Wednesday, November 21, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.56: Meaning It

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Haṁsī)
tataḥ sa śuddhātmabhir-eva devaiḥ śuddhādhivāsair-abhibhūta-cetāḥ |
avācyam-apy-artham-imaṁ niyantā pravyājahārārthavad-īśvarāya || 3.56

Then, while his mind was overpowered
by the gods whose essence is purity itself,

By the gods who sit upon pure perches,

He, in a voice full of meaning, as the tamer of the horses,

Conveyed to the prince the unspeakable meaning in question.

“I wish to allow the neck to release, to allow the head to go FORWARD and UP, to allow the spine to lengthen and the back to widen, while allowing the legs out of the pelvis.”

When one pays for an Alexander lesson, one is paying primarily for an Alexander teacher to put meaning into those words. This is what FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow told me: The teacher's job in every Alexander lesson is “to put meaning into those words.”

“Those words” means some variation of I wish to allow the neck to release, to allow the head to go FORWARD and UP, to allow the spine to lengthen and the back to widen, while sending the knees forwards and away.

Before meaning has been put into those words, those words do not have any meaning. So words are not necessarily full of meaning. Effort has to be made to put meaning into the words.

I was very fortunate to witness on many occasions Marjory Barlow in her 80s, when she did not have a lot of energy to spare, directing her effort to put meaning into those words for my benefit: “Let the neck be free, to let the head to go FORWARD and UP, to let the spine lengthen and the back to widen, while sending the knees [up to the ceiling (when lying on one's back with knees bent)].”

There would be a stimulus to move (i.e. “move your leg”), to which I was to say “No.” So this was the first word into which meaning had to be put – “No.” I gradually learned, and have continued gradually learning since Marjory died in 2006, what I must say “No” to, which is whatever thought or idea or decision or desire triggers the wrong inner patterns (aka the doing) which I wish to stop.

Into the gap thus vacated by saying “No,” those words would repeatedly be poured: “Let the neck be free, to let the head go FORWARD and UP, to let the spine lengthen and the back widen, while sending the knees up to the ceiling,” while Marjory used her hands (wherein, she used to say, after more than 60 years of consciously using them, her brain resided) to put meaning into those words.

And then, at some point, I would go ahead and move my leg, thus eventually giving consent to respond to the original stimulus “Move your leg.” Without this act of moving, the whole procedure would not have been meaningful. So not only the word “No” and the verbal directions, but also the movement, the ultimate gaining of the end in view, was also a part of the procedure that was full of meaning. And, although “move your leg,” is three words, it is fairly readily apparent, with regular practice, that the actual movement of one's leg is not the thinking of words. Moving the leg is an action, a meaningful action, and at the same time, an unspeakable action.

Thus, while in the 3rd pāda of today's verse avācyam artham ostensibly means “the thing he was not supposed to say” (i.e. the fact that all human beings, after growing old and/or getting ill, ultimately die), I think the real meaning of  avācyam artham is to point to the kind of “unspeakable meaning” towards which the Alexander teacher Marjory Barlow endeavoured so consciously and so skilfully to direct my attention.

Again in the 3rd pāda, avācyam artham imam ostensibly means “this thing he was not supposed to say,” so that imam simply means “this,” or “the following.” But the real meaning that Aśvaghoṣa had in mind with imam (“this here”) in the phrase artham-imam, “this here meaning” or “the meaning in question,” might be the meaning expressed by (Jap: SOKU), “here and now,” in the famous phrase in Chinese Zen 即身是仏 (Jap: SOKU-SHIN-ZE-BUTSU), “the mind here and now is buddha.”

In the 4th pāda, artha-vat means “meaningfully” or “with a purpose.” I have translated artha-vat a bit loosely as “in a voice full of meaning.” Again the phrase brings to my mind a teaching of Marjorry Barlow's, which was that when as an Alexander teacher one speaks directions like "head FORWARD and UP," one should never garble those directions, and Marjory indeed never did. Even though she had been saying them constantly for nearly 70 years, it always sounded like Marjory, as she spoke the directions out loud, was discovering them herself for the first time. Never “head-forward-and-up,” but “head FORWARD, and UP!” Because Marjory had spent her lifetime thinking like that, her voice itself conveyed meaning. She used both her hands and her voice to put meaning into the words. At the same time, because of the way she accepted and used herself, her voice conveyed unspeakable meaning.

I think that Aśvaghoṣa had in mind this kind of transmission of meaning when in the 4th pāda he used the word pravyājahāra, from pra-vy-ā-√hṛ, which primarily means “to speak,” but which has a secondary meaning of “to utter inarticulate sounds.” The point is that when a buddha uses her voice to convey unspeakable meaning, it is by no means only the words that are doing the conveying. What is doing the conveying is rather the consciously-controlled use of her voice, her hands, and the whole of herself – while the fickle horses of her senses remain in a calm, submissive state.

tataḥ: ind. then
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
śuddhātmabhiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. pure-minded
eva: (emphatic)
devaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. gods

śuddhādhivāsaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. inhabiting pure abodes
adhi- √ vas: to inhabit; to settle or perch on
abhibhūta-cetāḥ (nom. sg. m.): his mind overpowered
abhibhūta: mfn. surpassed , defeated , subdued , humbled; overcome
cetas: n. mind

avācyam (acc. sg. m.): not to be spoken ; improper to be uttered
api: though
artham (acc. sg.): m. purpose; thing; affair, matter; sense , meaning , notion
imam (acc. sg. m.): this , this here , referring to something near the speaker
niyantā (nom. sg. m.): m. a restrainer , governor , tamer (esp. of horses) , charioteer

pravyājahāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra-vy-ā- √ hṛ: to utter forth , speak ; to utter inarticulate sounds , howl , yell , roar
ā- √ hṛ: to fetch, deliver
vy-ā- √ hṛ: to utter or pronounce a sound , speak
arthavat (acc. sg. n.): mfn. full of sense , significant; full of reality, real ; ind. according to a purpose
īśvarāya (dat. sg.): m. master , lord , prince , king , mistress , queen

天神教御者 對曰爲死人 


Γιώργος Ασκούνης said...

Hi Mike
How did Alexander discover the meaning of these words without anybody touching him?
Thank you for your efforts!

Mike Cross said...

Hi George,

He gave his own account in the first chapter of his third book, The Use of the Self; but for a summary there is none better than the one in here:

These accounts tell of Alexander's discovery of what he called "faulty sensory appreciation," along with "the force of habit," and "a primary control of the use of the self," and his evolution of a technique for circumventing faulty sensory appreciation and employing the primary control for good rather than ill in working against habit.

The task of Alexander students is to re-discover in our own experience what Alexander discovered, and to make the technique our own. The touch of a teacher's hands can speed up that process, but speed is not necessarily of the essence.

Marjory was adamant that transmission via the hands was secondary. The teacher's primary task is to teach a pupil how to work on himself.

But yes, she did often wonder at how FM managed to work it all out for himself without any teacher to guide him, with or without touch.

Tasmania at the end of the 19th century must have been a place of rugged individuals where people learned early to fend for themselves.