Sunday, June 3, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.34: Yin & Yang of Gold

[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti
* * * * * * * * * * *  * * * * * * * * * * *  |
* * * * * * * * * * *   * * * * * * * * * * *  || 1.34

EHJ writes of “the brilliance of gold,” and the Chinese translation has 金色 "the colour of gold.” So Aśvaghoṣa's original must have featured one of the many Sanskrit words that he uses in Saundarananda for gold. 

What was it about gold? What is it about gold? 

Just as gold born from dirt is pure, spotless, gleaming, /
And while lying in the dirt is not tarnished by the dirt's impurities, // 13.4 //
And just as a lotus-leaf is born in water and remains in water, /
But neither above nor below is sullied by the water,  // 13.5 //
So the Sage, born in the world, and acting for the benefit of the world, /
Because of his state of action, and spotlessness, is not tainted by worldly things. // 13.6 //

When I translated them before, these verses seemed to me to relate to the inertness of gold, i.e. the yin quality of gold. Recently, however, I read a paper on gold catalysis which falsified my previous one-sided view of gold, and caused me to reflect on the yang as well as the yin. 

I had thought that the brilliance of gold and its resistance to tarnishing were essentially the same fact. I had thought, in other words, that gold was brilliant because it was inert, that gold gleamed because its surface hadn't become tarnished by reacting with dirt or air-borne elements. 

It turns out that gold's unusual resistance to tarnishing does indeed derive from inertness; but its bright yellow lustre derives from another quality – related unfathomably to quantum mechanics – which is quite different from inertness. 

The resistance to tarnishing, chemists say, derives from a unique air and water stability, and an unusual tolerance to multiple functional groups. A functional group is a specific group of atoms within a molecule that is responsible for characteristic chemical reactions of that molecule. So gold's inertness stems from its talent for not being tempted to react with/to many different kinds of such groupings of atoms. 

The bright yellow lustre, in contrast, results from strong relativistic effects, related to the very large and hence heavy nucleus which each gold atom has. The bigger and heavier an atom's nucleus, the greater are the relativistic effects. Gold atoms have got a very big and heavy nucleus, and so gold has strong relativistic effects. These relativistic effects are said to give gold an outstanding propensity to activate certain kinds of hydrocarbons called “alkynes.” (Alkynes are hydrocarbons containing a triple carbon-carbon bond.) 

This combination of inertness and ability to activate alkynes – something very passive and something very active – has during the last few years given rise to an upsurge in research into the use of gold as a catalyst in organic synthesis. Here endeth today's chemistry lecture. 

In investment circles gold is often denigrated – by the likes of Warren Buffet – as something without any inherent productive value. In fact modern chemists have only just begun to discover the productive value of gold. Whereas people from ancient times somehow already sensed, without knowing the chemistry in detail, that gold was the king of metals.  

The wonderful chemical properties of gold, however, offer no guarantee that the market price of gold won't go down. 

Still, I think the market price of gold, having spent several months declining, is going to carry on going up. But I may be wrong. A market veteran may think that when people like me start talking about gold, that  might be a sign that gold has already become a bubble that is about to burst. 

What if gold does crash? The challenge that a zen gold-bug faces in that circumstance is twofold: (1) not to react unduly, (2) to keep directing the head forward and up, the back to lengthen and widen and the knees forwards and away so as to stay strong in his centre. 

Same applies when his woman leaves -- as she surely will, sooner or later. Same applies when his house falls down -- as it surely will, sooner or later. Same applies when sickness arrives and death approaches, as they surely will, sooner or later. 

In the meantime, to accept and to use oneself like this, sitting in lotus, is the samādhi which is king of samādhis, the gold standard of the Buddha-Dharma. 

Not for nothing, then, does Aśvaghoṣa cause gold, with its non-reactivity and with its heavy nucleus making it a powerful catalyst, to be praised as the king of metals.

Tibetan Text: 
| mchog gyur ’di la mchog gyur gser gyi ’od mṅa’ źiṅ | 
| sgron ma’i ’od zer dag gis mtshan rnams gaṅ gyur pas |
| de ñid rtogs par gyur pa’i thub par ’gyur ba’am | 
| yaṅ na mi bdag sa steṅs ’khor los sgyur bar ’gyur | 

EHJ's translation (from the Tibetan/Chinese): 
34. According to the signs found on this excellent one, the brilliance of gold and the radiance of a lamp, he will certainly become either an enlightened seer or a Cakravartin monarch on earth among men. 

Chinese Text: 
惟此上士身 金色妙光明
如是殊勝相 必成等正覺
若習樂世間 必作轉輪王 

[  習=令<三> ] 

S. Beal's translation (from the Chinese): 
none but a heavenly teacher has a body such as this, golden colour’d, gloriously resplendent. 46. ’One endowed with such transcendent marks, must reach the state of "Samyak-Sambodhi," or if he be induced to engage in worldly delights, then he must become a universal monarch. 

C. Willemen's translation (from the Chinese): 
43. “Yes, this superior person is gold-colored and very bright. With such
excellent signs he most certainly will attain perfect awakening. Or he will
bring happiness in the world, certain to be a wheel-turning king.

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