Thursday, May 9, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.55: Sympathetic Resonance & the 2nd Law

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
mahatīṁ parivādinīṁ ca kā-cid-vanitāliṅgya sakhīm-iva prasuptā |
vijughūrṇa calat-suvarṇa-sūtrā vadanenākula-yoktrakojjvalena || 5.55 [?]

vijughūrṇa calat-suvarṇa-sūtrā vadanenākula-yoktrakeṇa * * || 5.55 [EHJ]
vijughūrṇa calat-suvarṇa-sūtrāṁ vadanenākula-karṇikojjvalena || 5.55 [EBC]

One woman, who was far gone,

Embraced a large lute as if it were her confidante;

She rolled about, her golden strings trembling,

And her face shining with the golden radiance
of fastenings fallen into disarray.

Today's verse is a difficult one, partly because of textual uncertainty surrounding the 4th pāda of the original Sanskrit manuscript, and partly, I think, because Aśvaghoṣa was pointing to truths that he intuited about such mysterious matters as sympathetic resonance and spontaneous flow of energy, in a meditation hall.

Ostensibly, whichever variant of the text is selected, the verse describes a woman who is fast asleep (prasuptā), rolling about in her sleep while embracing a large lute, and in so rolling causing her earrings to lie in disarray across her face. Hence:
And another damsel lay sound asleep, embracing her big lute as if it were a female friend, and rolled it about, while its golden strings trembled, with her own face bright with her shaken earrings. (EBC)

Yet another clasped her mighty parivādinī, as if it were her friend, and rolled about in her sleep, so that her golden threads shook and her face had the pendent strings on her ears all disordered. (EHJ)
one girl in deep sleep embraced her large lute as if it were her girl-friend, as she rolled, her gold chains shook, her earrings in disarray on her face; (PO)
Following the metaphorical sub-text, however, I think prasuptā in the 2nd pāda, which ostensibly describes the woman as far gone in the sense of being fast asleep, is really intended to suggest, like śayitā in yesterday's verse, that she was far gone in the sense of being deeply immersed in the flow of non-doing, and thus, in Dogen's words, 久久忘縁, lost forever to all involvements.

In the 3rd pāda, EBC's text has calat-suvarṇa-sūtrāṁ (acc.), describing the trembling golden strings of the lute (“while its golden strings trembled”). But the old Nepalese manuscript, according to EHJ has calat-suvarṇa-sūtrā (nom. f.), describing the trembling golden strings of the woman herself – so that, ostensibly, either her clothing shook (as per EHJ) or her jewellery shook (as per PO). Accepting this original reading of the text, in which -sūtrā is nominal, I think Aśvaghoṣa has in mind the principle and the phenomenon of sympathetic resonance, whereby trembling of a string of one lute may cause strings or parts of strings on another lute to resonate at their fundamental or overtone frequencies.

This mystery of sympathetic resonance may be observed in finely tuned pianos, and in Zen meditation halls.

Also to be observed in Zen meditation halls is the practice of swaying left and right, like a Bodhidharma doll, at the beginning of sitting practice. And this might be what Aśvaghoṣa is hinting at in the 3rd pāda with vijughūrṇa, “she rolled about.” 

In general, we think of sitting-meditation in terms of non-movement. But when we actually practise sitting-meditation, movement is essential in getting into a sitting position in the first place; and then there are the movements we make on top of the round cushion, i.e. bowing (as alluded to in yesterday's verse) and swaying left and right.

The 4th pāda in EHJ's text reads vadanenākula-yoktrakeṇa, which is only twelve syllables and therefore two syllables short of the fourteen syllables required by the Aupacchandasaka metre. EHJ notes that the the old Nepalese manuscript has yoktrakena, which he amended to yoktrakeṇa. In thus making the trivial amendment of n to, EHJ either failed to notice that the pāda was short of two syllables, which I would think very unlikely, or he made a copying error, which I would think much more likely. Without access to the manuscript itself, however, I cannot confirm this.

EBC's text, based on copies of the old Nepalese manuscript (not on the old manuscript itself), has vadanenākula-karṇikojjvalena. This leads me to suspect that the original might have been vadanenākula-yoktrakojjvalena, and so I have tentatively based my translation on that amendment.

Assuming that ākula-yoktrakojjvalena was indeed what Aśvaghoṣa originally wrote, the ostensible gist would be that the woman's face was radiant or golden (ujjvala), because of the  fastenings (yoktraka) of her earrings becoming disarrayed (ākula) as she rolled in her sleep.

Aśvaghoṣa uses the word yoktraka in SN Canto 6 to mean fastenings, or straps, that Sundarī had displaced by bending down to look out for Nanda from a palace window:
With her pearl necklaces hanging down, and straps dishevelled (cala-yoktrakā), as she bent down from the palace, / She looked like the most gorgeous of the heavenly nymphs gazing from her celestial abode at her lover, as he falls down, having used up his ascetic credit. // SN6.3 //
As part of the wider metaphor, I think a face (vadanena) shining with golden radiance (ujjvalena) is suggestive of body and mind spontaneously dropping off and a person's original features emerging. And fastenings fallen into disarray (ākula-yoktraka) is suggestive of abandonment of effort to organize or arrange oneself in sitting-meditation, so that something is free to start coming undone by itself, spontaneously. 

This fits with the later verses in this series, which progressively describe what women look like when they let themselves go, ostensibly in a perjorative sense. Ostensibly, sleep causes these once beautiful women to fall from grace. But what I think Aśvaghoṣa is really intending to describe, ironically, is people who are in nothing but a state of golden grace, or, in other words, a state of spontaneous flow.

In conclusion, then, at the risk of seeing Jesus in my cheese on toast, the gold in today's verse again suggests to me the golden light of energy itself, which always tends to spread out and does so spontaneously, unless prevented from doing so by what chemists call “activation energy barriers.”

If Aśvaghoṣa were to express in Sanskrit that which thus prevents, or temporarily blocks, spontaneous flow of energy, what word might he choose?

I think the word might be yoktraka, which the MW dictionary gives as "any instrument for tying or fastening."

mahatīm (acc. sg. f.): mfn. big, large
pari-vādinīm = acc. sg. f. pari-vādin: f. a lute with 7 strings
ca: and
kā-cid (nom. sg. f.): someone, one woman

vanitā (nom. sg.): f. a loved wife , mistress , any woman
āliṅgya = abs. ā- √ liṅg: to clasp , join the limbs closely ; to encircle , embrace ; to spread out , extend
sakhīm (acc. sg.): f. a female friend or companion , a woman's confidante
iva: like
prasuptā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. fallen into sleep , fast asleep , sleeping , slumbering

vijughūrṇa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vighūrṇ: to roll or whirl about , be agitated
calat-suvarṇa-sūtrā (nom. sg. f.): her golden threads trembling
calat-suvarṇa-sūtrām [EBC] (acc. sg. f.): with its trembling golden strings
calat = pres. part. cal: to be moved , stir , tremble , shake , quiver , be agitated , palpitate
suvarṇa: mfn. golden, gold
sūtra: n. a thread , yarn , string , line , cord , wire ; a girdle ;

vadanena (inst. sg.): n. the act of speaking , talking , sounding ; n. the mouth , face , countenance
ākula-yoktrakeṇa (inst. sg. n.): with fastenings in disarray
ākula-yoktrakojjvalena (inst. sg. n.): with the gold of disarrayed fastenings (?)
ākula: mfn. confounded , confused , agitated , flurried ; confused (in order) , disordered ; filled , full , overburdened with (instr. or generally in comp.) , eagerly occupied
yoktraka = yoktra: n. any instrument for tying or fastening , a rope , thong , halter ; the thongs by which an animal is attached to the pole of a carriage ; the tie of the yoke of a plough
ujjvala: mfn. blazing up , luminous , splendid , light ; burning ; lovely , beautiful ; n. gold
ākula-karṇikojjvalena [EBC] (inst. sg. n.): [EBC] “with her own face bright with her shaken earrings”
karṇika: mfn. having ears , having large or long ears
ujjvala: mfn. blazing up , luminous , splendid , light ; burning ; lovely , beautiful ; n. gold

[No corresponding Chinese]

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