Wednesday, April 1, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.48: Going Beyond Science, Scientifically

dhaatuun hi ShaD bhuu-salil-aanalaadiin
saamaanyataH svena ca lakShaNena
avaiti yo n'aanyam avaiti tebhyaH
so' tyantikaM mokSham avaiti tebhyaH

For in knowing the six elements
of earth, water, fire and the rest,

Generically, and each as specific to itself,

He who knows nothing else but them,

Knows total release from them.

The six elements are the five elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and space, plus the sixth element of consciousness.

My sons are both continuing with the study of chemistry, biology, and maths, to 'A' level and beyond, and that suits me fine. I look forward to them filling me in on the 2nd law of thermodynamics, among other things. If biology led them into psychology, I would not be too disappointed. But if they had tended towards, say, film studies or -- God forbid -- religious studies, I might not have encouraged them in that direction.

This verse, as I read it, affirms a scientific approach to knowing, as opposed to religious belief in such supposed miraculous Hollywood/biblical phenomena as God, virgin birth, winged angels, et cetera.

Ashvaghosha's point, as I take it, is that there never has been nor ever will be any basis in religion from which to transcend science. Gold is got from earth, by digging. The basis for transcending science lies in scientific endeavour itself.

This kind of scientific endeavor, as John Dewey saw it, was what FM Alexander was involved in. Thus Dewey wrote in his introduction to Alexander's second book:

"After studying over a period of years Mr Alexander's method in actual operation, I would stake myself upon the fact that he has applied to our ideas and beliefs about ourselves, and about our acts, exactly the same method of experimentation, and of the production of new sensory observations as tests and means of developing thought, that have been the source of all progress in the physical sciences."

Even more pertinent to this verse is a paragraph that Dewey wrote in his introduction to Alexander's third book:

"As might be anticipated, the conclusions of Mr Alexander's experimental enquiries are in harmony with what physiologists know about the muscular and nervous structure. But they give a new significance to that knowledge; indeed, they make evident what knowledge itself really is. The anatomist may 'know' the exact function of each muscle, and conversely know what muscles come into play in the execution of any specified act. But if he is himself unable to co-ordinate all the muscular structures involved in, say, sitting down or in rising from a sitting position in a way which achieves the optimum and efficient performance of that act -- if in other words he misuses himself in what he does -- how can he be said to know in the full and vital sense of that word?"

After my own scientific education, followed by 30 years of work in the laboratory of a misused self, what, as a result of all my many failed and falsified hypotheses, do I truly know?

Sitting rigidly upright while pulling the chin back and down in order to stretch the back of the neck is very largely a matter of earth; whereas consciousness, if I know it at all, is basically a matter of sitting upright not like that.

dhaatuun = accusative, plural of dhaatu: m. element , primitive matter (usually reckoned as 5 , viz. kha or aakaaza , anila , tejas , jala , bhuu ; to which is added brahma; or vijNaana Buddh. )
hi: for
ShaD: six
bhuu: earth
salila: water
anala: fire
aadiin = accusative, plural of aadi: et cetera

saamaanya: equal , alike; shared by others , joint ; whole , entire , universal , general , generic , not specific
-taH = ablative/adverbial suffix
svena = instrumental, singular (agreeing with lakShaNena) of sva: its own
ca: and
lakShaNena = instrumental, singular of lakShana: indicating , expressing indirectly; a mark , sign , symbol , token , characteristic , attribute, quality

avaiti = 3rd person singular of ave: to see, understand, know
yaH: [he] who
na: not
anyam (accusative): other, else, apart
avaiti = 3rd person singular of ave: to see, understand, know
tebhyaH (ablative, plural): from them

saH (nominative, singular): he
aatyantika: continual , uninterrupted , infinite , endless; entire , universal (as the world's destruction &c )
mokSham (accusative): emancipation , liberation , release from (ablative)
avaiti = 3rd person singular of ave: to see, understand, know; to go to
tebhyaH (ablative, plural): from them

EH Johnston:
For he who understands the six elements, earth, water, fire etc., both in their general and their specific characteristics and understands that there is nothing other than them understands complete liberation from them.

Linda Covill:
For the man who understands the six elements of earth, water, fire and so on in their general and particular characteristics, and who understands that there is nothing else apart from them, attains utter freedom from them.

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