Friday, November 30, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.65: Being Nervous about Being Nervous

⏑−⏑−,⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−,⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑−⏑−   Rucirā
varāṅganā-gaṇa-kalilaṁ nṛpātmajas-tato balād-vanam-atinīyate sma tat |
varāpsaro-vṛtam-alakādhipālayaṁ nava-vrato munir-iva vighna-kātaraḥ || 3.65

iti buddha-carite mahākāvye saṁvegotpattir-nāma tṛtīyaḥ sargaḥ || 3 ||

Most lushly wooded with beautiful women was that park

To which the offspring of a ruler of men was then forcibly led,

Like a sage to a palace populated by the choicest nymphs in Alaka,

When his practice is young and he is nervous about impediments.

The 3rd canto, titled “Nervous Excitement” 
in an epic story of awakened action.

EHJ thought this verse was of doubtful authenticity, partly because “the application of vighna-kātara to the prince is at variance with the next canto.”

Such a doubt on the part of EHJ is akin to a flag on which is written the words DIG HERE.

At first blush (using the word blush advisedly), I see where EHJ is coming from. Vighna-kātara means “weak to withstand temptation (EBC)” or “afraid/fearful of obstacles (EHJ/PO),” whereas the attitude expressed by the prince in BC3.60, as I read it, is already one of sonorous assertiveness.

Looking ahead to the next canto, however, the falsification of EHJ's thesis might be contained in the 3rd pāda of BC4.55 which describes the prince's mind as samaṁ vignena dhīreṇa, which means, using EHJ's own translation “at the same time both perturbed and steadfast.”

The point is, then, that Aśvaghoṣa, in his usual indirect manner, is telling us something that doubtless comes from his own experience of the will to the truth, and from his own mature experience of practising the truth.

The point about the will to the truth is that its awakening, even when accompanied by steadfast resolve, is nevertheless liable to be disturbing, through stimulation of the fear reflexes. Hence the present canto title, saṁvegotpattiḥ, Arising of Agitation, or Nervous Excitement.

The implicit point suggested by the punchline of the 4th pāda, as I read it, is a profound point about practice itself. The point about practice itself is that when practice is young the practitioner is liable to be nervous about impediments. But as practice matures, especially under the guidance of a veteran teacher who regards being wrong as the best friend one has got in practice, those impediments come gradually to be accepted more and more as they are.

The ostensible meaning of vighna-kātaraḥ is wary of obstacles in the external world, as typified by beautiful women. And that reading certainly fits, because -- notwithstanding the kind of misunderstanding manifested by David Smith that I discussed yesterday -- Aśvaghoṣa is singularly unafraid of noticing the beauty of women, with their flashing eyes, firm breasts, hour-glass figures, jingling anklets and all the rest of it. But vighna suggests to me more profoundly, on the basis of my experience, the kind of internal impediment that one is liable to sweep under the carpet. 

When I began this comment by saying I was using the phrase “at first blush” advisedly, I was thinking of my own habitual nervousness about a  nervous impediment, as used to be manifested in spectacular form by the chronic blushing from which I suffered 40 years ago. Blushing is in itself a kind of nervousness. Chronic blushing is caused by nervousness about becoming nervous – a positive feedback loop that I experienced many times as a teenager, for which the alcohol in beer proved an effective if temporary remedy.

Nowadays similarly, when I get nervously agitated in response to the sound of a car engine or another external source of noise, the car engine or other source of noise does not give two hoots. But if I start worrying about my own nervous agitation, the nervous agitation which is worry is a more serious impediment than the external noise is, because of the positive feedback problem. 

What Aśvaghoṣa is implicitly expressing at the end of the present canto, as I read it, is his own confidence, as a veteran practitioner, that for him, in  marked contrast with the youthful Mike Cross, there are no such impediments, without or within. 

The punchline of today's verse, then, brings to mind Dogen's assertion in his rules of sitting-zen for everybody that
The universal law is realized, and nets and cages never get a look in.

Again, when a Chinese Zen master of ancient times was asked, “What is the mind of an old buddha?” he answered, “Fences, walls, tiles, and pebbles.” He didn't mention chainsaws, helicopters and airplanes, or any other loud noise that is liable to stimulate an immature auditory Moro reflex.

A few years ago a veteran meditator in the Tibetan tradition named Matthieu Ricard was placed in a MRI scanner and it was observed that he was incredibly adept at not reacting when researchers endeavoured to stimulate his startle reflexes with sudden loud noises. So here, supposedly, was evidence that many hours of meditation practice can endow a person with great powers of inhibition at the deepest levels of brain functioning.

The test would have been more truly scientific, methinks, if MR's reflexes had been tested before he started practising sitting-meditation.

My suspicion is that MR, like my own teacher Gudo Nishijima, but unlike the likes of me and my brother, was congenitally "strong to noise." 

In any event, for people who are suffering from impediments, one approach is to remain hopeful of eradicating impediments, and another approach is see an impediment as an impediment.

In the former approach, the meaning of vināśa, “utter loss (3.59; 3.62) is the eradication of all impediments, either by becoming fully enlightened or by dying in the clinical sense. In the latter approach, to sit noticing that the sound of a revving engine is causing one to feel mildly sea-sick, and at the same time bloody angry, might be the best one can do, for the present, in the area of utter loss.

So my own tentative conclusion, for the present, when it comes to impediments and nervousness thereabout, is to take comfort from what the Buddha tells Nanda about practising in accordance with one's own strengths and weaknesses, viz:
Having given due consideration to the time and place as well as to the extent and method of one's practice, / One should, reflecting on one's own strength and weakness, persist in an effort that is not inconsistent with them. // 16.52 //

Sitting early yesterday morning I was much bothered by the sound of my neighbour's car engine warming up, for more than 30 flaming  minutes! Today, in accordance with the ancient teaching, while the engine revved, I placed over my ears a pair of aply named "Goldring" noise reduction headphones that I bought a couple of years ago from £59.99 very well spent. 

varāṅganā-gaṇa-kalilam (acc. sg. n.): filled with bevies of beautiful women
varāṅganā: f. a beautiful woman
vara: mfn. " select " , choicest , valuable , precious , best , most excellent or eminent among (gen. loc. abl. , or comp.)
aṅganā: f. " a woman with well-rounded limbs " , any woman or female
gaṇa: m. a flock , troop , multitude ;
kalila: mfn. mixed with; full of , covered with ; n. a large heap , thicket , confusion
nṛpātmajaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the self-begotten of the ruler of men; the son of the king

tataḥ: ind. then
balāt: ind. (abl.): " forcibly , against one's will , without being able to help it " ;
vanam (acc. sg. ): n. wood, forest
atinīyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive ati- √ nī: to lead over or beyond
sma: (particle indicating past)
tat (acc. sg. n.): that
varāpsaro-vṛtam (acc. sg.): full of choicest nymphs
vara: mfn. " select " , choicest , valuable , precious , best , most excellent or eminent among (gen. loc. abl. , or comp.)
apsaras: f. celestial nymph
vṛta: mfn. concealed , screened , hidden , enveloped , surrounded by , covered with (instr. or comp.); filled or endowed or provided or affected with (instr. or comp.)
alakādhipālayam (acc. sg.): the dwelling of a king of Alaka
alaka: m. N. of the capital of kubera (situated on a peak of the himālaya inhabited also by śiva)
kubera: the god of riches and treasure (regent of the northern quarter which is hence called kubera-guptā diś)
adhipālaya: the dwelling of a ruler; a palace
adhi-pa: m. a ruler , commander , regent , king.
ālaya: m. and n. a house , dwelling

nava-vrataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who has recently taken his vow ; being young in practice
nava: mfn. new , fresh , recent , young , modern ; m. a young monk , a novice
vrata: n. will , command , law , ordinance , rule ; obedience , service ; a religious vow or practice , any pious observance , meritorious act of devotion or austerity , solemn vow , rule , holy practice ; any vow or firm purpose
muniḥ (nom. sg.): m. a saint , sage , seer , ascetic , monk , devotee , hermit (esp. one who has taken the vow of silence)
iva: like
vighna-kātaraḥ (nom. sg. m.): being discouraged in the face of an obstacle, being nervous about hindrances
vighna: m. a breaker , destroyer ; an obstacle , impediment , hindrance , opposition , prevention , interruption , any difficulty or trouble
kātara: mfn. cowardly , faint-hearted , timid , despairing , discouraged , disheartened , confused , agitated , perplexed , embarrassed , shrinking , frightened , afraid of (loc. or inf. or in comp.)

iti: thus
buddha-carite mahākāvye (loc.): in the epic story of awakened action
saṁvegotpattiḥ: becoming flustured, arising of alarm
saṁvega: m. violent agitation , excitement , flurry ; desire of emancipation
utpatti: f. arising , birth , production , origin
nāma: ind. by name
tṛtīyaḥ sargaḥ (nom. sg. m.): 3rd canto

靈禽雜奇獸 飛走欣和鳴
光耀悦耳目 猶天難陀園 


Thursday, November 29, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.64: Realization of Real, Gladdening Beauty

⏑−⏑−,⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−,⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑−⏑−   Rucirā
tataḥ śivaṁ kusumita-bāla-pādapaṁ paribhramat-pramudita-matta-kokilam |
vimānavat-sa-kamala-cāru-dīrghikaṁ dadarśa tad-vanam-iva nandanaṁ vanam || 3.64

There with young trees in flower,

Lusty cuckoos roving joyously around,

And tiered pavilions in charming stretches of lotus-covered water,

That happy glade he glimpsed, 
like Nandana Vana, 'the Gladdening Garden.'

On first reading, the 3rd pāda looked to me like it should be one long compound, as is the 2nd pāda, hence: vimānavat-sa-kamala-cāru-dīrghikaṁ, “lovely oblong lakes abounding in lotuses and containing multi-tiered pavilions.”

EHJ separated the elements out and read as vimānavat sa kamala-cāru-dīrghikaṁ; so that sa (he, the prince) marks a change of subject. “Otherwise,” notes EHJ, “the compound is clumsy and a word is wanted to mark the change of subject from 63.”

But who says the subject has changed from 3.63? The happiness of a forest is in the eye of the beholder, and the happy beholder in today's verse, as I read it, is still the bloke who is so decisively driving his own chariot.

If we look for philosophical meaning below the surface of today's verse, the 4th pāda can be read as representing the moment in which a driver of his own chariot realizes the gladdening beauty of the reality in which has has been living, in which moment is contained his childhood, his adolescence, and his lifework.

In the 1st pāda, then, flowering of young trees represents childhood. In the 2nd pāda the lustful roving of the cuckoo represents hormone-fuelled adolescence. And in the 3rd pāda, the presence in lakes of the kind of pavilions that evolved in eastern asia into pagodas (raised in gradual steps by building layer upon layer), and abundant lotuses, represents the result of constructive human effort, in building and cultivation.

In the 4th paragraph Nandana Vana, the Gladdening Garden, or Garden of Gladness, means Indra's paradise, which is referred to in several places in Aśvaghoṣa's epic story of Beautiful Joy, Saundara-nanda.

The Nanda of Nandana Vana and the -nanda of Saundara-nanda are the same Nanda, which means joy or gladness and which was at the same time the name of the Buddha's younger brother, Nanda, Joy.

The consensus among Buddhist scholars seems to be that Saundara-nanda, far from being Nanda's struggle to be his beautiful joyful self, is rather a story of religious conversion. This misconception stems from wide acceptance of the unenlightened view that the Buddha's teaching is rooted in religious asceticism. The truth is that the Buddha's teaching is rooted in the Buddha's total and utter abandonment of all -isms, beginning with asceticism.

A couple of days ago, in the process of translating yesterdays' verse, I googled padma-ṣaṇḍa, searching for any evidence that padma-ṣaṇḍa might be the proper name of an ancient wood near Kapilavāstu. If such a proper name did exist, that might cause me to have to drop my reading of sa-padma-ṣaṇḍa and accept instead the name padma-ṣaṇḍa; in that case I would have to take sa- not as a prefix but as repetition of the personal pronoun meaning “he.”

The aforesaid google search led me to an article by David Smith, published in the Oxford Journal of Hindu Studies,  which contains the following passage: 
Both Kālidāsa and Aśvaghoṣa were the heirs of Vālmīki, whose epic sent kāvya off in search of a world of beauty, with Rāma, Prince Charming as hero, and ramya as its most common adjective, and one of its kāṇḍas taking directly the name ‘beautiful’, the Sundara. And the second of Aśvaghoṣa's two mahākāvyas has the title Saundarananda, ‘Handsome Nanda’. However, the role of beauty differs widely. In the Rāmāyaṇa, the beauty of Sītā, the majesty of Rāma, the beauty of nature, and the beauty of Rāvaṇa's palace are more or less subservient to the plot. Aśvaghoṣa's poems, as Buddhist texts, are necessarily anti-beauty. ‘Handsome’ Nanda has to be disabused of the value of good looks, of beauty. Buddha defeats Māra, but in Kālidāsa Śiva's destruction of Kāma brings about no diminution of Kāma's power, and the affirmation of beauty continues unabated.
I would like to suggest to David Smith that he abandons the view which is expressed in the sentence “Aśvaghoṣa's poems, as Buddhist texts, are necessarily anti-beauty,” and tries again.

If you are listening, David, you should understand that the person who strives to disabuse Nanda of the value of beauty is the striver in Cantos 8 and 9 who had never glimpsed the true beauty of the Buddha's teaching even in a dream. The striver is anti-beauty. The Buddha's teaching is not anti-beauty. The Buddha's teaching is beauty itself. The striver is a trap for people of unexamined views to fall into. 

The Buddha's teaching is the abandonment of all views. Why do Buddhist scholars fail so spectacularly to see this? Why did my own Zen teacher fail so spectacularly to see this? Why am I so frequently shown not to have seen this? 

The answer to my question is related with the meaning of dadarśa in the 4th pāda of today's verse, from the root dṛś, which means to see or glimpse but at the same time corresponds to the Chinese character 見 (Jap: KEN), as in the compound 見仏 (Jap: KENBUTSU)  "seeing/meeting buddha."  Meeting buddha does not mean to apprehend a buddha through the visual sense. It means nothing but the abandonment of all views, and the gladdening realization of reality.

This sounds very much like the teaching of my teacher, Gudo Nishijima. But in certain areas, as I found from serving him like a slave for several years, Gudo was as blind as a fucking bat, and utterly attached to wrong views – not least a wrong view about right posture.

Looking on the bright side, it might be that failing over the years to understand this painful irony has at least partially sensitized me to the kind of ironies that fill Aśvaghoṣa's writing.

I dare say that David Smith, along with EB Cowell, EH Johnston, Linda Covill, and Patrick Olivelle before him, has so far singularly failed to appreciate Aśvaghoṣa's beautiful use of irony. But we live in hope.

tataḥ: ind. then ; from that place, thence; in that place, there
śivam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. auspicious , propitious , gracious , favourable , benign , kind , benevolent , friendly , dear ; happy, fortunate
kusumita-bāla-pādapam (acc. sg. n.): with young trees in flower
kusumita: mfn. furnished with flowers , in flower
bāla: mfn. young
pādapa: m. " drinking at foot or root " , a tree

paribhramat-pramudita-matta-kokilam (acc. sg. n.): with lusty cuckoos roving joyously around
paribhramat = pres. part. pari- √ bhram: to rove , ramble , wander about or through ; to turn or whirl round , move in a circle ,
pramudita: mfn. delighted , pleased , glad; gladsome (said of the autumn)
matta: mfn. excited with joy , overjoyed , delighted , drunk , intoxicated; excited by sexual passion or desire , in rut , ruttish (as an elephant)
kokila: m. the Kokila or Koil (black or Indian cuckoo ; frequently alluded to in Hindu poetry , its musical cry being supposed to inspire tender emotions)

vimānavat-sa-kamala-cāru-dīrghikam (acc. sg. n.): with lovely oblong lakes abounding in lotuses and containing multi-tiered pavilions
vimāna-vat [(acc. sg. n.)]: having multi-tiered pavilions
vimāna: m. n. a car or chariot of the gods , any mythical self-moving aerial car (sometimes serving as a seat or throne , sometimes self-moving and carrying its occupant through the air ; other descriptions make the vimāna more like a house or palace , and one kind is said to be 7 stories high ); m. any car or vehicle (esp. a bier) ; m. a ship , boat
sa-kamala: mfn. abounding in lotuses
[sa (nom. sg. m.): he]
kamala: n. a lotus , lotus-flower , Nelumbium ; mfn. pale-red , rose-coloured
cāru: mfn. agreeable ; pleasing , lovely , beautiful , pretty
dīrghikā: f. an oblong lake or pond
dīrghī-- √ kṛ: to lengthen, prolong

dadarśa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. dṛś: to see, behold
tad (acc. sg. n.): that
vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest, wood
iva: like
nandanam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. rejoicing , gladdening ; n. gladdening or gladness ; a divine garden , (esp.) indra's paradise
vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest, wood

林流滿清淨 嘉木悉敷榮 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.63: Obeying a Higher Power

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−    Vaṁśastha
iti bruvāṇe 'pi narādhipātmaje nivartayām-āsa sa naiva taṁ ratham |
viśeṣa-yuktaṁ tu narendra-śāsanāt-sa-padma-ṣaṇḍaṁ vanam-eva niryayau || 3.63

Even with an offspring of a ruler of men telling him so,

He assuredly did not turn that chariot back;

Rather, following the order of the best of men,
to a wood imbued with special distinction,

To Sa-padma-ṣaṇda Vana
'the Wood of the Bull Set Free among Lotuses,'
he ventured further out.

The hero of today's verse is the man who is directing the chariot of joy, with confidence, in the very direction he sees fit to go in, even though that direction is totally opposite to the direction commanded by an offspring of a ruler of men.

The charioteer, master of the horses, is clear in his decision only to follow the order of the best of men and not necessarily to listen to the instructions of anybody but the best of men.

If the order of an offspring is “always try to maintain a good upright posture, in sitting and in standing and in walking” then the countermanding order of the best of men, whether a person is turning back the chariot of joy, or whether he is keeping right on to the end of the road, might be represented something like this: “Let the neck release, to let the head go forward and up, to let the spine lengthen and the back widen, while sending the knees forwards and away.”

Conversely, if the order of an offspring is “still still, keep quiet, and turn your attention back and in,” the countermanding order of the best of men might be “hit the road, Jack, get your body out, go out into the city, and talk the talk of liberation to anybody who has ears to listen.”

My guess is that Aśvaghoṣa was acutely conscious of the fact that when an offspring of a ruler of men expresses his or her own opinion in words, however imbued with particular distinction those words are, the teaching of the best of men is always "No. It is not that." 

That is why when Aśvaghoṣa signs off, in his colophon, he describes himself with self-deprecating irony as mahā-vādinaḥ, "talker of a great talk."

I am not putting myself on a par with Aśvaghoṣa, which would be ridiculous, except that in some sense, as a would-be translator of the Buddha's teaching into words, I am in the same leaky boat as he was in. 

When, for your sins, you read these comments of mine in which I endlessly express my view on the meaning of “turning back,” you are witnessing an offspring of a ruler of men telling you this and that.

But what Aśvaghoṣa translated into Sanskrit, and what I am endeavouring to translate into English, is only the teaching of the best of men.

For example, at the end of Aśvaghoṣa's epic story of Beautiful Joy, the Buddha orders Nanda:  
"Therefore forgetting the work that needs to be done in this world on the self, do now, stout soul, what can be done for others. /Among beings who are wandering in the night, their minds shrouded in darkness, let the lamp of this transmission be carried. // SN18.57 // Just let the astonished people in the city say, while you are standing firm, voicing dharma-directions, / 'Well! What a wonder this is, that he who was a man of passion is preaching liberation!'..." // SN18.58 //
And Nanda duly obeys the order of the best of men:
Thus spoke the Worthy One, the instructor whose compassion was of the highest order, whose words and equally whose feet Nanda had accepted, using his head; / Then, at ease in himself, his heart at peace, his task ended, he left the Sage's side like an elephant free of rut. // SN18.61 // When the occasion arose he entered the town for begging and attracted the citizens' gaze; being impartial towards gain, loss, comfort, discomfort, and the like and with his senses composed, he was free of longing; / And being there, in the moment, he talked of liberation to people so inclined -- never putting down others on a wrong path or raising himself up. // SN18.62 //
In the 4th pāda of today's verse, the wood to which the charioteer is directing the chariot is given a proper name – either a name drawn from a historical record, or a name that Aśvaghoṣa saw fit to make up, imbuing the wood with a special significance of his own choosing. I suspect the latter; hence when Aśvaghoṣa describes the wood as viśeṣa-yuktam, the ostensible meaning of viśeṣa-yuktam is “provided [by the king's doing] with special attractions (EHJ)” but the real meaning is “imbued [by Aśvaghoṣa's naming] with particular significance.”

EBC took the name of the forest/grove/park in the 4th pāda to be padma-khaṇḍa; EHJ's text based on an older version of old Nepalese manuscript has padma-ṣaṇḍa. Both expressions padma-khaṇḍa and padma-ṣaṇḍa are given in the dictionary as “a quantity/multitude of lotuses.”

In today's verse as thus read by EBC, EHJ, and PO, however, the pronoun sa (he) appears in the 2nd pāda and then is repeated in the 4th pāda, which seems uncharacteristic of Aśvaghoṣa's writing. An alternative is to take the name of the grove as sa-padma-ṣaṇḍa, which could be read in at least two ways – which is very characteristic of Aśvaghoṣa's writing.

The obvious reading of sa-padma-ṣaṇḍa, taking ṣaṇḍa to mean wood/thicket/grove, is “the Grove Containing Lotuses” – the lotuses in question being the beautiful women planted there by the king. Another reading that Aśvaghoṣa might have intended, taking ṣaṇḍa to mean a liberated bull, is “the Liberated Bull Among Lotuses.”

Somehow this latter reading of a liberated bull among lotuses seems to fit with the philosophical thrust of today's verse, which seems to rip away any view arising from yesterday's verse, as understood by an offspring of a ruler of men, who is liable to opine that the Buddha's teaching is all about sitting still on one's own.

After translating yesterday's verse and commenting on it, I thought I had done my job fairly well. But today's verse seems to remind me, in so many words, “As an offspring of a ruler of men, when it comes to knowing the teaching of the best of men, you do not know the half of it!”

iti: thus
bruvāṇe = loc. sg. pres. part. brū: to speak , say , tell
api: even, though
narādhipātmaje (loc. sg.): the self-begotten of the lord of men; the king's son
narādhipa: m. " lord of men " , king , prince
adhipa: m. a ruler , commander , regent , king
ātmaja: m. " born from or begotten by one's self " , a son

nivartayām-āsa = 3rd pers. sg. periphrastic perf. ni- √ vṛt: to turn back , stop
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
na: not
eva: (emphatic)
tam (acc. sg. m.): that
ratham (acc. sg.): m. chariot; joy, pleasure
viśeṣa-yuktam (acc. sg. n.): furnished with special things
viśeṣa: m. distinction , difference between; characteristic difference , peculiar mark , special property , speciality , peculiarity; distinction , peculiar merit , excellence ;
yukta: mfn. furnished or endowed or filled or supplied or provided with , accompanied by , possessed of (instr. or comp.)
tu: but
narendra-śāsanāt (abl. sg.): because of the man-lord's order
śāsana: n. punishment , chastisement , correction; n. an order , command , edict , enactment , decree , direction ; n. a royal edict ; n. teaching , instruction , discipline , doctrine

sa-padma-ṣaṇḍam (acc. sg. n.): “A wood containing lotuses” (?); “A liberated bull among lotuses”(?); “A enuch bearing a lotus” (?)
sa-: ind. prefix expressing "junction" , "conjunction" , "possession"
sa-padma: mfn. having a lotus
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
padma-ṣaṇḍam (acc. sg.): n. a multitude of lotuses (cf. padma-khaṇḍa)
ṣaṇḍa: mn. a group of trees or plants , wood , thicket ; any group or multitude , heap , quantity , collection; m. a bull set at liberty ; m. a breeding bull
ṣaṇḍha: m. (often wrongly written ṣaṇḍa , śaṇḍa , saṇḍha) a eunuch , hermaphrodite
padma-khaṇḍa: n. a quantity of lotuses ; N. of chapter of the brahmāṇḍa-purāṇa
vanam (acc. sg. n.): woods, forest
eva: (emphatic)
niryayau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. nir- √ yā: to go out ; to go from (abl.) to or into (acc.) ; to depart from life , die
nir = nis: ind. out , forth , away &c
√ yā: to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey

御者奉王勅 畏怖不敢旋
正御疾驅馳 徑往至彼園 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.62: Loser's Nirvāṇa

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bhadrā)
tasmād-rathaḥ sūta nivartyatāṁ no vihāra-bhūmer na hi deśa-kālaḥ |
jānan-vināśaṁ katham-ārti-kāle sacetanaḥ syād-iha hi pramattaḥ || 3.62

Therefore, O master of the horses, let our chariot of joy be turned back,

For this is not the time or the place for roaming around:

Knowing utter loss, in the hour of pain,

How could anybody possessed of consciousness 
be negligent in this area?”

The tendency to veer unconsciously from one extreme to the other has been impeccably demonstrated in recent weeks by the BBC, whose Newsnight programme miserably failed to broadcast an expose of a paedophile, and then over-compensated for this mistake by acting on the basis of baseless allegations about an ex-politician who was not a paedophile.

Awake, as a result of his own independent non-Buddhist investigations, to this human tendency to veer from side to side, FM Alexander wrote of “the great, broad mid-way path.”

Walking this broad path between extremes, generally known in Buddhist circles as “the middle way,” sometimes, it is true, does seem like walking along a razor's edge. But the impression of a narrow path that is incredibly painful and difficult to walk along probably says more about the lack of skill of the would-be walker of the path than the path itself.

The old saying goes that "The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard."

But this saying does not originate with the Buddha. Rather, it is contained in the Katha-Upanishad, 3.14.

In any event, today's verse, which as I have translated it touches both on enjoyment and on pain, causes me to reflect that after three weeks' retreat in France, eating whatever I like whenever I like, I invariably come back thinner than before I went, and able once again to get into my old chinos. Plus, when I am in France, I am spending a fair few of my waking hours experiencing, or sitting waiting to experience, pain in the legs. So some people might see those three weeks as devoted to ascetic practice. But other people, like my wife and the head of the Alexander training school that I regularly visit, tend to see my trips to France as me indulging myself by going off on holiday, again, as opposed to remaining in Aylesbury and making myself available for Alexander teaching and other gainful employment.

The point is that an hour of sitting practice can be an hour of enjoyment and at the same time an hour of pain – while at the same time being completely beyond hedonism or asceticism.

As further corroboration of this point, I remember Gudo Nishijima about 30 years ago advizing me and other foreigners who were not used to sitting cross-legged and therefore suffering inordinately painful legs during sitting retreats, “Don't worry about the pain in your legs. Enjoy the pain in your legs!”

The ostensible meaning of today's verse, then, is that the prince is telling the charioteer to turn back because, in view of the terrible suffering which death represented for sentient creatures, roaming around that beautiful parkland on a pleasure excursion was not appropriate.

But what today's verse really is, as I read it, is Aśvaghoṣa's characteristically indirect exhortation to us, to seek joy not by moving around outside but rather by 
(1) turning our attention inwards, 
(2) sitting still, 
(3) dropping off body and mind in the hour of painful legs, and 
(4) being attentive to “this certain conclusion” (iyaṁ niṣtā niyatā) described in yesterday's verse, and equally to “the utter loss” (vināśaṁ) described in today's verse.
The real meaning of iha in the 4th pāda, then, is not a geographical area but rather the area of utter loss.

It may be, on reflection, that my willingness to accept the old cliché about a razor's edge has been a kind of negligence. If I were more truly attentive, I might never have agreed to go through life carrying around the superfluous baggage of the concept of a narrow path. In unwittingly accepting the ancient Indian spiritual teaching of walking along a razor's edge, ever since seeing the 1984 film called The Razor's Edge, I have doubtless continued being negligent in the area of utter loss.

In conclusion, what is expressed in today's verse, as I read it, is loser's nirvāṇa. Being negligent in the area of utter loss is failing to know loser's nirvāṇa. And failing to know utter loss is being negligent in the area of practising loser's nirvāṇa. Practising loser's nirvāṇa does not mean practising as a loser, or as a winner; it might mean, in the hour of pain, without any self-consciousness of a winner or a loser, somehow enjoying the pain. But do not call it asceticism!

tasmād: ind. from that; therefore
rathaḥ (nom. sg.): m. " goer " , a chariot; joy, delight
sūta (voc.): a charioteer , driver , groom , equerry , master of the horse (esp. an attendant on a king
nivartyatām = 3rd pers. sg. causative passive imperative ni- √ vṛt: to turn back , stop (trans. and intrans.)
naḥ (gen. pl. m.): our

vihāra-bhūmeḥ (gen. sg.): f. (1) = vihāra-deśa m. a place of recreation , pleasure-ground; (2) a grazing-ground , pasturage
vihāra: walking for pleasure or amusement , wandering , roaming ; sport , play , pastime , diversion , enjoyment , pleasure
bhūmi: f. ground; area ; a place , situation; position , posture , attitude ; the part or personification (played by an actor) ; (metaph.) a step , degree , stage ; (ifc.) a matter , subject , object , receptacle i.e. fit object or person for
na: not
hi: for
deśa-kālaḥ (nom. sg.): m. (sg.) place and time for (gen.)
jānan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. √jnā: to know
vināśam: (acc. sg.): m. utter loss , annihilation , perdition , destruction , decay , death , removal
katham: ind. how?
ārti-kāle (loc. sg.): at a time of painful occurrence ; at a proper time for pain
ārti: f. painful occurrence , pain , injury , mischief; sickness
kāla: m. a fixed or right point of time , a space of time , time (in general); the proper time or season for (gen. dat. loc. , in comp); occasion , circumstance ; hour ; the end ; time (as destroying all things) , death , time of death (often personified)

sa-cetanaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having reason or consciousness or feeling , sentient , sensible , animate , rational
syāt = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be
iha: ind. in this place , here; to this place ; in this world ; in this case
hi: for
pramattaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. excited , wanton , lascivious , rutting ; mad, insane ; drunken , intoxicated; inattentive , careless , heedless , negligent , forgetful

即勅迴車還 非復遊戲時
命絶死無期 如何縱心遊 

Monday, November 26, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.61: Stiffened Minds

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Chāyā)
iyaṁ ca niṣṭhā niyatā prajānāṁ pramādyati tyakta-bhayaś-ca lokaḥ |
manāṁsi śaṅke kaṭhināni nṇāṁ svasthās-tathā hy-adhvani vartamānāḥ || 3.61

“This, for sentient creatures, is a certain conclusion,

And yet the world barges heedlessly about, disregarding danger.

Stiffened, I venture, are the mental sinews of men,

Who so self-assuredly remain on such a path.

The window of my bedroom in Aylesbury faces south over the Chiltern Hills in the distance, so that when the sun is shining on a cold November morning (Aylesbury being in the northern hemisphere) the bedroom is the warmest room in the house, and so sometimes I practise my second sitting of the day with my backside on a round cushion placed in the middle of a low futon bed which is firm enough to support the knees well. I am thus able to observe the clouds slowly make their way from right to left.

Since I am facing south, right to left means from west to east, following the wind blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean. Sitting like this, I wish to allow my neck to stop stiffening so that the head is allowed to release, in the first instance, not northward but southward. I wish to allow the head to release southward and upward, so that the back is allowed to widen, east to west, and west to east.

If I turned to face the wall instead of looking out the window, I would wish my head to release northward and up.

Again, if I lay on the bed with my knees bent, as I often do, I would wish my head to release up and north, and my knees to release up towards the ceiling.

So, as words, these directions that I am always going on about are changeable. The words change depending on what direction I am facing in, and whether I am sitting or lying down. But the wrong inner patterns that the words are designed to help prevent do not change. Something within, beginning with a tendency to stiffen the mind/neck, remains unchanging and certain. 

And at the same time, as long as I am sitting or lying down on mother earth, in the company of the force of 1g, something outside does not change either. Up is constantly up. And down is always down.

That up is always up is the kind of thing that Aśvaghoṣa, as I hear him, has in mind when he uses the words niṣṭhā niyatā prajānām, “a certain conclusion for sentient creatures” – although what he is ostensibly referring to, of course, is the inevitability of popping one's clogs, kicking the bucket, snuffing it.

Thinking on further, following on from how I understood yesterday's verse, iyam niṣṭhā niyatā, “this certain conclusion” might be an ironic way of referring to a starting point – the attitude expressed by the Buddha as “starting afresh from here,” the attitude which is symbolized by putting a shoulder to the tip of a pole of a yoke of a chariot and which is expressed by speech that is sonorous, being free of any pretense or any agenda.

Seeing further possible readings like this, that I fail to spot on first and second readings of Aśvaghoṣa's words, alerts me to the fact that I really do not know what Aśvaghoṣa's real intention was, any more than I can feel where up is. All I can say with confidence is that the ostensible meaning of Aśvaghoṣa's words is not the only one.

So if some commentator asserts that the definitive meaning of Aśvaghoṣa's words is this or that, all I can say with confidence is "No, you are wrong" -- even if the commentator in question is yours truly. Similarly, even though I cannot feel where up is, years of going wrong have afforded me some insight into where down is. If I have learned anything, I have learned  how easily I am liable to orient myself in that downward direction, primarily by failing to nip in the bud the endgaining-stiffened mind.

To arrive at the aforestated conclusion that up is up and down is down has not been so easy for the sentient creature who is writing this blog. Due to a congenitally dodgy vestibular system, I am liable to feel that to pull myself down by lifting my chest and arching my back, is to direct myself up; whereas in fact to pull myself down is not to direct myself up but only to pull myself down. This is the problem that FM Alexander termed “faulty sensory appreciation.” It turns out, however, that I am not the only damn fool who can't feel where up is, but who nevertheless deludedly believes that he can know where up is relying on feeling. Faulty sensory appreciation is a universal human problem.

Meeting a Zen master, far from leading me smoothly to the conclusion that up is up and down is down, on the contrary proved for 13 years to be a big stumbling block. But it is against the background of 13 years spent stiffening my neck and adhering to the path of sitting in full lotus and assiduously pulling myself down, that I think I understand what Aśvaghoṣa might be alluding to when in today's verse he writes of stiffening the mind and self-assuredly remaining on a path.

As ever, Aśvaghoṣa's allusion is an indirect one, camoflauged behind an ironic expression that could be read as affirmative -- manāṁsi kaṭhināni "with mental sinews stiffened," on the face of it, sounds like a virtue. 

When we consider the Buddha's example, as described in canto 3 of Aśvaghoṣa epic story of Beautiful Joy, the Buddha demonstrated what the bodhi mind really was not by stiffening his mind and sticking on the particular path of asceticism, but precisely by not doing that. Hence:
For ascetic practice, then, he left Kapilavāstu -- a teeming mass of horses, elephants and chariots, /Majestic, safe, and loved by its citizens. Leaving the city, he started resolutely for the forest. // SN3.1 // In the approach to ascetic practice of the various traditions, and in the attachment of sages to various restraints, / He observed the miseries of thirsting after an object. Seeing asceticism to be unreliable, he turned away from it. // 3.2 // Then Ārāḍa, who spoke of freedom, and likewise Uḍraka, who inclined towards quietness, / He served, his heart set on truth, and he left. He who intuited the path intuited: "This also is not it." // 3.3 // Of the different traditions in the world, he asked himself, which one was the best? / Not obtaining certainty elsewhere, he entered after all into ascetic practice that was most severe. // 3.4 // Then, having seen that it was not the path, he also abandoned that extreme asceticism. / Understanding the realm of meditation to be supreme, he ate good food in readiness to realise the deathless. // 3.5 // With golden arms fully expanded and as if in a yoke, with lengthened eyes, and bull-like gait, / He came to a fig tree, growing up from the earth, with the will to awakening that belongs to the supreme method of investigation. // 3.6 // Sitting there, mind made up, as unmovingly stable as the king of mountains, / He overcame the grim army of Māra and awoke to the step which is happy, irremovable, and irreducible. // SN3.7 //

Conclusively to have stopped barging heedlessly about, is a claim that this sentient creature, for one, is so far unable to make. But even while I am barging heedlessly about, 1g still equals 1g, and up is still up. That is as sure as eggs is eggs.

iyam (nom sg. f.): this, this here
ca: and
niṣṭhā (nom. sg.): f. state , condition , position ; firmness , steadiness ; completion , perfection , culminating or extreme point ; conclusion , end , termination , death
niyatā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. fixed , established , settled , sure , regular , invariable , positive , definite
prajānām (gen. pl. f.): creatures, living beings

pramādyati = 3rd pers. sg. pra- √ mad : to enjoy one's self , be joyous , sport , play ; to be careless or negligent , to be indifferent to or heedless about (abl. or loc.)
tyakta-bhayaḥ (nom. sg. m.): disregarding fear
tyakta: mfn. left, abandoned
tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit ; to leave a place , go away from ; to give up , surrender , resign , part from , renounce ; to shun , avoid , get rid of , free one's self from (any passion &c ); to set aside , leave unnoticed , disregard
bhaya: n.fear; sg. and pl. terror , dismay , danger , peril , distress
ca: and
lokaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the world, people

manāṁsi = acc. pl. manas: n. mind (in its widest sense as applied to all the mental powers) 
śaṅke = 1st pers. sg. śaṅk: to be anxious or apprehensive , be afraid of (abl.) , fear , dread , suspect , distrust (acc.); to be in doubt or uncertain about (acc.) ; to think probable , assume , believe , regard is (with two acc.) , suppose to be (śaṅke , " l think " , " I suppose " , " it seems to me ")
kaṭhināni (acc. pl.): n. hard , firm , stiff (opposed to mṛdu); harsh , inflexible , cruel
nṇām (gen. pl.): m. man

svasthāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. self-abiding , being in one's self (or " in the self " Sarvad. ), being in one's natural state , being one's self uninjured , unmolested , contented , doing well , sound well , healthy , comfortable , at ease ; relying upon one's self , confident , resolute , composed
tathā: ind. in such a manner
hi: for
adhvani = loc. sg. adhvan: m. a road , way , orbit ; journey
vartamānāḥ = nom. pl. m. pres. part. vṛt: to turn, roll ; to move or go on , get along , advance , proceed ; to be , live , exist , be found , remain , stay , abide , dwell ; to act or deal with , follow a course of conduct

公見身磨滅 猶尚放逸生
心非枯木石 曾不慮無常