SAUNDARYA LAHARI

 

 

VERSE 2

A PARTICLE WORLD

A TAOIST PAINTING
 
THREE PHENOMENAL FUNCTIONS IN A "MONDE AFFINE"
 
तनीयांसुं पांसुं तव चरण पङ्केरुह-भवं
विरिञ्चिः सञ्चिन्वन् विरचयति लोका-नविकलम् ।
वहत्येनं शौरिः कथमपि सहस्रेण शिरसां
हरः सङ्क्षुद्-यैनं भजति भसितोद्धूल नविधिम्
 
taniyamsam pamsum tava carana pankeruha bhavam
virincih sancinvan viracayati lokan avakilam
vahaty enam saurih katham api sahasrena sirasam
haras samksudyainam bhajati bhasitod dhulanavidhim
 
The fine dust arising from your lotus feet
Brahma gathers up and the worlds creates.
Vishnu incessantly bears them up somehow with his thousand heads
And Shiva having shaken it up, accomplishes with it his ash-wearing rite.
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In this verse the individual function of each of the three demiurges is fitted into a common schema as attributes of the same unifying vertical parameter running through their three vertical functions. It is important to remember that it is not an ordinary universe that we have to presuppose or postulate in this verse; but rather the monde affiné known to modern physics, which we have to visualize as a starting datum for the purposes of this work. There is a direct reference to fine particles, whether in the form of botanical pollen, of matter seen in mineral crystals, or as finely divided matter, independent of the states of solid, liquid or gas. Particle physics speaks an exponential language of many decimal points to describe the immensity or minuteness of the worlds of astronomy or quantum physics. The telescope and the microscope are magnifying instruments which bring nearer to our view the frontiers of the macrocosm and the microcosm, within which the observable world exists for us. Placed between these two worlds is our own mysterious universe, which is capable of expanding or contracting through processes of explosion or implosion, endosmosis or exosmosis and entropy or negentropy.

 

Sources of cosmic rays have been found to be bright spots from which streams of energy units like neutrinos may enter our cosmos and disappear again through black holes. Modern physics at present even speaks in terms of particles and anti-particles, and matter and anti-matter; yet the very structure of the space in which we live is still a profound mystery to the best of physical theorists to the present day. Particles of matter seem to have smaller planet-like bodies with left-handed and right-handed spins (or both) floating around them just as in solar or galactic space. Here supernovae, red giants and white dwarfs, with their colour schemes based on a periodic law to which all matter is chemically subject, heighten the mystery even of the physical world which is the normal environment of us ordinary human beings. The wonderful colour patterns produced by cross-polarized light through the spectroscope reveal the structure of the minutest of crystals, when polarized and analyzed through the help of short-wave X rays. The red and violet shifts give us evidence, though indirectly only, of a universe expanding or contracting at a velocity approximating the speed of light.
 
In modern times it would not be incorrect thus to assert that there is little difference between scientific myth-making and the ordinary myth-making tendency so natural to humanity ever since literature began to influence human life. The creation of the universe is said to have taken place by a "big bang", according to some advanced physicists, while other experts think of this creation in terms of a "steady state". Modern science is thus in the process of putting every favourite notion into the melting pot called scientific knowledge.
 
It is the task of the bold speculator to attempt to reconstruct a cosmos out of this kind of intellectual chaos. If he is not able to put some order into these diverse relativistic knowledges, there will occur disruption of human values leading to a confused state of mind, the signs of which are already evident in modern society. Therefore it is very important for the reader's understanding of Verse 2 to try to look at the universe from a perspective thoroughly revised from that to which we have been accustomed by convention hitherto.
 
We have already said that Absolute Reality could be viewed from either the conceptual or perceptual perspectives, the latter being placed at a lower point in the degree of generalization or abstraction implied. The increase of energy or voltage in the positive direction results in the higher version of the same Absolute without abolishing its basic content.
 
The higher subsumes the lower and the lower assumes the higher. Within the lower Absolute, postulated for purposes of speculative scrutiny, we should first insert the three grand processes of creation, preservation and destruction as three horizontal stratifications which are traversed vertically by a single correlating parameter, without which they might fall apart and lose their global unity. The universe, as in the form of an eternal process or flux of becoming, was understood by Heraclitus of Ancient Greece and even finds approval from modern critical philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, who calls Heraclitus the first scientific philosopher. Bergson supports the same hylozoic point of view, and even goes to the extent of inverting topsy-turvy the whole set-up of the universe when he ends his work "The Two Sources of Morality and Religion" with the statement that the universe is a machine for the making of gods. The scientific perspective can be said to take a teleological starting point for its speculation. One form of reasoning ascends from cause to effect and could be called ascending dialectics, while the other takes its stand on end results or effects, teleologically, and employs descending dialectics to enter into the very heart of reality hereunder. Between the opposing forces of contraction and expansion, evolution and involution, entropy and negentropy, explosion and implosion and other such antinomian factors - all acceptable to present-day philosophers of science or scientific philosophers - modern humanity stands, trying to decide which way to turn.
 
The three gods, Brahma,Vishnu and Shiva, enter into the series of verses in several places, and it is necessary to fit their functions, dynamically as well as statically, into the overall context of the Absolute, before we can fill this lower or negative perspective of the Absolute with a value-significance or content. This is a necessity for intelligent living in an environment where a regulated hierarchy of human values enters as interests to choose from, within the scope of the total ecological setting within which we have necessarily to live and move.
 
Thus we have to view reality in its structural, functional, ontological, existential and even pragmatic aspects in order to do justice to all opportunities that present themselves to us, moment after moment, in our lives. Everyday problems demand the same intelligence as the problem of final salvation, in which humanity has always been interested. Otherwise there would be no religions or churches, scriptures or rituals, towers or spires - all standing on modern utilitarian or idealistic institutional life, representing aspirations normal to humanity. Brahma here represents biologically significant aspirations, Vishnu the hedonistic and Shiva the idealistic or tragic . We have explained that if the mythological language of the Indian tradition should be repugnant to persons outside its normal climate, we could substitute more scientific and mathematical terms, idioms, ideologies and ideograms to convey the same meaning.
 
Brahma is said to be a lotus-born god belonging to the botanical or biological context. The lotus is the flower most dear to the Indian mind, and its haunting beauty has enriched through the ages the similes and metaphors of poetry on Indian soil. A flower represents the dream of a plant, just as a crystal could represent the dream of a supersaturated liquid. A flower emerges from the otherwise dull background of botany and looms into general consciousness, not unlike a colourful globe of light, displaying its variegated beauty to attract and please the eye. It is the most basic object of beauty in this world, having its origin in mud and dirt, as is particularly true of the lotus flower.
 
Each flower is a global and structural unit, complete in itself, and if we put three circles around it and its beauty, as conceived in abstract and general terms, we could easily insert such a globe of light within our total consciousness. It could occupy, at plus and minus levels, a position on the vertical axis or in any one of the ramified sets of possible positions. Brahma, as the four-headed, lotus-born god, is to be placed within the qualitative space of the individual or collective consciousness of mankind and treated as a phenotype to mark the source of all creative activity. As the lotus blooms within time, the four-headed god, each of whose faces turns towards one of the four points of the compass, would give us a concrete image of creation as a visualizable process in the form of a personified agent within the specific function of creation, who is to be placed at the ontological negative vertical limit called the Alpha Point. As the processes of growth and division proceed sufficiently forward in pure verticalized terms, we transcend the world of biology into another order where solidity of matter, characterized by mutual impenetrability of particles, initiates a horizontalizing exclusiveness between each unit. This results in what we understand as terra firma, which consists mostly of silicon dioxide crystals, each of which seems to be fighting to preserve its own space from being occupied by another crystal at the same time. Without this terra firma, the drama of life itself could not be acted out. All human aspirations must have a firm basis as a foothold without which no value could ever be enjoyed, even for a split second. This is the parameter, however thin in its functional amplitude, that we have to allow in favour of Vishnu, who is represented as sleeping on a thousand-headed serpent, Ananta, in a milk ocean, symbolically representing the life-value of nourishment spread generously all around, at the basis of human life itself. Salvation would lose its meaning without such a basis.
 
Vishnu, as a universal concrete principle, is represented also by a small golden fish, Matsya, which grew to immense proportions; by a tortoise, Kurma, who supported a mountain on his back for the churning of the milk ocean; and by a boar, Varaha, who with his hard tusks killed the demon Hiranyaksa and brought the earth back to the surface of the ocean. The fish, tortoise and boar, which are said to be successive incarnations of water-loving creatures, are evidently to be placed in a vertical series, beginning at the Alpha Point or negative limit. There are many Sanskrit texts which lend support to the view that Vishnu supports from below all the hypostatic worlds above. The horizontal expansiveness of space in terms of quantity stands for the firm earth; the schematic representation of the same would be the horizontal axis. Thus we arrive at a general notion of the function of Vishnu.
 
Now, when we pass over this horizontal parameter represented by Vishnu at the equatorial region of the total situation, we enter into the world of vertical values of a more and more teleological order, passing through the immensity of empty spaces, i.e. the interstellar space of our own universe. The same vertical parameter, produced vertically far enough, takes us to the domain of Shiva, as the universal principle of destruction. Creation would not have any meaning without its counterpart, dissolution. Heat and cold belong together; the same is true of birth and death. Existence and essence have also to belong necessarily together, whether we wish to die early or not. If grandmothers and grandfathers refuse to die, what will be the lot of this world? Surely a sombre and vegetative picture, full of sadness and frustration, would be the state of humanity if Shiva refused to function as the most "generous" principle of destruction - at least in the most paradoxical sense of Shakespeare's dictum: "sweet are the uses of adversity". Every reality must have a container which has a lid at one end, just as a jug cannot be open at both ends. This is known in Vedantic literature as the principle of the inverted cup, or in the West as the phenomenological principle of bracketing.

Heat must be countered by cold; and creation by destruction, in any process conceived in its totality. Modern phenomenologists have tried to describe human life as an epoché, enclosed within brackets, one evidently being at the top and the other at the bottom. Shiva's function has thus to be put in its proper structural perspective. This task is not easy, even for modern physicists, but in the sequence of verses that follows, the ancient speculative tradition in India takes up this challenge with as much confidence and dignity as modern theoretical physics.
 
Grey ashes and nourishing food, such as rice and water, mark the limits or brackets between which human life is destined to fulfil itself. There is a complementarity, reciprocity, compensation and cancellation between these two limits as life unfolds corrected and harmonized within these ambivalent tendencies. Ashes cancel out against rice and nourishing water into the central value represented by mother's milk, as so touchingly alluded to in Verse 75. Milk represents the generosity of the Absolute, viewed from the perspective of motherhood.
 
Shiva thus occupies the Omega Point or highest limit in the total system of contemplative values. He is represented as dancing in the graveyard in the Shaivite literature of South India, in the temple at Chidambaram, dedicated to him, and in the world-famous bronze of the dancing Nataraja. He is known as the City-Burner, descending with flame in hand, while himself engulfed in the flames of his own austere way of life. Thus, he is not an auspicious god in the conventional sense, but one who can bring to bear on the total situation that positive touch without which life would be meaninglessly lopsided. He represents the principle of tragic cancellation. Thus, it is apt to describe him as smearing his body with ashes while reveling in the positive principle of tragedy. When cancelled against its own negative counterpart, Absolute Beauty is both tragic and comic at once. The Absolute transcends both, and is beyond both good and evil, beyond all dualities. Such are some of the guidelines to be kept in mind when scrutinizing this second verse, by the light of which the three stratified functions within the total scope of the Absolute Universe could be easily visualized by the reader without further explanation.
 
 
(Entropy/negentropy: entropy is a rough measure of randomness and disorder, or the absence of pattern in the structuring of a system. Negative entropy, or negentropy, roughly refers to the degree of order or organization within a closed system. ED)
 
(Phenomenology:(1) A description of the givens of immediate experience. (2) An attempt to capture experience in process as lived, through descriptive analysis. (3) A method of knowing that "begins with the things themselves, that tries to find a 'first opening' on the world free of our perceptions and interpretations, together with a methodology for reducing the interference of our preconceptions. (4) A method of learning about another person by listing to their descriptions of what their subjective world is like for them, together with an attempt to understand this in their own terms as fully as possible, free of our preconceptions and interferences. Phenomenology is the act of trying to experience the total reality of the consciousness of someone who experiences his or her world in a certain place and time. Phenomenology has roots in the Greek word, phenesti, which means "to show forth, to bring into the light of day". ED)

(Epoché:  "suspension" is an Ancient Greek term which, in its philosophical usage, describes the theoretical moment where all judgments about the existence of the external world, and consequently all action in the world, is suspended. One's own consciousness is subject to immanent critique so that when such belief is recovered, it will have a firmer grounding in consciousness. ED)
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(Bracketing: (German: einklammerung); also called epoché or the phenomenological reduction, is a term in the philosophical school of phenomenology describing the act of suspending judgement about the natural world to instead focus on analysis of mental experience. ED)
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(The reference to Shiva as "not an auspicious god in the conventional sense" is because, in Sanskrit, "shiva" means "auspicious". ED)
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ADDITIONAL COMMENTS WITH STRUCTURAL DIAGRAMS RELATED TO THIS VERSE FROM SAUNDARYA LAHARI/NOTES.

 

WORD FOR WORD
Taniyamsum pamsum = extremely fine dust.
Ta va charana pankeruha bhavam - Virinchih = arising out of thy lotus feet, Brahma.
Sanchinvan virachayati lokan = makes the worlds.
Avikalam vahati = bears up each from each distinctly
Enam = this (the worlds)
Saurih kathamapi = Vishnu somehow.
Sahasrena sirasam = with even his thousand heads.
Harah samkshudya = Rudra having shaken it up, beaten it up as for an omelette.
Enam = this.
Bhajati = serves with it, accomplishes as benefit out of it.
Bhasito dhulana vidhim = the ash-smearing rite.

 

Another version:


WORD FOR WORD
taniyamsam pamsum - the fine dust
tava carana pankeruha bhavam - arising out of Your lotus feet
virincih - Brahma
sabcinvan viracayati - gathering up
lokan avikalam - the worlds creates
avikalan vahaty - incessantly he bears
evam - this same
saurih katham api - Vishnu somehow or other
sahasrena sirasam - by his thousand heads
harah samksudyainam - Shiva, having shaken it up
bhajati - accomplishes religiously
bhasito viddhulana vidhim - (his) ash wearing rite.
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The Goddess here represents the Absolute viewed schematically under a slightly negative perspective.
 
 
On the vertical parameter, thus revealed at its lower Alpha Point, is to be located, as it were, at the feet of the Goddess, the creative function of which, as is well known Hindu mythology, the god Brahma seated on a lotus and with four faces representing the four aspects of space, is the operative principle. All existence is brought into being and subjected to becoming by the function of Brahma, the Creator.
Below is a representation of Brahma.

Higher up on the vertical parameter of reference, we have to locate the sustaining or preserving function, which Hindu mythology attributes to Vishnu. His function is at the meeting point of the horizontal and vertical structural correlates representing the noumenal and phenomenal aspects of the Absolute, both as being and becoming at the same time, taking speculation beyond paradox so as to make it attain the Absolute. The principle of occasionalism (see Descartes) involved herein justifies the use of the expression "somehow" in the third line of the verse.
 
(Vishnu is often known as Narayana, one who sleeps on the primordial waters (Nara, water; ayana, to lie in repose). Creation, before Brahma gave it the four directions, symbolized by his four heads, has the indefinite nature of all-pervading water ("God moved upon the face of the waters" as Genesis, I, 2 puts it) on which the numinous principle of life or creation was supposed to recline. This image of creation formed the background of the later Vishnu tradition which itself suffered many changes through history and became the Vasudeva  tradition of the Bhagavad Gita epoch. In the original Narayana scheme, Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma met without distinction as the Adi-Narayana, the first divinity of creation, or the primordial Man or Nara, when called Nara-Narayana. ED)
 
 
 
 
(Descartes' occasionalism: this theory states that the illusion of efficient causation between mundane events arises out of God's causing of one event after another. However, there is no necessary connection between the two: it is not that the first event causes God to cause the second event: rather, God first causes one and then causes the other. ED)
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Vishnu's function has to be pluralistic, as represented by the suggestion of the thousand heads of the snake on which he reposes in the eternal present of contemplative sleep.
 
(Ananta: literally "endless" is the name of the snake upon which Vishnu is supposed to sleep, resting on the primordial milk-ocean of universal goodness. The name stands for eternity. The counterpart name is Adi-Sesha, meaning "what originally remains," i.e. the eternal, present from the most ancient antiquity. This snake is many-headed, signifying the multi-sided nature of creation at any given moment. ED)
 

 
In Shiva we attain the upper, conceptual or nominal limit of the total situation here schematically (i.e. structurally) analyzed. Existence here gives place to thin logical or rational subsistence, merging into the value world of pure axiological status.
Below is a representation of Shiva.
 
 
 
Shiva the destroyer is thus the Omega Point, where actualities evaporate into thin mathematical nothingness of nominalistic, though pure, Absolute Value. The thin dust of the feet is subjected to further refinement, as suggested in the last line here, so that it becomes the ritual ornament smeared lightly on the radiant body of Shiva.


Thus existence, subsistence and value with pluralistic, horizontal reference are all capable of structural recognition in this verse.
(Existence, subsistence and value correspond to sat, chit and ananda)
 
 

(The structural diagrams of the previous verse can be used for this verse also.)
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The Absolute hides a paradox, if you do not resolve the paradox, there is no salvation.
Only downright Vedanta can resolve it. First, state the paradox as clearly as possible:

Absolute negativity is the Goddess (horizontality), the absolute vertical positive is Shiva.