Thursday, July 1, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.22: Non-Buddhist Virtues (ctd.) -- Minding One's Own Business

aakRRkShad vapuShaa dRShTiiH
prajaanaaM candramaa iva
parasvaM bhuvi n' aamRkShan
mahaa-viSham iv' oragaM

= = - - = = =
- = = = - = - -
- = = - - = = =
- = - - - = - =

With his fabulous form he ripped away,

As does the moon, people's views;

He never touched, in an act of becoming,
what belonged to others,

Any more than he would touch a venomous snake
slithering on the earth.

Have you ever been confronted with an amazing yet undeniable reality that caused you to drop off a former view? That reality can strike a subject's eye in the fabulous shape of a celestial object, or of another person; and, if Alexander teacher and Alexander subject work to principle, it can take shape, amazingly and fabulously, in the subject's own sitting form. I had such an experience in an Alexander lesson in Japan in 1994, sitting between two mirrors with right foot on left thigh and left foot on right thigh, that caused me to want to drop everything in Japan and come back to England to investigate Alexander's teaching. In this verse, as I read it, the moon symbolizes that kind of experience, that kind of reality.

But this meaning, which I do not doubt Ashvaghosha intended, is not there on the surface. I think Ashvaghosha deliberately buried it.

Ashvaghosha's wording in this verse, in other words, as in so many other verses, is deliberately ambiguous, inviting understanding at both superficial and deeper levels.

So the ambiguity of dhRShTi permits the first half of the verse to be read in at least two ways, depending on what the reader thinks Ashvaghosha is up to. Is he describing a non-Buddhist king who looked so good that he attracted his subjects' glances (dhRShTi)? Is Ashvaghosha holding up a non-Buddhist mirror to the King of Dharma himself, who taught the abandonment of all views (sarva-dRShTi-prahaaNa)? Is Ashvaghosha holding up a mirror to us readers, as would-be kings of that Dharma which Gautama taught as the abandonment of all views (sarva-dRShTi-prahaaNa)?

Similarly, bhuu in the second half of the verse can be read, on the surface, simply as "the ground." But if one digs for a deeper meaning, under the surface of "the ground," then another meaning of bhuu that might be relevant is as "an act of becoming."

In that case, one has to understand how the desire to be or become something -- in other words, an end-gaining attitude -- can cause a practitioner to involve himself with what a practitioner need not and should not involve himself with.

On that point, I would like to quote some passages from a talk given in 1965 by Marjory Barlow, an Alexander teacher with whom at the end of the nineties and beginning of the noughties, I was privileged to work.

It is important to remember that we are all in the same situation as Alexander. He has found the way and the technique for following the way. We have the enormous advantage of the skilled help of a trained teacher. But the real importance and value of the technique is that we learn to work on ourselves.

Alexander used to say, "Everyone must do the real work for themselves. The teacher can show the way, but cannot get inside the pupil's brain and control his reactions for him. Each person must apply it for himself."

There is a thing known as 'the state of the world.' In whatever part of time a man's life span is set down there must always be large, terrifying problems, known as 'the state of the world.'

In primitive times wild animals and marauding tribes were probably the main worries -- apart from the weather. Later, perhaps, the plague, persecutions, lawlessness and lack of respect for human life. In this, things haven't changed much -- and always there is war.

An individual can do little about these large issues. On a smaller scale, but nearer home, there is the problem of other people. Most of the time they just don't behave as we think they should. Again there is little that we can do about it, although we waste an enormous amount of energy trying to make them alter.

Where then can we affect anything? We have been told many times in the course of history, by wise men, that the chaos in the world is only a reflection of the chaos within us -- writ large.

Alexander taught that there is one main field of work for each of us -- work on ourselves to gain more light on our unconscious habits -- work to use more constantly the one place of freedom we have, the moment of the impact on us of a stimulus, so that we increase the number of moments when we choose our reaction, instead of being driven by habit to react as we have always done in the past. For this we must be there -- present and aware, at the crucial moment, to inhibit before we react.

We have no freedom in dictating the state of the world, we have only limited control over the events that happen to us, but we can develop control over the way we react to these events. The freedom in our environment and in regard to other people's reactions is also limited, but we can have some control over the nearest bit of our environment -- ourselves.

Alexander used to chide us for always trying to change and control the big things instead of changing the small things that were in our control. The inscription at Delphi 'Know thyself' sums it up.

Down the ages we can see that all the real teachers of mankind have tried to make people understand this point, that change can only happen in the individual. We know that fundamental new ideas have always started with one person and spread slowly and gradually as more and more individuals receive and understand the new knowledge.

The vision Alexander had of the possibility of individual evolution in the development of consciousness and awareness was the mainspring of his life's work. It is this aspect of his teaching that places him in the direct tradition of the great teachers of humanity. It is this side of his teaching which could so easily get lost. It is a not unreasonable supposition that many whose reported teachings have come down to us, also gave to the people of their time practical techniques for carrying out the teaching. If so, most of this has been lost and forgotten, and we are left with reports and writings which today often have little meaning for us. It is interesting -- apropos of all this -- that a pupil of mine, a doctor, once remarked that Alexander had rediscovered the secret of Zen for our time.

A transcription of the whole of Marjory's talk, titled The Teaching of FM Alexander, can be read here.

EH Johnston:
By his beauty he attracted, like the moon, the gaze of his subjects ; he avoided touching the property of others on earth, as one avoids touching a venomous snake on the ground.

Linda Covill:
His fine appearance drew the gaze of his subjects as does the moon; as if it were a poisonous snake upon the ground, he never laid hold of the property of others in his land.

aakRRkShad = 3rd pers. sg. aorist aa- √ kRSh: , to draw , draw to one's self , drag , pull , drag away , tear ; to lead or conduct (as an army) ; to bend (a bow) ; to draw into one's power , become master of , overpower ; to obtain ; to take away anything (acc.) from any one (acc.)
vapuShaa = inst. sg. vapus: n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty
dRShTiiH = acc. pl. dRShTi: f. seeing , viewing , beholding ; view , notion ; (with Buddhists) a wrong view ; theory , doctrine , system; eye , look , glance

prajaanaaM = gen. pl. prajaa: f. offspring , children , family , race , posterity , descendants , after-growth (of plants) ; a creature , animal , man , mankind ; people , subjects (of a prince)
candramaaH = nom. sg. candramas: m. the moon
iva: like

parasvam (acc. sg.): n. another's property
para: mfn: strange , foreign , alien , adverse , hostile; other than; m. another (different from one's self) , a foreigner , enemy , foe , adversary
sva: m. one's self , the Ego , the human soul; n. one's own goods , property , wealth , riches

bhuvi = loc. sg. bhuu: f. the act of becoming or arising ; f. the place of being , space , world or universe ; f. the earth (as constituting one of the 3 worlds) ; f. earth (as a substance) , ground , soil , land , lauded property; f. a place , spot , piece of ground
na: not
amRkShan = 3rd pers. sg. aorist mRsh: to touch , stroke , handle ; to touch mentally , consider , reflect , deliberate

mahaa-viSham (acc. sg. m.): mfn. very poisonous or venomous
mahat: great, greatly
viSha: poisonous
iva: like
uragam (acc. sg.): m. (fr. ura = uras and ga , " breast-going ") , a serpent , snake

No comments: