pralamba-bāhur-mga-rāja-vikramo maharṣabhākṣaḥ kanakojjvala-dyutiḥ |
viśāla-vakṣā ghana-dundubhi-svanas-tathā-vidho 'py-āśrama-vāsam-arhati || 8.53
Does he with his long hanging arms and lion's stride,
With his great bull-like eyes and splendid golden lustre,
With his broad chest and thunderous resonance –
Does such a man deserve a life in an ashram?
Inherent in the young Prince Sarvarthasiddha, as we investigated in BC Canto 1 (The Birth of Something Beautiful), were the same virtues that would later adorn the enlightened Buddha. And inherent in the transmission of this legend, it could be argued, is the core principle and teaching of the buddha-nature.
This core principle, in my book, is also the core principle of Alexaner work. Hence FM Alexander said:
"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."
The principle is maybe even further to the fore in Aśvaghoṣa's other kāvya poem, the epic tale of Beautiful Happiness (or “Handsome Nanda”), in which handsome Nanda is originally strikingly beautiful, then proceeds to make himself ugly through ascetic end-gaining, before ultimately realizing himself as Beautiful Happiness itself.
In today's verse, on the surface, Gautamī is listing some of the young prince's original virtues in passing, but the ostensible gist of her words is the rhetorical question asked in the 4th pāda: Does it behove a prince possessed of such shining virtues to hide himself away in an ashram?
Below the surface, I think the relationship between the pairs of elements in the first three pādas is by no means incidental.
Aśvaghoṣa as I hear him is inviting us to realize the principle that good balance and coordination (as manifested by a lion's stride), a golden lustre, and a resonant voice, are not virtues that any of us can take possession of by direct means. But these are indeed virtues that can be approached by indirect means – which is exactly the point of the kind of work on the self that FM Alexander called “an exercise in finding out what thinking is.”
Thus, thinking arms to hang loose and lengthen, thinking eyeballs to expand, and thinking chest to widen might be perfect examples of the kind of thoughts discussed yesterday, as fit to encase the cranium of the best of men (narendra-maulī-pariveṣṭana-kṣamāḥ).
Can thinking arms to hang loose and lengthen cause a person's stride to become better co-ordinated and more cat-like? Alexander work demonstrates that Yes, it can, through the medium of what Alexander called “the primary control of the use of the self.” The point is that undue stiffness in the arms and shoulders gets in the way of the correct employment of the head-neck-back relationship that Alexander called “the primary control.” But when such stiffness has been prevented by the right kind of preventing thinking, then movement, when it comes, is bound to be easier and freer.
Can thinking eyeballs to expand cause a person's lustre to become more golden? Again Alexander work demonstrates that Yes, it can, again indirectly, through the medium of the primary control.
Can thinking chest to widen make a person's verse more resonant? Yes, absolutely it can.
So a naturally wide chest is (1), in the first place, conducive to vocal resonance.
But understanding this and (2) going directly for a wide chest and resonant voice – e.g. by doing bench-presses to build up the muscles around the chest – is liable not to work, because resonance is a more a function of how much space is vacated on the inside, and not so much a function of how much external space is occupied by muscle.
Clearly understanding both these truths, FM Alexander, whose work began with vocal control, evolved a technique that would bring about a widening of the chest by indirect means, from the inside. This indirect means involves not muscular doing but thinking. Or rather it involves non-thinking – thinking, but not thinking as people generally understand thinking.
None of this, I guess from verses like today's verse and yesterday's verse, would have been news to Aśvaghoṣa.
A baby is born with a voice of incredibly thunderous resonance. As an adult under stress, with stiff arms and shoulders, tired and strained eyes, and a tight and narrow chest, that human being no longer sounds so good. But if, by working on himself, he learns consciously to allow exactly what was done in Nature, when the conditions were right, that person is reclaiming his original buddha-nature.
The 4th pāda, below the surface, is asking whether or not such a man, or such a woman, deserves a life in an ashram?
Does it behove a person of such splendid golden lustre to hide his light under a bushel? The ostensible purport of Gautamī's rhetorical question is that no, it rather behoves a shining prince to carry the banner for the royal family, vigorously participating in public life, and carrying on the royal line.
Below the surface, Aśvaghoṣa's intention might be to cause us to consider the same question not with reference to a shining prince but with reference to a person like Nanda who, after he had completed his task, the Buddha addressed as follows:
Walking the transcendent walk, you have done the work that needed to be done: in you, there is not the slightest thing left to work on. / From now on, my friend, go with compassion, freeing up others who are pulled down into their troubles. // SN18.54 // The lowest sort of man only ever sets to work for an object in this world. But a man in the middle does work both for this world and for the world to come. / A man in the middle, I repeat, works for a result in the future. The superior type, however, tends towards abstention from positive action. // 18.55 // But deemed to be higher than the highest in this world is he who, having realized the supreme ultimate dharma, / Desires, without worrying about the trouble to himself, to teach tranquillity to others. // 18.56 // Therefore forgetting the work that needs to be done in this world on the self, do now, stout soul, what can be done for others. / Among beings who are wandering in the night, their minds shrouded in darkness, let the lamp of this transmission be carried. // SN18.57 //
pralamba-bāhuḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. with arms that hang down
pralamba-bāhu-tā: f. one of the 32 signs of perfection
pralamba: hanging down , depending , pendent , pendulous (generally ibc.)
bāhu: m. arm
mṛga-rāja-vikramaḥ (nom. sg. m.): with his lion's gait
mṛga-rāja: m. " king of beasts " , a lion
vikrama: m. a step , stride , pace ; going , proceeding , walking , motion , gait ; course , way , manner ; valour , courage , heroism , power , strength
mahārṣabhākṣaḥ nom. sg. m.): with his eyes of a great bull
mahat: mfn. great
ṛṣabha: m. a bull
akṣa: n. [only ifc. for akṣi] , the eye
kanakojjvala-dyutiḥ (nom. sg. m.): with gold-radiant splendour
kanakojjvala: mfn. radiant with gold,
kanaka: n. gold
ujjvala: mfn. blazing up , luminous , splendid , light ; n. gold
dyuti: f. splendour (as a goddess ) , brightness , lustre , majesty , dignity
viśāla-vakṣā (nom. sg. m.): with his broad chest
viśāla: mfn. spacious , extensive , broad , wide , large
vakṣa: n. the breast , bosom , chest
ghana-dundubhi-svanaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. deep as the sound of a drum or of a cloud, Bcar.
ghana-dundubhi: the drum of the clouds [According to EHJ = thunder]
ghana: mfn. compact , solid , material , hard , firm , dense ; deep (as sound ; colour) ; m. a collection , multitude , mass , quantity ; m. a cloud
dundubhi: mf. a sort of large kettledrum ; f. a drum
svana: m. sound
tathā-vidhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): a man of such a sort or kind , being in such a condition or state , of such qualities
āśrama-vāsam (acc. sg. m.): living in an ashram
āśrama: mn. a hermitage , the abode of ascetics
vāsa: m. staying , remaining (esp. " overnight ") , abiding , dwelling , residence , living in (loc. or comp.); ifc. = having one's abode in , dwelling or living in
ā-śrama-vāsika: mfn. relating to residence in a hermitage
arhati = 3rd pers. sg. arh: to deserve , merit , be worthy of , to have a claim to , be entitled to (acc.)