Thursday, April 25, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.41: Beautiful-Looking Women, Looking Up

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
cala-kuṇdala-cumbitānanābhir-ghana-niśvāsa-vikampita-stanībhiḥ |
vanitābhir-adhīra-locanābhir-mga-śāvābhir-ivābhyudīkṣyamāṇaḥ || 5.41

Women whose swaying ear-rings lightly kissed their mouths,

And whose deep sighs caused their breasts to tremble,

Watched him with skittish eyes,

Like young does, looking up.

These women watching the prince on the way up to the top of the palace might be the same women who the prince will shortly observe on his way down and out of the palace.

At that time the women will be portrayed in the most unfavourable light, laid out in grotesque horizontal postures, but for now the women are painted in a favourable light, their swaying ear-rings hinting at an elegant (because natural and spontaneous) uprightness... an uprightness whose evolution physicists are beginning to understand in terms of the laws of thermodynamics.

They say that one of the best ways for anybody to understand something is to explain it clearly to somebody else. In that spirit, I endeavoured yesterday to clarify, in preparing this comment, what connection there might be between spontaneous upward flow of energy in naturally upright sitting, and what a recent scientific paper titled Causal Entropic Forces calls “causal entropic forcing.” 

My pretext for connecting this investigation to today's verse was mainly the ud- (up) of abhy-ud-īkṣyamāṇaḥ (being looked up at), which is shortly to be followed by the udyan (going up) and āruroha (he rose up) of BC3.43; and the adhi-ruhya (ascending) of BC3.44. Running through the present series of verses, as the prince climbs to the top of the palace, it is true, there is a sense of upward direction.

On further reflection, however, it occured to me this morning as I sat that the upward direction of the eyes referred to in today's verse is generally NOT symptomatic of the spontaneous upward flow that sometimes graces sitting-meditation – at which time the eyes are not raised expectantly but, on the contrary, are generally lowered. So my pretext is not a very good one. Nevertheless, here goes:

Of the four examples of causal entropic forcing considered in Causal Entropic Forces, the example that seems to be most pertinent to evolution of upright posture is a cart and pole (or inverted pendulum) system:-
The upright stabilization of a pole by a mobile cart serves as a standard model for bipedal locomotion, an important feature of the evolutionary divergence of hominids from apes that may have been responsible for freeing up prehensile hands for tool use. We found that causal entropic forcing of the cart resulted in the successful swing-up and upright stabilization of an initially downward-hanging pole. During upright stabilization, the angular variation of the pole was reminiscent of the correlated random walks observed in human postural sway (see this video clip).
The paper begins by discussing “entropy maximization.” “Entropy maximization” refers to the tendency that energy has (in accordance with the 2nd law of thermodynamics) to spread out, unless prevented from doing so. The entropy of an isolated system is maximized by energy spreading out to the maximum degree possible, which is what energy always tends to do, unless it is prevented from doing so.

The natural language of entropy, sadly, is neither Sanskrit nor English. The natural language of entropy is mathematics. Entropy is often described in English as a measure of “disorder,” which I find most unhelpful. People like my son who is a chemist don't find the word “disorder” unhelpful since their understanding of entropy is rooted in the mathematics of statistical probability, and “disorder” seems to them to be close enough to the decreased universe of possibilities that entropy measures.

Since my introduction to the laws of thermodynamics was via the writing of  Frank Lambert, I prefer to understand entropy as a measure of how far energy (in an isolated system) has spread out. Thus, for example, conceived as an isolated postural system, the head-neck-back of a young woman sprawled out in a horizontal posture has less potential energy and more entropy than it had before, when she was standing up watching the prince go upstairs. When she wakes up again and wishes to return to the upright, she can decrease the entropy of her so-called “postural system” of head-neck-back, only if energy is supplied from somewhere else – e.g. by her doing muscular work with her limbs, or by some helpful bloke picking her up and hoisting her back to the vertical.

In the cart and pole model the entropy of the pole is decreased when external energy is supplied through movement of the cart.

That being so, the cart and pole model might provide some useful broad insights into how upright posture evolved in human beings, but it might not be such a good model, after all, for enhancing anybody's understanding of energy flow in a person who is already sitting upright.

The beauty of sitting-meditation – a beauty which is an internal beauty appreciated with lowered eyes – has to do with energy that is already inside us turning in on itself. Hence Dogen's famous instruction to learn the backward step of turning one's light and letting it shine.

The authors of Causal Entropic Forces claim to have demonstrated that “a causal generalization of entropic forces” can spontaneously induce remarkably sophisticated behaviours associated with the human ‘‘cognitive niche,’’ including tool use and social cooperation, in simple physical systems.

So this paper seems to be a step towards better understanding of how the upward pointing of the human spine, as maintained when standing, walking or sitting in balance, has been spontaneously induced through the course of human evolution by “a causal generalization of entropic forces.”

If I have learned anything from the last 30 years of striving for upright posture and progressively abandoning such striving, I have learned that it is necessary to bring intelligence to bear on the matter of going on up. Just going for uprightness directly, relying on instinct, is a recipe not for uprightness but rather for uptightness. Uptightness is symptomatic of me deludedly misdirecting energy in an effort to do something – this corresponds to what the Buddha called pravṛtti, or “doing.” True uprightness might be symptomatic of energy spontaneously flowing in the right direction by itself – this corresponds to what the Buddha called nivṛtti, or “non-doing.”

In physics and chemistry, spontaneous energy flow is predicted by the 2nd law of thermodynamics. So when two scientists write that “Our results suggest a potentially general thermodynamic model of adaptive behavior as a nonequilibrium process in open systems,” might they have something to teach us who would like better to understand the thermodynamics of balanced upright sitting? Is sitting upright in full lotus amenable to being investigated as an adaptive behaviour which is a nonequilibrium process in an open system?

I suspect that the ultimate answer must be no. For the present, however, I am not sure that I have even begun to understand the question.

But coming back to today's verse, in conclusion, if we wish to understand how today's verse is related with the one great matter which is sitting, the relation may primarily be one of contrast.

The contrast firstly has to do with beauty. A woman generally wears ear-rings for the sake of looking beautiful. And breasts that tremble when a woman breathes suggests firm breasts which look beautiful. But because a woman looks beautiful does not necessarily mean that she is beautiful – as conspicuously demonstrated by a recent Channel 4 documentary (Edward VIII's Murderous Mistress) about a French courtesan who murdered her wealthy husband in the Savoy Hotel in London but got away with it by blackmailing the British Establishment with a cache of indiscreet letters from the then Prince of Wales.

The beauty of sitting-meditation is not about looking beautiful; it is rather about being beautiful, because of freedom from befouling faults. Hence the title of Aśvaghoṣa's other epic poem Saundara-Nanda which ostensibly means Handsome Nanda, but which really points to that essence of sitting-meditation which is Beautiful Happiness.

The second contrast, as alluded to above, has to do with use of the eyes. The women are described as looking up, expectantly, with eyes that are a-dhīra, inconstant, capricious, unsteady, skittish. Whereas the eyes of a buddha enjoying the beautiful happiness of spontaneous upward flow – however it may have evolved – might be the opposite of that.

cala-kuṇdala-cumbitānanābhiḥ (inst. pl. f.): their faces kissed by swaying ear-rings
cala: mfn. moving
kuṇdala: n. ear-ring
cumbita: mfn. kissed ; touched closely or softly
ānana: n. the mouth; the face

ghana-niśvāsa-vikampita-stanībhiḥ (inst. pl. f.): their breasts trembling with their deep sighs
ghana: mfn. compact , solid , material , hard , firm , dense ; coarse , gross ;viscid , thick , inspissated ; deep (as sound ; colour)
niśvāsa: m. a sigh
vikampita: mfn. trembling , shaking , tremulous , agitated , unsteady
stana: m. the female breast

vanitābhiḥ (inst. pl.): f. a loved wife , mistress , any woman ; mfn. solicited , asked , wished for , desired , loved
adhīra-locanābhiḥ (inst. pl. f.): with restless eyes
adhīra: mfn. imprudent; not fixed, moveable ; confused ; excitable ; capricious ; f. a capricious or bellicose mistress
dhīra: mfn. steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave
locana: n. " organ of sight " , the eye

mṛga-śāvābhiḥ (inst. pl. f.): young deers, fawns
śāva: m. the young of any animal
iva: like, as if
abhyudīkṣyamāṇaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. passive abhy-ud- √ īkṣ: to look towards
ud- √ īkṣ: to look up to ; to expect

宮中諸婇女 親近圍遶侍
伺候瞻顏色 矚目不暫瞬
猶若秋林鹿 端視彼獵師

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