pratisaṁhara tāta buddhim-etāṁ na hi kālas-tava dharma-saṁśrayasya |
vayasi prathame matau calāyāṁ bahu-doṣāṁ hi vadanti dharma-caryām || 5.30
“Put off this idea, my son;
It is not time for you to be united with your dharma.
For early in life when the mind is changeable
There are, they say, many pitfalls in the practice of dharma.
Today's verse is the first of four verses (BC5.30-5.33) which constitute the king's opening gambit in his attempt to prevent the prince from leaving. In BC5.36 the king eschews gentle persuasion in favour of a more direct and less softly-spoken command. And in BC5.39 the king gives up altogether on verbal argument, opting instead to keep the prince where he wants him by direct physical means, placing the prince under supervision and arranging for the most exquisite objects of desire to be at his disposal.
Read in this light, the term of affection tāta (“my son”) reflects the king's intention to begin by using softly softly tactics, and the imperative pratisaṁhara is an injunction to postpone rather than to give up an idea or decision.
On the surface then what the king says in today's verse, and the way he says it, hardly seems worthy of the man Aśvaghoṣa has hitherto described. The king seems more like a manipulating spin doctor than the staunch devotee of dharma we had previously thought the king to be.
But past experience suggests that those of Aśvaghoṣa's verses in which the surface meaning is the only meaning, are those verses that we have failed to dig into with sufficient diligence.
An alternative way of reading today's verse, then, is that the king is not so much discussing dharma as dharma has hitherto been understood, i.e. as the ascetic dharma of Brahmanism; the king is rather presaging the dharma that the prince will preach in future as the Buddha-dharma.
In the latter reading, in the 1st pāda, might pratisaṁhara buddhim-etām, “put off this idea” in general be very good advice? In general, I think yes.
In Alexander work it is recognized that no freedom is possible so long as unconscious reaction (doing) continues to be triggered by the idea – albeit just a homeopathic dose of an idea – of doing something. So in order “to carry out an activity against the habit of life” and thereby bring about change in the right direction, it is necessary as a first step to put off the idea of doing something, or “to withhold consent” as FM Alexander sometimes put it.
“Withholding consent” like this in Alexander work, as Marjory Barlow taught me to practice it in the context of moving a leg, is the practice behind the comment I made yesterday to the effect that when fear reflexes are unduly excited, an idea is the original cause.
On further reflection, however, the appearance in the 1st pāda of today's verse of the word buddhim, which means mind, decision, notion, idea, causes me to think twice. Did I overstate the case?
Sometimes, in my own experience, before an idea has come into the picture at all, a sudden loud noise is the cause of unduly excited fear reflexes. As if to remind me of that fact, after one or two cockerel-free years, my French neighour's boyfriend arrived on Friday night with a fresh cargo of several hens and a cockerel. I can hear the sodding thing crowing right now as I write.
When the prince is described in BC5.21 and BC5.25 as -vidhau matiṁ cakara, setting his mind upon a matter, was Aśvaghoṣa saying that the prince had arrived at a buddhim in the sense of a notion, an idea, an intention, or a decision? In BC5.25 the matter of complete extinction (pari-nirvāṇa-vidhau) was only an idea to the prince. But in BC5.21 the matter of marching forth (abhiniryāṇa-vidhau) might have been an action of which he had previous experience, from past sallies into the forest.
When the prince said, parivivrajiṣāmi mokṣa-hetor-niyato hy-asya janasya viprayogaḥ “I desire to go wandering, for the sake of liberation, since, for a man such as I am, the invariable rule is separation,” what was the prince expressing – something as intangible and fleeting as an idea, or something as real and imperishable as the energy in a desire?
Was the prince expressing a worthy notion, a good idea, a true decision that he had made?
Or was it rather that something imperishable, which is beyond human notions, ideas, and decisions, was expressing itself?
These questions arise from the double-meaning that I see, as discussed in the comment to BC5.27, in the compound akṣaya-dharma-jāta-rāgaḥ.
My question is, in other words, whether akṣaya-dharma was the idea of something imperishable which the prince had conceived and ardently desired to realize? Or was akṣaya-dharma the reality described by the 1st law of thermodynamics, so that this energy made up the prince's mind for him and fuelled him with ardent desire?
In the former case, it might be rational, wise and compassionate for the king to advice the prince temporarily to withhold consent to following an idea. In the latter case, the king is wasting his breath, like a child with a bucket and spade hoping to hold back an incoming tide.
As always with doubts posed by Aśvaghoṣa's ambiguous style of writing, the doubt cannot be resolved only by thinking about it. But what is not in doubt is that one person who does have a buddhim in the sense of a notion, an idea or an intention, is the king himself. His idea is that the prince should stay in the palace and succeed to his kingdom.
Moving onto the 2nd pāda, was there any truth in the king telling the prince “It is not the time for you to be united with dharma”? Considering that the prince, according to the Zen tradition, spent six years out in the scrub practising an ascetic dharma, before he eventually gave up that idea and found his own true Buddha-dharma under the bodhi tree, then Yes, there might be truth, below the surface, in that statement of the king.
And in the 3rd and 4th pādas, similarly, the king can be heard as pre-saging what the Buddha will later tell Nanda about the pitfalls of not being mindful:
Therefore walking with the awareness that "I am walking" and standing with the awareness that "I am standing" -- / Upon such moments as these, you should bring mindfulness to bear. // SN14.45 // In this manner, my friend, repair to a place suited for practice, free of people and free of noise, a place for lying down and sitting; /For by first achieving separateness of the body it is easy to obtain separateness of the mind. // 14.46 // The man of redness, the tranquillity of his mind unrealized, who does not take to a playground of solitude, / Is injured as though, unable to regain a track, he is walking on very thorny ground. // SN14.47 //
In writing comments like the above comment I sometimes remind myself of a sports commentator who is struggling ineptly to keep up with the action, apopros of which last night I remembered something that made me laugh so much I had to stretch out an arm to stop myself falling over.
Many years ago there was middle distance runner named Dave Wottle who showed a legendary burst of pace at the end of his races – Wottle's throttle – and at the same time there was a BBC TV commentator named David Coleman who, as his Wikepedia entry states, is affectionately remembered for his on-air gaffes...
"Dave Wottle has completely misjudged this race... And here comes Wottle!"
pratisaṁhara = 2nd pers. sg. imperative prati-saṁ- √ hṛ: , to draw together , contract (with ātmānam , " one's self " i.e. to shrink , return to its usual bed , said of the sea); to draw or keep back , withdraw (as a weapon , the eye &c ) ; to take away , put off ; to absorb , annihilate , destroy ; to check , stop , repress ; Caus. -hārayati , to retract
tāta (voc.): a term of affection addressed to a junior
buddhim (acc. sg.): f. mind ; an opinion , view , notion , idea , conjecture; intention , purpose , design ; buddhiṁ- √kṛ or pra- √kṛ , to make up one's mind , resolve , decide; impression , belief , notion (often ifc. = considering as , taking for)
etām (acc. sg. f.): this
kālaḥ (nom. sg.): m. time
tava (gen. sg.): for your
dharma-saṁśrayasya (gen. sg.): taking refuge in dharma
saṁśraya: m. conjunction , combination , connection , association (ifc. " joined or connected with ") , relationship or reference to ; going or resorting or betaking one's self to any person or place (loc. or comp.) , going for refuge or protection , having recourse to
saṁ- √ śrī: to join or unite or connect with , cause to partake of (instr.)
vayasi (loc. sg.): n. energy, vigour ; vigorous age , youth , prime of life , any period of life , age
prathame (loc. sg. n.): mfn. foremost , first ; prime
matau (loc. sg.): f. thought , design , intention , resolution , determination , inclination , wish , desire ; the mind , perception , understanding , intelligence , sense , judgement
calāyām (loc. sg. f.): moving , trembling , shaking , loose ; unsteady, fluctuating, fickle
bahu-doṣām (acc. sg. f): mfn. having many faults or drawbacks , very wicked or bad
bahu: mfn. much, many
doṣa: m. fault , vice , deficiency , want , inconvenience , disadvantage; damage , harm , bad consequence , detrimental effect
vadanti = 3rd pers. pl. vad: to speak , say , utter , tell , report
dharma-caryām (acc. sg.): f. observance of the law , performance of duty
caryā: f. going about , wandering , walking or roaming about , visiting ; n. (often ifc.) proceeding , behaviour , conduct ; n. due observance of all rites and customs ; n. a religious mendicant's life ; n. practising , performing , occupation with , engaging in