Everything is transient.

Everything is transient;
That's the law of generation and dissipation.
As all the generated have been dissipated,
Silent vacuum may enjoy itself.
--- Himalayan Verse in Nirvana Sutra (my translation from classical Chinese)

It was summer of 1985, when I participated in an international scientific conference for the first time. At a reception party I happened to sit next to Professor Eero Holopainen, a Finnish meteorologist. He asked me, "Are you a Buddhist?" "Yes, though I am not so religious." "I am interested in Buddhism. Will you tell me some key words of Buddhism?"

A phrase came up to my mind: "Syogyô muzyô." It was the first line of a Buddhist verse in classical Chinese pronounced in Japanese way. Later I confirmed that it is called "Sessan Ge" (which may be translated as Himalayan Verse) and it is a part of "Nehan Kyô" (classical Chinese translation of Sanskrit "Nirvana Sutra"). "Syogyô muzyô" is also the key word of the 13th century ballad "Heike Monogatari". "Iroha Uta", a meaningful permutation of the list of kana characters, is also said to be a paraphrase of Sessan Ge. So the phrase is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Also it is sure that the phrase conveys a really Buddhist idea. The key word muzyô may be translated into English as "not eternal". But it is a single concept to me rather than negation of something. There must be an appropriate word....

I remember a key word of Professor Holopainen's research work: "transient eddies". This is a technical term. Any physical variable representing the state of the atmosphere can be considered as the sum of the seasonal average value and deviation from it. The former can be considered as the "stationary" component and the rest is called the "transient" component. Professor Holopainen's work emphasized the importance of the transient component in the maintenance of the stationary component in the mid-latitude atmosphere. I found the word, and said: "Everything is transient." Professor Holopainen smiled, "That sounds meteorological."

Of course, not everything is transient in the technical sense as Professor Holopainen used in his paper. Averages in some longer time scale (in this case, a month or a season) are assumed to be stationary. But if we consider a time scale longer than that of the existence of the earth's atmosphere, every meteorological thing is transient in general scientific sense.

Though I could not tell at that occasion, translation of the second line of the verse into the atmospheric dynamicists' dialect of English is straightforward. "That's the law of generation and dissipation." In this case, the word "generation" is a noun form of the verb "to generate." In the atmosphere, some action to generate vortices is ongoing, and it is almost balanced by another action to dissipate them. So the activity of vortices remains similar even though an individual vortex may be lost and another may be newly created. This view seems to be very similar to Buddhists' view of this world.

The remaining two lines of the verse is related to Buddhists' philosophy about how one can transcend the world of transience. While I believe that I correctly translate their idea, I do not actually share the idea. My position is always in this world of transience.

2003-June-26, minor revision 2003-June-28
[English home page of K. Masuda]