prashvasity ayam anvakShaM
yad ucchvasiti maanavaH
avagaccha tad aashcaryam
avishvaasyaM hi jiivitaM
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That a man draws breath
And next time around breathes in again,
Know to be a wonder,
For staying alive is nothing to breathe easy about.
Some Alexander teachers speak of "breathing on the wheel." It means allowing the head to move in the direction Alexander called 'forward and up,' in order to breathe out, and renewing that direction in order to breathe in, and renewing again, and so on, so that breathing might become progressively (or regressively) easier.
In Canto 17, Ashvaghosha describes sitting-dhyana as a progressive (or regressive) discovery of ease, until ultimate negation of ease and hardship in the stillness of just sitting -- i.e. "the fourth dhyana." So the fourth dhyana includes a kind of negation of ease.
But this verse is not negating ease of breathing. It is negating the casual expectation or easy assumption of continuing life.
My life has somehow managed to continue now for very nearly 50 years and if I have really learned anything in those 50 years, it might be that expecting too much or assuming too much -- of modern technology, of human teachers, but more especially of oneself -- is not a recipe for breathing easy. Being born on Christmas Day and being top of the class at primary school, then passing an exam to go to the local elitist school in Birmingham... et cetera, et cetera, I seem to have wasted too much time as if struggling with a heavy burden of responsibility to achieve great things. But what really helps me to breathe more easily and to sleep more easily is the Buddha's teaching of wanting little and being content. Even if, paddling in the shallow waters of the first dhyana, I can get just a little bit of progress (or just a little bit of regress), just a little bit more ease, that is something to be grateful for -- a step in the right direction.
Understand how wonderful it is that this man breathes in and immediately after breathes out again ; for there is no relying on (the continuance of) life.
Life is unreliable, so consider it a marvel when a man breathes in and straightaway breathes out again.
prashvasiti = 3rd pers. sg. pra-√zvas: to breathe in , inhale
pra: forward, forth
√shvas: to blow , hiss , pant , snort ; to breathe , respire , draw breath (also = live) ; to sigh , groan
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this one
anvakSham: ind. (from akSha) afterwards , immediately after
akSha: m. an axle , axis ; a wheel ,
yat (relative pronoun): [that/it] which
ucchvasiti = 3rd pers. sg. (from ud-√shvas): to breathe hard , snort ; to take a deep breath , breathe ; to breathe again , get breath , recover , rest; to sigh , pant , respire
ud: up, upwards
maanavaH (nom. sg.): m. a man, a human being
avagaccha = 2nd pers. imperative avagam: to hit upon , think of, conceive , learn , know , understand ; to recognize , consider , believe any one (acc.) to be (acc.)
tad (correlative of yad): ind. it
aashcaryam (acc. sg.): n. a wonder , miracle , marvel , prodigy
a: (negative prefix): not
vishvaasyam (nom. sg., from vi- √shvas ): mfn. to be trusted, trustworthy
vi-√shvas: to draw breath freely , be free from fear or apprehension , be trustful or confident , trust or confide in , rely or depend on
jiivitam (nom. sg.): n. life, duration of life