Monday, December 14, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.51: Bright Ideas vs Energy Spreading Out

yadaa tasmaan nivRttas te
chanda-raago bhaviShyati
jiiva-lokaM tadaa sarvam
aadiiptam iva maMsyate

- = = = - = = =
= - = = - = - -
= - = = - = = -
= = - - - = - =

When your enthusiasm

Is turned back from all that,

The whole living world

You will deem to be, as it were, on fire.

Here begins a series of more than ten verses whose theme is the inevitability of death. So this verse as I read it is pointing squarely to the empirical fact that energy, unless prevented from doing so, spontaneously spreads out.

The second law of thermodynamics is nobody's bright idea. It is a fundamental law of the universe that describes what actually happens in the whole of the living and non-living world: energy tends to spread out. That is why water spontaneously flows, why a fire spontaneously burns, and why everybody is going to die.

All living beings die because we are all just a temporary concentration of energy that -- through combustion, or through processes analogous to combustion, like digestion and respiration -- tends to dissipate.

We revere Gautama Buddha, Ashvaghosha, and Zen Master Dogen as past masters of the backward step of turning light and shining. But however brightly their light may have shone for a time, they are not able to turn their light and shine any more, for the simple reason that they all died in ancient times. They went the way of all flesh: they stopped respiring and digesting, whereupon they were consumed either by fire or by worms. And so the energy that had been temporarily concentrated in their skin, flesh, bones, and marrow, eventually spread out.

An alleged Zen Master in the line of Gautama, Ashvaghosha and Dogen once told me his expectation that I, if I managed to transcend family life, would become the most excellent Buddhist master in the world. That was a bright idea, and something in me enthused greatly over it. What is not a bright idea is that the old man in question is, in the not too distant future, going to die. And it will not be too long before I also breathe my last.

The bright ideas of Zen masters, it seems to me these days, cannot hold a flame to the second law of thermodynamics.

EH Johnston:
Therefore when this passion of desire is extinct in you, you will deem the entire living world to be, as it were, on fire.

Linda Covill:
When your passion and will have turned away from them, you will come to regard the whole world of living beings as burning.

yadaa: when
tasmaat: ind. from that
nivRttaH = nom. sg. nivRtta: mfn. turned back ; retreated ; ceased
te (genitive of tvam): your, of you, in you

chanda-raagaH (nom. sg.): will and passion; predilection-redness; enthusiasm
bhaviShyati = 3rd pers. sg. future bhuu: to be, become

jiiva-lokam (acc. sg.): m. the world of living beings
tadaa (correlative of yadaa): then
sarvam (acc. sg. m.): all

aadiiptam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. set on fire , blazing up
iva: like
maMsyate = 3rd pers. sg. future man: to think; to regard or consider any one or anything (acc.) as (acc. with or without iva)

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