Mahfil. v 7, V. 7 ( 1971) p. 215.


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Adc^e M. Fiskfc

NOTES ON RASA IN VEDIC AND BUDDHIST TEXTS

These notes are excerpted from a longer unpublished paper entitled "The Cosmic Tree in the Ch'andogya Upanisad and the Saddharma-punda^ka/' The significance of rasa in these texts adds dimension to its use as a central concept in Sanskrit esthetics.

In the Rgveda.y rasa means that which streams, flows, especially the sap of plants (RV 9. 76,8: 67,15; 74,9$ 113.3). It is also Soma, sacrificial libation and essence (Grassmann). It has three aspects:

concrete power^ form and formlessness. It flows like rain from heaven with a thousand currents, "sunk in the wood/' as tree-sap or life-stream (9.89.1). It is Indra's juice;, the juice he loves and that shines clear (9,47,3; 86.10; 8.3.20). It is light and gladness, auspicious (9.61ol7; 96.21);, sending out rays of light to all (9.61.18)^ bright and glittering (5.43.4);, "intelligent, possessing sap and mighty strength11 (9.23 5). It is the drink of the gods;, full of power and exhilaration^ shining forth in brightness^ youthful, looking down from heaven (9.64.24; 97.12; 38.5)o It is potent (9.65.15), giving power to Indra, sustaining heaven;, the active^ powerful juice of heaven, an efficacious juice that wins wealth (10.9.2; 9.97o57; 6.44.21$ 9.76.1;

77.5; 84.5) It is the essence of wealth (7.104.10; 1.187.4; 9.113.5;

1.187. 5:9.67 31-32).

In the Upanisad, rasa means sap of trees^ flavor, medicine, but predominately "pssence.," what is "extracted" and made. This sometimes means an abscjiute essence, transcending form. The flowing sap of a tree^ (Brhada'^anyaka Upanicad 3,9.28.) although not like the ekarasa of Buddhist texts^ {Saddharmapundarika V) is non-differentiated: "And as these (juices) possess no discrimination (by which they might say) T! am the essence of this tree, I am the essence of that tree,T even so . . all these creatures 5 though they reach Being, do not know that they have reached the Being" {Chandogya Upanisad 6,9o2.)o The bees prepare honey by gathering the essences {rasa) of different trees and reducing them to one essence {CU 6,9.1.). So do the verses of the Rgveda have an essence., pasa^ that binds together in one, as do the other Vedas (CU 4.17.4-6,).

On the other hand;, rasa can simply mean taste or flavor and as such signify differentiation of form* This can be in knowledge, as by the tongue^ we know and distinguish taste and form. Or it can be ontological {BU 2.4.11; 3.2.4; Kafhopanisad 4.3.). Chains of essences are described in two texts: the earth is the essence of all these beings^ warer is the essence of earth, plants of water, fruits of flowers, man of fruits, semen of man (pupusa) (BU 6.4,1; CU 1.1.2). Or again:

food is born of Visnu;, the all-supporting, life is the essence, pasa,

of earth, atmosphere and sky^ extracted by the brooding of Prajapati over

the worlds (CU 4. 17. 1-4.). The essence, rasa^ of the syllable awn



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