bahuśaḥ kila śatravo nirastāḥ samare tvām-adhiruhya pārthivena |
aham-apy-amtaṁ padaṁ yathāvat-turaga-śreṣṭha labheya tat-kuruṣva || 5.75
Often indeed has a lord of the earth expelled enemies
While riding in battle on you!
So that I too might realise the deathless step,
O best of horses, act!
A horsewoman with whom I trained to be an Alexander teacher, nearly 20 years ago, assured me that lack of familiarity with horses was no obstacle to me being able to help horse-riders with their riding – in the same way that lack of ability in music making, as I do know from experience, is not necessarily an obstacle to helping a violinist to get a better sound out of a violin played with open strings, or to helping a guitarist move his fingers with greater speed and precision without pulling himself down in the process.
Lest this sounds too cocky, I should perhaps confess that while lack of knowledge of music need not be an obstacle in such instances, lack of deep understanding of Alexander's work, and a tendency to veer away from principle, might be very big obstacles!
The reason I would hope to be able to help a horse-rider to ride his or her horse better is that AT training has equipped me, at least to some extent, to teach people how NOT to sit on a chair. And the main things to avoid when sitting well on a chair are, so experienced teachers of AT and horseriding report, also the main things to avoid when sitting well on a horse.
The main things to avoid are what the Buddha calls “the faults that stem from thirsting” (tṛṣṇādayo doṣa-gaṇāḥ; SN16.17) – things like stiffening up or collapsing in fear or foolish arrogance, things like failing to look and listen, things like holding the breath. These things in today's verse are represented by the metaphor of śatravaḥ, the enemies that threaten the sovereignty of a king.
These are enemies that, reading between the lines, I think Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting that a horse named Kanthaka taught the prince who would be Buddha to expel – in the same way that, for FM Alexander, horses were instrumental in him discovering the practical, non-intellectual truths that he discovered.
To sit on a round black cushion as a follower of the Buddha, in the final analysis, is akin to expelling enemies by riding on a big powerful rapidly responsive thing like a horse.
It is difficult or dangerous to try to say, with a word like “the unconscious,” what that big powerful thing is. My longest-suffering Alexander teacher, Ron Colyer, quotes his head of training Walter Carrington who spoke of “letting the works work.” In those terms, I venture to submit, a horse is used in today's verse as a metaphor for “the works.”
Because I work with children who suffer from immature primitive reflexes, other Alexander teachers sometimes expect me to be some kind of expert on the works. But I am no such thing. An individual reflex is, in any case, in Sherrington's words, "a convenient fiction," as he said in his book The Integrative Action of the Nervous System (the clue being in the title). Understanding these convenient fictions called reflexes does not, in my book, help us understand the works, though such understanding might help us to see how spanners get thrown into the works.
It is just as I was describing yesterday in connection with breathing. Marjory Barlow did not understand any better than I did what to do in the way of breathing well. But Marjory did know and see very clearly what NOT to do in the way of trying to breathe well. Her area of expertise was not the works; her area of expertise was interference with the works, and how to prevent such interference with the works.
So, to return to today's verse, I see a horse as a metaphor for the works. And a horse is expressed as tura-ga, lit. “what goes quickly.”
Sometimes, it is true, the works appear to work slowly, as for example when I ask myself a comment about Aśvaghoṣa's writing during the course of one day, then sleep on it, and sit, and the answer seems to emerge by itself the next day; or as for another example when a meal passes slowly through the digestive system; or when the immune system takes days to fight off a cold.
When called upon twenty years ago to render the name Aśva-ghoṣa into English as part of translating Shobogenzo, I opted for Horse-Whinny. It has taken a lot of slow working of the works since then before I realized that a more meaningful English translation of Aśvaghoṣa already exists in English, and it is Horse Whisperer. So yesterday when I described Monty Roberts as the original horse whisperer, that might have been to do Aśva-ghoṣa an injustice.
People think that Aśvaghoṣa wrote religious texts called the Saundara-nanda and the Buddha-carita in which he was concerned to record the religious doctrine of Buddhism as a means of converting people. It will take a lot of slow working of the works before people drop off that view and begin to see that Aśvaghoṣa's writing is all about Beautiful Happiness and Awakened Action, as original birthrights of human beings – before God or Allah or Jehovah ever raised his jealous, hairy, ugly head with its sectarian carbuncles of protestantism and catholicism, sunni and shia, zionist and orthodox, and the rest. Sometimes the works work too slowly. And so Syria slowly lifts itself onto what Hegel called the slaughter-bench of history.
But sometimes, it is also true, the works work with a rapidity that surprises us, as for example when one is cycling fast down a hill and an eyelid suddenly closes without the intervention of any higher part of the brain, because the works have spotted that one's eyeball is on a collision course with a little fly.
“The conscious mind” concluded FM Alexander, after a lifetime of loving horses and teaching the Alexander technique, “must be quickened.”
One of my oldest friends, who I met in a karate dojo in Japan during “winter training” (kangeiko) back in the New Year of 1982, is a long-time rider of powerful motorbikes and of ocean waves. He is also a long-term rider of the waves of financial markets – and if it had not been for his good advice I would have lost even more of our family savings than I have done during the recent decline in the price of gold.
Speaking for myself I am not a surfer and recently don't have a motorbike to ride, but I have experienced in the past how rapidly the human stomach can be caused to churn when one is speeding along a road on a motorbike and some danger suddenly presents itself. And a similar experience can be had (though I would not recommend it), without even leaving one's computer, by taking a position in a volatile financial market. Hence the phrase “stomach churning” used advisedly in this article from last Friday's Daily Telegraph, in a sentence that begins, Last night's panic in Tokyo, where the Nikkei dropped a stomach churning 7 per cent...
I don't know why I am as interested as I am in money. The reason, at a deeply unconscious level, could be that my parents were very short of it when I was growing up, and I remember being hungry on a Sunday night because my mother's housekeeping money had run out. For whatever reason, I decided that I wanted to study economics in school and at university. The memory plays tricks but as I remember it I made that decision out of the most altruistic – albeit deluded and romantic – of motivations. I thought that studying economics was going to be a route for me to save everybody in the world. (The messianic delusion that I was the guy who was going to save the planet had me already in its grip even before I met Gudo Nishijima.) Anyway, for whatever reason, I opted to study economics, little realizing what a pile of horseshit – as George Soros has very clearly elucidated, and proved by making his billions – classical economics was and is.
Largely because of faith hitherto placed in classical economics, with all its unreal assumptions, the global economy now, as George Soros describes it, is in a very precarious far-from-equilibrium situation. We in the UK have been living beyond our means and our response to the consequent accumulation of debt has been to get on a money-printing treadmill, which is taking us further and further away from equilibrium. In George Soros's view this money-printing was a necessary expedient, akin to life-support, but that is hardly grounds for optimism. Life-support is what a patient needs when the works would otherwise stop working – a far-from-equilibrium situation, a situation which is very far from amṛtam padaṁ, the deathless step, in which all the works (including, I dare say, money) are working in accordance with their original dharma.
What the prince now describes as amṛtam padaṁ, the deathless step, even before he has fully realized it yet, might thus be a moment of spontaneous flow in which allower and works, rider and ridden, earth-lord and planet Earth, are one big one.
An image like this is a kind of mandala, an aid to the meditative reflection that we are all riding together on something that is tura-ga, going fast.
Today's verse is a mighty metaphor, which I have thus attempted to kill by a characteristically wordy and long-winded comment – a comment that, I fear, lacks the power to influence for the better man or beast.
In the final, final analysis, the key word whose meaning a big human brain is ever liable to overlook is nothing too philosophical but simply tat-kuruṣva: Go for it! Act in that manner! Giddy up!
In the absence of anything with more serious grunt, like the 900 cc Yamaha I used to own, I am going to get on my push-bike and go for a ride.
bahuśaḥ: ind. manifoldly , repeatedly , much , often
kila: ind. (a particle of asseveration or emphasis) indeed , verily , assuredly
śatravaḥ (nom. pl.): m." overthrower " , an enemy , foe , rival , a hostile king (esp. a neighbouring king as a natural enemy)
nirastāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. cast out or off , expelled , banished , rejected , removed , refuted , destroyed
nir- √ as: . to cast out , throw or drive away , expel , remove , banish ; to ward off, keep away ; to reject , refuse , decline (as a suitor , an offer , &c ) ; to destroy , annihilate
samare (loc. sg. ): m. coming together , meeting , concourse , confluence ; hostile encounter , conflict , struggle , war , battle
tvām (acc. sg. m.): you
adhiruhya = abs. to ascend, mount, ride on
pārthivena (inst. sg.): m. an inhabitant of the earth; m. a lord of the earth , king , prince , warrior ; mfn. earthen , earthy , earthly , being in or relating to or coming from the earth , terrestrial ; fit for kings or princes , royal , princely
aham (nom. sg. m.): I
api: also, even
amṛtam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. not dead, immortal , imperishable
padam (acc. sg.): n. step, stage
yathāvat = yathā: so that, in such a manner
turaga-śreṣṭha (voc. sg.): O best of fast-goers!
turaga: m. " going quickly " , a horse
śreṣṭha: mfn. most excellent , best , first , chief (n. " the best or chief thing ") , best of or among or in respect of or in (with gen. loc. , or comp.)
labheya = 1st pers. sg. opt. labh: to obtain, gain
tat-kuruṣva: Go for it! Act in that manner! Giddy up!
tad: ind. then, in that case; tad (ind.) yathā " in such a manner as follows " , namely , viz.
kuruṣva = 2nd pers. sg. imp. kṛ: to do, act