sa vismaya-nivtty-arthaṁ tapaḥ-pūjārtham-eva ca |
svāṁ cānuvartitāṁ rakṣann-aśva-pṣṭhād-avātarat || 6.3
As an act of inhibition of pride,
And out of respect, yes, for ascetic endeavour,
While guarding his own submission,
He got down off the back of the horse.
Today's verse, short though it is, might be an incredibly difficult one to get to the bottom of.
Two turning words upon which to meditate in today's verse might be nivṛtti, which means prevention, inhibition, or non-doing, and anuvartitām, which means compliance or submissiveness. These two words are literally turning words in the sense that they are both from the root √vṛt to turn. More than that, they might be words which, if we really understood them, not only intellectually but in practice, might turn our life around.
Hence the Buddha tells Nanda in SN Canto 16:
tasmāt pravṛttiṃ-parigaccha duḥkhaṃ pravartakān-apy-avagaccha doṣān /
nivṛttim-āgaccha ca tan-nirodhaṃ nivartakaṃ cāpy-avagaccha mārgam // 16.42 //
Comprehend, therefore, that suffering is doing (pra-vṛttiṃ); witness the faults impelling it forward (pra-vartakān); / Realise its stopping as non-doing (ni-vṛttim); and know the path as a turning back (ni-vartakaṃ). // 16.42 //
Ni-vṛtti is the Sanskrit word that corresponds to the Chinese 無為 (Ch: wu-wei; Jap: MU-I) and corresponds to what is called in Alexander work “non-doing.”
無為 (wu-wei) was practised in China before Bodhidharma went there, as part of Chinese practice of a Chinese tao. Similarly, Alexander discovered the truth of non-doing by himself – independently of the Buddha's teaching and independently of Chinese teaching of the tao.
I am not talking here of three legs of a tripod (which is something Dogen sternly cautioned against) but of one practical truth of spontaneous action, affirmed in three separate laboratories of working on the self, in India, in China, and in Australia/England.
Ni-vṛtti or 無為 or non-doing does not mean nothing happening. Non-doing is body and mind dropping off and one's original features appearing, in action. So in non-doing, doing is going on, but it is not my habitual doing – something else is taking over. It is doing it.
Non-doing is a word like non-thinking, or non-buddha. Non-thinking means thinking, or knowing, but not thinking or knowing as we generally think of or know it. Non-buddha, similarly, means a real buddha, but one who is as deformed (vikṛta) as the sleeping beauties of BC Canto 5 – one who does not conform to anybody's stereotype of a buddha. Non-doing, then, is a kind of doing, a kind of action.
Ni-vṛtti, similarly, though originally a negative conception, can at the same time be understood as a positive flowering from the root √vṛt, which means to turn and at the same time to act.
Understanding ni-vṛtti like this, I have translated vismaya-nivṛtty-arthaṁ “as an act of inhibition of pride,” understanding the inhibitory act in question to be the prince's act of getting down from the heights of a high horse.
The principle of non-doing is the principle of consciously allowing what happens naturally in nature. Hence:
"When an investigation comes to be made it will be found that every single thing we do in the work is exactly what is done in Nature, where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously."
What naturally happens in nature as a consequence of pride, in accordance with the proverbial wisdom, is a fall. Pride comes before a fall. So a fall is what happens naturally in nature, as a consequence of pride.
An act like getting down from a high horse, then, might be practised as an act which inhibits pride by consciously allowing the kind of natural descent that naturally follows pride. And in the absence of a horse, which is a big, expensive and time-consuming animal to maintain, a convenient alternative inhibitory act to practise might be mindfully to bow one's head to the ground, to stand up again, mindfully to bow one's head to the ground again, and so on. (When I write "mindfully" I don't mean carefully; I primarily mean sending the knees forwards and away, but that is another story.)
So much for ni-vṛtti in the 1st pāda. Turning to anu-varti-tā in the 3rd pāda, anu-varti-tā is from anu- √vṛt which means to turn after, to go after, to follow, to obey. Anuvartitā therefore expresses obedience or a submissive attitude, submissiveness, submission.
When hurry-up Udayin in Canto 4 urged the prince to show a submissive attitude towards women, as a means of keeping women sweet, the prince rejected that advice in no uncertain terms:
Thus Udayin urged:
Let it be realized, with reference to females of the species, what greatness is. That greylag gander in the water over there, for instance : / Trailing behind (anuvartī) his mate like a slave, he follows. // 4.50 //
For women, even if the means are deceitful, obedience (samanuvartanam) is appropriate, / To sweep away their diffidence, and purely for the purpose of enjoying oneself! // 4.67 //
Therefore, O large-eyed one, though your heart be otherwise inclined,/ With tact and delicacy that befit such a beautiful form, you should submit (anuvartitum) ! // 4.69 //
And the prince responded:
Neither do I find submissive behaviour (anuvartanam) to be agreeable, where sincerity is lacking; / If coming together is not with one's whole being, then out with it! // 4.93 //
And yet in today's verse Aśvaghoṣa describes the prince as svām anuvartitāṁ rakṣan (lit. “guarding his own submissiveness”).
So the prince did not entertain the principle of being submissive without total sincerity, but in today's verse the prince is described as sincerely guarding submissiveness. Submissiveness towards what?
EBC, EHJ and PO all understood that the prince's submissiveness (“conformity” EBC; “politeness” EHJ; “subservience” PO) was directed towards ascetism or the teachers thereof, but I beg to differ. Respect for the hard practice of tough ascetics is one thing. Submitting to their teaching is totally another. I think the point of the svām (“his own”) might be to suggest that though the prince's attitude was submissive, his submission was not like the kind of submission, for example, explicitly required by Islaam. So even when the prince committed himself to ascetic practice, he was still guarding within himself a submission to something within himself that was other than ascetism, something that was beyond any -ism – something, perhaps, like his power of reasoning, and at the same time something, perhaps, like an inner horse.
So an alternative reading is that the object of the prince's responsive attention (aka “submission”) was rather the horse, Kanthaka, referred to in the 4th pāda. And support for the latter reading can be found in the following verse, in which the prince is standing on the ground as he pats and expresses his gratitude to Kanthaka.
Before he can stand eyeball to eyeball with Kanthaka, however, the prince has to move, he has to act. So the real turning word of today's verse might be the last word of the verse, avātarat, which expressing the movement or the action of getting down.
My teacher Gudo Nishijima expressed the 3rd of the Buddha's four noble truths as “the philosophy of action.”
This rendering of the 3rd noble truth might seem like a kind of madness to anybody who is familiar with the Pali and Sanskrit terms that recorded the Buddha's original teaching – words like śānti (cessation; SN3.12), duḥkha-kṣayaḥ (cessation/destruction of suffering; SN16.4) ; nirodha-satya (the truth of the suppression / inhibition / stopping [of suffering]; SN16.41).
Gudo turned into something positive (“action”) a teaching that, in its original form, was evidently negative (cessation/inhibition). That was in a very real sense a stupid thing to do. It was the stupid action of an infuriatingly stupid man. But a verse like today's verse, as I read it, hints at a certain method behind the madness. Because everything in today's verse, as I read it, is subservient to the action of getting down off the back of a horse.
A final irony I would like to note is that, in addition to the time I spent preparing this translation and comment yesterday, I have been at the computer now for more than two hours this morning, and – since my wife has gone back to Japan for two or three weeks – I have been watched throughout those two hours by my wife's dog. So while I have been hoping to clarify and spread the word of Aśvaghoṣa and Alexander about what inhibition really means, and how ultimately it is only got in movement, or in action, the dog has been very sincerely observing me NOT going into movement. She is very sincerely waiting for me to get the hell out of the office and lead her into movement....
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
vismaya-nivṛtty-artham (acc. sg. n.): in the interests of cessation of pride
vismaya: m. wonder , surprise , amazement , bewilderment , perplexity ; pride , arrogance ; doubt , uncertainty
nivṛtti: f. returning , return ; ceasing , cessation , disappearance ; ceasing from worldly acts , inactivity , rest , repose (opp. to pra-vṛtti) ; abolition , prevention
ni- √ vṛt: to turn back, stop ; to turn away , retreat , flee , escape , abstain or desist from , get rid of (abl.)
artha: mn. aim , purpose (very often artham , arthena , arthāya , and arthe ifc. or with gen. " for the sake of , on account of , in behalf of , for ")
tapaḥ (acc. sg.): n. warmth, heat; pain, suffering ; religious austerity , bodily mortification , penance , severe meditation , special observance (e.g. " sacred learning " with Brahmans , " protection of subjects " with kṣatriyas , " giving alms to Brahmans " with vaiśyas , " service " with śūdras , and " feeding upon herbs and roots " with ṛṣis ) ; ascetic practice
pūjārtham (acc. sg. n.): in the interests of honouring
pūjā: f. honour , worship , respect , reverence , veneration , homage to superiors or adoration of the gods
svām (acc. sg. f.): his own
anuvartitām (acc. sg.): f. compliance ; submissiveness
anuvartana: n. obliging , serving or gratifying another ; compliance , obedience ; following , attending
anu- √ vṛt: to go after, to follow ; to obey , respect , imitate
rakṣan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. rakṣ: to guard , watch , take care of , protect , save , preserve ; to tend (cattle) ; to spare , have regard to (another's feelings) ; to observe (a law , duty &c ); to guard against , ward off , keep away
aśva-pṛṣṭhāt (abl. sg.): the back of the horse
pṛṣṭha: n. the back (as the prominent part of an animal)avātarat = 3rd pers. sg. imperf. ava- √ tṝ: to descend into (loc. or acc.) , alight from