Tuesday, April 7, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.54: Birth (11), As Pre-Condition for Suffering

[No Sanskrit text]

| mgo po yod na mgo bo yi | | nad ’di ’byuṅ ba mthoṅ ba ste |
| śiṅ gi skye ba yod gyur na | | ’gyel pa ’byuṅ bar ’gyur ba’o | 

mgo: head
yod na: if it exists
mgo bo yi: of the head

nad: illness, ailment
mthong ba: see, perceive

skye ba: birth (jāti)
yod: exist
gyur na: if it became so

EHJ's translation from the Tibetan:
54. He saw that head-ache is only possible when the head is already in existence; for when the birth of a tree has come to pass, then only can the felling of it take place.

如人有身故 則有身痛隨
For since a man has born with him a body, that body must inherit pain (disease). (SB)
If a person has a body, for that reason physical pain must follow. (CW)

Today's verse is echoed by a verse in SN Canto 16 in which, again, Aśvaghoṣa and the Buddha dwell long and hard on the subject of the suffering attendant upon becoming and birth.
jarādayo naika-vidhāḥ prajānāṃ satyāṃ pravṛttau prabhavanty anarthāḥ /
The many and various disappointments of men, like old age,
occur as long as their end-gaining goes on.
pravātsu ghoreṣv api māruteṣu na hy aprasūtās taravaś calanti // SN16.10 //
(For, even when violent winds blow, trees do not shake that never sprouted.)

For a definition in the Sanskrit sūtras of the meaning of jāti, birth, along with definitions of the other 11 links in the 12-fold chain, we can refer to the Pratītya-samutpādādi-vibhaṅga-nirdeśa-sūtram. This short sūtra was published in Buddhist Sanskrit Texts No. 17 Mahāyāna-sūtra-saṃgrahaḥ (part 1), edited by P.L. Vaidya (Darbhanga, 1961), and is available here thanks to Ānandajoti Bhikku.

bhava-pratyayā jātir iti jātiḥ katamā
‘With becoming as its causal grounds, there is birth – exactly what is birth?
Yā teṣāṁ-teṣāṁ sattvānāṁ tasmiṁs-tasmin sattva-nikāye
Among these beings and those beings in this and that class of being,
jātiḥ saṁjātir avakrāntir abhinirvṛttiḥ prādurbhāvaḥ,
there is birth, being born, dropping into place, springing forth, showing up,
skandha-pratilambho dhātu-pratilambhaḥ,
there is acquistion of aggregates, acquistion of elements,
āyatana-pratilambhaḥ skandhānām abhinirvṛttiḥ jīvitendriyasya prādurbhāvaḥ.
acquistion of senses, springing forth of aggregates, 
and manifestation of a living being's life-force.

Also on Ānandajoti Bhikku's website is an analysis of pratītya-samutpāda contained in what is considered the earliest of the Theravāda Abhidhamma texts, the Vibhaṅga, or Analysis.  In the introduction to his translation of this analysis, AB writes:
One of the most important of the Buddha's discoveries, which is rarely, if ever, discussed in modern works, is his insight that the cosmological and psychological worlds reflect each other, so that for instance the higher realms of existence have their parallels in states of meditative attainment which can be experienced here and now.
This becomes a foundational insight in the Abhidhamma in general, and here in particular, because when we come to the second part of the discussion we are no longer dealing with rebirth across lives, but with psychological rebirth from moment-to-moment...

It seems reasonable to me to read today's verse in this light (i.e. in the light that consent to rebirth can be given or withheld just in the moment); and equally it seems reasonable to read in this light what the Buddha tells Nanda about birth in relation to suffering in SN Canto 16.

If there is any such thing as emptiness, or any such nothing as emptiness, that freedom might reside in the gap between (a) me being aware of a stimulus to do something, and (b) me going ahead and doing something. Practice like this might be different (anya) from the doings that the one enclosed in ignorance, in three ways, does do. 

Insofar as what is thus born or not reborn is, for example, views and old habits, then the recognition that a birth is the origin of all the suffering attendant on a birth, as the Buddha explains to Nanda in SN Canto 16, is not necessarily a cause for deterministic pessimism....
Understanding these [four] noble truths, by a process of reasoning, while getting to know the four as one, / He prevails over all pollutants, by the means of mental development, and, on finding peace, is no longer subject to becoming. // SN16.5 // For by failing to wake up and come round to this four, whose substance is the reality of what is, / Humankind goes from existence to existence without finding peace, hoisted in the swing of saṁsāra. // 16.6 // Therefore, at the root of a tragedy like growing old, see, in short, that birth is suffering. / For, as the earth supports the life of all plants, this birth is the field of all troubles. // 16.7 // The birth of a sentient bodily form, again, is the birth of suffering in all its varieties; / And he who begets such an outgrowth is the begetter of death and of disease. // 16.8 // Good food or bad food, if mixed with poison, makes for ruin and not for sustenance. / Likewise, whether in a world on the flat or above or below, all birth makes for hardship and not for ease. // 16.9 // The many and various disappointments of men, like old age, occur as long as their end-gaining goes on. / (For, even when violent winds blow, trees do not shake that never sprouted.) // 16.10 // As wind is born from the air, as fire sleeps in the womb of śamī wood, / And as water gestates inside the earth, so does suffering spring from an expectant mind-and-body. // 16.11 // The fluidity of water, the solidity of earth, the motion of wind, and the constant heat of fire / Are innate in them; as also it is in the nature of both the body and the mind to suffer. // 16.12 // Insofar as there is a body, there is the suffering of sickness, aging and so on; and also of hunger and thirst, and of the rains, and summer heat and winter cold. / Insofar as a mind is bonded, tied to phenomena, there is the suffering of grief, discontent, anger, fear and so on. // 16.13 // Seeing now before your eyes that birth is suffering, recognise that likewise in the past it was suffering. / And just as that was suffering and this is suffering, know that likewise in the future it will be suffering. // 16.14 // For just as it is evident to us now what kind of thing a seed is, we can infer that it was so in the past and that it will be so in the future. /  And just as fire burning before us is hot, so was it hot and so will it be hot. // 16.15 // In conformity with its kind, then, a distinguishable bodily form develops, wherein, O man of noble conduct, / Suffering exists, right there -- for nowhere else will suffering exist or has it existed or could it exist. // SN16.16 //

Old views, habits, attachments are not generally easy to drop off, though. For which reason there is no cause either, in the alternative understanding of birth and rebirth, for undue optimism. 

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