iti bhūmi-patir-niśamya tasya vyavasāyaṁ tanayasya nirmumukṣoḥ |
abhidhāya na yāsyatīti bhūyo vidadhe rakṣaṇam-uttamāṁś-ca kāmān || 5.39
A lord of the earth, thus perceiving
The fixity of purpose of his freedom-seeking son,
Declared “He shall not go!”
And provided him with an increased guard,
along with the most exquisite objects of desire.
On the surface, the end-gaining bad guy in today's verse is the king, for his unenlightened efforts to cause his son to conform with his own selfish wishes.
The contrarian reading is that the king, as befits a lord of the earth, is admirably perceptive, while the son might be the one who is guilty of unenlightened behaviour, in seeking freedom while expressing vy-avasāyam, fixity of purpose – that “settled determination,” in other words, which is characteristic of the striver whose very striving (or “strenuous effort”), so long as it continues, prevents him from tasting freedom.
In this contrarian reading, vy-avasāyam (which the dictionary gives in the first instance as “strenuous effort or exertion; settled determination”) is synonymous with the term pravṛtti, doing, as used by the Buddha in SN Canto 16:
The many and various disappointments of men, like old age, occur as long as their doing goes on (pravṛttau). (For, even when violent winds blow, trees do not shake that never sprouted.) // SN16.10 //
And this, the suffering of doing (pravṛtti), in the world, has its cause in clusters of faults which start with thirsting -- / The cause is certainly not in God, nor in primordial matter, nor in time; nor even in one’s inherent constitution, nor in predestination or self-will. // SN16.17 // Again, you must understand how, due to this cause, because of men's faults, the cycle of doing goes on (pravṛttiḥ), / So that they succumb to death who are afflicted by the dust of the passions and by darkness; but he is not reborn who is free of dust and darkness. // SN16.18 //
Comprehend, therefore, that suffering is doing (pravṛttiṃ); witness the faults impelling it forward (pravartakān); / Realise its stopping as non-doing (nivṛttim); and know the path as a turning back (nivartakaṃ). // SN16.42 //
This contrarian reading, insofar as it affirms the king's authoritarian intervention, is contrary not only to the ostensible meaning of today's verse; it is also contrary to what I, as an odd-ball who likes to see himself as standing up for the individual, feel to be right.
The Buddha's teaching, as I understand it, must always be opposed to authoritarianism. And so far in Aśvaghoṣa's writing, I haven't found anything to contradict such understanding. But equally, I have to admit, there is nothing in Aśvaghoṣa's writing to support any viewpoint, like individualism or libertarianism, that is opposed to authoritarianism. Hence the Buddha tells Nanda in SN Canto 5:
Just as a nurse keeps firm hold of an infant while taking out soil it has put in its mouth, / So, wishing to draw out the dart of passion, have I spoken to you sharply for your own good. // SN5.47 // And just as a doctor restrains a patient then gives him bitter medicine; / So have I given you, in order to help you, this disagreeable advice with beneficial effect. // SN5.48 //
As I sat this morning I had the sense that anybody, by following a path similar to the one I have followed – but hopefully with fewer wrong turns and mistakes, with less fixity of purpose and associated reliance on a faulty vestibular system – can sit as a lord of the earth.
The real secret is in non-doing (nivṛtti), the opposite of doing (pravṛtti), as demonstrated by the original lord of the earth (bhūmi-pati) sitting in the moment (upaviśya tatra), unmovingly constant (acala-dhṛtiḥ), like the king of mountains (adri-rājavat; SN3.7).
This is as described by Aśvaghoṣa in his epic story of Beautiful Joy (Saundara-Nanda), which is truly very far from the “story of religious conversion” that Buddhist scholars have described it to be. In my book it is much more a story of individual transformation (but do not call it post-modernist).
When an Alexander pupil comes for an Alexander lesson here at our house in Aylesbury, my aim (not that I would claim a particularly high success rate) is to send her away with a sense that she is a lord of the earth, and – more important than the experience itself – with a bit more understanding than before of how she can work towards gaining the experience by herself of being a lord of the earth.
Truly being a lord of the earth, I venture to submit, need not involve one in any way with politics. All the secrets we need to know, in order to realize ourselves each as a lord of the earth, are here in Aśvaghoṣa's words, if we know how to read them.
It is a strange thing to proclaim for somebody who spent so many years working for and with a Japanese Zen master, and who formally received Aśvaghoṣa's dharma from that Zen teacher, but in my case knowing how to read Aśvaghoṣa's words stems mainly from being taught the secret of non-doing (nivṛtti) in the context of Alexander work.
bhūmi-patiḥ (nom. sg. m.): 'earth lord' ; king
niśamya = abs. ni- √ śam: to observe , perceive , hear , learn
tasya (gen. sg.): his
vy-avasāyam [See BC5.33] (acc. sg.): m. strenuous effort or exertion; settled determination , resolve , purpose , intention (°yam √kṛ to make up one's mind , resolve , determine)
avasāya: m. " taking up one's abode " ; termination ; determination , ascertainment
√ so: to destroy , kill , finish
ava- √ so: to loosen , deliver from ; to unharness (horses) , put up at any one's house , settle , rest ; to unharness (horses) , put up at any one's house , settle , rest ; to finish , terminate (one's work) ; to be finished , be at an end , be exhausted; to decide
vy-ava- √ so: to settle down or dwell separately ; to differ (in opinion) , contest , quarrel ; to separate , divide (opp. to sam- √as) ; to determine , resolve , decide
tanayasya (gen. sg.): m. son ; n. posterity , family , race , offspring , child
nirmumukṣoḥ (gen. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. desid. nir- √ muc) longing for liberation
nir- √ muc: to loosen , free from (abl.) , liberate
abhidhāya = abs. abhi- √ dhā: (in classical Sanskrit generally) to set forth , explain , tell , speak to , address , say
yāsyati = 3rd pers. sg. future yā: to go, proceed, set out, journey
iti: “...,” thus
bhūyaḥ: ind. more, still more; again, once more
vidadhe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vi- √ dhā: to bestow ; to furnish, supply ; to put in order , arrange , dispose , prepare , make read
rakṣaṇam (acc. sg.): n.the act of guarding , watching , protecting , tending (of cattle) , preservation
uttamān (acc. pl. m.): the utmost
kāmān (acc. pl.): m. desires, objects of desire