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having sent on his way the weeping tear-faced Chanda,

And being interested in nothing,

through a chanda (or partiality) for the forest,

Sarvārtha-siddha, All Things Realized,

overpowering the place by his physical presence,

Entered that ashram like a siddha, a realized man.


He the son of a king, moving like a lion-king,

Entered like a forest creature that arena of forest creatures;

By the majesty of his physical person,

though bereft of the tokens of majesty,

He stole the eyes of all the ashram-dwellers


For standing in precisely that manner,

rooted in their curiosity, with yoke in hand,

Were the wheel-bearers, with wives in tow;

They beheld him the equal of Indra, and did not move,

Like beasts of burden with their heads half bowed.


And inspired brahmins,

who had gone out for fuel to feed the sacred fire,

And returned holding in their hands

kindling, flowers, and kuśa grass,1

Though men of formed minds

for whom ascetic practice was paramount,

Went to see him. They did not go towards their huts.

Bristling with rapture also, the peacocks let loose their cries,

As if they had seen a dark raincloud rising up;

While, letting grass fall as they turned to face him,

The deer stood still, along with the deer-imitators,

with only their eyes moving.


Seeing him, the lamp of the Ikṣvāku tribe,

Shining like the rising sun,

The cows that were milked for offerings,

though they had already been milked,

Were overjoyed, and flowed forth again.


Could this be the eighth of the good gods2,

Or one of the two charioteers,3 alighting here?”

Calls like this went up on high,

Born of the bewilderment of the sages there, at seeing him.


For, like the physical double of Indra, bull of gods,

Like the glory of all that moves and is still in the world,

He lit up the whole forest –

As if the Sun himself had dropped by.


Then, being honoured and invited, with due courtesy,

By those ashram-dwellers,

He in return, to the upholders of a dharma, paid his respects

With a voice like rain clouds full of rain.


Through the ashram that was filled in this manner

With pious people having designs upon heaven,

He, being desirous of release, steadily walked,

Observing the various ascetic practices.


And the moon-like man of soma-mildness,

when he had observed there, in that forest of ascetic severity,

The ascetic contortions of ascetics steeped in severity,

Spoke as follows, wanting to know the truth of it,

To one of the ascetics who was walking along with him:


"Since today is my first visit to an ashram

And I do not understand this method of dharma;

Therefore, kind sir, please tell me –

You are all possessed of what intention, directed towards what.”


And so the twice-born man,

an explorer of the pleasure of painful practice,

Spoke to the bull of the Śākyas,

whose steps were the steps of a bull –

He spoke to him, in steps,

About the varieties of painful practice

and about the fruit of painful practice.


Unprocessed food – food that grows in the presence of water –

Leaves and water and fruits and roots:

This, according to tradition, is the fare of sages.

But in their painful practices there are alternative approaches, 

each being distinct.


Ones who are different live by gleaning crumbs

like movers in emptiness, or birds 

Some graze on leaves of grass

like deer –

Some, together with sitters in coils, or snakes,

As if they were ant-hills – subsist on thin air.


Ones who are different 
live by what is ground out through effort on a stone;

Some are sustained by breaking food down with their own teeth;

Ones, again, who are different, 
having done the cooking for others,

Do what is for them to do, if anything is left over.


Some, their matted coils of hair dripping with water,

Twice pour butter into the fire, with mantras.4

Some, like fishes, go deep into the water

And there they abide,

their bodies scratching the surface of the tortoise5.


Through painful practices such as these, accumulated over time,

They arrive, via superior practices, at heaven,

and via lowlier ones at the world of human beings.

By an arduous path they come to inhabit ease;

For suffering, they say, is the starting point of dharma.”


The son of a chief among two-footed beings,

listened to words like these, and more,

Under that man steeped in painful practice

But he failed to see the truth of it, and was not satisfied.

Silently he said to himself:


Asceticism in its various forms has suffering at its core;

At the same time, ascetic practice has heaven as its chief reward;

And yet every world is subject to change –

All this toil in ashrams, for so very little!


Those who abandon prestige, connections, and objects,

To observe restrictions for the sake of heaven,

Evidently, when parted from there, are destined to go

Only into greater bondage.


And he who, by the bodily travails called ascetic practice,

Desires advancement for the sake of desire

While failing to attend to the faults that fuel saṁsāra –

He by the means of suffering pursues nothing but suffering.


Though people are ever afraid of dying,

Still actively they strive for re-birth,

And just in their doing, their death is assured –

Right there, where they are drowning, in fear itself.


Some individuals go through grim exhaustion 
for an end in this world,

Others suffer the ascetic grind for an end in heaven –

Pitifully expectant,

having happiness as its end but failing to accomplish its end,

Humankind sinks into end-less disappointment.


Not to be blamed, certainly, is this effort

Which, casting aside the inferior, aims for distinction;

But the work wise men should do, exerting themselves as one,

Is that work wherein nothing further needs doing.


If causing the body pain, in contrast, is the dharma here,

The body being happy constitutes the opposite of dharma.

And yet by dharma the body obtains happiness in future?

On those grounds, the dharma here results in the opposite of dharma.


Since the body, by the mind's command,

Either carries on or stops its doing,

Therefore what is appropriate is taming of the mind.

Without the thinking mind, the body is like a wooden log.


If the good is to be got through purity of food,

It follows that there is good in even the creatures of the forest;

As also there are human beings who,

through the reaping of fruits, subsist as outsiders –

Human beings who, because of contravening destiny,

are turned away from wealth.


But if the cause of good is the ability to handle hardship,

Then is not the same ability to be practised with regard to happiness?

Or else, if being able to handle happiness is not the standard,

Then how can ability to handle hardship be the standard?


Those again who, with a view to purifying their karma,

Zealously sprinkle on themselves water which they feel to be sacred,

Are only, in so doing, pleasing their own heart,

For wrong will never be washed away by waters.


Whatever water has been touched by people steeped in good –

That is sacred bathing water, if such on earth is sought.

Therefore, virtues, yes, I do see as a sacred ford.

But water, without doubt, is water.”


Thus, employing many and various forms of reasoning, did he speak,

As the Brilliant One set behind the Western Mountain.

Then he went where the trees,

veiled by smoke from burnt offerings, were turning gray;

The practising of pain there having ceased, he went into the forest...


Into the flaring forest,

where the sacrificial flame was passed from fire to blazing fire;

Into the bespattered forest,

filled with seers performing their bathing rites;

Into the cooing forest,

where shrines to gods resounded with muttered prayers;

Into the forest which was like a hive of dharma,

all busy with doing.

For several nights, resembling the night-making moon,

He dwelt there, investigating ascetic practices; 

And, having embraced asceticism in the round 

and come to his own conclusion about it, 

He made to depart from that field of asceticism. 


Then the ashram-dwellers followed him,

Their minds directed on his beauty and dignity 

Like great seers following the dharma, when,

From a land being overrun by uncivil people,

the dharma is retreating.


Then those men whose capital was painful practice

He saw, in matted locks, strips of bark, and flapping rags;

So seeing, and yet feeling towards their austerities a fond respect,

He remained there standing,

at the foot of an auspicious and splendid tree.


And so the ashram-dwellers stepped near

And stood surrounding that most excellent human being,

And the most mature among them, being full of respect,

Spoke in a soft voice these gentle words:


At your coming the ashram seemed to become full,

At your going, it seems to become empty;

Therefore, my son, you should desist from leaving

this [place of painful exertion] –

Like the cherished life-force [not leaving]

the body of a man who is fighting for his life.


For near to us,

inhabited by brahmin seers, king-seers, and god-seers,

Rises a holy Himālayan mountain6 

Through whose closeness are augmented

Those very investments of painful effort 

of people whose capital is painful effort.


All around us, likewise, are holy bathing places,

Which are akin to stairways to heaven;7

They are frequented by seers whose essence of themselves is dharma,

and by seers possessed of themselves –

By divine seers and by seers who are protectors of men.


And going further, from here,

the direction is northward

That deserves to be cultivated,

for the sake of distinction in dharma;

It ill befits a wise man to take, contrarily,

Even one step that might lead southward.


Or else, in this forest of painful practice,

you have seen one who neglects rites;

Or you have seen one who is not pure,

one who, in a commingled dharma, has fallen;

For which reason

there is in you no desire to dwell –

Then say as much, 
and be pleased to stay!8


For these want as their companion in ascetic practice

You who resemble a repository of ascetic practice9

Because abiding with you, the equal of Indra,

Would be a means of lifting up even Bṛhas-pati,

'the Lord of Spiritual Growth.' ”


When he, in the midst of the ascetics,

was thus addressed by the first ascetic,

He the first in perspicacity,

Since he had vowed to end the bhava which is becoming,

Disclosed the bhāva of his own real inner feelings and thoughts:


Under dharma-upholding sages

who tend in their core towards uprightness,

And who are, in their willing hospitality, like family,

To have had shown towards me such manifestations of sincerity

Has filled me with great joy, and has opened for me a way.


By these emollient words of yours,

which seep through to the heart,

I am as if smeared all over;

And the enjoyment a beginner feels,

at newly laying hands on dharma,

Is now pulsing through me all over again.


To leave you all like this,

so devoted to all you do and so hospitable,

To leave you who have shown me such excessive kindness –

It pains me that I will leave you like this and depart,

Even as it pained me to leave my kith and kin.


But this dharma of yours aims at heaven,

Whereas my desire is for no more becoming;

Which is why I do not wish to dwell in this wood:

For a non-doing dharma is different from doing.10


So it is neither displeasure in me nor wrong conduct by another

That causes me to walk away from this wood;

For, standing firm in a dharma adapted to the first age of the world,

All of you bear the semblance of great sages.”


Then, having listened to the prince's speech,

Which was both friendly and full of real meaning,

Thoroughly gracious and yet strong and proud,

Those ascetics held him in especially high regard.


But up spoke one twice-born individual there,

whose practice was to lay in ashes;

Standing tall,

clothed in bark strips and wearing his hair in a top-knot,

His eyes dark red, his nose long and thin,

Holding in one hand a bowl-shaped container,

he said these words:


O man of understanding! High indeed is the purpose

Of one who, young as you are, has seen the faults in rebirth;

For the man who,

having properly thought about heaven and about ending rebirth,

Is minded towards ending rebirth – he is the man!


For, by various acts of devotion, austerities, and restrictions,

Those who are coloured by desire's red taint,

desire to go to heaven;

Whereas, having battled with red desire as if with an enemy,

Those who are animated by the true essence,

desire to arrive at liberation.


Therefore if this is your settled purpose,

Go quickly to the region of the Vindhya Hills;

There lives the sage Arāḍa,

Who has gained insight into the ultimate good.


From him you will hear the method of the tattvas, 'the realities',

And will follow it as far as you like;

But since this mind of yours is such

you will, I am sure, progress on,

After shaking off the buddhi, or 'faculty of mental perception,'

of even that sage.11


For, beneath a straight and high nose,

and lengthened and widened eyes,

With its lower lip the colour of copper,

and its large teeth, sharp and white,

This mouth, with its thin red tongue,

Will drink up the whole ocean of what is to be known.


Moreover, in view of this unfathomable depth which you have12,

In light of this brilliance, and judging by these signs,

You will realize on earth that seat of a teacher

Which was obtained not even by seers of the first age.”


Very well,” said the son of a protector of men;

Then, bidding a glad farewell to that group of seers, he went out.

For their part, having duly seen him off,

The ashram-dwellers entered anew the woods of painful practice.

The 7th canto, titled Entering the Woods of Painful Practice, in an epic tale of awakened action.

1. Alternate reading: “holding in their hands  the means of purification which is a flower of war.”

2. The vasus.

3. The aśvins.

4. Alternate readings: (1) Twice make offerings of three, with mantras. (2) Twice a day, with mantras, honour a person who has been purified.

5. Ostensible reading: “And there they abide, their bodies being scratched by turtles.”

6. Alternate reading: “a pleasant snow-clad peak.”

7. Alternate reading: “All around us, likewise, are wholesome bathing places which, at the level of the air, consist of steps."

8. Alternate reading: “Express as much, in which act of abiding, let light be shone!”

9 . Alternate reading: “You who represent the laying aside of asceticism.”

10. Three possible readings: (1) “For a non-doing dharma is different from doing.” (2) “For a non-doing dharma is ruined / destroyed by doing.” (3) “The dharma of non-doing is mixed in / muddled up with doing.”

11. Alternate reading: On those grounds you will learn the path to reality,

and will indulge in it, there being light. / But since this mind of yours is such

you will, I am sure, progress on, after dropping off the viewpoint of even that state. //

12. Or “to which you belong” – the genitive bhavatas leaves open both subjective and objective readings.

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