Thursday, April 2, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.49: Contemplating Reality

[No Sanskrit text]

| de nas de yi mtshan mo’i thun | | gsum pa ñe bar gnas pa na |
| ’jig rten ’di yi raṅ bźin ni | | bsam gtan rig pa mchog gis bsgoms |  

de nas: then
mtshan: night
thun: period

gsum pa: third
nye bar gnas pa na: be close

yi rang: rejoicing
bzhin: like, similar to

bsam gtan: meditation, trance (dhyāna)
rig pa mchog: Unexcelled Knowledge (vidyottama)
gis: [instrumental particle]
bsgoms: meditate; meditatively cultivate , develop

EHJ's translation from the Tibetan:
49. Then as the third watch of that night drew on, the best of those who understand trance meditated on the real nature of this world :--

49. Then as the third watch of that night drew on, the best of those who understand meditation meditated on the real nature of this world :--

即彼第三夜 入於深正受
Then, on the third eventful watch, he entered on the deep, true apprehension.(SB)
Then, during the third watch, he entered profound concentration (CW)

The teaching of my Zen teacher, Gudo Nishijima, was all about reality...
  1. Reality is not what we think.
  2. What we feel is not necessarily reality, either. 
  3. Our action is real. 
  4. And we are living in reality. Especially, when we just sit in lotus without anything lacking or anything superfluous, then we really are living in reality. 
Thus, when I met Gudo Nishijma he sort of tied me up  (not that I didn't deserve it), using my own intellect for rope, so that I couldn't get away from himHe imprisoned me like this under the pretext of wanting to liberate everybody from idealism and materialism, with his “theory of four philosophies” or sometimes “theory of three philosophies and one reality.”

Very like George Soros, my Zen teacher was steeped in real experience of the real world of business, and at the same time was deeply devoted to philosophy, and particularly interested – again like George Soros – in the relationship between thinking and reality.

Whereas George Soros has drawn our attention to the reflexive relationship between human ignorance and reality, whereby, for example, the misconceptions of central bankers can have such powerful and detrimental effects on the real economy, Gudo Nishijima more strongly emphasized the absolute gulf which he saw as separating thinking and reality. 

This emphasis, from where I sat, ossified into a kind of dogma, so that when I began to enthuse over what FM Alexander called “thinking,” my teacher seemed to treat such affirmation of thinking, a priori, with a great deal of suspicion.

I, in turn, I became more skeptical than I once was about the value of “the four philosophies.” 

At some point, ironically enough, attachment to "the three philosophies and one reality" might stand as an obstacle to going in the direction of abandoning all philosophies and accepting the stark reality, when it turns out to be different from what you in your own ignorance thought. In that case, of what use are three or four philosophies?

Still, when I write of pratītya-samutpāda meaning different things at different phases, my teacher's framework of “the four philosophies” is the rusty old scaffold upon which, inevitably, my thoughts still hang.
  1. At the first phase, then, pratītya-samutpāda is the central tenet of the Buddha's teaching.
  2. At the second phase, pratītya-samutpāda is synonymous with causality; it is a descripton of the objective universe, as investigated in physics and chemistry.
  3. At the third phase, pratītya-samutpāda belongs to the practical truth of cessation of suffering.
  4. And at the fourth phase, pratītya-samutpāda suggests nothing less than the enlightenment of the One who – by coming back to the original source of suffering in ignorance, in doings, in divisive consciousness, and in the harmful separation of the human organism into “mind” and “body” – completely sprang up, so that he stood totally UP before the world as the Fully Awakened Sambuddha.
For a concise translation of pratītya-samutpāda that comes closest to covering all four of these phases, “dependent arising” may be the best anybody has come up with so far. I continue to like “Complete Springing Up, by coming back,” as a translation that better suggests pratītya-samutpāda at the fourth phase. But as an all-round contender that works well enough in practice at all four phases, it might be difficult to beat “dependent arising.”

The Wikipedia entry on pratītya-samutpāda quotes the Dalai Lama from The Meaning of Life (1992), translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins:
In Sanskrit the word for dependent-arising is pratītya-samutpāda. The word pratītya has three different meanings–meeting, relying, and depending–but all three, in terms of their basic import, mean dependence. Samutpāda means arising. Hence, the meaning of pratītya-samutpāda is that which arises in dependence upon conditions, in reliance upon conditions, through the force of conditions.
One meaning of pratītya that is omitted from this explanation is “coming back" -- coming back to, and hence being grounded in. And pratītya-samutpāda is not “that which arises...”; pratītya-samutpāda is arising itself, is Springing Up itself.

However, rather than nit-pick unduly, let us go for the present with “dependent arising” and see where it leads us back to, beginning tomorrow with the 12th link in the twelvefold chain – the suffering of aging and death.

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