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Some Considerations of the Shulba Sutras

The altar is a means of understanding truth because its construction requires an understanding of geometry. Geometry teaches that some truth is definable. The square of any rectangle's width and length add up to the square of its diagonal (a^2+b^2=c^2), for example. Some truth is approximate, as how the Square Root of 2 can only be described in the methodology for its calculation (take the square root of 2). Any attempt to perfect the altar's construction reveals the necessity for tolerance: to how many digits must the calculation of approximate truth be made, before it is sufficient? It is the same with any Asana: eventually, "enough" "sufficiency" (Svaha) is discovered to be present. As are all the other beings necessary for the success of the sacrifice. Yoga is the means by which truth that cannot be otherwise precisely defined is arrived close to (in proximity). This "sitting near to" is the Vedanta, the end and purpose of the Vedas. This is the purpose of building an altar: it develops the conditions for success, the necessary strength, knowledge, skill and other requisites of sacrifice: perfection is not required for success. In attempting perfection, one learns something which is actually required for success.

Perfection is necessarily an abstraction: though it is as real and constant as the ratio between a radius and circumference, it cannot be either accurately represented using imperfect implements of graphical or verbal expression, nor understood when perceived using imperfect senses interpreted through an imperfect mind. Perfection is therefore highly unsatisfactory. Satisfaction is achieved through tolerance of imperfection, to the limits of efficiency, efficacy, and ability. Beauty, and honor, is therefore necessarily described by the limit of such tolerable imperfection. Love manifests at the frontier of this tolerable imperfection. Definition of this frontier in any but the most abstracted terms is as impossible as discerning nothing from something, one from none.

Defined truths do not need to be understood to be proven: without understanding, a person may construct a right angle utilizing a triangle of the proportions 3x4x5 using nothing more than a rope with equally spaced knots.  Yet without understanding, it would not be possible to discern that a triangle of different proportions was not a right triangle. Undefined truths do not need to be proven to be understood: zero cannot be proven mathematically (what can be divided so infinitely small?), but still grasped.  It is very easy to understand the difference between more and less - even when one is confused by the ignorance of a desire for more. 

On the altar, a fire emerges upon the conditions sufficient for it: fuel, air and spark. And terminates upon insufficiency - though not suddenly, at once. Self emerges from the conditions suited to it. And similarly terminates. Neither have any greater substance than the ratio of a radius to the circumference, or the square root of 2: ratios are solely conditioned upon their components (numerator, denominator). All rationality, all logic, is similarly conditioned upon the conditioned capacity which simultaneously gives rise to and necessity for it. Sacrifice, too, is similarly conditioned for those who require it: the reason things are taken up is for use, giving, sharing, transformation, destruction - not to be held onto. Who else would have use for sacrifice?

The "proper fit" of a cloth must be made not only with consideration to form, and function, but to the beauty and style which will be their purpose. This is the ceremony, the ritual, of the sacrifice. This is the purpose of the string or rope (which connotes the strings of attachment, a symbol of Brahmacharya seeking ritual-authority, the rope by which the yoke [yoga] is made to work upon the instrument [i.e. plow, chariot, etc.], and the principle measuring tool used in geometric calculation). This is the reason why those who do not understand learn the ritual, rather than the truth. And are contented with the ritual. This is why those who understand perform the ritual: to obtain the proof they lack: it is by performing the ritual sufficiently that one grows dissatisfied with ritual.

Only those who lack a word for "cow" would find a word to define it. Having made a "cow" definite, they might then study the cow, and understand the truth of what a cow is. And what it is not. This definition they make approximates the truth, and does not lead to true understanding. So many definitions are made in society, work, and living. Yet with greater definition, greater abstraction is required, and less accuracy is attained. It is by generalization that definitions express greater accuracy. Yet such generalizations, if taken to extreme, are equally useless.

What is right and wrong are undefined, yet agreed upon by those who the matter concerns. Such convention permits function, yet cannot be easily defined. Traditions are kept - until they are broken. Law is not perfect, but is subject to interpretation and application, both of which necessarily change frequently. Nor should law be perfect: a system of morality which is inflexible is easily broken, and is as useless as one which is too flexible.  It is by following the law too attentively that one eventually becomes a criminal.