Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Vak of the Veda and the Throb of the Tantra

This is from "Lights on the Ancients" by Shri T.V. Kapaly Sastry: p 22-38.

Among the stupendous achievements of the mystics of the ancient India stands foremost the Theory of Creation by the Word. The creative Logos of the Greeks does certainly correspond to the Vak that is the Creatrix of the World. But the Indian conception is distinguished by the Theory and the treatment it has received at the hands of the great seers of the Vedic age, the sages and intuitive thinkers of the Upanishads in succession, the philosophers of the Darshanas, the Tantras and the Puranas. In the long line of sacred and general literature from the Vedas down to out times we find that they have made capital use of the theory of Vak and its practical importance was the one aim towards which all their efforts were directed. The theory of Vak which has permeated the religious literature of the lands has influenced to a considerable extent the belles letteres of latter ages as exemplified in the utterances of Kalidasa and Bhavavhuthi. While the former affirms Vak as Shakti, power, that cannot b alienated from the meaning, its substance, on the opening vers of his Epic Poem, the latter, Bhavabhuthi, makes profound statement in his dictum that is laden with a world of ideas about the original power of Vak and its real nature on the one hand and on the other hand Vak as a vehicle of thought at the disposal of the decent-minded. For he says that speech follows the meaning in the case of the sadhus of the world -- and they are called sadhus who are of a good, well-bred kind with regard to its veracity -- in effect it comes to mean that at the best, men in the world give a correct expression to the thought in their minds. In contradistinction to this the other statement that the meaning follows the word in the case of the primeval Seers, the Rishis. The intention of the poet here is unmistakable and the idea about the real nature of Vak as trsnsmitted from age to age from the Vedic times is revealed in the pregnant phrase -- vacham arthonudhaavaati. The Vak of the Rishis is not a sound-symbol of a mental idea expressed as is done by all developed human beings. What else could it be then? Vak, no doubt, is Voice, word or speech. But it is not the Voice or word depending on the mind to express an idea. It is a voice in a deeper sense of the term which is in its source, a power of expression, a force which impels the being to respond to the stimulii which are a demand made on the being by the environment or by the subtle or occult and spiritual forces from a deeper layers or higher levels of being.

It is a voice that proceeds from the depths, or from the heights of one's being which is not established in the mind, but itself being an early and settled movement for expression is the support of the mind which, comparatively speaking, is a subordinate instrument of expression. Here we have to understand the distinction made by the ancients between the Voice which is the support of the mind and the voice which is speech. The word as vocal expression is sound-symbol of an idea in the mind and naturally has mind for its basis, source and support. Is this light the poet's dictum that meaning follows the Rishi's Vak has to be understood; and indeed it is intelligible that the Voice proceeds from the heights or depths of the conscious substance in which the Rishi is stationed and carries with it the meaning to be realized when it finds its completion in the delivery of the utterance. This is how meaning follows the Word in the case of a seer and in the case of others word is chosen and adapted to convey the intended meaning.

Now let us enquire into the real character of the Vak that creates, the Vak which, in the words of a Vedic poet becomes all these worlds, vagena visva bhuvanaani jajne. We have clues found in the Rig Veda itself which we can follow with great advantage in our attempt to penetrate into the mysteries of the Word. The oft-quoted famous passage of Dirghatamas helps us a great deal to have as adequate idea of the theory of the Word as Mantra and of human speech as understood by the seers of the Rig Veda. For the seer-poet in stating that there are four steps by which the Word of the Mantra unveils itself has revealed a truth which has a large bearing on the source of the Word itself, as being the abode of the Great Cosmic Powers, the Gods as mentioned in another verse of the same hymn. These two Riks (1.164.39, 45) announce in plain and unambiguous language as is rarely the wont of ancient mystics, certain facts of mystic experience which we may reduce to categorical dicta for modern understanding.

  1. There is the supernal Ether in the empyrean heights of Being caled paramam vyoma.
  2. It is the abiding place -- imperishable and immutable -- of the Riks, i.e., the Mantras.
  3. All the Gods, the Cosmic powers also reside there.
  4. What can any one do with the Rik who does not that That (the Supreme Ether) which is the abode of the Riks as well as of Gods? That is to say, the Rik has value only when one knows its source, the Supreme Ether.
  5. There are four steps or planes, padani, from which the Speech issues, the fourth step is the human speech that is the ordinary word while the other planes are hidden in secrecy.
  6. The Word and the meaning of the Mantra, i.e., the Veda belongs to the higher planes.
  7. And the last and important statement is that the Veda is referred to by the Rig Vedic Seers themselves as the Word Eternal, nitya vak, a phrase the Rishi applies to the Mantra in the urge for laudation to Agni, nityaya vaca codasva [8.64.6]

We can now consider how the essential truths in the statements made above formed the basis of the Upanishads and the later Scriptures in dealing with the instructions on the character of the Eternal Word of which the Sound Symbol is OM.

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