hriyam-eva ca saṁnatiṁ ca hitvā śayitā mat-pramukhe yathā yuvatyaḥ |
vivte ca yathā svayaṁ kapāṭe niyataṁ yātum-anāmayāya kālaḥ || 5.70
As the women, abandoning all shame and submission,
Relaxed in front of me;
And as the doors opened, spontaneously,
It is doubtless time to depart, in pursuit of wellness.”
First up, speaking of submission, I would like to get something off my chest about Islaam. Islaam is a way of peace said Mayor of London Boris Johnson yesterday. But very evidently Islaam is not a way of peace, not the way Muslims in this country practise it. Islaam originally means, so they say, submission to the will of Allah but many British Muslims are evidently happy to use such submission to Allah as a pretext – ironically – for arrogant non-submission to the rule of the law of the country they are living in.
So this week on the news I have seen two imams, or Muslim religious leaders, one from Oxford and one from London, saying that the crimes committed by former members of their congregations have nothing to do with Islaam.
Whereas it is obvious that the sexual grooming of teenage girls in Oxford, and Wednesday's murder of a soldier on a street in Woolwich, were commited in the first instance by Asian men brought up as Muslims and in the second instance in the name of Islaam. So those crimes, from where I sit, had everything to do with Islaam.
Generally speaking it is regarded as polite to show respect towards other people's beliefs, and Britain is a polite and tolerant country. (Though we do not always go so far out of our way to show respect as people do in America, where tolerance of religious nonsense is enshrined in the Constitution.) So when Boris Johnson says that Islaam is a religion of peace, we are liable to stifle our doubts. At the same time, there is no law in Britain against telling the truth as you see it. And the truth as I see it is that Islaam as practised by many Muslims in Britain is evidently not a way of peace – any more than Christianity, Judaism, True Buddhism, or any other ideology is a way of peace.
Speaking for myself, when I am in England I submit to the law of this land; when I am in France I submit to the law of that one; and when I am sitting I submit, as far as I am able to submit, to that rule number two of the universe which may be called the law of spontaneous flow – which brings me back to today's verse.
The key in today's verse to identifying where the ostensible and hidden meanings diverge, lies in the ambiguity of yathā, whose ambiguity is fortunately mirrored in the ambiguity of the English word “as.”
On the surface the two yathā in today's verse express a relation of reason (yathā = as, since, because), and so the strange behaviour of the women and the mysterious swinging open of the doors are auspicious omens, because of which the prince sees that it is time to depart.
Hence, translating yathā as “since,” EBC translated:
“Since abandoning all shame and modesty these women lay before me as they did, and the two doors opened of their own accord, verily the time is come to depart for my true health.” (EBC)
A very different hidden meaning of today's verse emerges, however, when those two yathā are understood to mean “in the manner of” or “like” – the manner in question being the manner of spontaneous flow.
Seeing such a clear divergence in meanings, which previous translators have not seen, hingeing on the ambiguity of yathā, is one of those moments as a translator when one punches the air and thinks “Yes! Maybe these efforts of mine will not be entirely in vain after all.”
On the surface, then, in the 1st and 2nd pādas, shame (hriya) and submission / deference / humility / modesty (saṁnati) are virtues, but below the surface the hidden meaning is that the virtue to emulate is not shame or submission but rather the abandoning (hitvā) that leads to spontaneous release or relaxation (śayita).
Again, in the 3rd pāda svayam, which means “by themsleves” or “of their own accord” or “spontaneously,” alludes to that overarching law of the universe which is infinitely more real, more practical, and more amenable to investigation via testable hypothesis, than is a primitive, stone-age belief in Allah.
The overarching law I refer to is, of course, the 2nd law of thermodynamics which describes the tendency that all energy has spontaneously to spread out. Energy tends to spread out, the 2nd law states, and energy will spread out spontaneously unless prevented from doing so by activation energy barriers.
Hence a translation that aimed more fully to bring out the hidden meaning of today's verse (at the expense of blotting out the ostensible meaning) might read:
“In the manner of the women, abandoning all shame and deference,
And spreading out in front of me;
And in the manner of the doors spontaneously swinging open,
It is doubtless time to depart, in pursuit of wellness.”
This hidden meaning makes sense in the practical realm of Alexander work, wherein the spontaneous spreading out of what should spontaneously spread out (primarily the spiral musculature of the torso, so that vital capacity is increased), provides a physical criterion for mental abandonment or lack of it.
Moving on to the 4th pāda, the first thing to note is that EHJ changed the Sanskrit text to niyataṁ yātum ato mam' adya kālaḥ, so that the prince is saying “It is doubtless time today for me to flee this place.” Hence:
“Since these women lay in my presence without regard to their own modesty or to respect for me, and since the doors opened of themselves, most certainly it is the time to-day for me to depart hence.” (EHJ)
If we accept EHJ's amendment, the only meaning that a sitting-practitioner could take from the 4th pāda would be that Aśvaghoṣa was holding up the prince as an example of idealistic thinking, i.e. of how preferably NOT to think in sitting practice. This is how I read amṛtaṁ prāptum-ito 'dya me yiyāsā ("I wish today to flee from here, in order to obtain the nectar of immortality") in BC5.68. But I don't think that sense fits here, especially in view of the Chinese translation.
In general the Chinese translation is not a reliable basis for intervening to amend the text of the original Nepalese manuscript. But the Chinese translation is always an acceptable basis for NOT intervening to change the original Nepalese manuscript, and there does seem to be such a basis in
Contemplating these auspicious signs,
[I see] a means of fishing out the paramount truth.
筌 (“a means of fishing out”), it should be explained, originally means a bamboo trap for catching fish in a river; and hence a means for catching something that, without some concrete means, is impossible to catch.
I think the Chinese translation supports the original text because the original Sanskrit word an-āmayāya literally means either "towards wellness" or "for 'The Auspicious One' (Śiva)" and the latter reading may have put into the Chinese translator's mind the sense of 瑞相, auspicious signs. More tellingly 第一義之筌 “a means of fishing out the paramount truth” conveys something of the positive sense of going in an auspicious direction, as opposed to the negative sense implied by EHJ's version of wanting to flee from this place.
The final thing in today's verse to reflect on, then, is that the dative case of an-āmayāya expresses movement towards, or direction.
If, with our backsides planted on a round black cushion, we pursue what we should pursue, what kind of pursuit might that be – directed to an end, or directed in the flow of a process?
Is it practical to set our sights on some distant object that, in the first instance, we are only able to conceive as a word, or as a metaphor, like pari-nirvāna, or like an oil lamp going out because all the oil is used up?
Is it more practical not to have any particular object in view but rather to have a general sense in which direction spontaneously to go in, like “towards wellness”?
Today's verse puts us in mind of spontaneous flow here and now rather than any putative pot of gold over the rainbow. Still, might the most practical attitude, in the middle way, be to investigate, not in theory but in practice, the advantages and disadvantages of each approach?
Alexander was overheard to tell an individual who was probably too sold on the former approach: 'Don't you see that if you get perfection today, you will be farther away from perfection than you have ever been?' Herein lies the general principle of devoting oneself to a process, getting in a stream of spontaneous flow, and not worrying overly much about reaching any fixed end-point (for in that very fixity would reside the essence of imperfection).
At the same time, in his book Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, Alexander wrote in glowing terms of conscious control, as primarily a plane to be reached:
The “means-whereby” principle... involves a reasoning consideration of the causes of the conditions present, and an indirect instead of a direct procedure on the part of the person endeavouring to gain the desired “end.” Ths indirect procedure... establishes the conditions essential to the increasing development of potentialities.... In this connexion I wish it to be understood that throughout this book I use the term conscious guidance and control to indicate, primarily, a plane to be reached rather than a method of reaching it.
What today's verse is hinting at, I venture to submit, is spontaneous flow as the hallmark of action on the plane of conscious control – which is a very different thing from yielding of individual responsibility to the will of some ill-conceived God.
hriyam (acc. sg.): f. shame, modesty
saṁnatim (acc. sg.): f. bending down , depression , lowness ; inclination , leaning towards , favour , complaisance ; humility
hitvā = abs. hā: to abandon, relinquish
śayitāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. reposed , lying , sleeping , asleep
mat-pramukhe (loc. sg. n.): in front of me
pramukha: n. before the face of , in front of , before , opposite to (with gen. or comp.); mfn. turning the face towards , facing (acc.)
yathā: like; in which manner ; as, because, since
yuvatyaḥ (nom. pl.): f. a girl , young woman
vivṛte (nom. dual.): mfn. unclosed , open
yathā: as, since
svayam: ind. by themselves
kapāṭe (nom. dual): n. a door , the leaf or panel of a door
niyatam : ind. always , constantly , decidedly , inevitably , surely
yātum = inf. yā: to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey
an-āmayāya (dat. sg. m./n.): in pursuit of health ; for Śiva's sake
an-āmaya: mfn. free from disease , healthy , salubrious ; m. śiva ; n. health
āmaya: m. sickness , disease
śiva: m. " The Auspicious one " , N. of the disintegrating or destroying and reproducing deity ; m. any god ; m. sacred writings
ataḥ: ind. from this , hence
mama (gen. sg.): my
adya: ind. today, now
kālaḥ (nom. sg.): m. time