su-labhāḥ khalu saṁyuge sahāyā viṣayāvāpta-sukhe dhanārjane vā |
puruṣasya tu dur-labhāḥ sahāyāḥ patitasyāpadi dharma-saṁśraye vā || 5.76
Readily indeed are companions found when the battle is joined,
Or in the happiness at the gaining of the end,
when the booty is acquired;
But companions are hard for a man to find
When he is getting into trouble
– or when he is turning to dharma.
– or when he is turning to dharma.
On first reading, today's verse – at least up until its final element (dharma-saṁśraye) – seems to express a common sentiment about fair-weather friends, along the lines of Bob Dylan's excellent lyric
You've got a lot of nerve, to say you are my friend.
When I was down, you just stood their grinning.
You've got a lot of nerve, to say you've got a hand to lend.
You just want to be on the side that's winning.
But the closing words of the verse dharma-saṁśraye vā (“or when he is turning to dharma”) somehow stick out like a sore thumb and cause us to question what point, through the prince's utterances to a four-legged friend, Aśvaghoṣa is intending us to reflect upon.
Now that I have slept on that question and sat, the point as I take it is that Aśvaghoṣa is drawing our attention to something which tends to come as a surprise, after the bells and incense of a ceremony to receive the bodhisattva precepts have stopped ringing and faded away; namely that the real work is nothing that anybody else can do for us. Real change for the better, if it occurs at all, occurs within my own brain and nervous system, and nobody but me can get in there and make that change.
“Change,” FM Alexander observed, “involves carrying out an activity against the habit of life.”
Who apart from me is going to cause me to carry out an activity against the habits of my life? You can try if you like. But I wouldn't recommend it. Because I am liable to bite your fucking head off.
Or rather what I should say, in a more balanced and harmonized manner, is that I have a deeply ingrained fault of reacting angrily to a person who I perceive as having an agenda to change me.
Marjory Barlow and Ron Colyer, to name two rare individuals, never gave and have never given me any impression, even for a moment, of having any such agenda to change me – even though, as Alexander teachers, they were and are ostensibly in the business of change – and I can't remember ever having a cross word either with Marjory or with Ron. With Gudo Nishijima, in contrast, and with one or two other Alexander teachers, even very excellent ones who taught me a lot, I did perceive (rightly or wrongly) an agenda to change me, and I, in my anger and delusion, reacted accordingly.
I remember an episode when I was staying for a few weeks at my parents' house in Birmingham in around 1990, spending a lot of time in my sister's old bedroom above the garage, practising sitting-meditation, or, as I invariably called it then, Zazen. In between sittings I got into a conversation with my mother in which my eyeballs began to bulge and I told her “Don't fucking tell me what to do. Because nobody does!”
“Michael,” she coolly replied. “You always did have a nasty streak.”
A nasty streaky, yes. Or less emotively I would say a congenitally dodgy vestibular system, inherited mainly from my father.
This is part of the background to the unhealthy interest in money that I was confessing yesterday. I have long subscribed to the principle, made famous by Humphrey Bogart, of having an adequate supply of Fuck you money. In the background, then, there is a deep fear. Not of poverty, because I am happy living off scraps, but of loss of independence.
Again I am digressing, sort of. The point Aśvaghoṣa as I hear him is making in today's verse is that the real battle, against the faulty tendencies of our own mind, is something that in the final analysis each one of us fights on our own.
Thus, when today's verse is read in light of the story of Nanda, as told by Aśvaghoṣa in his epic story of Beautiful Happiness, the Buddha is there for Nanda to help him draw up the battle lines, in SN Canto 5 (when Nanda has his head shaved) and again in SN Canto 10 (when the Buddha and Nanda pay a visit to nymphs in heaven), as also Ānanda joins Nanda in SN Cantos 5 and 11 for the same purpose of helping battle to be joined.
Again, the whole of SN Cantos 12 through 16 can be read as the Buddha's drawing up of the battle lines, along with his encouragement and exhortation to Nanda to go into battle.
Then finally in SN Canto 18 the Buddha and Nanda enjoy a happy reunion during which the Buddha says what a wonderful sight for the Buddha to behold Nanda has become, now that he has gained the ultimate prize.
But in between times, most notably in SN Canto 7 (when Nanda is pining in the forest for Sundarī), at the beginning of SN Canto 11 (when he is immersed in red-hot asceticism with a view to subsequent sensual delights in the bosom of celestial nymphs), and through the whole of SN Canto 17 (when he truly turns to dharma and thereby finally turns the deathless nectar into his own possession), Nanda is left to face his emotional difficulties, to get deeper and deeper into ascetic trouble, and ultimately to get out of that trouble, all by himself.
Having asked myself the question yesterday and then slept on it and sat, it strikes me that what “turning to dharma” really means, in the end, is sitting on a round black cushion and working out what the Buddha's teaching is, by oneself and for oneself – for the benefit of the world.
Today's verse along with tomorrow's verse, then, hark back to the prince's reflection earlier in this Canto on the ignorance and blindness of people who disavow the other (param vijugupsate; BC5.12), this reflection – ironically – being born of separateness (vivika-jam; BC5.11).
su-labhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. easy to be obtained or effected , easily accessible or attainable , feasible , easy , common , trivial
khalu: ind. indeed , verily , certainly , truly
saṁyuge (loc. sg.): n. union , conjunction ; conflict , battle , war
sahāyāḥ (nom. pl.): m. " one who goes along with (another) " , a companion , follower , adherent , ally , assistant , helper
viṣayāvāpta-sukhe (loc. sg.): in the happiness of gaining an object
viṣaya: m. object ; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
ava - √āp: to reach , attain , obtain , gain , get
sukha: n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness
dhanārjane (loc. sg.): in the procuring of the prize
dhana: n. the prize of a contest or the contest itself ; booty, prey; any valued object ; (esp.) wealth , riches , money , treasure , gift
arjana: n. procuring , acquiring , gaining , earning ; to procure , acquire
puruṣasya (gen. sg.): m. a man
dur-labhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. hard to be obtained
sahāyāḥ (nom. pl.): m. companions, allies
patitasya (gen. sg. m.): mfn. fallen ; fallen into , being in (loc. or comp.)
āpadi (loc. sg.): f. misfortune , calamity , distress
ā- √ pad: to come , walk near , approach ; to enter , get in , arrive at , go into ; to fall in or into ; to be changed into , be reduced to any state ; to get into trouble , fall into misfortune
dharma-saṁśraye (loc. sg.): in taking refuge in dharma
saṁ-śraya: m. conjunction , combination , connection , association (ifc. " joined or connected with ") ; going or resorting or betaking one's self to any person or place (loc. or comp.) , going for refuge or protection , having recourse to
[Tenuously related with Sanskrit, and conflated with next verse]