Showing posts with label alchemy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label alchemy. Show all posts

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 pūrvadehānapanayenaiva/

by means of drugs in the houses of the Asuras
by elixir, by consuming Soma, emblic, and so on, completely without the removal of the previous body.  
[I am grateful to Philipp Maas for improving this translation. -- October 2016]

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.

In one of the British Library Stein Tibetan manuscripts, IOL Tib J 644, Vajrapāṇi is described entering an Asura Cave in order to meditate.  See J. Dalton and Sam van Schaik (2006), Tibetan Tantric Manuscripts from Dunhuang: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Stein Collection at the British Library. Brill, Leiden, Boston, p. 291.


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.