brightness. The lot of their retinue was life or death. Suffering in sadness, no one could make them stay. (CW)

In sitting as discussed yesterday, as a traditional act of non-doing, the eyes are turned down while, on a good day, as a result of taking the backward step, the whole self goes up.

Today's verse might have been intended as an ironic suggestion of the opposite situation whereby the eyes are still turned upward towards heavenly objects while the whole being of the aspirant is oriented downward, the climax of his peak experience having already passed.

The aspiration in the direction of heaven that the bodhisattva is thus observing is not quite the same as the religious aspiration of that rare Christian or Muslim who prays, and really means, "Thy will be done." This Christian or Muslim, again, can be contrasted with the Jewish scholar who is less inclinded to surrender and submit and more inclined to grapple with God, or engage God in an argument. 

About 30 years ago my Zen teacher became very interested in how, historically, Christianity grew so strong. He read a number of books on Christianity and Judaism, including some that saw global history as a kind of giant Jewish conspiracy theory. It was around the time we were translating Shobogenzo chap. 68, Udonge, The Udumbara Flower. At that time my teacher memorably observed that "History is a twirling flower." 

What I think I see now more clearly than I saw then was the power inherent in thinking, and really  meaning, "Thy will be done."  When Jesus transmitted that direction, the capital T in Thy may have come from his Jewish upbringing, but I suspect the "... will be done" part might have been influenced by a certain bloke from Northern India who preceeded Jesus by 500 or so years.

The sufferers whom the bodhisattva is observing in today's verse, though their eyes are turned upwards towards heaven, are very far from being uplifted in the spirit of "Thy will be done." On the contrary, their wish is very much "My will be done." And what they mean by "My will be done," if you will excuse my French, is "I want to keep fucking .... AAAAAGH!.... those beautiful .... AAAAAGH! .... AAASPARASES!" 

For the past several years I have been following a routine of memorizing a verse of Aśvaghoṣa's Sanskrit the day before I publish my comment on it. That being so, when I am here in Aylesbury, after sitting for an hour in the morning I usually can't wait to hobble upstairs on legs that are still half asleep, with a view to adding my twopennyworth on this blog. 

But now I find myself in something of a limbo -- or at a star-shaped crossroads like  l'étoile des Andaines, near where I practise in France, with many routes leading from it. 

In the absence of a clear sense of what I ought to do next, I find myself sort of asking for guidance from the Universe, in the spirit of  "Thy will be done," and as sit like this, with a mind that is more open than usual to various possibilities, I find myself carrying on past the sixty-minute mark without noticing the time... 

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.

I have a pretty clear idea that the task before me is to clarify, in light of FM Alexander's wisdom, what Nāgārjuna clarified in MMK chapter 26. But how best to go about it? 

I sense that coming at Nāgārjuna indirectly might be a wise strategy, since MMK is a very condensed distillation of the teaching, and might be best understood in the context of commentaries written on MMK by reliable sources. Some of those sources would be Tibetan. But how reliable would those commentaries be? I don't know. I am aware of the existence in Sanskrit (and Tibetan) of the abhidharma-kośa (Treasury of Abhidharma) by Vasubandhu, who came seven generations after Nāgārjuna.

Vasubandhu, needless to say, I would trust as the most reliable of mirrors, since he is in the same lineage as Aśvaghoṣa, Nāgārjuna, Bodhidharma, and Dogen. 

Another option I am considering is to make an audio recording of Shobogenzo. 

In theory it needn't necessarily be either / or, but I am notoriously prone to throw my toys out of the pram when called upon to do more than one thing at once; so in practise it had better be one thing or the other. 

For the moment, though, my decision is not to decide. 

And this decision, I notice, opens the way into the space into which Marjory Barlow used to usher me in her Alexander teaching room. 

The point, Marjory reminded me again and again, though not always by saying anything, is not to be too keen to go ahead and gain the end in view (be it a celestial nymph or a willed movement). The point is that there is such a thing as a right direction. And progress in that direction starts from here, this place of not having decided yet to do anything. 

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