Saturday, August 31, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.10: [Having/Being] Release-Desire

−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Rāmā)
kīrṇaṁ tathā puṇya-ktā janena svargābhikāmena vimokṣa-kāmaḥ |
tam-āśramaṁ so 'nucacāra dhīras-tapāṁsi citrāṇi nirīkṣamāṇaḥ || 7.10

Through the ashram that was filled in this manner

With pious people having desires upon heaven,

He, being desirous of release, steadily walked,

Observing the various ascetic practices.

If there is any merit in our sitting practice we traditionally direct it towards the buddhas of the three times, the three times being the past, present, and future.

In today's verse vimokṣa-kāma, “desiring release,” like the parallel compound svargābhikāma, “desiring heaven,” ostensibly means desiring in the present some imagined liberation in the future. But if we dig below the surface vimokṣa-kāma might mean, more practically, below that surface meaning, just desiring release here and now, in the present.

Yesterday I was caused to reflect on the above point by today's verse and also by the painful news that my wife's dog seems to be suffering from some chronic damage to her spine, suffered a couple of months ago in June, while the poor old dog was doing her level best to keep up with me when I took her cycling. This was while my wife was in Japan for three weeks, leaving me to look after the dog. Having wasted a lot of time and money on vets in Aylesbury, who gave the dog blood-tests and x-rays but no diagnosis, my wife took the dog yesterday to see a woman in Wales who really knows dogs, and this dog whisperer confirmed that, yes, the dog must have damaged her spine over-exerting herself, and it is not sure whether she will survive the injury or not.

Hearing this diagnosis and regretting that I caused the problem, I observed, seemed to make it more difficult for me to desire release in the practical sense – i.e. in the sense of wishing here and now for my head to go forward and up, my back to lengthen and widen, and my legs to release out of my pelvis. It made this desiring more difficult, and at the same time, I thought to myself, it made this desiring more imperative.

I can either sit regretting the mistake I made in the past, I reasoned, directing my head back and down in the process, or I can desire release here and now, directing the head forward and up.

Insofar as I follow my habit, I do the former, pulling my head back into the past. Insofar as I desire release, here and now, I inhibit my habit.

Such is the real, practical difficulty of the third noble truth. Desiring release in the future is not difficult – it is as easy as wishing to go to heaven. Desiring release here and now can sometimes be very difficult.

Such, at any rate, were my somewhat jaded thoughts yesterday afternoon, which I felt inspired to write down as above. And even though I felt inspired to write those thoughts down, when I sat again later in the evening, my sitting had only become even more jaded – namakura zazen, sitting-meditation with a blunt sword.

Much of BBC Radio 4's programming yesterday was given over to Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet who has just died. Listening to snippets of eulogies to him, I was shocked to discover that he was using the digging metaphor long before I was – but with this exception: for him, he had swapped the spade of his potato-digging potato-eating ancestors for a pen; for me, the instrument I have swapped with the spade of my potato-digging potato-eating ancestors is an eyeball. And that eyeball is the digging eye of sitting-meditation, which tends remarkably, if left alone, to dig all by itself.

So when I sat this morning, I saw that I had not dug deep enough in the comment I prepared yesterday, in which I had described vimokṣa-kāma, “desiring release,” as an action to be practised in the present.

In the original Sanskrit kāma is not a verb; vimokṣa-kāmaḥ is a nominative expression  – [being/having] release-desire. So the two parallel expressions are originallysomething like:

They, [having/being] heaven-over-desire.... he, [having/being] release-desire.

And the reason this matters is that desiring is a verb, whether the object of desiring resides in the future (like heaven) or in the present (like the whole self going up, but as a natural response to the earth, and not in a doing way). Desiring is something that I do in the present.

But when release-desire is scrutinized by that eyeball which is like a spade, release-desire is not always something that I do in the present. Release-desire might be more a function of the past. Release-desire might be something that has evolved for millions of years in human beings, like the desire to please the human beings who lead them has evolved in dogs  – with  consequences that sometimes pull heavily on our human heart-strings. 

Vimokṣa-kāmaḥ, release-desire, might be something that has been there since ancient times waiting for me to turn back to it, when I have given up pursuing a whole lot of other desires. 

Most pernicious of these other desires, it may be argued, is the desire to be right, which carries with it fear of being wrong, attendant upon which is fixing – the very antithesis of release. Quad Erat Demonstrandum. 

If there is any merit in this comment, or if there was any merit in the early-morning digging that preceded this comment, I dedicate any such merit to the buddhas of the three times, and also to all dogs everywhere.

kīrṇam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. scattered, strewn with ; filled with , full of (instr.)
tathā: ind. in such a manner
puṇya-kṛtā (inst. sg. m.): mfn. acting right , virtuous , pious
puṇya: n. the good or right , virtue , purity , good work , meritorious act , moral or religious merit
kṛt: mfn. only ifc. ( Pa1n2. 6-1 , 182) making , doing , performing , accomplishing , effecting , manufacturing , acting , one who accomplishes or performs anything , author
janena (inst. sg.): m. people

svargābhikāmena (inst. sg. m.): being desirous of heaven
svarga: m. heaven
abhi- √ kam: to desire, love
abhikāmena (inst. sg. m.): mfn. affectionate , loving , desirous (with acc. or ifc.)
abhi-: ind. (a prefix to verbs and nouns , expressing) to , towards , into , over , upon.
vimokṣa-kāmaḥ (nom. sg. m.): being desirous of liberation
vimokṣa: m. the being loosened or undone
vi- √ muc: to unloose, unharness; to take off; to release, set free, liberate

tam (acc. sg.): that
āśramam (acc. sg.): mn. a hermitage , the abode of ascetics , the cell of a hermit or of retired saints or sages
saḥ (nom. sg. m.): he
anucacāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. anu- √ car: to walk along
dhīraḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave

tapāṁsi (acc. pl.): n. heat ; religious austerity , bodily mortification , penance , severe meditation
citrāṇi (acc. pl. n.): mfn. conspicuous , excellent , distinguished ; variegated , spotted , speckled ; agitated (as the sea , opposed to sama) ; various , different , manifold ; strange, wonderful
nirīkṣamāṇaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. nir- √ īkṣ: to look at or towards , behold , regard , observe (also the stars) , perceive

菩薩遍觀察 林中諸梵志

Friday, August 30, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.9: Reciprocal Respect to Upholders of a Dharma

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Ārdrā)
tataḥ sa tair-āśramibhir-yathāvad-abhyarcitaś-copanimantritaś-ca |
pratyarcayāṁ dharma-bhto babhūva svareṇa sāmbho-'mbu-dharopamena || 7.9

Then, being honoured and invited, with due courtesy,

By those ashram-dwellers,

He in return, to the upholders of a dharma, paid his respects

With a voice like rain clouds filled with rain.

Today's verse as I read it contains a teaching that is antithetical to the view I usually express on this blog about religion, about asceticism, and so on.

The Buddha-dharma, Aśvaghoṣa leaves us in no doubt, is not an ascetic dharma. And yet that is no basis, today's verse seems implicitly to suggest – at least insofar as we can assume the Buddha-to-be to have piled up exclusively good karma – for holding an ascetic dharma in contempt. On the contrary, the prince's attitude is portrayed in today's verse as one of respect, at least towards individual practitioners, and at least as a starting point.

The rain-cloud simile in the 4th pāda contrasts with the sun-god simile in yesterday's verse, and puts me, for one, as I sit outside beside soil I have recently dug, my thirst being quenched by the sound of the forest stream, in mind of all the elements...

Not reflective sitting; not seated reflecting
On elemental earth, water, wind, fire and wood.
Behind the hedge, a bird belts out a flutey song
And sends flying the shattered shards of my square glass mirror.

My poetry may be crap, but sometimes, in the shade, on a sunny evening, especially after an afternoon nap, my sitting in lotus is not half bad.

The truth might be that sitting in lotus is inherently unfathomably good, but mine is always liable to taint it. Much less so, ironically, when I am on my own.

tataḥ: ind. then
sa (nom. sg. m): he
taiḥ (inst. pl.): by those
āśramibhiḥ (inst. pl.): mfn. belonging to a hermitage , a hermit , anchorite
yathāvad: ind. duly , properly , rightly , suitably , exactly

abhyarcitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. reverenced
abhy- √ arc: to praise, worship, reverence
ca: and
upanimantritaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. invited
upa-ni- √ mantr: to invite; to offer; to consecrate, inaugurate
ca: and

pratyarcayām babhūva = 3rd pers. sg. periphrastic perfect praty- √ arc: to greet in return or one by one
dharma-bhṛtaḥ = acc. pl. dharma-bhṛt: m. " law-supporter " , N. of princes and other men
bhṛ: to bear , carry , convey , hold ; to bear i.e. contain , possess , have , keep ; to support , maintain , cherish , foster ; (with , ājñām) to submit to , obey

svareṇa (inst. sg.): m. sound ; voice
bhādrāṁbu-dharopamena [e.c. EBC] (inst. sg. m.): like a raincloud in the rainy season
bhādra: m. (fr. bhadra , of which it is also the vṛddhi form in comp.) the month bhādra (a rainy month corresponding to the period from about the middle of August to the middle of September)
ambu-dharopamena (inst. sg. m.): like a raincloud
ambu-dhara: m. " water-holder " , a cloud
upama: mfn. (ifc.) equal , similar , resembling , like
sāmbho-'mbu-dharopamena [EHJ]: like a water-holding cloud holding water
sāmbhaḥ: mfn. having or containing water , watery
ambu-dharopamena (inst. sg. m.): like a rain cloud
ambu-dhara: m. " water-holder " , a cloud
upama: mfn. (ifc.) equal , similar , resembling , like

太子亦謙下 敬辭以問訊 
菩薩遍觀察 林中諸梵志

Thursday, August 29, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.8: Here Comes the Sun - Effortlessly (?)

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
lekharṣabhasyeva vapur-dvitīyaṁ dhāmeva lokasya carācarasya |
sa dyotayām-āsa vanaṁ hi ktsnaṁ yad-cchayā sūrya ivāvatīrṇaḥ || 7.8

For, like the physical double of Indra, bull of gods,

Like the glory of all that moves and is still in the world,

He lit up the whole forest –

As if the Sun himself had dropped by.

Aśvaghoṣa compares the enlightened Buddha to the shining sun, for example, in these two verses in SN Canto 3:
To people possessed by ends, serving many and various paths, / Splendour had arisen that seemed like the sun: Gautama was like the sun, dispelling darkness. // SN3.16 //
 He walked over water as if on dry land, immersed himself in the soil as though it were water, / Rained as a cloud in the sky, and shone like the newly-risen sun. // SN3.23 //
In today's verse, the prince is compared to the sun before his enlightenment – as also in BC7.6, in commenting upon which I omitted to mention that, as descendants of Ikṣvāku, the family of King Śuddodhana were regarded as belonging to the solar race.

More important than this allusion to descent from Ikṣvāku, however, is the principle that enlightenment did not change the Buddha from a person without light into a person with light. Rather, as the Buddha-to-be, the prince was already more than radiant enough to dazzle the eyes of ashram-dwelling sages.

Once again, then, though today's verse on the surface does not seem to have much to do with the one great matter which is the practice of sitting-meditation, the principle behind today's verse as I read it is the principle that Dogen states at the beginning of his instructions for sitting-zen – namely, that enlightenment is already abundantly present in the earth under our feet, in the vast emptiness overhead, and in the grass and trees of our own mind; so who needs to make a big effort?

In principle, not me, for one. But in practice it might be a different story. In practice I cycled 65 miles from the ferry port of Ouistreham in the middle of July in order to be here by the forest, and I am still here, not feeling too eager, I must admit, to go back to the noise of the Southeast of England.

The reason twenty years ago we moved to the noise of the Southeast of England in the first place, ironically, was so that I could train as a teacher of the technique of FM Alexander, who said of his work:
"When an investigation comes to be made it will be found that every single thing we do in the work is exactly what is done in Nature, where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously."
In the 4th pāda, yad-ṛcchayā can be read in this light. The dictionary gives yad-ṛcchayā as spontaneously, accidentally, unexpectedly, but in translation I intended “dropped by” to include both the sense of descent conveyed by avatīrṇaḥ (he alighted/descended) and the sense of effortless spontaneity conveyed by yad-ṛcchayā.

Marjory Barlow used to say that what really got her interested in the work of her uncle FM Alexander, when she was an avid reader of books at the age of 16, was the promise it held out of the possibility of living consciously, of really being conscious.

I suppose that the Buddha's enlightenment, similarly, and the possibility of us realizing what the Buddha realized, might be related with the possibility of consciously doing – or allowing -- what happens in Nature spontaneously or accidentally.

My wife trained as an Alexander teacher after me and she also practises sitting-meditation – though more intermittently than she used to, since getting a dog. My wife has observed in the past, and I agree with her, that being here by the forest gives one less of an incentive to think Alexander's directions. It is as if in a place where grass and trees are shooting up all around, the right thing is apt to do itself, even if one doesn't bother with the work of allowing it.

Having said that, I should add that just as I frequently stumble and fall while living in Aylesbury, so also am I quite capable of stumbling and falling from grace while residing here by the forest.

Everything seems to be going swimmingly... and then the internet connection goes down, a cockerel crows, and something within me suddenly, unexpectedly, yad-ṛcchayā, wishes to spit the dummy and throw the toys out of the pram.

Marjory's words remind me that “being wrong is the best friend we have got in this work.”

What work?

Mara wryly smiles.

lekharṣabhasya (gen. sg.): m. " best of gods " , N. of indra
lekha: m. a line, stroke ; (also pl.) a writing , letter , manuscript ; a god , deity
ṛṣabha: m. (fr. √2. ṛṣ, to thrust ), a bull (as impregnating the flock) ; any male animal in general ; the best or most excellent of any kind or race
iva: like
vapur-dvitīyam (nom. sg. n.): the embodied double; EBC/EHJ/PO: a second form
vapus: n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty ; body
dvitīya: mfn. second
vapur-dhara: m. having form , embodied ; having beautiful form , handsome
vapur-guṇa : m. personal beauty

dhāma (nom. sg.): n. dwelling-place , house , abode , domain RV. &c &c (esp. seat of the gods); favourite thing or person , delight , pleasure ; effect , power , strength , majesty , glory , splendour , light
iva: like
lokasya (gen. sg.): m. the world
carācarasya (gen. sg. m.): mfn. movable and immovable , locomotive and stationary , moving and fixed (as animals and plants) ; n. the aggregate of all created things whether animate or inanimate , world
cara: mfn. moving
acara: mfn. not moving

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
dyotayām-āsa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. periphrastic causative dyut: to make bright , illuminate , irradiate ; to cause to appear , make clear or manifest , express , mean
vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest, woods
hi: for
kṛtsnam (acc. sg. n.): all , whole , entire

yad-ṛcchayā: ind. spontaneously , by accident , unexpectedly
yad-ṛcchā: f. self-will , spontaneity , accident , chance
sūryaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the sun or its deity
iva: like
avatīrṇaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. alighted , descended

爲日月天子 而來下此耶 

要是所應敬 奔競來供養

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.7: Ashram-Dwellers (5): Holy Sages Versed in Vedic Mumbo Jumbo

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
kac-cid-vasūnām-ayam-aṣṭamaḥ syāt-syād-aśvinor-anyataraś-cyuto ' tra |
uccerur-uccair-iti tatra vācas-tad-darśanād-vismaya-jā munīnām || 7.7

“Could this be the eighth of the good gods (the vasus),

Or one of the two charioteers (the aśvins), alighting here?”

Calls like this went up on high,

Born of the bewilderment of the sages there, at seeing him.

Nobody was clearer than my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima when it came to clarifying that the real meaning of seeing/meeting Buddha is nothing religious, nothing spiritual, nothing ideal, nothing sacred, nothing romantic. Meeting Buddha means realizing nothing but reality as it is, including both its immaterial and its material side.

The immaterial side, again, does not mean anything religious or sacred or spiritual. The table at which I am now sitting, for example, before it existed as a table, during its construction as a table, and now as I sit at it, did exist and continues to exist in the realm of plans, designs, ideas. At the same time, it is a solid object made of wood.

To meet Buddha, philosophically thinking, is to see both these aspects of the table.

As I said, nobody in my book has ever been clearer in clarifying this point than my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima. When it actually came to reading reality, ironically, I noticed over the years that Gudo was much more prone to misread political and economic situations than was, for example, the Japanese economist in Tokyo for whom I did editing and translating work. During the years of the Japanese bubble economy which lasted till around 1990, for example, Gudo did not foresee the bursting of the bubble. He rather thought that Japan was naturally going from strength to strength, as the most civilized nation in the world. Even as he devoted his life to expounding a non-subjective dharma, Gudo remained, even by his own admission, “too subjective.”

So here is an irony with which, over the years, I have struggled to get into perspective. Gudo's teaching around meeting Buddha was spot on; he understood the principle with unrivalled clarity. But when it actually came to fulfilling his own criterion for meeting Buddha, Gudo could be spectacularly clueless.

As a concrete example of the latter failing, his tendency to cluelessness in practical matters, I always remember coming out of Gudo's office in Ichigaya one blustery winter evening and watching him struggle in vain to put up the portable umbrella he used to keep in his briefcase. He was standing with his back to the wind and so every time he began to open his umbrella out, the wind would catch it and bend the spokes back. "Open it into the wind" I suggested. So Gudo turned around, pointed the umbrella into the wind, and of course the whole thing opened out without any bother straight away. Gudo laughed out loud and said. "It is a kind of wisdom!" 

As an example of the former virtue, his clarity in expounding the principle, I will relate an episode which concluded with him telling me, with an elated expression on his face, “You are looking at Buddha!”

We were on the train on the Sobu line going from Gudo's office in Ichigaya to Asukusabashi, where Gudo's old office was, and where he gave a talk on Thursday evenings at Yanaga-bashi-kaikan. At the new office in Ichigaya, I would take dictations of his English translations of and commentaries on the koans in Shinji-shobogenzo, and then, carrying his bag to the station, I would accompany him to Asukasabashi, where he would go and eat a bento at his old office, and I would hang around either at a coffee shop, or down by the river, or sometimes I would sneak into a downstairs room of the Yanaga-bashi-kaikan and find somewhere to sit in lotus. Then I would listen to Gudo in his Japanese lecture analyse every koan according to a four-phased system of 苦 , 集 , 滅 , 道 (KU, SHU, METSU, DO; suffering, accumulation, cessation, and the path). In the following days I would type up and lightly edit what Gudo had dictated. I did that for around the first 200 of the 301 koans, then, when I decided to attack in earnest the translation of Shobogenzo itself, I passed the baton of Shinji-Shobogenzo to Michael Luetchford who finished the dictating. Several years later, MJL worked with Jeremy Pearson to turn the project into a book. By that time my role in originally initiating the project had been forgotten. When I spoke to MJL on the phone about it after the book was published, MJL remained convinced that the person who had originally done the dictating was Larry Zacchi. A few hours after this phone-call, having gone back and read the original drafts in his possession, MJL phoned me back and confirmed that, yes, in fact, he now realized they were my drafts. I heard later from Jeremy that Gudo had strongly insisted that Jeremy should put his name together with Gudo's on the front cover. That was because Gudo had got Jeremy confused with me. And that confusion was neither the result of meeting Buddha nor the result of failing to meet Buddha: that confusion was the result of senility. Neither did MJL or JMP have any intention to deceive anybody. The whole thing was an interesting study, from a certain standpoint, of history, or the truth of what really happened, diverging from people's memories and perceptions. But I digress...

While we were on the train on the way to Asukusabashi, the conversation got around to a woman who was much in my thoughts during my twenties and I mentioned to Gudo that there had been one or two recent developments which had caused me to see her in a less romantic, or idealized light. Quick as a flash, Gudo smiled broadly and said “You are looking at Buddha!”

To be given this kind of affirmation was at the same time surprising and deflating. What was being affirmed wasn't any kind of achievement, or anything that I could feel. There was no cause for punching the air. What in fact was being affirmed? Nothing. Certainly nothing religious, or spiritual, or sacred.

In today's verse, tad-darśanād, “because of looking at him,” as I read it, is a kind of ironic suggestion of failing to meet Buddha. Those holy sages who were versed in Vedic knowledge of mythical gods, when they set eyes on the human being who was the Buddha-to-be, were bewildered. Instead of seeing the Buddha-to-be as the human being he was, they put something sacred on him and marvelled at him. They beheld him with wonder as if he were divine. They saw him through religion-tinted glasses. That kind of religious or romantic or idealized view, as Gudo well knew, was the essence of failing to meet Buddha.

Gudo clearly knew what it was to fail to meet Buddha, and Gudo demonstrated with outstanding clarity what it was to fail to meet Buddha – not because his memory began to fail him in old age but rather because of the very attachment to romantic ideas that he maintained through his life, even while criticizing so mercilessly any such romantic or idealistic tendency in others. Chief among his romantic ideas was his own ability as a translator into English, which was by no means his mother tongue. One day I may thank him unreservedly for teaching me, above all, the meaning of irony, and for manifesting at the same time the mirror principle. But the day has not come yet.

My conclusion, then, is that tad-darśana, “seeing/meeting him,” in general in Aśvaghoṣa's writings corresponds to 見仏 (KEN-BUTSU), “meeting Buddha,” in Dogen's writings. And meeting Buddha in Dogen's writings, in the final analysis, cannot be realized only with the top two inches, however excellent those top two inches may be. What Dogen meant by meeting Buddha is a realization done and not done with the whole self responding to the gravitational pull of the whole earth.

In today's verse, however, the meaning of tad-darśana is different. The holy sages saw the prince, a normal human being shining with natural health and vitality, and instead of meeting Buddha they put on their Vedic spectacles and interpreted reality on the basis of a Vedic narrative – a narrative, that is to say, that is filled with idealistic, religious, romantic and superstitious mumbo jumbo.

kaś-cid: ind. anyone, one
kac-cid: (interrogative pronoun [EHJ])
vasūnām (gen. pl.): m. excellent , good , beneficent ; N. of the gods (as the " good or bright ones " , esp. of the ādityas , maruts , aśvins , indra , uṣas , rudra , vāyu , viṣṇu , śiva , and kubera) ; N. of a partic. class of gods (whose number is usually eight , and whose chief is indra , later agni and viṣṇu ; they form one of the nine gaṇas or classes enumerated under gaṇa-devatā q.v. ; the eight vasus were originally personifications , like other Vedic deities , of natural phenomena , and are usually mentioned with the other gaṇas common in the veda , viz. the eleven rudras and the twelve ādityas , constituting with them and with dyaus , " Heaven " , and pṛthivī , " Earth ")
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this one
aṣṭamaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. the eighth
syāt = 3rd pers. sg. op. as: to be

syāt = 3rd pers. sg. op. as: to be
aśvinoḥ = gen. dual. aśvin: m. du. " the two charioteers " , N. of two divinities (who appear in the sky before the dawn in a golden carriage drawn by horses or birds ; they bring treasures to men and avert misfortune and sickness ; they are considered as the physicians of heaven)
anyataraḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. either of two
cyutaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. moved , shaken; dropped, fallen
atra: ind. in this place , here at this time
vā: or

uccerur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. uc- √ car: to go upwards
uccaiḥ: ind. aloft , high , above , upwards , from above ; loud , accentuated ; intensely , much , powerfully
iti: “...,” thus
tatra: ind. there / then
vācas (nom. pl.): f. speech , voice , talk , language (also of animals) , sound (also of inanimate objects as of the stones used for pressing , of a drum &c ) RV. &c (vācam- √ṛ , īr , or iṣ , to raise the voice , utter a sound , cry , call) ; a word , saying , phrase , sentence , statement , asseveration

tad-darśanāt (abl. sg.): because of seeing him/it/that
darśana: n. seeing , observing , looking , noticing ; n. audience , meeting ; n. experiencing
vismaya-jā (nom. pl. f.) born of wonder / surprise
vismaya: m. wonder , surprise , amazement , bewilderment , perplexity
munīnām (gen. pl.): m. (prob.) any one who is moved by inward impulse , an inspired or ecstatic person , enthusiast ; a saint , sage , seer , ascetic , monk , devotee , hermit (esp. one who has taken the vow of silence)

彼諸梵志等 驚喜傳相告
爲八婆藪天 爲二阿濕波
爲第六魔王 爲梵迦夷天

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.6: Ashram-Dwellers (4): Those Who Were Milked

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Buddhi)
dṣṭvā tam-ikṣvāku-kula-pradīpaṁ jvalantam-udyantam-ivāṁśumantam |
kte 'pi dohe janita-pramodāḥ prasusruvur-homa-duhaś-ca gāvaḥ || 7.6

Seeing him, the lamp of the Ikṣvāku tribe,

Shining like the rising sun,

The cows that were milked for offerings,
though they had already been milked,

Were overjoyed, and they flowed forth again.

At the beginning of Saundara-nanda, Aśvaghoṣa describes the champion of asceticism and ashram-founder Kapila Gautama in terms which on the surface seem to be glowing, but which below the surface conceal barbed irony. Thus,
A sage named Kapila Gautama, an outstanding upholder of dharma, / Became as consumed in ascetic practice as was Kākṣīvat Gautama./ SN1.1 // Ceaselessly he shone his light, like Kāśyapa the sun, on blazing asceticism; / And in promoting that asceticism he pushed himself, like Kāśyapa the sage, to extreme achievement. // 1.2 // For the offerings he served himself, he milked a cow, like Vasiṣṭha. / In schooling his disciples in asceticism, he milked a cow, like Vasiṣṭha. // SN1.3 //
Milk (2b) : to draw or coerce profit or advantage from illicitly or to an extreme degree : exploit 

Thus it ever was: dumb beasts were milked in ancient India just as dumb western investors in gold exchange-traded funds have been milked in recent months of their gold. Mrs Wang, in contrast, has not been so dumb.

For Mrs Wang and Mrs Lee, and for me also, and I think also for Aśvaghoṣa, physical gold is an example of what is true, authentic, real. What are conspicuously not as true, authentic and real as physical gold are government promises which countries can only keep by creating money out of nowhere – providing that they are countries which (unlike Greece, say, or Portugal) have their own central banks.

Mining Aśvaghoṣa's gold is a metaphor for seeking truth or authenticity, especially in the context of sitting – hence the above strap line Digging out the meaning of kāñcanam-āsanam.  

Kāñcanam-āsanam means sitting made of gold.

This is a photo of Chilcote junior school first XI in the 1970-71 season that an old friend of mine recently posted on facebook. When I look at the photo it bugs me that I am missing from it, since, as I confessed yesterday, by the 1970-71 season I was already busy trying to adapt to the challenge of being promoted to Birmingham's top school for intellectual poshos. And trying was the operative word.

That's the personal background to how I understand Aśvaghoṣa's description of the ascetic peacocks and the deer-imitators. Peacocks are in the business of putting on a good show to impress others, which is the essence of bad faith. And deer-imitators are trying to be natural, trying to be authentic – sort of like paper gold. But Mrs Wang prefers the real thing, and my fellow travellers on the top deck of the 91 bus, who watched me trying every morning to look normal as I made my way to the school for intellectual poshos, told me in later years that they thought I was a complete wanker. In trying so hard to look normal, I stood out as much more inauthentic than the middle-class aspirants I wished to look different from. 

I am endeavoring to clarify, with reference to Aśvaghoṣa's writing and my own stumbling and falling through life, what I called yesterday the root irony. We are here to pursue the truth of the Buddha's teaching not only intellectually by reading, and not only emotionally by burbling on about compassion, but physically by sitting. That being so, we are interested in sitting not as a manifestation of bad faith but as the gold standard for authentic action. But here is the root irony: becoming conscious of authentic action as a goal and pursuing it as such, is apt to be seen by others, with justification, as the essence of inauthenticity. Trying to be right, in other words, makes us wronger and wronger. Quad Erat Demonstrandum. 

Yesterday's verse, then, does not seem to have anything to do with golden sitting. But, for those of us who are interested in mining Aśvaghoṣa's gold, just that is the point. Sitting like an ascetic peacock or a deer-imitator is precisely NOT it.

Today's verse, similarly, is pointing to what authentic sitting is NOT. Authentic sitting is not done with the mind of “what's in it for me?”

Most “holy men,” since their life is given over to higher spiritual pursuits, eschew the kind of gainful employment that would cause them to earn any money, whether of the gold or silver physical variety, or whether money in paper or digital form. At the same time, even the holiest of holy men still has to eat. Clearly recognizing this situation, one aged non-hypocrite in ancient China famously refused to eat after people had hidden his spade and mattock, saying “A day without work is a day without food.”

I think that Aśvaghoṣa also clearly recognized the hypocrisy that prevailed in the ashrams of ancient India, and which doubtless still prevails today, and this is what the reference to milking offerings is all about. The lamp shining like the rising sun, as I read it, might be intended to dazzle the eyes of those ascetic holy men, who have been held in such high regard in India, from ancient times through to the present day, so that the ascetic holy men might not notice how Aśvaghoṣa was ripping the piss right out of them.

dṛṣṭvā = abs. dṛś: to see
tam (acc. sg. m.): him
ikṣvāku-kula-pradīpam (acc. sg. m.): the light of the Ikṣvāku line
ikṣvāku: m. name of a son of manu vaivasvata (father of kukṣi and first king of the solar dynasty in ayodhyā); a descendant of ikṣvāku
kula: n. herd ; a race , family , community , tribe , caste , set , company
pradīpa: m. a light , lamp , lantern

jvalantam = acc. sg. m. pres. part. jval: to burn brightly , blaze , glow , shine
udyantam = acc. sg. m. pres. part. ud- √ yā : to rise (as the sun)
iva: like
aṁśu-mantam (acc. sg.): m. the sun , the moon ; mfn. fibrous , rich in filaments ; radiant, luminous

kṛte (loc. sg. m.): mfn. done , made , accomplished , performed
api: though
dohe = loc. mfn. ( √ duh) milking i.e. yielding , granting ; m. milking or milk
janita-pramodāḥ (nom. pl. f.): with gladness engendered in them
janita: mfn. born ; engendered, produced
pramoda: m. excessive joy , delight , gladness

prasusruvur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. pra- √ sru : to flow with , let flow , pour out (acc.)
homa-duhaḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. (a cow) giving milk for an oblation
homa: m. the act of making an oblation to the devas or gods by casting clarified butter into the fire, oblation with fire , burnt-offering , any oblation or sacrifice
duh: mfn. milking; yielding, granting
ca: and
gāvaḥ (nom. pl. f.): cows

甘蔗燈重明 猶如初日光
能感群乳牛 増出甜香乳

Monday, August 26, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.5: Ashram-Dwellers (3): Peacocks & Deer

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
hṣṭāś-ca kekā mumucur-mayūrā dṣṭvāmbu-daṁ nīlam-ivonnamantam |
śaṣpāṇi hitvābhimukhāś-ca tasthur-mgāś-calākṣā mga-cāriṇaś-ca || 7.5

Bristling with rapture also, the peacocks let loose their cries,

As if they had seen a dark raincloud rising up;

While, letting grass fall as they turned to face him,

The deer stood still, along with the deer-imitators,
with only their eyes moving.

In his description of the ashram of Kapila Gautama at the beginning of Saundara-nanda, Aśvaghoṣa again refers to the crying of peacocks, which – so I read somewhere – is annoyingly raucous. Whether it it as raucous as the competitive crowing of six cockerels in one enclosure, I do not know, and do not wish ever to find out. My French neighbour has reduced the number of her cockerels from the previous six to the present one, and, on a bad day, he is bad enough. But he is nothing like as bad as six cockerels used to be. So I should be grateful for small mercies.
The sound of the fires receiving offerings, of the peacocks with their crested heads uttering their repetitive cry,/ And of the sacred bathing places, during ablutions, was all that one heard there. // SN1.11 //
This reference to peacocks, as noted then, is a sardonic allusion to the chanting of the ascetics with their dreadlocked hair-dos. The reference to peacocks in today's verse, also, as I read it, is in the same sardonic vein.

With reference to peacocks of the feathered variety, Patrick Olivelle notes that It is a general belief expressed in poetry that peacocks burst into joyous song at the coming of the rains.

That being so, it seems natural to retain the accusative unnamanam (rising up), agreeing with ambu-dam (cloud), rather than amend it to the nominative unnamanah, agreeing with mayurāḥ (peacocks). It seems natural, in other words, to understand that what was rising up was a raincloud, rather than the peacocks. EHJ, however, saw fit to change unnamanam to unnamanaḥ on the basis of the Chinese and Tibetan translations. Even in so doing, though, EHJ noted that unnam is often used of clouds.

The reference in the second half of today's verse to mṛga-cārin, the ascetic practice of living like a deer (mṛga), puts into context Aśvaghoṣa's description of the prince in the opening verse of this Canto as mṛga-vat, like a deer, or like a forest creature. The point is that the prince was already like a creature of the forest without having to try. 

Indirectly, then, today's verse relates to the principle that Dogen expresses at the very beginning of his instructions for how to sit. The principle might be called the root irony which is beneath all of Aśvaghoṣa's irony.

Look at that bloke over there with his ankles on his thighs, making a big effort to be himself.

What an arsehole! Trying to be normal!

Wait a minute....

Is that a person? Or is it a mirror?

Jean-Paul Sartre, as he sat smoking his pipe in the cafes of post-war Paris, was aware of the kind of irony I am referring to, which has its roots in human self-consciousness and is related  with what Sartre called “bad faith” (mauvaise foi). This, according to Wikipedia, describes the phenomenon where a human being under pressure from societal forces adopts false values and disowns his/her innate freedom to act authentically.

Teenagers generally want to be seen as normal, especially if they are in some way abnormal. But even for a teenager I think that I was abnormally self-consciousness and I made efforts to show myself to be normal which in their degree were quite abnormal.

Part of the problem was that I passed an exam to go to the school which was generally regarded as being the “posh” school in Birmingham at that time – where Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher novels, was a year or two ahead of me. Skipping the last year of primary school, and thus becoming the youngest boy in my new school, did not help. Neither did having bright blonde hair and the nickname "Snowy" that benevolent maths teacher Jock Ramsay cruelly saddled me with. Only having one testicle – a secret that I kept to myself – didn't help either.

My efforts to appear normal included having more of a Birmingham accent than came naturally; making and quaffing, from the age of 13 onwards, large quantities of home-brew beer; and standing on the terraces watching Birmingham City FC and singing to opposition fans such edifying chants as “You're going to get your fucking heads kicked in.”

My liking for rugby was not an act, but one occasion stands out in my memory where bad faith caught up with me even on the rugby field. I was playing as a wing-forward for Greater Birmingham under 19s and scored the kind of try that a wing-forward is apt to score, picking up a loose ball and falling over the line. On the way back to the half-way line the burly number eight said to me, “You're a star!”

For fuck's sake. Now I was getting grief even playing rugby, and not from the opposition but from a bloke on my own team! I walked over to him and stood nose to nose. “Do you want to make something of it?” As he put his arms to my neck to push me away, I span to the side and broke his jaw with the point of my elbow, following this move with a knee to the floating ribs that cracked a couple of bones and made breathing difficult for him for a minute or two. As my sardonic team-mate lie gasping on the turf I looked down and asked him, “Normal enough for you?”

Thus, I suppose, was Jack Reacher born. Lee Child didn't go around head-butting and breaking the arms of the ruffians of 1970s Birmingham any more than I did. But he had plenty of cause to fantasize about doing that, and so did I.

On a more positive note, I would say that nothing helps me more to get over Sartre's problem of bad faith than being alone by the forest – by which I mean not only the emptiness of solitude but also the form and substance of trees in the sun and soil.

Not so much the nothingness, in other words, as the sheer solidity of the being.

I wouldn't claim to have got over the deer-imitators' problem of bad faith even now, at the age of 53 – except in odd moments, especially here in France. I'm still apt to be too self-conscious, too mindful, and too concerned what others might think – except in odd moments, like walking back from my Zendo/shed with a view to writing this blog, when the sight of the sun on the trees and the feel of the earth under the feet causes me temporarily to take full ownership of my own human existence.

Does that sound too pseudo to you, too pretentious, too intellectual? If so, do you want to make something of it? 

hṛṣṭāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. mfn. thrilling with rapture , rejoiced , pleased , glad , merry ; bristling, erect, standing on end
ca: and
kekāḥ (acc. pl.): f. the cry of a peacock
mumucur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. muc: to let loose ; send forth , shed , emit , utter , discharge , throw , cast , hurl
mayūrāḥ (nom. pl.): m. a peacock

dṛṣṭvā = abs. dṛś: to see, behold
ambu-dam (acc. sg.): m. 'water-giver', a cloud
nīlam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. of a dark colour , (esp.) dark-blue or dark-green or black
iva: like, as if
unnamantam = acc. sg. m. pres. part. un- √ nam
unnamantaḥ = nom. pl. m. pres. part. un- √ nam
un- √ nam: to bend upwards , raise one's self , rise

śaṣpāṇi (acc. pl.): n. young or sprouting grass , any grass ; loss of consciousness (= pratibhā-kṣaya)
hitvā = abs. hā: to leave , abandon , desert , quit , forsake , relinquish ; to discharge , emit
abhimukhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. with the face directed towards , turned towards , facing (with acc. dat. gen. ; or ifc.)
ca: and
tasthur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. sthā: to stand

mṛgāḥ (nom. pl.) m. beasts of the forest, deer
calākṣāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with restless eyes
cala: mfn. moving , trembling , shaking ,
akṣa: n. [only ifc. for akṣi] , the eye.
mṛga-cāriṇaḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. acting like a deer (as certain devotees)
cārin: mfn. ifc. moving , walking or wandering about , living , being ; acting , proceeding , doing , practising
ca: and

孔雀等衆鳥 亂聲而翔鳴
持鹿戒梵志 隨鹿遊山林
麁性鹿睒 見太子端視 
隨鹿諸梵志 端視亦復然