atha kāñcana-śaila-śṅga-varṣmā gaja-megha-rṣabha-bāhu-nisvanākṣaḥ |
kṣayam-akṣaya-dharma-jāta-rāgaḥ śaśi-siṁhānana-vikramaḥ prapede || 5.26
Then, statuesque as a golden mountain peak,
With the arms, voice, and eyes
of an elephant, a cloud, and a bull,
An ardent desire having been aroused in him
for something imperishable,
He of moon-like faces and lion's paces entered the palace.
The Heart Sutra famously says that the material is the immaterial, form is emptiness, and vice versa. Today's verse, as I read it, is a meditation along those lines.
The 2nd law of thermodynamics describes what is readily observable in this world: that the energy in all material things tends to dissipate, unless prevented from doing so. This is true of golden mountain peaks; is true of elephants, clouds, and bulls; is true of royal palaces; and is even true of golden full moons, white crescent moons, and feline kings of the jungle. But it is not true of the 2nd law itself. This is a point that struck me a few months ago. Perhaps I read it somewhere but I can't remember where, so it feels like I hit upon it off my own bat, even though I probably didn't. In any event the point is this: the 2nd law of thermodynamics does not apply to itself, because the 2nd law of thermodynamics is not material; it does not have any energy to dissipate.
The material objects cited in today's verse – objects which do have energy to dissipate – fall into four groups following a certain philosophical progression, so that (1) a golden mountain suggests something singular and ideal, (2) arms like an elephant's trunk, a voice like thunder, and big eye's like a bull's, are individual symbols of physical prowess; (3) a dwelling is a practical necessity of life; and (4) having moon-like faces and a lion's paces suggests something transcendent.
The factor that is not a material object, the factor that corresponds to the immaterial, the empty – the factor which has no energy to dissipate – is akṣaya-dharma ("something imperishable") in the 3rd pāda. Something imperishable means something, for example, like the 2nd law, or like the prince's as yet unrealized aim of pari-nirvāṇa.
In such a way as to cause the reader or listener to pay particular attention and think for himself or herself, akṣaya-dharma in the 3rd pāda is juxtaposed firstly with kṣayam and secondly with jāta-rāgaḥ.
So kṣayam (which means 1. abode/palace, and 2. decay/ destruction / termination / end) is juxtaposed with akṣaya-dharma (“something indestructible / imperishable / not subject to ending”). Here Aśvaghoṣa is playing with words, and at the same time I think he is alerting us to consider what the relationship really is between that which is empty, devoid of energy/matter (like the 2nd law) and things that have material form (which the 2nd law describes).
As EHJ points out in a footnote, Aśvaghoṣa makes a similar play on the double-meaning of kṣaya in SN Canto 10, where he has Nanda speak of an abode (kṣayam) which represents the end of adversity (vyasana-kṣayaṃ):
In you who abides conspicuously in the state of refuge, I seek refuge. So that I do not wander through this world loafing in this place and that place; / So that I might come to and then go beyond that abode which is my adversity-ending end (vyasana-kṣayaṃ kṣayaṃ), please, repeatedly I plead that you help me." // 10.57 //
Secondly, Aśvaghoṣa juxtaposes in one compound akṣaya-dharma (something imperishable) and jāta-rāgaḥ (arising of red passion, or vehement desire). I think these are intended to strike us as strange bed-fellows. Normally red desire is associated with material objects, not with imperishable laws. A strong desire to hold onto a beautiful sunrise reflected on a snowy mountain peak; or to maintain forever the vigorous arms, voice and eyesight of our youth; or to shelter in a dwelling that won't fall down; or to shine forever in the world and to walk forever through it like a lion-king – these are strong desires that, even if they are delusory, are understandable.
But who spawns a raging passion for something like the 2nd law of thermodynamics? A chemist or a physicist, perhaps – in which case akṣaya-dharma-jāta-rāgaḥ might be understood to mean "his ardent interest aroused in that law which is is not subject to decay."
Even if this is what akṣaya-dharma-jāta-rāgaḥ might mean below the surface, I think to translate it like that would be against Aśvaghoṣa's intention, which might primarily be to cause us to reflect on what truly is imperishable, and what attitude we might choose to take (if we have any choice in the matter) towards what is imperishable.
For example, should we revere the 2nd law of thermodynamics as real; and think light of the world of matter/energy that the 2nd law describes? Or conversely, should we revere things that temporarily have energy, like a Himalayan peak bathed in sunshine, or a strong man, or a stout dwelling, or a moon or a lion; and think light of empty abstractions like the 2nd law?
At the level of sitting-meditation, if sitting-meditation is our primary thing, should we tend to assign more weight to feeling, and tend to negate dry reason; or should we tend to assign more weight to thinking, and tend to negate unreliable feeling? Or should we just blindly sit – drop off body and mind! 1-2-3, just do it! – revering action itself and thinking light of both feeling and thinking ?
I was taught by my Zen teacher to take the latter view – just sit, as the dropping off of body and mind.
But I found, the hard way, that my Zen teacher's view was also a view to be abandoned.
Against the view to which Gudo attached, as I have argued many times on this and my previous blogs, I find support in Dogen's exhortation that we should 1. sit in lotus bodily, 2. sit in lotus mentally, and 3. sit in lotus as body and mind spontaneously dropping off.
Dogen's teaching, then, is not a stool with only one leg. And neither, reading behind the lines, is Aśvaghoṣa's.
Speaking of the moon, at the time of Galileo, the powers that be in Rome were attached to the view that the moon was perfectly round. But when Galileo looked at the moon through a telescope, Galileo could see mountains and craters on the surface of the moon which falsified the prevailing view.
Alexander work here in England has been the telescope through which my teacher's view on sitting posture, which I had already suspected to be false, I found without any doubt to be false. To sit as Gudo taught was to be a slave to feeling.
Hooray! By devoting my youth to learning how to sit under a teacher who thought he knew everything but whose teaching in fact was false, I proved myself to be a complete bloody idiot, who put all his eggs in the wrong basket.
Quad Erat Demonstrandum
Apopros of nothing, just as I was preparing to publish this, looking out through the window on a grey and damp scene, I was surprised to hear the call of the first cuckoo of spring, unintentionally preaching its temporary defiance of what the 2nd law predicts.
atha: ind. then, and so
kāñcana-śaila-śṛṅga-varṣmā (nom. sg. m.): his majestic stature like the peak of a golden mountain
kāñcana: n. gold; mfn. golden
śaila: m. a rock , crag , hill , mountain
śṛṅga: horn, peak
varṣman: n. height , top , surface , uttermost part ; n. height , greatness , extent ; n. measure ; n. body ; n. a handsome form or auspicious appearance
gaja-megha-rṣabha-bāhu-nisvanākṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): his arm, voice, and eyes [like] an elephant's [trunk], a thunder-cloud, and a bull's [eyes]
gaja: m. an elephant
megha: m. " sprinkler " , a cloud
rṣabha: m. a bull
bāhu: m. the arm
nisvana: m. sound , noise , voice
akṣa: n. [only ifc. for akṣi] , the eye.
kṣayam (acc. sg.): 1. m. an abode , dwelling-place , seat , house ; 2. m. loss , waste , wane , diminution , destruction , decay , wasting or wearing away ; end , termination
akṣaya-dharma-jāta-rāgaḥ (nom. sg. m.): with desire aroused for a dharma exempt from decay
akṣaya: mfn. exempt from decay , undecaying
dharma: n. dharma; a thing
jāta-rāga: mfn. enamoured
jāta: mfn. born ; grown , produced , arisen , caused , appeared
rāga: m. colour , hue , tint , dye , (esp.) red colour , redness ; any feeling or passion , (esp.) love , affection or sympathy for , vehement desire of , interest or joy or delight in (loc. or comp.)
śaśi-siṁhānana-vikramaḥ (nom. sg. m.): with the face and paces of the moon and a lion
śaśin: m. " containing a hare " , the moon
siṁha: m. (prob. fr. √ sah, to prevail) " the powerful one " , a lion
ānana: n. the mouth ; the face
anana: n. breathing , living
vikrama: m. a step , stride , pace; going , proceeding , walking , motion , gait ; valour , courage , heroism , power , strength
prapede = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra- √ pad: to go forwards set out for , resort to , arrive at , attain , enter