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Samvega: Aesthetic Shock

Samvega: Aesthetic Shock
January 15, 2009, 07:02:06 AM

Samvega: Aesthetic Shock

   by A. K. Coomaraswamy

This essay should be of interest to some metalheads.


   The Pali word samvega is often used to denote the shock or wonder that may be felt when the perception of a work of art becomes a serious experience. In other contexts the root vij, with or without the intensive prefix sam, or other prefixes such as pra, “forth,” implies a swift recoil from or trembling at something feared.
   The emotional stimulus of painful themes may be evoked deliberately when the will or mind (citta) is sluggish, “then he stirs it up (samvejeti) by a consideration of the Eight Emotional Themes” (attha-samvega-vatthűni) (birth, old age, sickness, death and sufferings arising in four other ways); in the resulting state of distress, he then “gladdens (or thrills, sampahanseti, Skr. hrs, ‘rejoice’ etc.) it by the recollection of the Buddha, the Eternal Law and the Communion of Monks, when it is in need of such gladdening” (Visuddhi Magga, 135). A poignant realization of the transience of natural beauty may have the same effect: in the Yuvańjaya Jâtaka, the Crown Prince (uparâjâ) “one day early in the morning mounted his splendid chariot and went out in all his great splendor to disport himself in the park. He saw on the treetops, the tips of the grasses, the ends of branches, on every spider’s web and thread, and on the points of the rushes, dew-drops hanging like so many strings of pearls.” He learns from his charioteer that that is what men call “dew.” When he returns in the evening the dew has vanished. The charioteer tells him that that is what happens when the sun rises. When the Prince hears this, he is “deeply moved” (samvegappatto hutvâ), and he realizes that “The living constitution of such as we are is just like these drops of dew; ...