Thursday, August 07, 2014

Linux Mint 17, Cinnamon, Firefox 31 = freeze

I've been very happy with Linux Mint 17, and the Cinnamon GUI.
Except for the occasional system freezes.  This happened usually when I was swapping between windows (alt+tab), and required a re-login.

I've spent some time looking around the web and trying to diagnose the problem.  I've found one change that seems to have cleared up the problem, and I am not aware that anyone else has mentioned it yet.  I've uninstalled Firefox (31), and replaced it with Google Chrome.  I haven't had a freeze since doing that.  Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Kuṭipraveśam rasāyanam

In the Compendium of Suśruta (Suśrutasaṃhitā), there is a passage describing rejuvenation through the use of Soma, which is taken over a period of four months while living in a special hut (4.29.10).  The description is very dramatic, and I translated it in my book The Roots of Ayurveda.(2003: 125-131).

Two accounts of a parallel therapy occur in Caraka's Compendium (Carakasaṃhitā).  In one version, the patient akes Soma and spends six months naked in a greased barrel (6.1.4-7).  In another, he enters a hut, as in Suśruta's account, but Soma is not involved.  (See Roots, 2003: 76--8.)

In my discussion in Roots, I drew a parallel with the Aitareyabrāhmaṇa 1.3 in which a Soma ritual involving rebirth is described (the passage was kindly pointed out to me by David Pingree).

Now I have identified another passage that seems to be about the same ritual.

Pātañjalayogaśāstra (sūtras and bhāṣya)

In the Pātañjalayogaśāstra (i.e., the Yoga Sutras and the Bhāṣya commentary, all by Patañjali), there is a sutra that lists the means by which super powers may be attained.  Sutra 4.1 says:
super powers (siddhi) come from birth, drugs, mantras, asceticism, and meditative integration (samādhi)(janmauṣadhimantratapaḥsamādhijāḥ siddhayaḥ).  
Explaining this, Patañjali (not Vyāsa) says, in his Bhāṣya,
by using drugs means using rejuvenations (rasāyana) in the houses of the Asuras, and so on.
(oṣadhibhir asurabhavaneṣu rasāyanenety evamādiḥ).
No further explanation is given, and we are left to wonder what the "houses of the Asuras" might be.


The commentator Śaṅkara, in his Vivaraṇa, expands on this passage in a significant way. He says (1952 edition, pp. 317-18):
oṣadhibhir asurabhavaneṣu rasāyanena  somāmalakādibhakṣaṇena pūrvadehān apanayenaiva/

by means of drugs in the houses of the Asuras
by elixir, by consuming Soma, emblic, and so on, by the complete removal of the previous bodies.

The use of the word "soma" suggests that this commentator is putting together the idea of rasāyana entioned in the Bhāṣya with the specific rasāyana treatment described by Suśruta (and, more briefly, Caraka).


The only place that Asurabhavana "home of the Asuras" is mentioned with any regularity is in the Pāli literature of the Buddhist Canon.  For example, in the Mahā Suññata Sutta (Majjhimanikāya 122/3, tr. by Piya Tan; tr. by Thanissaro Bhikkhu), the Buddha is described worrying about the fact that worldly people live in too-crowded conditions for proper meditation.  Asura bhavana is described as being ten-thousand yojanas wide, and is included in a listing of the various parts of the universe where living creatures live (and are crowded).  Asurabhavana is therefore a geographical location in the Buddhist universe.


Explaining Patañjali, the commentator Vācaspati (as so often) is guessing at the meaning on the basis of his general knowledge (e-edition at SARIT): 
oṣadhisiddhim āha --- asurabhavaneṣv iti/ manuṣyo hi kutaś cin nimittād asurabhavanam upasaṃprāptaḥ kamanīyābhir asurakanyābhir upanītaṃ rasāyanam upayujyājarāmaraṇatvam anyāś ca siddhīr āsādayati/ ihaiva vā rasāyanopayogena yathā māṇḍavyo munī rasopayogād vindhyavāsīti/He states the super power of drugs: "in the houses of the Asuras." Because a human, for a certain reason, who has reached the house of an Asura, is served an elixir by the attractive Asura girls.  After taking it, he achieves the state of never aging or dying, and other super powers.  Alternatively, by taking elixirs in this actual world, like the sage Māṇḍavya took up residence in the Vindhya mountains through the use of elixirs.

Sanskrit Vidh - On alchemical transubstantiation versus piercing

[This reproduces a post by me to the INDOLOGY list, earlier today]
I am trying to firm up the idea that vedh- means convert, transmute, or (for the philosophers among us, perhaps) transubstantiate.
The Rasaratnasamuccaya is a kind of late-ish nibandha text that brings together, organizes and medicalizes the earlier, more tantric alchemical literature.  Meulenbeld argues that it is datable to the sixteenth century (HIML IIA 670).  Earliest dated MS: 1699 CE.  This text is not bad as a representative of the developed ("classical"?) rasaśāstra tradition; one would expect less standardization of vocab. in earlier texts.
At Rasaratnasamuccaya 8.94-95 there is a definition of śabdavedha

from blowing of iron, with mercury in the mouth, there is the creation of goldenness and silverness. That is known as Word-vedha.
and the commentator makes it even more explicity that this is transmutation, using pari-ṇamRasaratnasamuccayabodhinī on 8.95:

... tat lauhakhaṇḍaṃ svarṇādirūpeṇa pariṇatam//
that bit of iron is converted into the form of gold etc.
... yatra vedhe svarṇādirūpeṇa pariṇamet sa śabdavedha ityarthaḥ//
Word-vedha is where it converts with the form of gold etc. ...
The operation being described here is not unclear.  The alchemist puts a piece of mercury in his mouth and blows on a piece of iron.  It becomes golden or silvery.  This "becoming" is "vedha."

The Bodhinī authors were Āśubodha and Nityabodha (hence the witty title), the sons of Jīvānanda Vidyāsāgara Bhaṭṭacārya, and the Bodhinī was published in Calcutta in 1927.  So it's arguable that their interpretation was influenced by 19th-20th century thought.  However, their commentary is very śāstric and elaborate (note the Pāṇinian grammatical parsing, "dhama dhāvane ityasmāt lyuḥ" (>P.1.3.134 and pacādi ākṛtigaṇa).  And as Meulenbeld points out, they cite an exceptionally wide range of earlier rasaśāstra texts (HIML IIA 671-2).  Their interpretations are based on a close reading of classical rasaśāstra literature.  At the very least, one can say that their view represents the understanding of learned panditas in turn of the century Calcutta, that vedha meant pariṇāma, or transmutation.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Origins of a Famous Yogic/Tantric Image (part 2)

In a post in February this year I talked about the origin and spread of the famous "lines of energy" image.  I asserted that this image was created by or for Yogini Sunita.

I had a memory of having seen the image reproduced in Mircea Eliade's book, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, or in one of Daniélou's books.  I looked at the issues of Eliade's books available to me, and at Daniélou's
Yoga: Mastering the Secrets of Matter and the Universe, that is on my bookshelf, but the image wasn't there.

Now, I can report that I've solved both these puzzles in a stroke.  In the Vienna Indology library last week, I came across an Eliade book that I'd forgotten, Patanjali et le Yoga (Paris, 1962).  And look at the cover!

Eliade reproduces the image inside the book:

Eliade captions the image "La matière, la vie, l'esprit."  As an aside, I have argued and taught in the past that anyone who says "body, mind and spirit" is reproducing a meme from Western New Age thought, and not anything specifically Indian.  The threefold division of Man in the original Sanskrit sources is normally "body, mind and speech."

In the acknowledgements at the back of the book, Eliade attributes this image to Alain Daniélou's "Yoga: Méthode de réintégration (Éditions de l'Arche), pp. 171, 179 et couverture."  Eliade doesn't give a date for the Daniélou edition he copied from, but the edition will turn up sooner or later.  It was first published in 1951.

So, this image was used by Daniélou, perhaps as early as 1951, and following him, by Eliade in 1962.

The earliest edition of Yogini Sunita's book that I can find is 1965, and she only arrived in England in 1960, and started her first yoga classes that year, as reported in this newspaper clip.

So perhaps the whole story of this image has a prehistory before Yogini Sunita.  Perhaps she reproduced the image from Daniélou, or even Eliade.

Good writing: transparency is the new objectivity

I care deeply about good writing, which I believe to be indistinguishable from good thinking.  As an undergraduate, I was lucky enough to get and read two texts that turned into life-long influences:
  • C. S. Lewis, "At the Fringe of Language", in Studies in Words
  • George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," in Collected Essays.
As a student, I internalized Orwell's six rules:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do (see Short words).
  3. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out (see Unnecessary words).
  4. Never use the Passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a Jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous (see Iconoclasm).
My professor, Richard Gombrich, also cares about good writing, and impressed that belief upon us students.  Some of his remarks on this topic appear in his lecture "On Being Sanskritic" (p.27).  For example, his ringing indictment,
The so-called `literal translation' -- an intellectual fallacy and an aesthetic monstrosity -- is still widespread;
As a result of my interest in the forms and sins of self-expression, I have developed a kind of radar, pinging for materials that support this interest and take it further.  The Economist Style Guide is one such resource that showed up on the screen long ago.

Today, I was reading the WikiPedia article about Timothy Leary, and I saw that an unsubstantiated claim ("Others have said") was tagged as a "weasel word".  I didn't know this expression.

Weasel words are described under "unsupported attributions" and are amongst several strategies that I see regrettably often in academic prose.  As WikiPedia says:
Weasel words.svg
Weasel words are words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated. A common form of weasel wording is through vague attribution, where a statement is dressed with authority, yet has no substantial basis. Phrases such as those above present the appearance of support for statements but can deny the reader the opportunity to assess the source of the viewpoint.
Another major technique for avoiding attribution is to use the passive grammatical voice.  To the WikiPedia "weasel words" examples, I could add (and probably will) a category of what might be called "cooercives," words and phrases designed to prevent the reader from thinking too much, by suggesting that thinking isn't going to be worthwhile in this particular case.  Thus, "clearly," "of course," "naturally," "it goes without saying." (Several of these are referenced in WikiPedia's "Editorializing" section, see below.) 

Following the WP link, I stumbled into a wonderful collection of notes about how to write better and avoid writing (and thinking) badly.  "Words to Watch" has the following headings (mid-2014):
 WikiPedia's Manual of Style is excellent, as a whole.  But this section "Words to Watch" is a treasure chest.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Open letter to MLBD about their publishing Mein Kampf

Update, 21 May 2014
Motilal Banarsidass responded graciously, rapidly and positively to this letter and the petition, and agreed to stop distributing the book.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Notes on the Ukrainian crisis

The Nuland-Pyatt recording

[The following is an extract, authored by me, from the WikiPedia page on this topic.  My text has been deleted four or five times by someone with a Russian-sounding name, NazariyKaminski, or by a now-deleted user called RedPenOfDeath and other sock-puppets.  So I am placing the text here, for the record.]

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Origins of a Famous Yogic/Tantric Image (part 1)

Mark Singleton
Ellen Goldberg
I'm delighted by the arrival from the bookshop of my copy of the excellent new book Gurus of Modern Yoga edited by Mark Singleton and Ellen Goldberg (ISBN 978-0-19-993872-8).

Full details of the book can be had from Peter Wyzlic's website.

Yogini Sunita's Pranayama Image

Suzanne Newcombe
Suzanne Newcombe's chapter, "The Institutionalization of the Yoga Tradition: `Gurus' B. K. S. Iyengar and Yogini Sunita in Britain," is an outstanding description and evaluation of the impact of two yoga teachers in the UK.  One of Suzanne's subjects is Yogini Sunita (aka Bernadette Cabral), originally a Catholic from Bombay.  Although tragically killed by a car at the early age of 38, her work is kept alive by her son Kenneth Cabral and other yoga teachers (

Yogini Sunita published a book in 1965 called Pranayama, The Art of
Relaxation, The Lotus and the Rose (Worldcat).  It contained an illustration that has gone on to become one of the most famous and iconic images in yoga publishing.  The image is a line drawing in black on a white background showing the outline of a seated, cross-legged meditator superimposed on a wild network of lines, with annotations in Devanagari script. The Sanskrit word प्राणायाम (prāṇāyāma) "breath control" labels the image in the top right-hand corner.  The smaller writing, along the lines, is more or less illegible in all the reproductions I have been able to examine.  I can just discern the Devanagari alphabet being spelt out (अ आ इ ई उ ऊ ए ओ ऐ औ अं अः ...) on the right clavicle.  But the rest of the writing is unclear.  I am not confident that it is even real text, although it looks superficially like Devanagari or Gujarati script.  Only an examination of the original artwork or a good reproduction would settle the matter.

Yogini Sunita's signature
Yogini Sunita was not a confident Devanagari writer, as is evidenced by her signature in the preface to her book (in Devanagari, "yodinī saunīṭā").  She could not have produced the Pranayama the drawing herself, and must have commissioned it from a source or collaborator with a confident knowledge of Sanskrit and the Devanagari script, perhaps in Bombay.

Yogini Sunita's illustration has been reproduced almost endlessly in books and now on the internet, and there are multiple modifications and interpretations.  One of the more common is a negative version, with white lines on a black background.  Others are coloured, simplified, and interpreted in various creative ways.  It appears in various contemporary yoga-themed mashups.  The word प्राणायाम is often masked out.  The image is often shown as a representation not primarily of breath control, but of the nodes and tubes of the spiritual body (cakras and nāḍīs).

Suzanne Newcombe describes how Yogini Sunita's early death meant that her methods and ideas did not spread as widely as those of other 20th century yoga teachers.  Nevertheless, the Pranayama illustration from her 1965 book has become one of the most widely-known images of yoga in the 21st-century (Google images).

Update, July 2014: now see part 2 of this article

Friday, January 31, 2014

How To Fix A Non-Bootable Ubuntu System Due To Broken Updates Using A LiveCD And Chroot

How To Fix A Non-Bootable Ubuntu System Due To Broken Updates Using A LiveCD And Chroot
// Web Upd8 - Ubuntu / Linux blog

If your Ubuntu system doesn't boot because of some broken updates and the bug was fixed in the repositories, you can use an Ubuntu Live CD and chroot to update the system and fix it.

1. Create a bootable Ubuntu CD/DVD or USB stick, boot from it and select "Try Ubuntu without installing". Once you get to the Ubuntu desktop, open a terminal.

2. You need to find out your root partition on your Ubuntu installation. On a standard Ubuntu installation, the root partition is "/dev/sda1", but it may be different for you. To figure out what's the root partition, run the following command:

sudo fdisk -l

This will display a list of hard disks and partitions from which you'll have to figure out which one is the root partition.

To make sure a certain partition is the root partition, you can mount it (first command under step 3), browse it using a file manager and make sure it contains folders that you'd normally find in a root partition, such as "sys", "proc", "run" and "dev".

3. Now let's mount the root partition along with the /sys, /proc, /run and /dev partitions and enter chroot:
sudo mount ROOT-PARTITION /mnt
for i in /sys /proc /run /dev; do sudo mount --bind "$i" "/mnt$i"; done
sudo cp /etc/resolv.conf /mnt/etc/
sudo chroot /mnt
ROOT-PARTITION is the root partition, for example /dev/sda1 in my case - see step 2;the command that copies resolv.conf gets the network working, at least for me (using DHCP); if you get an error about resolv.conf being identical when copying it, just ignore it.
Now you can update the system - in the same terminal, type:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

Since you've chrooted into your Ubuntu installation, the changes you make affect it and not the Live CD, obviously.

If the bug that caused your system not to boot is happening because of some package in the Proposed repositories, the steps above are useful, but you'll also have to know how to downgrade the packages from the proposed repository - for how to do that, see: How To Downgrade Proposed Repository Packages In Ubuntu

Refrences: 1, 2, 3

Originally published at WebUpd8: Daily Ubuntu / Linux news and application reviews.

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