yugapaj jvalan jvalana-vac ca
jalam avasRjaMshi ca megha-vat
sa babhau pradiipta iva sandhyayaa ghanaH
All in harness, he glowed like a fire,
Passed water like a cloud,
And radiated light like molten gold.
He shone like a cloud set aglow,
by the breaking of day, or dusk.
I see these four lines, following on from the conclusion of the previous verse, as having to do with who Gautama was in terms of energy; i.e., (1) thermal energy, (2) potential energy, (3) electro-magnetic energy, and (4) the ineffable energy of sitting-Zen.
The opening word of the stanza, yugapad, literally means "being in the same yoke/harness." This is a way of saying all together, at the same time, simultaneously. But the word harness, I think, might have a deeper significance too. The theme of this verse is the Buddha as energy, and the Buddha's energy was -- until the maha-parinirvana -- held in check. The Buddha was not an explosion of compassion.
So the harness in question might be that bonding between chemical molecules which holds in check time's arrow. For non-chemists who wonder what the hell I am talking about, I recommend following this link to the tremendously helpful writings of Frank Lambert. Lambert clarifies the universal tendency that energy has to spread out, unless prevented from doing so. This tendency, which Master Dogen addresses in Shobogenzo chapter 3 Genjo-koan, is described by the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and is represented most typically by the dissemination of heat energy by a fire (1).
The same tendency is represented, perhaps a-typically, or counter-intuitively, by the falling of rain. The falling of raindrops from a cloud, even if it has a cooling and dampening influence on fires down below, is still the spreading out of energy. Each raindrop is releasing a bit of the potential energy that was gained when a cloud was formed out of evaporating water (2).
Incidentally, I considered translating the second line as Passing water, as does a cloud, and using as a title of this post "Jesus Wept, but Buddha Pissed." Whether Ashvaghosha himself intended to include this iconoclastic sense in the 2nd line, I cannot judge for sure. But if Ashvaghosha did wish to convey this iconoclastic sense of Gautama being a non-buddha, who passed water like everybody else, then the 2nd line would be the natural place for it.
Our Great Master Ashvaghosha refers often to gold, and every time he does so I feel he is reminding me what path is in my blood, what path is in my heart, and what path I am happiest to be on -- the path of the miner. Ashvaghosha has left us as his legacy an incredibly rich seam of gold. And the deeper it is dug, the richer it gets.
The tendency that energy has to diffuse is represented roundly and conspicuously by molten gold, which gives off heat through conduction, convection and radiation and at the same time radiates electro-magnetic energy in the form of shining light (3).
Line 4 brings the previous lines together, so that all is combined in one vibrant scene -- of the kind that Ashvaghosha must have witnessed regularly, around the time of his morning and evening sitting-Zen.
yugapad: 'being in the same yoke'; simultaneously
jvalan = present participle of jval: to flame, burn brightly, blaze, glow
jvalana-vat: like fire
avasRjan: (present participle of ava + sRij) letting loose, producing, bringing forth
megha-vat: like a cloud
sadRsha: being like, similar to
prabhayaa (instrumental of prabhaa): [shining] with light, with splendour, radiance, brilliance
babhau (perfect of bhaa): shone forth, glowed, was luminous, was splendid, appeared in all his glory
pradiipta: inflamed, burning, shining, set alight
sandhyayaa = (?) instrumental case of saMdhyaa: twilight, sunset; juncture of the three divisions of the day; the religious acts performed at the three divisons of the day (hence suggestive of the scenery around the time of sitting-zen at dawn and dusk)
Simultaneously blazing like a fire and shedding water like a cloud and shining with the brilliance of refined gold, He resembled a cloud glorious with the hues of sunset.
Simultaneously blazing like a fire and giving water like a cloud, he was radiant with light like molten gold, like a cloud at twilight.