Sugatas tathaagatam avekSHya
nara-patim a-dhiiram aashayaa
sheSHam api ca janam ashru-mukhaM
vininiiSHayaa gaganam utpapaata ha.
The One Who Went Well saw the king arrive like that
-- The leader of men, his composure lost in hope --
And he saw the rest of the people too, with tearful faces.
Wishing to direct them, he took himself up,
truly, into the sky.
Is the aim of our life to gain some end, to get to the end of some road, to prove something conclusively? Or is it simply to go well, to keep using ourselves well and to keep improving the way we use ourselves, along the way? Again, does the aim have to be one or the other? Can it be a bit of both?
In principle, as is implicitly suggested in Line 1, the most important thing is simply to Go Well, following the Buddha's example.
In actual practice, however, when we examine ourselves closely, in spite of our professed good intention simply to go well, the composure which is the very means for going well is always getting lost in the hope of becoming or achieving something. In Alexander terms, we lose our integrity because of grasping unconsciously for some end, instead of consciously attending to the means-whereby principle.
Some who call themselves followers of the Buddha describe their unconscious grasping for ends as "practice of mindfulness." Some who call themselves Alexander teachers describe their unconscious grasping for ends as "attending to the means-whereby principle." In both cases, there is a gap. It is the same gap.
In actual practice, if we examine ourselves really closely and honestly, there is invariably a gap between what we believe we are doing, and what is actually going on inside us, mainly unbeknowns to us. What we are actually doing, in practice, almost all the time, is end-gaining.
Ashvaghosha expresses in a nutshell what end-gaining is with two words in Line 2: adhiram aashayaa, composure lost in hope.
The butt of Ashvaghosha's humour -- the one whose own composure was undermined because of his selfish, secular ambition for his son -- was the king of the ancient Indian kingdom of Kapilavastu. Ashvaghosha, in his usual non-preachy way, is describing an ancient legend, a situation very far removed from the present day. Ashvaghosha is not telling anybody the score. He is simply painting a picture.
[The sound of gulping]
At 4.30 this morning I get up, a bitter taste in the mouth, and wonder what is the matter with me. The translation of a-dhiiram aashayaa is going around in my head -- unsteady with expectation; wavering with expectation; out of balance because of hope; out of balance because of ambition....
Ah yes, now I see. Ashvaghosha is not only talking about the ruler of the ancient kingdom of Kapilavastu, and he is not only talking about all you horrible unenlightened readers out there who haven't yet learned in practice the difference between end-gaining and following the means-whereby principle. No, Ashvaghosha's bitter pill is just medicine for this ambitious father, right here and now, sitting on this round black cushion.
Suffice to say that now is the season when British universities are sending out offers to prospective students and yesterday my eldest son received, just as his Dad did 32 years ago, a very thin letter from Cambridge University.
So, again, this is suffering. All the old emotions are stirred up. That tangled mass of tendrils which is energized by the idea that me or mine has been rejected, has again been energized, and the stress hormones are a-pumping.
But even in this maelstrom of emotion, this world of tear-stained faces -- the "shitstorm" as Michael Thaler used to call it -- there is the distant sound of a lion's roar:
THIS IS INHIBITION. THIS IS THE MEANS.
This is inhibition: seeing the idea that is at the root of the trouble for what it is, and renewing the decision not to react to it; remembering that what is wanted is action itself, not reaction to an idea. Because we want freedom in action, we give up the idea that sets off the reaction. This is inhibition.
And this is the means: to sit with right foot on left thigh and left foot on right thigh, wrapped in the Buddha-robe, in readiness to release one long, controlled exhalation, to sway left and right, and then just to sit, directing the spine to lengthen in such a way that the breathing is not restricted; knowing in this that there is nothing for Mara to do but, sooner or later, release his grip.
Putting hands together and bowing is an example of an action. It can be a reaction that is stupid, mindless, meaningless, robotic, posed, forced, and so on. But it can also be an action that means something, an enlightened action. When Mara releases his grip, and bowing takes place as an action, then Buddha goes up, into the sky. Then, if Buddha goes for a walk, Buddha is walking up in the sky.
This is what I have learned under Alexander teachers. Ray Evans guided me towards exact study of Mara's grip. Ron Colyer gave me my first most profound experiences of being released from Mara's grip. Marjory Barlow and Nelly Ben-Or, each in her own way, deepened my understanding of the principle of inhibition. These four, and every other Alexander teacher that has directed me up, did so primarily by taking themselves up first. It is an axiomatic principle of Alexander work that, in order to direct a pupil up, the teacher directs herself up first.
Thus, what it means to go up into the sky, and to walk in the sky, can be understood not only with the top two inches. What it means to go up into the sky can also be understood from the knees, and from the hips -- and from the feet. What it means to go up into the sky and walk in the sky can be understood not only as a fanciful metaphor but also on the basis of what is really and truly going on, here on the ground.
Sugata: going well, epithet of the Buddha
tathaagatam: arrived thus, come in such a state
avekSHya: noticing, having noticed, having seen
nara-patim: leader of men; king
a-dhiiram: not steady, not composed; tremulous, excitable; out of balance
aashayaa: (instrumental) because of hope, with expectation, expectant, ambitious
sheSHam: the remainder, the rest
ashru-mukhaM: tear-faced, with tear-stained faces
vininiiSHayaa: (instrumental) with the intention of guiding them, with the wish to lead them away, in order to convert them
gaganam: (accusative) to the sky, into the sky, into the air
utpapaata = from ut + pad: arise, rise
ha: (emphatic) indeed, verily, truly
The Blessed One, seeing the king arriving thus tremulous with hope and the rest of the people with tearstained faces, flew up into the air in order to convert them.
The Sugata noticed that the king had arrived in an excitable state and full of expectations and that the rest of the people had tearful faces, so with the intention of guiding them to insight he rose up into the air.