Wednesday, November 7, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.42: The Helplessness of a Broken Man

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
tato 'bravīt-sārathir-asya saumya dhātu-prakopa-prabhavaḥ pravṛddhaḥ |
rogābhidhānaḥ sumahān-anarthaḥ śakro 'pi yenaiṣa kṛto 'svatantraḥ || 3.42

Then spoke the leader who was in the same chariot as him:
“O gentle moon-like man!

Stemming originally from excitement of primitive elements
and now far advanced

Is the momentous reverse, known as a breakdown,

That has rendered even this strong man helpless.”

My cumbersome translation of the 1st pāda of today's verse derives from a sense that when Aśvaghoṣa used the term sārathiḥ, “charioteer,” he was aware of its derivation from sa-ratha, which means “riding in the same chariot as,” or “together with.”

In Japan the distinction tends to be unduly emphasized between 先生 , the sensei, the one who stands in front, and the others, the students of the teacher, the patients of the doctor, the disciples of the master. I found it quite disconcerting when I first came back to England and started Alexander training in 1995 to be on first name terms with the Alexander teachers who were training me. The reason I was thus disconcerted was that during 13 years in Japan, searching for my original mind, I had completely lost my original mind – and the past nearly 20 years of sitting informed by Alexander work has been a gradual process of recovering it. According to my wife's perception, the tendency that I see and hate in Japanese sensei, a tendency that is said to have been particularly pronounced among Meiji otoko (men born in the Meiji era from 1868 to 1912), is still not entirely absent from yours truly. When she perceives me sitting on my high horse, my wife is liable to make an uuurgh! sound, as if she wished somebody to pass her the sick bag, and to remark "typical Meijo otoko."

Such regrettable episodes may be a sign of me not yet having let my original features fully emerge. But one teaching that I nonetheless do continue to treasure is Marjory Barlow's words that, in the matter of struggling to inhibit those ideas and desires that trigger undesirable unconscioius reactions, “we are all in the same boat.”

From the standpoint of seeing each verse of four pādas in four phases, also, sārathiḥ thus understood, contains a sense of being together in our suffering.

So even though “Then spoke the leader who was in the same chariot as him,” could be shortened for the sake of elegance to “Then spoke the charioteer,” I prefer the long-winded version.

In the 2nd pāda, dhātu-prakopa-prabhavaḥ ostensibly describes sickness as arising from an imbalance in the elemental humours, but what it suggests to me is the fact that the evolution of a means-whereby for defeating (or breaking [roga]) the sickness of faulty sensory appreciation invariably starts with undue excitement of primitive fear reflexes. That is what is being described in the present canto whose title saṁvegotpattiḥ may be translated as “Becoming Flustered," or perhaps more literally as "The Arousal of Fear Reflexes." This also describes the genesis of the FM Alexander Technique, Alexander having being born several weeks premature, before his Moro reflex was ready.

In the 3rd pāda roga (breakdown) ostensibly means sickness itself, but what it suggests to me is the process whereby the compensatory mechanisms which sufferers inevitably develop in childhood and adolescence to cope with immaturity of primitive reflexes subsequently break down in adulthood, for better or (much more probably) for worse. The hope is that, under a good teacher, and working to a principle, the breakdown can be for the better.

This photograph may be seen as demonstrating the symptoms of such a consciously-directed breakdown which has progressed to a very advanced stage.

By the time he was thirty, in around 1900, in his native Australia, the young Frederick Mathias Alexander had earned himself a reputation among actors, singers and people with respiratory problems, as a master of breath control. In 1904 he came to the mother country to pass on his secret to those well-heeled bigwigs of the British Empire who could afford lessons with him, which did not come cheap. What was his great secret? It was, in a nutshell, to stop doing the wrong thing and allow the right thing to do itself. 

The great irony in Alexander work is that the idea of grasping this secret of self-control just stimulates the very wrong thing that is to be stopped - try to get the spine to lengthen in a controlling manner and the spine duly shortens. So real Alexander work does not even begin until one learns to give up the idea of being right, or of being in control. The kind of control that Alexander realized over his breathing mechanism was thus an indirect control, which is to say he learned to control his breathing by giving up all idea of controlling what he could not directly control.

It is out of awareness of such irony that Aśvaghoṣa's causes the charioteer in the 4th pāda to describe a sick non-buddha using the ambiguous term a-sva-tantraḥ.

Ostensibly in today's verse a-sva-tantraḥ is a pejorative which means “lacking autonomy,” “not self-reliant” or “being out of control”; hence EBC/EHJ: “no longer master of himself”; PO: “no longer self-reliant.”

But a-sva-tantra can also carry the positive sense of “not being self-willed,” i.e. no longer being a control freak, being helplessly resigned. A-sva-tantra can describe somebody, in other words, who has become resigned to following circumstances, or resigned to adapting to reality.

In Saundara-nanda Aśvaghoṣa plays on this ambiguity of sva-tantra (being autonomous, self-reliant, pulling one's own strings; or being willful, stiff-necked, self-willed) and its antonym a-sva-tantra (being out of control; or not being willful, being resigned, being helpless) when he speaks through the mouths of Nanda, the striver, the Buddha, and then Nanda again:
And King 'Good Body' Śan-tanu, when separated from goddess Gaṅgā, shook like a śāla tree whose roots the Ganges was washing away: /The son of Pratipa and light of his family, he of the body beautiful, became uncontrollable (a-sva-tantraḥ)// SN7.41 // [Words of Nanda, before enlightenment]
Only a man who aspires to dependence on another, spurning autonomy and self-reliance (sva-tantra-tām), / Would yearn, while he was on the auspicious path to peace, for life at home with all its faults. // SN8.28 // [Words of the striver]

Therefore, knowing it to be darkness, you should not let sleep enshroud you / While the faults remain unquieted, like sword-wielding enemies. // SN14.31 // But having spent the first of the three night-watches actively engaged in practice, / You should, as one who is pulling his own strings, (sva-tantriṇā) go to bed to rest the body. // SN14.32 // [Words of the Buddha]

Since the throng of humanity is passive, not autonomous (a-sva-tantraṃ) and no one exercises direct control over the workings of the body, / But states of being arise dependent on this and that, he found, in that sense, that the world is devoid of self. // SN17.21 // [Words of Nanda, post-enlightenment]
In today's verse, then, the ostentible meaning of a-sva-tantraḥ is as per the usage of Nanda in Canto 7 ("uncontrollable") and the striver in Canto 8 "([not] self-reliant"). But the real or hidden meaning of a-sva-tantraḥ is as per the words of the Buddha in Canto 14 and Nanda in Canto 17. That is to say, the real meaning of sva-tantrinā, "being one who pulls his own strings, who is truly in control of himself" is expressed in today's verse by its antonym a-sva-tantraḥ "being no longer self-willed, being helpless."

If you look at the photo again of FM Alexander working on Margaret Goldie, she is a strong woman who is using herself very well, letting her head go forward and up out of a lengthening widening back while sending her knees forwards and away and not caring two hoots whether or not she conforms to people's expectations of ladylike sitting posture. So in this sense of being a strong woman using herself well, Margaret Goldie is conspicuously demonstrating the meaning of sva-tantrin (being free, independent, self-controlled, pulling her own strings). But at the same time, in her brain she is making a very clear decision not to do anything, but to leave herself totally in the hands of FM, not trying to help him or to help the process in any way, but rather just remaining totally helpless. Being helpless like this is the real meaning of a-sva-tantraḥ in today's verse, and it is nowhere evidenced more clearly than in MG's use of her hands, which are lying on her knees, palms facing upwards, expressing sheer helplessness.

tataḥ: ind. then
abravīt = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect brū: to speak , say , tell
sārathiḥ (nom. sg.): m. (fr. sa-ratha) a charioteer , driver of a car ; any leader or guide
sa-ratham: ind. on the same chariot with , (or simply) together with , accompanied by
asya = gen. sg. m. ayam: this , this here , referring to something near the speaker
saumya (voc. sg. m.): " resembling the moon " , placid , gentle , mild (saumya voc. = " O gentle Sir! " " O good Sir! " " O excellent man! " as the proper mode of addressing a Brahman)

dhātu-prakopa-prabhavaḥ (nom. sg. m.): springing from excitement of the elements/humours
dhātu: m. element , primitive matter (= mahā-bhūta ) (usually reckoned as 5 , viz. kha or ākāśa , anila , tejas , jala , bhū ; to which is added brahma ; or vijñāna Buddh. ); a constituent element or essential ingredient of the body (distinct from the 5 mentioned above and conceived either as 3 humours [called also doṣa] phlegm , wind and bile ; or as the 5 organs of sense).
prakopa: m. effervescence , excitement , raging (of diseases , war &c )
prabhava: m. production , source , origin , cause of existence (as father or mother , also " the Creator ") , birthplace (often ifc. , with f(ā). , springing or rising or derived from , belonging to)
pravṛddhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. grown up , fully developed , increased , augmented , intense , vehement , great , numerous

rogābhidhānaḥ (nom. sg. m.): called “disease”/”breakdown”
roga: m. ( √ruj) " breaking up of strength " , disease , infirmity , sickness
abhidhāna: n. telling ; a name , title , appellation
su-mahān (nom. sg. m.): mfn. very great , huge , vast , abundant
an-arthaḥ (nom. sg.): m. non-value , a worthless or useless object ; disappointing occurrence , reverse , evil

śakraḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. strong , powerful , mighty (applied to various gods , but esp. to indra)
api: even
yena (inst. sg.): by which
eṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): this one
kṛtaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. done, made
a-sva-tantraḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. not self-willed , dependant , subject
sva-tantra: n. self-dependence , independence , self-will , freedom ; one's own system or school; (with Buddh. ) a partic. doctrine of free-will or independence
sva-tantrin: mfn. free , independent , uncontrolled

對曰是病者 四大倶錯亂
羸劣無所堪 轉側恃仰人

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