Monday, September 30, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.40: A Stairway to Heaven (Designed to Make Us Really Wonder)

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
tīrthāni puṇyāny-abhitas-tathaiva sopāna-bhūtāni nabhas-talasya |
juṣṭāni dharmātmabhir-ātmavadbhir-devarṣibhiś-caiva nṛparṣibhiś-ca || 7.40

All around us, likewise, are holy [or wholesome] bathing places,

Which are akin to stairways to heaven
[or which, at the level of the air, consist of steps];

They are frequented by seers whose essence is dharma
and by seers who are full of the essence –

By divine seers and by seers who are protectors of men.

The reference to stairs or steps (sopāna = stairs, steps, stairway) conjures images in the mind of steps leading down to the Ganges, and indeed googling “sacred bathing places, India” causes vague images in the mind to be replaced by more concrete images right there on the screen.

The 2nd pāda of today's verse also inevitably brings to mind the words of an old folk song written by a bloke like me who emanated out of the west middle-earths. Robert Plant, Wikipedia confirms, was born in West Bromwich and went to school in Stourbridge – not a million miles from where I was born. If we had stuck to our original career-paths, he might have ended up mentoring me in chartered accountancy.

The 2nd pāda of today's verse, then, sopāna-bhūtāni nabhas-talasya, which might be translated “akin to a stairway to heaven” on the face of it confirms that puṇyāni in the 1st pāda is describing the bathing places, or fords, as sacred or holy, leading to heaven.

That being so, tīrthāni puṇyāni sopāna-bhūtāni nabhas-talasya ought to be translated in such a way as to emphasize the heavenward orientation of the sacred bathing places; hence:
holy spots of pilgrimage, which become ladders to heaven (EBC)
holy pilgrimage places, very stairways to the sky (EHJ)
sacred fords, which are true stairways to the heavenly plane (PO).

But this is not the only way to understand bhūta (which means both “being like” and “being/consisting of”) and tala (which means “level/plane” [as per PO's translation], but which can be understood as pleonastic, and hence not necessary to be translated [as per EBC/EHJ's translations], and which at the same time can mean something as concrete and basic as “the sole of the foot”).

When we think in concrete material terms what a place called a tīrtha (a sacred bathing site, a sacred ford, a place of sacred waters) really is, it can never be nothing but holy water. A place that consisted only of holy water might be a suitable place of pilgrimage for a fish, but not for a human being  unless equipped with scuba-diving gear. When we think in these terms, sceptically, irreligiously, it is evident that a sacred bathing place where human beings bathe, at the level of water, must consist of water, but at the level of the air it must consist of steps. 

Thus, on further reflection, I think Aśvaghoṣa deliberately constructed the 2nd pāda both of today's verse and of yesterday's verse to be amenable to be read as an expression of something religious, spiritual and sacred, and, on the contrary, as an expression of something natural, material and concrete – possibly as a kind of test of our mental flexibility.

That being so, I have not only used square brackets in today's verse but have also gone back to yesterday's verse and added an alternative translation of puṇyaḥ himavān śailaḥ in square brackets, so that the 2nd line now reads:

Rises a holy Himālayan mountain 
[or a pleasant snow-clad peak] 

If we read the first two pādas of today's verse in this light, as expressions of the sacred and the concrete being combined together, then the 3rd pāda can also be read like that, and the 4th pāda can also be read like that.

On the surface, then, the veteran ascetic is again simply trying to persuade the Buddha-to-be that this ashram will be a good place for him to stay and practise. But below the surface, I think Aśvaghoṣa has put into the mouth of the veteran practitioner words that are designed to really make us wonder.

In conclusion, what has a verse like today's verse got to do with sitting in lotus? Not much, you might think – except that sitting with the body and sitting with the mind are mutually antithetical conceptions.

A boat is a boat. Whether it is powered and directed by oar or by sail, the movement of a boat is the movement of a boat. If a person uses a boat to get from A to B for years and years only by rowing, and then he puts a sail up and starts to sail from A to B, the movement from A to B is still the movement from A to B, and the boat is still the boat. But moving the boat by one's own muscular doing, and sailing the boat using the power of the wind, are totally different approaches.

So it is, as I see it, with sitting with the body and sitting with the mind.

And thus, I hope, I passed Aśvaghoṣa's test of mental flexibility, not so much because of being a bright spark, but rather because of having spent several hours a day for the last thirty years investigating what the hell it is to sit in full lotus and yet fail to drop off body and mind. 

tīrthāni (nom./acc. pl.): n. a passage , way , road , ford , stairs for landing or for descent into a river , bathing-place , place of pilgrimage on the banks of sacred streams , piece of water
puṇyāni (nom./acc.. pl. n.): mfn. auspicious , propitious , fair , pleasant , good , right , virtuous , meritorious , pure , holy , sacred
abhitaḥ: ind. near to , towards ; (with acc.) on all sides , everywhere , about , round
tathā: ind. likewise
eva: (emphatic)

sopāna-bhūtāni (nom./acc. pl.): being / being like a stairway
sopāna: n. stairs , steps , a staircase , ladder to (gen. or comp.)
bhūta: (ifc.) being or being like anything , consisting of
nabhas-talasya (gen. sg.): n. " sky-surface " , firmament
nabhas: n. mist , clouds , vapour (esp. of the soma); the sky or atmosphere (du. heaven and earth AV. )
tala: n. surface , level , flat roof (of a house) ; the part underneath , lower part , base , bottom ; mn. the palm (of the hand) ; mn. the sole (of the foot) ; n. the root or seed of events

juṣṭāni (nom./acc. pl. n.): mfn loved, frequented, visited
dharmātmabhiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. religious-minded , just , virtuous , dutiful ; m. a saint , religious person
ātmavadbhiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. having a soul ; self-possessed , composed , prudent
ātman: m. breath ; the soul , principle of life and sensation ; the individual soul , self , abstract individual ; essence , nature , character , peculiarity (often ifc. e.g. karmā*tman , &c )

devarṣibhiḥ (inst. pl.): m. a ṛṣi , a saint of the celestial class
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
nṛparṣibhiḥ [old Nepalese manuscript] (inst. pl.): m. a royal sage, Bcar.
nṛ-pa: m. (√3. pā) protector of men , prince , king , sovereign
√pā: to watch , keep , preserve ; to protect (a country) i.e. rule , govern ; to observe , notice , attend to , follow
maharṣibhiḥ [EBC/EHJ] (inst. pl.): m. a great ṛṣi , any great sage or saint
ca: and

衆多諸學士 由此路生天

Sunday, September 29, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.39: A Vicious or a Virtuous Circle?

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Sālā)
brahmarṣi-rājarṣi-surarṣi-juṣṭaḥ puṇyaḥ samīpe himavān hi śailaḥ |
tapāṁsi tāny-eva tapo-dhanānāṁ yat-saṁnikarṣād-bahulī-bhavanti || 7.39

For near to us,
inhabited by brahmin seers, king-seers, and god-seers,

Rises a holy Himālayan mountain 
[or a pleasant snow-clad peak] 

Through whose closeness are augmented

Those very investments of painful effort 
of people whose capital is painful effort.


To recite these words at the end of a session of sitting-meditation, even if it is a solitary one, is a reminder of belonging to an effort that is bigger than oneself...

All buddhas in the ten directions and of the three times,
All venerable bodhisattvas and maha-sattvas,
The great transcendent accomplishment which is real knowing –

Is the veteran practitioner who is speaking today's verse a venerable maha-sattva expressing the mahā-prajñā-pāramita

Or is he a pitiful devotee of asceticism talking the religious nonsense of a believer in holy mountains? 

Is he one of us? 

Or is he one of them? 

Puṇyaḥ himavān śailaḥ, translated as “the holy mountain Himavat” (as per EBC and EHJ) or “the holy Himālaya mount” (as per PO), tends to suggest the latter. But “a pleasant snow-clad rock,” which is an equally literal translation of puṇyaḥ himavān śailaḥ, tends to suggest something much less religious – something maybe more appealing as a venue for a skiing holiday. I have translated puṇyaḥ as “sacred” partly for conformity, because puṇyāni is repeated tomorrow in connection with tīrthāni, sacred bathing places. But the point is that the original Sanskrit is more ambiguous than our English translations are wont to be.

A clue that the veteran practitioner who is speaking today's verse might in fact be a maha-sattva speaking real wisdom, is contained in the order of the four elements of 
1. brahmin seers (representing something spiritual), 
2. king-seers (embodying material power), 
3. god-seers (suggesting something transcendent), and 
4. a magnificent Himālayan mountain (being conspicuously real).

So ostensibly in today's verse the veteran ascetic is expressing a kind of religious belief which is born of an ascetic dharma, and which is tied up with specifically Indian culture; but the veteran practitioner's words also can be read as expressing, below the surface, a universal truth born of experience of a kind of circle whereby painful effort begets further painful effort – and not necessarily in a vicious way, but sometimes in a virtuous way.

The truth may be that, whether for better or for worse, whether as part of a virtuous circle or a vicious one, effort tends to beget effort, practice tends to beget practice. Hence the old adage that if you want something doing, ask a busy man. 

And equally, if you want some doing stopped, ask a man or a woman who is devoted to non-doing. Or better still, leave him or her alone, and practise the stopping for yourself.

A virtuous circle is something I definitely experienced when I came back from Japan to England nearly 20 years ago and began training to be a teacher of the FM Alexander Technique. I experienced a virtuous circle whereby stopping the things I had got into the habit of doing (like pulling in my chin to keep my neck bones straight) caused me to become more aware, and the more aware I became the more I saw what was to be stopped. So it was a virtuous circle of stopping and becoming aware, and I was struck by it as such with a force commensurate with the degree to which I had previously been caught in the monkey trap of unconscious doing. Early experiences of Alexander work are liable to be like that, but as one persists with the work there is less to sense in the way of that kind of dramatic change. The monkey is liable to forget what it was like to have his wrist caught in the neck of the bottle, unable to withdraw his fist as long as it was closed around a desired peanut. 

For a closer illustration of the virtuous circle which I think today's verse is pointing to, whereby enjoyment of painful practice begets further enjoyment of painful practice, I remember the words of Master Tendo Nyojo quoted in Shobogenzo chap. 30, Gyoji:
At places where I hung my traveling staff, I never entered or saw inside a hut or dormitory. How much less could I expend effort on outings and jaunts among the mountains and waters? Besides practising sitting-zen in the Cloud Hall and the common areas, I would sit at quiet and convenient places, going alone to an upper floor or in search of some secluded spot. I always carried a round cushion inside my sleeve, and sometimes I would even sit at the base of a crag. I always felt I would like to sit through the Diamond Seat – that was the end which I hoped to gain. There were times when the flesh of my buttocks swelled up and burst. At these times, I liked sitting-zen all the more.
What Dogen's teacher is expressing here is not asceticism. But neither is it the easy negation of asceticism by somebody sitting in an academic easy chair. Hence the difficulty of the present Canto, which is not presenting a one-sided view, and which Aśvaghoṣa might have intended us to understand on more than one level.

The ostensible meaning of the second half of today's verse is that enduring ascetic practices in the presence of a holy mountain augments the merit of those ascetic practices. EBC's translation makes this explicit:

by whose mere presence the merit of these penances becomes multiplied to the ascetics.

EHJ also understood that what is augmented is the efficacy of austerities:

and by its neighbourhood those very austerities of the ascetics become multiplied in efficacy.

PO's translation is a much better reflection of the original:

Because it is near, those very austerities of men rich in austerity are amplified.

PO's translation is much better than EBC's and EHJ's translation for three reasons. Firstly, “men rich in austerity” conveys the original sense of tapo-dhanānām meaning men whose wealth, money, capital, or currency was ascetic practice – because, for many of those men, ascetic practice was the money by which they hoped to buy sex with celestial nymphs, as Nanda hoped in SN Canto 11. Secondly, PO's translation retains the original meaning that what was amplified was the austerities themselves, or the ascetic efforts themselves (hence tāny-eva), and not the merit or efficacy thereof. And thirdly, the sense of something other than the mountain being amplified by the grandeur of the mountain is rather poetic, romantic, and beautiful, and is elegantly conveyed as such in few words. 

In view of the financial connotation of tapo-dhanānām, and possibly reflecting my past life as a student of accountancy and financial management, I considered a translation along these lines, bringing out the financial metaphor:

Through whose proximity, when people whose capital is painful effort make investments of painful effort, those very efforts accrue to them in abundance.

Compared with this translation, however, PO's translation struck me as not only briefer and more elegant, but also – at least insofar as "austerities" includes the sense of practice itself, or effort itself  as truer to Aśvaghoṣa's original:

Because it is near, those very austerities of men rich in austerity are amplified.

The point I want to be clear about, in conclusion, is that ostensibly the veteran ascetic is expressing a principle which, as translated by PO, sounds beautiful – one's practice of pain becomes all the greater, all the more painful, from being done in the presence of a magnificent Himālayan mountain.

For a Buddhist who is in touch with his reason, however, asceticism is asceticism – a viewpoint which, however elegantly, beautifully and romantically it is expressed – we are here coldly to shun.

But, there again, if we dig deeper below this great big snow-clad rock, it may be possible – maybe after having dug for an hour or two and then turned our backs on the rock and walked away from it – to hear other, deeper echoes too.

brahmarṣi-rājarṣi-surarṣi-juṣṭaḥ (nom. sg. m.): loved/frequented by brahmin seers, royal seers, and divine seers
brahmarṣi: m. " Brahmanical sage " , N. of a partic. class of sages supposed so belong to the Brahman caste (as vasiṣṭha &c )
rājarṣi: m. a royal ṛṣi or saint , ṛṣi of royal descent , that holy and superhuman personage which a king or man of the military class may become by the performance of great austerities
surarṣi: m. a divine ṛṣi , a ṛṣi dwelling among the gods
juṣṭa: mfn. liked , wished , loved ; frequented , visited , inhabited

puṇyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. auspicious , propitious , fair , pleasant , good , right , virtuous , meritorious , pure , holy , sacred
samīpe (= loc. samīpa): in the vicinity , near , close at hand , beside , in the presence of , at the time of , before , at , towards "
himavān (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having frost or snow , snowy , frosty , icy , snow-clad ; m. a snowy mountain ; m. the himālaya
hi: for
śailaḥ (nom. sg. m): mfn. made of stone , stony , rocky ; m. a rock , crag , hill , mountain

tapāṁsi (nom. pl.): n. austerities, ascetic practices
tāni (nom. pl. n.): those
eva: (emphatic)
tapo-dhanānām (gen. pl. m.): of/for those rich/steeped in austerities

yat: which
saṁnikarṣāt (abl. sg.): m. drawing near or together , approximation , close contact , nearness , neighbourhood , proximity , vicinity
bahulī-bhavanti = 3rd pers. pl. bahulī-√ bhū: to become widespread , spread , increase (intrans.) ; to become public or known

此處諸梵志 王仙及天仙
皆依於此處 又隣雪山側
増長人苦行 其處莫過

Saturday, September 28, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.38: Coming & Going, Fullness & Emptiness, As Matters of Life & Death

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
tvayyāgate pūrṇa ivāśramo 'bhūt-saṁpadyate śūnya iva prayāte |
tasmād-imaṁ nārhasi tāta hātuṁ jijīviṣor-deham-iveṣṭam-āyuḥ || 7.38

“At your coming the ashram seemed to become full,

At your going, it seems to become empty;

Therefore, my son, you should desist from leaving
this [place of painful exertion] –

Like the cherished life-force [not leaving]
the body of a man who is fighting for his life.

Ostensibly in today's verse the senior ascetic is expressing on behalf of all the ascetics of the ashram their very sincere wish that the Buddha-to-be should stay in their ashram. Ostensibly the old ascetic is saying that they rejoiced when the ashram become as if full, or complete, but now they are sad that it is becoming as if empty.

If a reading is sought that opposes the surface meaning of wanting fullness and fearing emptiness, that reading might point us towards indifference in regard to either fullness or emptiness, or even towards affirmation of both fullness and emptiness.

I have observed before that Aśvaghoṣa seems to eschew philosophical abstractions, or technical terms, like buddha-tā, the Buddha-nature, and śūnya-tā, emptiness, preferring more indirect means and more concrete means, and especially the means of similes and metaphors. So if we want to infer something from today's verse about Aśvaghoṣa's teaching on buddha-tā, the Buddha-nature, and śūnya-tā, emptiness, we had better get out our spades and start digging. 

The first and second stages of sitting-dhyāna, as Aśvaghoṣa describes them, are full of joy. But that joy is described as born of separateness, or born of solitude. And realization of the third and fourth stages of sitting-dhyāna is described as dependent on a decision to carry on up in such a way as to rise above joy towards detachment and empty awareness. So sitting-meditation itself might in some sense be described as coming and going of fullness and emptiness.

Again, the word āśrama, meaning an ashram or abode of ascetics, is from the root √śram which means to make painful effort. So the ascetic in today's verse, in comparing the human body to an ashram, or a place where painful exertion is supposed to go on, points us back to philosophical question number one:

Since we have the buddha-nature already, since we have been living in the truth since our birth, since we climbed up Bodhidharma's intention in our childhood, what is the point of tying our legs in a knot and subjecting ourselves now to painful exertion?

Tapping on a computer keyboard from the comfort of a swivel chair it is easy to negate the ascetic impulse, as the Buddha-to-be has negated it in this Canto, on the basis of reason.

But Aśvaghoṣa will relate at the end of BC Canto 12 how the Buddha-to-be, notwithstanding powers of reasoning much more excellent than anybody today could muster, decides to throw himself after all into ascetic practice. And thus the Buddha-to-be suffers through 
six years of upright sitting.

If even the Buddha-to-be was like that, as Dogen asks us,
how can people today not make effort?

In conclusion, then, the simile in the 4th pāda, as I read it, expresses a sincerity that is not to be dismissed so lightly as the sentimental plea of an old ascetic who has become emotionally attached to a shining young prince. A sentimental plea is what today's verse looks like on the surface. But Aśvaghoṣa's intention is always to invite us to dig below the surface.

tvayi (loc. sg.): you
āgate = loc. sg. past. part ā- √ gam: to come
pūrṇaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. full
iva: like, as if
āśramaḥ (nom. sg.): m. ( √śram) , a hermitage , the abode of ascetics , the cell of a hermit or of retired saints or sages
√śram: to become weary or tired ; to make effort , exert one's self (esp. in performing acts of austerity) , labour in vain
abhūt = 3rd pers. sg. aorist. bhū: to be, become

saṁpadyate = 3rd pers. sg. sam- √ pad: to become , prove , turn into (nom.)
śūnyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. empty
iva: like
prayāte = loc. sg. past. part pra- √yā: to part, go away

tasmād: ind. therefore
imam (acc. sg. m.): this [ashram]
na: not
arhasi = 2nd pers. sg. arh: to ought
tāta (voc.): a term of affection addressed to a junior
hātum = inf. hā: to abandon, leave

jijīviṣoḥ = gen. sg. m. jijīviṣu: mfn. desirous of life
deham (acc. sg.): mn. ( √ dih , to plaster , mould , fashion) the body
iva: like
iṣṭam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. liked, beloved, cherished
āyuḥ (nom. sg.): n. life , vital power , vigour , health , duration of life , long life ; active power , efficacy

汝忽來至此 園林妙充滿
而今棄捨去 遂成丘曠野 
如人愛壽命 不欲捨其身
我等亦如是 唯願小留住 

Friday, September 27, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.37: Maturity & Respect

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Premā)
athopastyāśrama-vāsinas-taṁ manuṣya-varyaṁ parivārya tasthuḥ |
vddhaś-ca teṣāṁ bahu-māna-pūrvaṁ kalena sāmnā giram-ity-uvāca || 7.37

And so the ashram-dwellers stepped near

And stood surrounding that most excellent human being,

And the most mature among them, being full of respect,

Spoke in a soft voice these gentle words:

All buddhas of the ten directions and the three times
All revered and respected bodhi-sattvas and maha-sattvas

In the 3rd pāda of today's verse vṛddhaś-ca teṣām means the eldest among them and at the same the most developed or most experienced, the most mature, the one who has grown the most – vṛddha is the past participle from the root √vṛdh, which originally means to grow.

This most mature of ascetics described in today's verse is not a buddha, but he might be a maha-sattva, a great being. Which is not to say that asceticism is great, but is to acknowledge that even in sects of asceticism, and other schools that I don't wish to belong to, it is possible for great individuals to exist who are worthy of respect and reverence. 

As a rule, however, I don't think that the state of buddha is ever sectarian. So a sectarian buddha might be a contradiction in terms. 

After publishing yesterday's post, it occurred to me that I would like to start a campaign to end sectarian madness, and to say to anybody who would like to join with me: You are part of the problem!

As the Buddha-to-be stands now at the foot of an auspicious and splendid tree, he has made up his mind (at least for the moment) that asceticism is not the path and on that basis has set off out of the ashram. He has not wanted to express his conclusion to the ascetics in the ashram. He has felt no compulsion to tell them all that, in his judgement, they are barking up the wrong tree. He has simply made to leave. 

But since actions speak louder than words, the ascetics have seen him heading out, and they want to know why. In that sense, as the Buddha-to-be stands there now, surrounded by those sincere believers in an ascetic dharma, he really has entered the ascetic woods.

In BC7.48 the Buddha-to-be will tell the ascetics his conclusion (which is in fact not yet a conclusion, but only a view):
svargaya yuṣmākam ayam tu dharma mam' ābhilāṣas tv-apunar-bhavāya
This dharma of yours is directed towards heaven, 
but my desire is freedom from becoming.

I think Aśvaghoṣa is interested in the process whereby the Buddha-to-be is able to express this view without antagonizing the ascetics. And one of the circumstances which makes it possible for him to extricate himself harmoniously from the ascetic woods is the maturity shown by the veteran ascetic who is about to speak.

The implicit point that Aśvaghoṣa seems to be making in today's verse, then, and indeed throughout the present Canto, is that excellent human beings – whether the excellence is inherent or the outcome of a process of growth or age or experience – are able to agree to disagree, without antagonizing each other unduly.

Young sectarian firebrands of all stripes, in contrast, seem to wish to go out of their way to antagonize people who don't share their particular views. One such young firebrand, it may be argued, was the young Zen Master Dogen who, when he came back from China in his mid-twenties declaring in so many words that his return represented the entry point of the true Dharma into Japan, caused those he had antagonized – at least so the story goes as I heard it – to burn down his temple.

One might think that Zen, being about nothing if not attention and awareness (as opposed to trying unconsciously to be right), would be immune to sectarian folly. One might think the same about the FM Alexander Technique. And in that view one might be demonstrably wrong!

atha: ind. and so, then
upasṛtya = abs. upa- √ sṛ: to go towards, step near, approach
āśrama-vāsinaḥ (nom. pl. m.): the ashram-dwellers
tam (acc. sg. m.): him

manuṣya-varyam (acc. sg. m.): the best of men
manuṣya: m. a man , human being
varya: ifc. excellent , eminent , chief , principal , best of (gen. or comp.)
parivārya = abs. pari- √ vṛ : to surround
tasthuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. sthā: to stand

vṛddhaḥ (nom. sg.): m. an old man (ifc. " eldest among "); mfn. grown , become larger or longer or stronger , increased ; grown up , full-grown , advanced in years , aged , old , senior ; experienced , wise , learned ; exalted , joyful , glad
√ vṛdh: to increase , augment , strengthen , cause to prosper or thrive; to elevate , exalt , gladden , cheer , exhilarate ; to grow , grow up , increase , be filled or extended , become longer or stronger , thrive , prosper , succeed
ca: and
teṣāṁ (gen. pl. m.): of them, among them
bahu-māna-pūrvam: ind. with much respect

kalena (inst. sg. n.): mfn. low , soft (as a tone) , emitting a soft tone , melodious (as a voice or throat)
sāmnā = inst. sg. sāman: n. calming , tranquillizing , (esp.) kind or gentle words for winning an adversary , conciliation , negotiation
giram (acc. sg.): f. invocation , addressing with praise , praise , verse , song ; f. speech , speaking , language , voice , words
iti: thus
uvāca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vac: to speak

梵志諸長幼 圍繞合掌請 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.36: Thinking, Feeling, Action – and a Splendid Tree.

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Chāyā)
tato jaṭā-valkala-cīra-khelāṁs-tapo-dhanāṁś-caiva sa tān-dadarśa |
tapāṁsi caiṣām-anurudhyamānas-tasthau śive śrīmati vkṣa-mūle || 7.36

Then those men whose capital was painful practice

He saw, in matted locks, strips of bark, and flapping rags;

So seeing, and yet feeling towards their austerities a fond respect,

He remained there standing,
at the foot of an auspicious and splendid tree.

The first difficulty to deal with in today's verse is the passive present participle anurudhyamānaḥ in the 3rd pāda.

EBC's text has anubudhyamānas, and EBC translates tapāṁsi caiṣām-anubudhyamānaḥ as “considering their penances.”

EHJ's text, as per the old Nepalese manuscript (of which EBC only had copies) has tapāṁsi caiṣām-anurudhyamānaḥ which EHJ translates as “in deference to their austerities.” EHJ notes that to render anurudhyamāna 'considering' or 'approving', would go against the context.

I agree with EHJ that “considering” does not fit in the 3rd pāda, since the prince has done his considering already, as expressed in the first half of today's verse; the prince has arrived inwardly, by a process of reasoning, at his conclusion that asceticism is not the way (ayam-apy-amārga; “this also is not the path;” SN3.3). But since anurudhyamānaḥ is passive, and the root √rudh includes the meaning of to restrain or to touch [the heart], is there some sense that the Buddha-to-be, despite having arrived, on the basis of reason, at this view, still cannot help feeling a certain sneaking admiration for the stoic manner in which ascetics subject themselves to painful practices?

The double ca (in caiva in the 2nd pāda and caiṣām in the 3rd pāda) can be understood as expressing simultaneity (he saw/considered that and at the same time was subject to feeling this) or a “though - yet” relation (though now indeed he saw that, yet still he continued to feel this). 

If we understand anurudhyamānpaḥ like this, as an expression of what the prince couldn't help feeling, then the verse in the round can be read as climbing up the dialectic triangle of 
thinking (dadarśa ; he regarded / considered),
feeling (anurudhyamānaḥ ; while being touched / restrained by fondness / liking / respect) and
action (tasthau ; he stood).



So in his thinking mind/brain the prince had inwardly (and only temporarily) arrived at a view or conclusion, which was negative towards asceticism; and yet in his feeling heart he continued to be prey to feelings that were sympathetic towards painful ascetic practices. 

What counted, however, was his action. The karma that caused the Buddha-to-be to be the Buddha was primarily not a function of his reasoning and not a function of his feelings, but was a function of his action. (Action, carita, let us remember in passing is what this epic tale of Awakened Action, buddha-carita,  is all about.) And in his action, the Buddha-to-be refrained from doing what a lesser person might have done. He refrained from expressing his intellectual conclusion outwardly, in a manner that might be offensive to his hosts, and equally he refrained from simply running away. Nor did he follow his feeling of fondness and decide to grow matted locks. Rather what he did was to stand there, to stand firm – to practice the action of standing up.

Going further on up, Aśvaghoṣa may have been suggesting the readily observable truth that trees, on an individual basis, regardless of the views and habits of human beings, grow auspiciously and splendidly. Auspicious and splendid trees grow in the woods of Indian ashrams where would-be holy men go to practise asceticism; they grow in English farmers' fields where Londoners in large 4 x 4s go glamping; they grow in remote rain forests where monkeys howl unheard by any human ear; they grow in the middle of fields in the French countryside, providing shelter for cows; they grow on verges in leafy London suburbs; they grow on traffic islands in polluted city centres; they grow on top of cliffs, precariously, by the seaside; and so on. Even in Syria now, as millions of Syrians are forced to flee the fighting in their own country, even in the very midst of the human sectarian madness being expressed there, an auspicious and splendid tree is doubtless, somewere, just carrying on growing regardless. 

In order to save human beings from their sectarian madness, I believed when I lived in Tokyo during my twenties, the best hope would be for the likes of me to convey to everybody my teacher's teaching of four philosophies, or three philosophies and one reality. 

The belief was arrived at not on the basis of real experience, but on the basis of reason. In retrospect, I think there may have been more sectarian madness in me and my delusions of grandeur than there was anywhere else in the world. Am I free of those delusions yet? Probably not, I suspect. If I am, even for a moment, that might be the nearest I get to nirvāṇa. But what I am rather doing, here and now, writing this blog, in all probability, is giving vent to those lingering delusions. And the flag counter continues to indicate that nobody much cares ...

In the end, what was Bodhidharma's intention in going from India in the west to China in the east?

Just the practise of Zazen! Just sitting! cry conscientious Zen practitioners with one voice. But that wasn't the answer of the Tang dynasty Zen master known in Japanese as Joshu Jushin (Ch: Zhaozhou Congshen).

tataḥ: ind. then
jaṭā-valkala-cīra-khelān (acc. pl. m.): with their dreadlocks, bark garments, and strips waving
jaṭā: f. the hair twisted together (as worn by ascetics , by śiva , and persons in mourning)
valkala: mn. the bark of a tree , a garment made of bark (worn by ascetics &c )
cīra: n. a strip , long narrow piece of bark or of cloth , rag , tatter , clothes ; the dress of a Buddhist monk (cf. cīvara, n. the dress or rags of a religious [esp. Buddhist or Jain] monk)
khela: mfn. moving , shaking , trembling
cela [Schulz]: n. clothes , garment ; ifc. " the mere outward appearance of " , a bad representative of (e.g. bhāryā-cela n. " a bad wife ")

tapo-dhanān (acc. pl. m.): mfn. rich in religious austerities , (m.) a great ascetic
dhana: n. the prize of a contest or the contest itself (lit. a running match , race , or the thing raced for; booty , prey ; any valued object , (esp.) wealth , riches , (movable) property , money , treasure , gift ; capital (opp. to vṛddhi interest)
ca: and
eva (emphatic)
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
tān (acc. pl. m.): them
dadarśa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. dṛś: to see , behold , look at , regard , consider ; to see with the mind , learn , understand ;

tapāṁsi (acc. pl.): n. ascetic practices
ca: and ; ca-ca, though-yet; ca-ca may express immediate connection between two acts or their simultaneous occurrence
eṣām (gen. pl. m.): of these
anurudhyamānaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. passive anu- √ rudh: to bar (as a way) ; to surround , confine , overcome ; Passive, to adhere to , be fond of , love ; to coax , soothe , entreat ; mfn. adhering to , loving
anurodha: m. obliging or fulfilling the wishes (of any one) ; obligingness , compliance ; consideration , respect
√ rudh: to obstruct , check , arrest , stop , restrain , prevent , keep back , withhold ; to touch , move (the heart)
anubudhyamānaḥ [EBC] = nom. sg. m. pres. part. passive anu- √ budh: to awake ; to recollect ; to learn (by information)

tasthau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. sthā: to stand, stand firm, stand there ; to stay , remain , continue in any condition or action
śive (loc sg. n.): mfn. auspicious
śrīmati (loc sg. n.): mfn. beautiful , charming , lovely , pleasant , splendid , glorious
vṛkṣa-mūle (loc sg. n.): at the root of a tree

諸長宿梵志 蓬髮服草衣
追隨菩薩後 願請小留神 
菩薩見諸老 隨逐身疲勞
止住一樹下 安慰遣令還