The Acoustic Roots of the Indo-Aryan Alphabet
by P.R. Sarkar
Every vibration in this universe has colour and sound. Every vibration also represents a particular idea, and hence each idea has a vibrational sound and vibrational colour. Many vibrational waves are too long or too short to be perceived by human beings – we cannot hear their sound or see their colour – but they do exist. We can speak of them as causal matrices in the realm of vibrational colour; and consider them as the biija mantras [acoustic roots] of the ideas with which they are concerned.
The sound a is the acoustic root of creation, and thus is the controller of the seven notes of Indo-Aryan music [the surasaptaka or “seven notes” – in Western music, the “octave”], which are as follows: sya or khya (s’ad’aja [peacock]2 – the Yajurvedic pronunciation khad’aja is also permissible, but in that case kha should be pronounced with the mind concentrated on the front part of the palate and not like the second consonant of the ka varga)3; re or r (rs’abha [ox] – the pronunciation rkhabha is also permissible, but kha should not be pronounced like the second consonant of the ka group); ga’ (ga’ndha’ra [goat]); ma’ (madhyama [deer]); pa’ (paincama [cuckoo]); dha’ (dhaevata [donkey]); and ni (nis’a’da [elephant] – it can also be pronounced nikha’da, but again kha is not pronounced like the second consonant of the ka group.)
Although a indirectly controls the seven musical notes, it chiefly controls the first note, s’ad’aja. This note is represented in the surasaptaka or sargam [gamut of notes] by its initial letter, sya. Remember that in the vilambita [prolonged] technique of pronunciation of this note, the vowel sound a’ is not employed;4 rather the sam’vrta [lengthened]5 pronunciation of a is employed. That is, the vowel here will not be pronounced a’-a’-a’-a’-a’-a’-a’-a’, but will be pronounced somewhat like aya, as they do in northern India. (More precisely, the pronunciation will be intermediate between aya and a’). If singers were to pay more attention to proper pronunciation, they would benefit.
As the sound a is the acoustic root of the note s’ad’aja, the letter a is the first step in the learning of music. In Occidental music, the octave (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do) has evolved in a similar way.
The difference between Occidental and Oriental music is that in the former the first note, s’ad’aja [or “do”], is repeated at the end to form an octave. Thus in Oriental music we say surasaptaka or musical “septave” (“collection of seven notes”) whereas in Occidental music we say “octave” (“collection of eight notes”).
Sada’shiva arranged sounds in the form of the surasaptaka, which contributed on the one hand to the acoustics of science, and on the other hand to the rhythmic phonetics of music. Hence in the study of music we cannot afford to forget his unique contribution.
A little while ago I said that every sound has colour too. Alternative words for ram’ [“colour”] are varn’a [which also means “letter”] and ra’ga. The word ra’ga is derived from the root-verb ran’j plus the suffix ghain, and means “to colour” something. By permutating and combining different sounds, Shiva created various ra’gas and arranged them in a perfect orderly sequence. In this way He created six ra’gas and thirty-six ra’giniis. This was an immense contribution to the world of music and earned him the epithet Na’datanu [Embodiment of Divine Sound] in the Vedas. Of course it was Mahars’i Bharata who popularized these ra’gas and ra’giniis amongst intellectuals.
These ra’gas and ra’giniis are subject to changes according to the shortening or lengthening of their notes. Following this system, Indian music is divided into two main branches: northern Indian music (colloquially “Hindustani music”), which is popular to the north of the Vindhya Hills, and Deccan music (or “Karnatak music”), which is popular to the south of the Vindhya Hills. Many new ra’gas and ra’giniis are being evolved today and will be evolved in the future. There can be no end to this process of evolution. In Prabha’ta Sam’giita also, a few new ra’gas and ra’giniis have been evolved, but they have not yet been given names.
The sound a’ is the acoustic root of rs’abha, the second musical note. This acoustic root directly controls rs’abha and indirectly controls ga’ndha’ra (ga’), madhyama (ma’), paincama (pa’), dhaevata (dha’) and nis’a’da (ni). In the Vedas other than the Rgveda, we usually come across komala [soft] ni and sa’dha’ran’a [ordinary] ni. In the older portions of the Rgveda, kad’ii [hard or high-pitched] ni was used. It could be uttered with both sides of the uvula. The seven Vedic and Tantric notes, the seven Vedic metres and the two bha’va’tmaka svara [spiritual sounds] constitute the sixteen prominent sounds which in Indo-Aryan phonetics are known as s’od’asha dhvanikala’ [the “sixteen sounds” of Brahmavidya’ – intuitional science – and gandharvavidya’ – the science of music]. These musical notes were used in music and incantation in different combinations according to the waxing and waning of the moon and according to the time of day or night. Accordingly, a specific period of the month and time of the day was fixed for the performance of each ra’ga and ra’ginii.
Each of the letters of the Indo-Aryan alphabet, from a to ks’a, is an acoustic root. That is, these fifty sounds are the vibrations corresponding to the colours of the fifty propensities. The third letter of the alphabet, i, is the acoustic root of ga’ndha’ra (ga’). It directly controls ga’ndha’ra and indirectly controls madhyama (ma’), paincama (pa’), dhaevata (dha’) and nis’a’da (ni).
The sound ii is the acoustic root of the fourth note of the surasaptaka, madhyama (ma’). This sound directly controls madhyama, and indirectly controls paincama (pa’), dhaevata (dha’), and nis’a’da (ni). In ancient times, the very prolonged pluta ii was used in musical notation to denote kad’ii [hard or high-pitched] ma’, but in modern languages there is no separate letter for pluta ii.
The short u sound is the acoustic root of paincama (pa’), the fifth musical note. This sound directly controls paincama (pa’), and indirectly controls dhaevata (dha’) and nis’a’da (ni).
The long u’ sound is the acoustic root of the sixth musical note, dhaevata (dha’). It directly controls dhaevata (dha’), and indirectly controls nis’a’da (ni).
The r sound is the seventh letter and seventh vowel of Southeast Asian alphabets, as well as of the Indo-Aryan alphabet. It is the acoustic root of the seventh musical note nis’a’da (ni). Nis’a’da is derived as follows: ni – sad + ghain. A sa sound occurring in any root-verb after the prefix ni may be changed into the letter s’a, that is, nisa’da and nis’a’da are both permissible. Similarly, upanis’ad and upanisad are equally correct. But in Bengali there is a convention of using s’a in such spellings. Now, if nis’a’da is written with s’a, then both the Rgvedic and Yajurvedic pronunciations must be accepted 6. Of course singers singing scales need not utter the complete word nis’a’da, but only ni.
The sound r directly controls the seventh musical note, nis’a’da. As it is a half-letter [has no vowel sound]7, designated as such [in the Bengali alphabet] with a hasanta diacritical mark 8,it does not directly control any other sound.
The rr sound is the acoustic root of onm. You may say, Since onm is the acoustic root of creation, preservation and destruction, and the acoustic root of Sagun’a and Nirgun’a [it is used to symbolize Nirgun’a], how can rr be the acoustic root of onm’ka’ra?
What is the sound on?
Onm consists of five symbols: a, the acoustic root of creation; u, the acoustic root of preservation; ma, the acoustic root of destruction,, the symbol of the unmanifested universe; and the symbol which signifies the process of manifestation.
A is not only the acoustic root of s’ad’aja, it is also the acoustic root of the force of creation. When the idea to create something arises in the mind of Parama Purus’a, or in the microcosmic mind, its acoustic root is the sound a. Since a is the acoustic root of creation, from which everything else proceeds, a is the first letter of the alphabet.
The sound u is the acoustic root of the fifth musical note, and is also the acoustic root of a few other factors, the force of preservation being one of them. When the desire to maintain the created entities arises in the mind of Parama Purus’a, or in the individual microcosmic mind, then the acoustic root of that sort of desire is u.
The sound m with hasant [indicating that its pronunciation is m rather than ma], as well as being the acoustic root of the tendency [prashraya vrtti] to treat someone or something indulgently, is the acoustic root of the vina’sha [destruction] that occurs in the course of time. When people feel that something has become monotonous, they want to change it.
It should be remembered that vina’sha does not mean complete annihilation, but transformation or metamorphosis. Complete annihilation is called prana’sha. (In fact, nothing in this physical universe is subject to prana’sha or complete annihilation. But philosophically, prana’sha means that change which takes an entity back to its original form. If sugar made from sugar cane is transformed back into sugar cane, that will be the prana’sha of the sugar. Thus from a philosophical point of view, if a microcosm, through sa’dhana’, merges into that Parama Purus’a from whom it originated, that will be the prana’sha of that microcosm.) This m sound is the acoustic root of annihilation.
The manifested universe is constituted of creation, preservation and destruction (a-u-m). A + u = o, hence a + u + m = om. But that is not the end of the story; the dot ( ) and the crescent ( ) that form part of onm’ka’ra are also important. The former represents the unmanifested universe; the latter represents the principle of transmutation from the unmanifested to the manifested 9. Hence, onm is the acoustic root of creation, preservation and destruction, plus the principle of transmutation from the unmanifested to the manifested.
The source of most acoustic roots is Tantra, although some of them already existed in the Vedas and were later accepted by Tantra. Onm is one of the latter. Those Daks’in’a’ca’ra Tantrics who do not want to accept annihilation as the last word, and thus do not want to place the acoustic root of destruction as the last sound, utilize the full letter ma as opposed to the half-letter m, and place the letters in the following order: u + ma + a = uma’. According to Daks’in’a’ca’ra Tantra, “Uma'” is another name of Parama’ Prakrti.
Onm’ka’ra is also called pran’ava (pra + nu + al), which literally means “that which helps tremendously in attaining the supreme stance”. In the Tripa’davibhu’tina’ra’yan’a Shruti it has been said,
[“Brahma is in the form of pran’ava”].
Elsewhere it has been said,
Etaddhyeva’ks’aram’ Brahma etadeva’ks’aram’ param
Etadeva’ks’aram’ jina’tva’ Brahmaloke mahiiyate.
[This is the immutable Brahma, this is the supreme sound. After knowing this supreme sound, one attains the divine realm of Brahma.]
Now even though onm (which includes the dot and crescent) can serve as the acoustic root of this expressed universe, since onm is nevertheless a combination of sounds, it requires an acoustic root of its own. The acoustic root of another root is called atibiija or maha’biija. So rr is the maha’biija of onm’ka’ra. This rr sound is necessary from the viewpoint of phonetics and of sandhi [the science of combining sounds]. Since it is an important acoustic root, it is imperative to decide whether such a letter should be deleted from the alphabet [as some linguists have suggested].
The Indo-Aryan alphabet consists of fifty letters from a to ks’a. If any of these fifty letters is deleted, the entire alphabet will become defective and the acoustic importance of the letter concerned will be jeopardized. It is up to you to think over and decide whether rr should be retained in the alphabet or not.
1 The “Sanskrit” alphabet is used not only for Sanskrit, but also for various languages influenced by those Aryans who migrated to India.
2 Each of the notes is represented by a single syllable, just as in Western music the notes are represented by do-re-mi. But each of the notes is further represented by an animal associated with its syllable.
3 The Indo-Aryan alphabet is divided into vargas, “groups”, of phonetically-related sounds. The ka varga, for example (whose second consonant is kha), consists of sounds produced in the throat (gutturals).
4 According to normal Sanskrit grammar, if a is followed by a, the two combine to become a’.
5 Of the three pronunciations used in Indian song to which the author refers, the sam’vrta is slightly prolonged, the vilambita is more prolonged, and the pluta is most prolonged.
6 As indicated earlier, the Rgvedic pronunciation s’a has a corresponding Yajurvedic pronunciation kha.
7 In spite of the fact that it is grouped with the vowels, and that in speech people find it difficult to pronounce without giving it some vowel sound.
8 In cases where it is converted to ra, such as when the noun rs’i becomes the adjective a’rs’a.
9 The combination of the two – dot plus crescent – is paralleled in Roman Sanskrit by the letter “n” (or more precisely, “n” with a caret underneath). Either the Bengali/Devanagari or the Roman version represents, so far as phonetics is concerned, a nasalization of the vowel it is associated with. Note also that m becomes m’ for euphony when followed by a consonant, such as in onm’ka’ra.
Continuation of discourse:
The sound lr is the acoustic root of the sound hummm and of its inner import. The sound hummm is itself the acoustic root of struggle, of sa’dhana’, and according to Tantra, of the kun’d’alinii. As hummm is the acoustic root of struggle, people call it the battle cry. You may have noticed that when sa’dhakas progress along the spiritual path and attain bliss they sometimes release the sound hummm spontaneously during the practice of sa’dhana’. It has been mentioned that the utterance of hummm during sa’dhana’ is a sign of progress in Tantra.
According to Tantra the kulakun’d’alinii is the sleeping divinity. By virtue of sa’dhana’ and with the help of mantra’gha’ta [striking at the kulakun’d’alinii with powerful incantative vibrations] and mantra caetanya [conceptual understanding of and psychic association with a mantra], and
by smashing all obstacles, the kun’d’alinii can be raised to the sahasra’ra cakra. The practice adopted to raise the kun’d’alinii is called purashcaran’a in Tantra. The kun’d’alinii is the sleeping divinity. To arouse it from slumber and raise it upwards is quite a struggle and hence hummm must also be the acoustic root of the kun’d’alinii. The controlling point of the kun’d’alinii, the mu’la’dha’ra, is called man’ipadma or maha’man’ipadma in Maha’ya’na Buddhist philosophy. The Tibetan Maha’ya’niis recite Onm’ man’ipadme hummm while turning their dharma cakras [prayer wheels]. I have seen Onm’ man’ipadme hummm inscribed on the walls of Tibetan caves.
Lrr is the acoustic root of the sound phat’ (which is the acoustic root of putting a theory into practice) and is thus the atibiija, or maha’biija [super-acoustic root], of the phat’ biija. It is just like the sprouting of a seed, like a sudden awakening from slumber. When something which is sleeping or dormant suddenly bursts into the realm of light, we say colloquially [in Bengali] that it is making a phat’ sound. Lrr is also the acoustic root of the removal of lethargy. Hence, considering its enormous importance, it should not be deleted from the Bengali alphabet.
Each of the fifty letters is called ma’trka’ varn’a (“causal matrix”) because each is an acoustic root of some important factor, sound, vibration, divine or demoniacal propensity, human quality, or microcosmic expression. Thus no letter should be deleted from the alphabet. But the final decision in this regard rests in the hands of the scholars.
The rhythmic expression of mundane knowledge; the sprouting of mundane knowledge; mundane welfare; and the thought of mundane welfare; are symbolized by vaos’at’. The sound e is the atibiija, or maha’biija, of the vibrations of vaos’at’. In ancient times kings hungry for more land would pray to Indra, the king of the gods, to bless their Ra’jasu’ya Yajina* or Ashvamedha Yajina [Horse Sacrifice] to help them attain a vast empire. On those occasions they would say, Em’ Indra’ya vaos’at’.
The thought of welfare and the materialization of welfare in the subtler sphere are symbolized by vas’at’. Those who pray to Lord Shiva for all-round human welfare say, Aem’ Shiva’ya vas’at’; those who pray to their guru for the attainment of subtle knowledge say, Aem’ gurave vas’at’; and those who pray to the rain-god for relief from floods say, Varun’aya vaos’at’ (in this case the thought of welfare is confined to the physical sphere). But those who pray for victory in war against the forces of wickedness, say, Varun’a’ya vas’at. Within the acoustic root vas’at’ lies the thought of welfare in the subtle sphere; it is the atibiija, or maha’biija, of the sense of blessing in the subtle sphere.
While uttering any incantation it is the common practice to add m’ to the end of the acoustic root. Thus ae is pronounced as aem’.
* Editors’ note: A royal ceremony in which a king would expect to be accepted as sovereign king.
Aem’ is the acoustic root of vocalization. Linguistic expression is divided into six stages: para’, pashyanti, madhyama’, dyotama’na’, vaekharii, and shrutigocara’.
Whatever you have said, or are saying, or will say in future, lies within you as dormant vitality. A great potentiality lies dormant in each human being, just as a huge banyan tree lies latent within a tiny seed. The banyan seed sprouts when light, air, water and fertile soil exist in requisite amounts. It subsequently grows foliage and branches, and in the course of time develops into a gigantic tree. Similarly, the immense potentialities of human beings lie latent and hypnotized in the kulakun’d’alinii at mu’la’dha’ra cakra as dormant humanity. When the kun’d’alinii is raised upwards through mantra’gha’ta and mantra caetanya in the process of meditation (this process is called purashcaran’a in Tantra and amrtamudra’ or a’nandamudra’ in yoga), the doors of human potentiality start opening one after another. Human beings grow in beauty and vitality, their flowers divine, their foliage lush. Such individuals develop into great people in the eyes of the public and finally become one with the Supreme Entity. This process is called para’bhyudaya in the scriptures.
The first stage of linguistic expression, that is, language in its potential form or seed form, lies dormant in the mu’la’dha’ra cakra, and it leads through successively clearer stages of manifestation to full-fledged linguistic expression. This primordial phase of linguistic expression is called para’shakti, the primordial phase of vocalization.
Incidentally, I would like to say a few words about the fundamental para’shakti. The shakti [energy] with which unit beings discharge their physico-psycho-spiritual actions is called apara’shakti. Apara’shakti is by no means insignificant – it helps microcosms to maintain their existence and achieve greater evolution and elevation. But the energy with which microcosms direct their physico-psycho-spiritual efforts towards the divine and reach the highest rung of the evolutionary ladder by piercing every tender layer of microcosmic existence, is called para’shakti (this para’shakti, which is the primordial phase of vocalization, is not the same as the para’shakti or Supreme Operative Principle in the unbalanced triangle of forces). Here we are concerned with the ways of expression of language. All the potentialities of vocal expression lie dormant in the form of para’shakti at the mu’la’dha’ra cakra. Para’shakti is raised step by step and finally leads to the vocal expression of language.
If vocalization remains dormant in seed form at the mu’la’dha’ra, it is neither audible nor perceivable in the practical world. The latent para’shakti has got to be awakened. Human beings visualize whatever they want to communicate, sometimes only for a fraction of a second, consciously or unconsciously. If they are already aware of the name and form of the visualized object, they can progress further in the process of expression, otherwise that name or form will continue to remain in the abstract world. This stage, in which one can mentally visualize what one is going to communicate, is the second stage in the process of vocalization. Its controlling point is the sva’dhis’t’ha’na cakra. The energy which causes the visualization is called pashyanti. Pashyanti is derived from the root verb drsh plus shatr, and means “that which is seeing”.
This seeing is of two things: that which is original in the abstract world (its image is mostly indistinct) and that which is of a recurring nature in the abstract world, in other words, that which is reproduced from memory. Anubhu’tavis’aya’sampromas’ah smrti. “After perceiving an object in the external world with the help of the eyes or any other external indriya, one often thinks about it.” The energy which helps one to visualize that thought is pashyanti shakti. This is the second stage of vocalization. Of course just to visualize the perceived object (with the help of pashyanti shakti) is not enough; other people cannot see your mental images or mental words, because those things belong to the psychic world. Linguistic expression pertains to the mundane world. Words are transmitted in the outer world through the medium of air or electro-magnetic waves, or some such medium. Mental images can be projected in the external world with the help of vital energy, but this sort of psychic projection is beyond the capacity of pashyanti shakti.
Ideas in the psychic world gain momentum with the addition of vital energy. This process of coordination must be consolidated step by step before ideas can be expressed through words in the external world. The human body’s energy, or indrashakti, or luminous factor, is located in the man’ipura cakra.* The man’ipura cakra maintains the body’s physical balance. When pashyanti shakti comes to the man’ipura cakra and there receives the assistance of vital energy, it becomes madhyama’ shakti. The controlling point of madhyama’ shakti is the man’ipura cakra or navel area.
To externalize an idea one has to apply physical energy (philosophically, this energy is called indra). We can call this stage the first expression of the sound tanma’tra. Although this sound tanma’tra is not audible to the external ear because it has not yet been vocalized, it does have internal sound.
* Author’s note: As the navel area is the controlling point of the luminous factor, it is not easily burnt. It is only with the application of tremendous heat that it can be burnt to ashes. A funeral pyre does not generate sufficient heat to burn the navel area. So those who cremate their loved ones retrieve this unburnt portion from the ashes and immerse it in any holy river. This practice is popularly known as asthivisarjana.
The transformation of madhyama’ shakti into the form of speech takes place at a point between the man’ipura and vishuddha cakras. This is a state of calama’nata’ [mobility].* The force which functions between the man’ipura and vishuddha cakras, trying to give vocal expression to mental ideas, is called dyotama’na’.
Dyotama’na’ shakti is expressed as a relentless effort to transform idea into language. If, however, in this process of transformation, the mind is affected by fear or by any other instinct, there will be only a partial or incoherent vocal expression.
In the dyotama’na’ stage, if the idea is not metamorphosed into a corresponding picture, or if there is any defect in the
* Author’s note: Just as the root-verb cal [move] plus suffix shatr equals calat [that which is in motion], cal plus sha’nac equals calama’na.
The root-verb cal is ubhayapadii [both a’tmanepadii and parasmaepadii – terminologies of conjugation in ancient Sanskrit]. In the early part of the Vedic age it was mainly used in the a’tmanepadii form, but later on began to be used in the parasmaepadii form. In modern Sanskrit, it is used in the parasmaepadii form. Only in a few rare cases is the a’tmanepadii form used, as in the following example, a well-known utterance of Lord Buddha:
Iha’sane shus’yatu me shariiram.
Tvagasthima’m’sam’ pralayanca ya’tu.
Apra’pya bodhim’ bahukalpadurlabha’m
[Until I attain the highest realization, which is rare even in hundreds of lives, I will not budge an inch from this posture, even if my skin, flesh and bones dry up and my body perishes.]
Dyotama’na’ is a sha’nac-ending word. Since olden days, the a’tmanepa-dii form dyotate has been used.
Dyotate kriid’ate yasma’dudyate dyotate divi;
Tasma’ddeva iti proktah stu’yate sarvadevataeh.
[The vibrational manifestations emanating from the Supreme Nucleus are known as devata’s, and these devata’s address that Supreme Nucleus as Deva. He with His powers vibrates the entire universe, makes the entire universe dance; and He by dint of His occult and supra-occult powers brings everything back onto His lap.]
area between the man’ipura and vishuddha cakras, or if there is no proper command over language, then vocal expression is bound to be affected. In such cases people are unable to give linguistic expression to things that they know. They say, “The idea’s in my mind but I just can’t find the words to express it.”
The dyotama’na’ stage exists in collective life, also. Ever since the dawn of human civilization, human beings have been searching for ways to fulfil their various desires: the desire to fly, the desire to move fast over land, the desire to reach the distant planets, the desire to cross the oceans. Sometimes they have succeeded, sometimes they have failed. But even after failure, they have not given up the struggle, but have persisted with renewed vigour. We are still waiting for that glorious day to arrive when we will be able to give a full and rich expression to the vast world of human thought. Today, however, we can only express a small fraction of the vast world of ideas.
The vocal cord lies in the area of the vishuddha cakra. It is the organ responsible for transforming abstract idea into vocal expression. The energy which helps in this task is vaekharii shakti. Vaekharii shakti is the energy which causes ideas to take the form of language. It is the fifth stage in the process of vocal expression. When someone talks too much, this is the uncontrolled expression of vaekharii shakti. Some pandits, in order to prove their intellectual might through intellectual extravaganza, indulge in such unnecessary vocalization. It has been said,
Vaedus’yam’ vidus’a’m’ tadvat
Bhuktaye na tu muktaye.
[Garrulousness, grandiloquence and conflicting interpretations of the scriptures are nothing but intellectual extravaganza. They do not lead to salvation, but merely satisfy the intellect.]
Neither individual life nor collective life is benefited from such useless talk. Pandits may receive temporary applause but they ultimately gain nothing but a big zero.
Even after an idea gets metamorphosed into language, if there is the slightest defect in the uvula, vocal expression will be disturbed. (The Sanskrit equivalents of “uvula” are lambika’, galashun’d’ika’, and a’ljihva’.) Even if one articulates properly, one will not be able to speak correctly if there is any defect in the uvula.
The energy through which the exact language is conveyed to the human ears is called shrutigocara’. This is the last stage in the process of vocalization. The sound ae is the acoustic root of the six stages of vocalization: para’, pashyanti, madhyama’, dyotama’na’, vaekharii, and shrutigocara’.
Ae is also called va’gbhava biija, and is the acoustic root of the guru. People acquire knowledge through gurus, hence the guru is also invoked through this acoustic root: Aem’ gurave namah. Those who believe in idol worship use this particular acoustic root in invoking the goddess of knowledge: Aem’ sarasvatyae namah. And it is also used to invoke Shiva, the propounder of Tantra: Aem’ Shiva’ya namah.
The acoustic root of the completion of an action is sva’ha’. When ghee is offered into the fire, that cannot be called sva’ha’. Only when the ghee is consumed by the fire, that is, the ghee is totally effaced from existence, can that be called sva’ha’.
The sva’ha’ mantra is often uttered when any action is being done with a divine purpose. When action is performed with a noble purpose in the psychic and spiritual spheres, or even in the mundane sphere, the controlling acoustic root is sva’ha’. This is the meaning of sva’ha’ in the general sense. More specifically sva’ha’ is used while offering oblations to fire. In this sense it is related to the acoustic root svadha’. The general meaning of svadha’ is “one who is self-reliant” (sva + dha’c = svadha’). Sva’ha’ is also used as an acoustic root for spiritual actions, while svadha’ is used while making offerings to the ancestors.
In ancient times, in the entire Rgvedic period and in the first half of the Yajurvedic period, su and sva were used almost synonymously. But later they acquired different meanings: sva came to mean “own” (svadesha means “own country”) and su came to mean “good” (sujan means “good man”). One Sanskrit word for “good” is bhadra, from which the Bengali word bha’lo comes. The Hindi word bha’la’ii is the abstract noun of bha’la’. In old Ra’r’hii Bengali, the word bha’la’ is used in the sense of “look at”. It is an indigenous Bengali word. Ajana’ pathik ek deshke eseche bha’lgo. [“An unknown traveller has come to our land; look at him.” – Prabha’ta Sam’giita]
Sva’ha’ is split up as sva + a’ha’ or su + a’ha’. In ancient times sva’ha’ and svadha’ were synonymous, but later sva’ha’ came to convey the thought of welfare, that is, “Let there be prosperity,” and svadha’ came to mean, “May the peace of God be with you.” Hence sva’ha’ was used in the course of offering oblations to gods and goddesses, and svadha’ for ceremonies in memory of departed ancestors.
In ancient times people used to observe a period of austerity before offering oblations to the gods or ancestors; this preparatory period was called adhiva’sa. In the Vedic period, as far as is known, people had a great weakness for sura’ [an alcoholic drink]. (Sanskrit synonyms for sura’ are somarasa, madya, madhu, a’sava, aris’t’a and sudha’.) During their adhiva’sa the priests would of course have to abstain from drinking. So they would cover their shoulders with a mrgacarma* [a deerskin – a symbol of their adhiva’sa], so that other people would not invite them to drink. When they conducted rituals concerning the gods and goddesses, they would utter the sva’ha’ mantra and would wear the skin on the left shoulder (in this case the skin was called yajinopaviita, or upaviita, for short); and when they conducted rituals concerning the ancestors, they would use the svadha’ mantra and wear the skin on the right shoulder (in this case the skin was called pra’ciina’viita.) When they were not conducting either of these rituals, they would place the skin around their necks (in this case it was called niviita). While invoking the gods and goddesses, they would chant the sva’ha’ mantra with the samprada’na mudra’; for ceremonies using the vaos’at’ and vas’at’ mantras, they would use the barada’ mudra’; and for ceremonies involving the svadha’ mantra they would use the am’kusha mudra’.
A little while ago, I mentioned that su and sva could be used almost synonymously. [When reading mantras from ancient texts, people would understand from the context whether su or sva meant “good” or “own”.] But to use sva in place of su [in the sense of “good”] was not so common.
* Author’s note: Mrga literally means “wild animal”, and thus both a deer and a tiger are equally mrga. Hence literally mrgacarma means not only “deerskin”, but the skin of any wild animal. In those days the kings hunted not only deer, but also other wild animals.
Later on, perhaps, the deerskin became somewhat rare, so people introduced the use of cotton in its place. Even today in certain sections of Indian society people wear a piece of deerskin during the holy-thread ceremony.
Rtam’ pibantao sukrtasya loke
Guha’ya’m’ pravis’t’ao parame para’rdhe;
Cha’ya’tapao Brahmavido vadanti
Painca’gnayo ye ca trin’a’ciketa’h.
“Human beings reap the consequences of their own karma [deeds].” In this shloka, sukrta is used instead of svakrta [to mean “done by oneself”, “own” (referring to karma, “deeds”)].
The human mind is divided into two functional chambers: the karttr a’mi or subjective “I”, and the karma a’mi or objectivated “I”. The objectivated “I” moves forward; the subjective “I” remains in the background, as an observer. “Just as it is difficult to discern the precise line between sunshine and shade, it is almost impossible to discern the transition point between the subjective `I’ and the objectivated `I’. This is what the brahmavids [knowers of Brahma] say, and it is corroborated by the painca’gnii, or renunciates, and the trin’a’ciketa, or householders.”
Regarding the metempirical entity, the Vedas say:
Dva’ suparn’a’ sayuja’ sakha’ya’
Sama’nam’ brks’am’ paris’asvaja’te;
Tayoranyah pippalam’ sva’dvattyan
[Two friendly birds with beautiful plumage are perched on the same branch of a tree. One of them is eating the sweet fruit while the other looks on as a mere witness.]
The acoustic root sva’ha’ signifies pious resolve and the psychic desire for universal welfare. The sound o is its super-acoustic root or atibiija. So whatever may be the importance of o in the alphabetical order, its value as an acoustic root is immense.
The posture of surrender to the greatness of another person or entity is called namah mudra’ or namomudra’. Such surrender results in one’s mental body being vibrated by the greatness of the Supreme. It is the person doing namomudra’ who benefits, and not the one for whom the mudra’ is performed. The way to do this mudra’ to the guru is to lie prostrate before him with the palms placed together, that is, with the middle fingers of each hand placed parallel to each other. This represents the pinpointed concentration of mind which is directed towards the supreme goal.
In this mudra’ all eight parts of the body are engaged. (According to a’yurveda the human body has eight main parts. The a’yurvedik system of medical treatment is called as’t’a’unga [eight-limbed] cikitsa’ vijina’na.) The body itself becomes as straight as a staff [one Sanskrit word for which is dan’d’a], and thus one of the mudra”s names is dan’d’avat pran’a’ma.* This is namomudra’, the systematic endeavour to acquire greatness in return for one’s surrender unto greatness. [Namah is the acoustic root of acquiring greatness in life; and ao is the super-acoustic root of namah biija.]
The science of dance recognizes about 850 mudra’s [meaningful gestures], such as namo mudra’, lalita mudra’, barada’ mudra’, abhaya mudra, am’kusha mudra’, maha’ mudra’, ka’kacaincu mudra’, tejasii mudra’, a’mbha’sii mudra’, pa’rthivii mudra’, va’yavii mudra’, a’ka’shii mud-
* Editors’ note: This straight posture symbolizes that although one may or may not be straight in all mundane activities, one is as simple and straight as can be before the entity being revered.
ra’, bha’va mudra’, shparshika’ mudra’, cetasii mudra’, sarpa mudra’, kapa’lii mudra’, and many, many more.
In order to master the art of dance, one must become skilled in the art of mudra’. Dance as practised in human society can be broadly divided into two schools:*chandapradha’na nrtya [rhythmic dance] and mudra’pradha’na nrtya [mudraic dance]. Occidental dance (such as ballroom dance) is more rhythmic, whereas Oriental dance is more mudra’-oriented.** Of course, mudra’s are used in Occidental music also, but their role is secondary; and rhythm is an integral part of Oriental dance, but is nevertheless secondary to mudra’.
The sound ha is the acoustic root of the sun, of the stars, and of the ethereal factor. T’ha is the acoustic root of satellites, such as the moon. When the moon, which is the physical symbol of the psychic realm, and the sun, which is the physical symbol of mundane energy, are made to become one, that is called hat’ha yoga (Hat’hena kurute karma). When an action is done abruptly, out of sudden impulse, there is a sudden release of energy called hat’hatah (hat’ha + tas) or hat’ha’t (fifth case-ending of hat’ha in Sanskrit). A synonym of hat’ha’t is bala’t, meaning “by force” or “suddenly”; and another meaning of hat’ha’t is “to get expressed suddenly without giving any scope for thought”. To do something good or bad suddenly without prior thought is called bala’tka’r. Remember that the meaning of bala’tka’r is not necessarily a bad one.
* Author’s note: Dance should not be called shilpa – literally, “that which is done with the hands” – because in dance, the legs, neck, chin and other parts of the body are also used. In some dances every part of the body has a certain role to play.
** Editors’ note: Philology of “oriental”, “occidental”, and other words omitted here.
The magnanimity of Shiva was as vast as the sky. People used to show their veneration for Him either in namah mudra’ or with the sound ao. Hence the acoustic root of Shivatattva [essence of Shiva] is haom’: Haom’ Shiva’ya namah. Those entities who were very dear to Shiva by virtue of their personal simplicity, naturalness and spirit of selfless service, were also revered using the sound ha. Shiva’s favourite flower was the common dhustara flower. Ha is the acoustic root of the dhustara flower. Thus you can easily understand why haom’ is the acoustic root of Shiva.
Am’ is the acoustic root of an idea. The same sound, when uttered with a different mental ideation, acquires different meanings, and the effect it has varies from person to person. The word bet’a’, for example, can be used as an endearing term for one’s child. A parent may say, Ája’ bet’a’, kha’na’ kha’le [“Come, my dear child, come and eat your food”]. In this case bet’a’ (“my child”) sounds very pleasing to the ears; when the child hears it s/he feels very gratified. But one could also say, Áy bet’a’ toke dekhe noba; tor caudda purus’er shra’ddha karchi. [“Come here you wretch, I’ll teach you a lesson! I’m going to send you and fourteen generations of your ancestors to hell!”] In this case the utterance of bet’a’ injects poison into the mind of the listener. The acoustic root of the poisonous mentality which utters poisoned words is am’. The acoustic root of that pleasant ideation which adds sweetness to a word is ah. You should remember that whenever you speak to someone, or recite a poem, or play any part in a drama, or sing any song, you should know the underlying meaning of what you are expressing. Only then will you be able to touch your listeners’ hearts and influence them.
There are some words which are neither good nor bad, but adopt a positive or negative meaning due to the way in which they are uttered or due to the mentality behind their utterance. Á ja’na’ bet’a’ baet’hna’, kha’na’ kha’ye ho? [“Come and sit here, my child. Have you had anything to eat yet?”] In this example the word bet’a’ is very pleasing to the ears. It is uttered in such a sweet way that the child will feel gratified. But when someone says, Áy bet’a’ toke dekhe noba! [“Come here, you wretch, I’ll teach you a lesson!”] the word bet’a’ becomes repulsive.
If one tells a boy, Eso khoka’ mis’t’i niye ya’o [“Come, little child, take some sweets”], a very pleasant mentality is expressed. But if one says, O a’r nya’ka’mi kare khoka’ sa’jte habe na’, aman d’ham’ anek dekhechi [“Stop being so childish. I’m sick of it”], that same pleasing mentality is not expressed. The same word, khoka’, when uttered with a different mentality takes on a different meaning. Where the mentality is bitter or repulsive, it is indicative of poison, and its acoustic root is am’; and where the mentality is sweet or attractive, it is indicative of nectar, and its acoustic root is ah. So when singing, or reciting a poem, or acting in a play, or even when saying ordinary things, one should have full control over one’s expression, be it pleasant or unpleasant. Singers should also remember this and sing accordingly. The controlling point of vis’a [poison] and amrta [nectar] is the vishuddha cakra.* Thus one should exercise a certain degree
* Editors’ note: Not only am’ and ah, but all sixteen vowel sounds, are located at the vishuddha cakra. For correlation of other sounds with their respective cakras, see “Plexi and Microvita” in Yoga Psychology.
of control over the ku’rma na’d’ii [a nerve] at the vishuddha cakra.
The way in which people think varies from individual to individual. The thought processes of sub-human creatures flow in four directions – towards food, sleep, survival, and procreation. Broadly speaking, human thought moves in five directions – towards food, sleep, survival, procreation and dharma. Yet there are many sub-streams. Human thought can be roughly divided into two categories: abhiips’a’tmaka (a’sha’ vrtti) and vishuddha sam’vedana’tmaka (cinta’ vrtti).
A major part of the world of thought revolves around a’sha’ vrtti [the propensity of hope]. Goaded by this propensity, various creatures, especially human beings, are inspired to work in various ways. Ka is the acoustic root of the abhiips’a’tmaka a’sha’ vrtti. It is also the acoustic root of Ka’rya Brahma [the expressed universe].
In ancient times, before people learned to dig in the ground, they collected water from the rivers and springs. Hence, anything that produced sounds like the roaring of rivers, the babbling of brooks, or the gushing of spring water, would inspire the hope of survival in their minds. Ka (derived from the root-verb kae plus suffix d’a) etymologically means “that which produces sound”. It also means “water”, and thus ka is the acoustic root of flowing water (va is the acoustic root of water in general).
If someone keeps a matted lock of hair on his or her head, it will be quite visible even from a distance. If the hair is properly oiled, it will become glossy. From kac, meaning “glossy”, we get another meaning of ka, “hair grown on the head”.
Hair when it is curly is called kuntala. And Shiva used to tie His hair in a knot in such a way that it pointed upwards. Hence just as one of Shiva’s names was “Vyomakesha”, meaning “Hair towards the Sky” (vyoma = “sky” and kesh = “hair”), He was also called “Khakuntala”, with the same meaning, since kha means “sky” and Shiva’s hair was curly.
And, as many people know, another name of Shiva was “Dhurjat’ii”.
We said before that ka is the acoustic root of Ka’rya Brahma. It is also the acoustic root of creation. According to Buddhist Ma’dhyamik and Saota’ntrik philosophy, one name for the created world is Sam’vrtti Bodhicitta (which is also another name of Ka’rya Brahma). The then Buddhist cult called those sa’dhakas who took the noble vow of serving all in the living and non-living worlds, ka’pa’likas – Kam’ [from ka] sam’vrtti bodhi cittam’ pa’layati iti ka’pa’likah. Later on, the meaning and import of the word ka’pa’lika became distorted.
As mentioned, ka is the acoustic root of Ka’rya Brahma. Ka’rya Brahma (Sagun’arasa’tmaka Brahma), represented by ka, is the controller of the living world. Ka + iisha = kesha. Kesha can mean “hair”; it can also mean Na’ra’yan’a.
While discussing ka I mentioned that human thoughts are sometimes guided by a’sha’ vrtti, sometimes by cinta’ vrtti. The acoustic root of a’sha’ vrtti is ka, and that of cinta’ vrtti [the propensity of worry] is kha. Suppose the train you are travelling by from Krishnanagar to Dignagar is running late. In that case you will not only think about the train being late, but of the probable inconveniences caused as a result, notably the inconvenience you will cause your host in Dignagar if you arrive at his house late and expect him to serve you food. So you decide to eat your supper somewhere near the station before proceeding to your host’s house. All thoughts such as these are symbolized by the acoustic root kha.
Suppose you are traveling from Krishnanagar to Matiyari. The thought passes through your mind that at one time Matiyari had an important brassware industry, which today is on the verge of collapse, resulting in thousands of its employees losing their jobs. You wonder whether it might be possible to revive the industry. But as you are not personally affected by the collapse of the industry, you are not a direct player in your own thoughts. Impersonal thoughts such as these are symbolized by the acoustic root kha.
Kha means “sky”, but kha is not the acoustic root of the sky. The acoustic root of the sky is ha. Kha also means “heaven”, but it is not the acoustic root of all of heaven, either. The crude aspects of heaven are represented by kha, whereas the sphere of heaven which transcends the crude is represented by ks’a.
Ka is the acoustic root of Ka’rya Brahma. First comes ka, Ka’rya Brahma, and then follows the rest of creation. That is why ka is the first consonant. And as ka plus ha equals kha, ka is immediately followed by kha in the Indo-Aryan alphabet.
Every entity, whether animate or inanimate, has the potentiality of expression. An animate entity can arouse that dormant potentiality through both external and internal means, whereas an inanimate entity acquires impetus through external means. Suppose poetic genius lies dormant in a certain person. If he arouses that latent genius by applying his will-force, he can become a renowned poet. But if he fails to do that due to lethargy or for some other reason, his poetic genius will remain unexpressed. The effort made to arouse one’s dormant potentiality is called ces’t’a’. Ces’t’a’ is one of the psychic vrttis [propensities] and is the main cause of mundane development and spiritual elevation. So its value in the mundane and supramundane spheres is immense.
Ga, being the acoustic root of ces’t’a’ vrtti, plays an important role in the physical, psychic and spiritual spheres of human life.
Mamata’, the vrtti of love and attachment of human beings and all other creatures, is related to time, space and individuality. It is not unusual for people to praise even the goods of the poorest quality manufactured in their own country and criticize the best-quality goods made in other countries. This occurs due to their irrational attachment for a certain place. It is a kind of psychic disease. The same sort of thing occurs in individuals as well. The mother who feels so much love and affection for her child that she sacrifices everything in life for its comfort and welfare, mercilessly slices young kai fish [walking fish] into pieces without the slightest emotional feeling. The young kai fish cry out in the agony of death, but the cruel heart of the human mother does not melt. Mamata’ vrtti is also related to the time factor. The same mother cow who so lovingly suckles her calves and licks them clean today kicks them away when they grow up tomorrow.
Thus mamata’ vrtti is limited by the relative factors. Only human beings can make mamata’ vrtti transcend the boundaries of time, space and individuality, after persistent and intense efforts. This is something impossible for other beings. Gha is the acoustic root of mamata’ vrtti.
Una is the acoustic root of dambha vrtti [the propensity of vanity]. The popular story goes that the great sage Vashis’t’ha traveled to China to learn the Chinese school of Tantra. In China he learnt the use of una in the utterance of Tantric mantras, and introduced it in India on his return. Una is used extensively in all the dialects of the Indo-Chinese languages, even in Tibetan, Laddaki, Sherpa, Manpa, etc. It is said that Vashis’t’ha learned that una is the acoustic root of vanity. It is also said that he first learned the Ta’ra’ cult of the Buddhist Va’ma’ca’ra Tantra from China. Since then in Buddhist Tantra, the Ta’ra’ cult has been trifurcated: Ugra Ta’ra’ or Vajra Ta’ra’ is worshipped in India; Niila Ta’ra’, or Niila Sarasvatii, is worshipped in Kim’purus’avars’a (Tibet), and Bhra’marii Ta’ra’ (Krs’n’a Ta’ra’) is worshipped in China.
It is believed that in the post-Buddhist period Vajra Ta’ra’ or Ugra Ta’ra’ was accepted as the Ta’ra’ deity in Varn’a’shrama Dharma [medieval Hinduism]. Today names such as Ta’ra’ Da’s, Ta’ra’pada, Ta’ra’ Kumar, etc., are quite common. It is generally accepted that the Niila Ta’ra’, or Niila Sarasvatii, of Tibet was later converted into the [Hindu] goddess Sarasvatii by the supporters of Varn’a’shrama Dharma.
The acoustic root of Vajra Ta’ra’ of India and Niila Ta’ra’ of Tibet is aem’. The black-coloured Bhra’marii Ta’ra’ of China is accepted as the goddess Ka’lii in Varn’a’shrama Dharma. Their acoustic root is the same, kriim’ (ka symbolizing Ka’rya Brahma plus ra symbolizing the luminous factor).
Ca is the acoustic root of viveka [conscience].
Cha is the acoustic root of vikalata’h vrtti [nervous breakdown]. A nervous breakdown occurs when one’s mind, which had previously been functioning properly, either starts malfunctioning or stops functioning altogether.
Una is the acoustic root of dambha vrtti [the propensity of vanity]; ja is the acoustic root of aham’ka’ra vrtti (ego). The ego becomes inflated when one allows one’s “I” feeling to take a predominant role. “Since I was there, I was able to control the situation. But I wonder what would have happened in my absence. I’m sure that had I not been there the world would have met its final destruction.” So spoke Aurangzeb, the last powerful Mughal emperor of India. It is an expression of aham’ka’ra vrtti.
Jha is the acoustic root of lolupata’, lobha [greed] and lolata’ [avarice] vrttis. The Bengali word nola’ [the greedy fascination of a cat or a dog] is derived from lola or lolata’.
Ina is the acoustic root of kapat’ata’ vrtti [hypocrisy]. Another Sanskrit word for “hypocrite” is pa’s’an’d’a, which was more widely used in the past. In Hindi a hypocrite is called pa’khan’d’ii. Hypocrisy can take many forms, but we are mainly acquainted with the following three: (1) getting one’s purpose served by exploiting or cheating others; (2) unnecessarily dominating somebody to conceal one’s own ignorance or weakness; (3) pretending to be moral by criticizing the sins of others, which one secretly commits oneself.
T’a is the acoustic root of vitarka vrtti [overstating one’s case]. Many people think that vitarka means a type of debating, but this is only partially true. It also means overstating one’s case to the point of garrulousness. Vitarka is a combination of a bad temper and garrulousness. It is in no way synonymous with kas’a’ya vrtti [speaking harshly to hurt others]. The following is an example of vitarka vrtti.
Suppose a person arrives at the Howrah railway station in Calcutta a little late and asks a well-dressed gentleman, “Excuse me, sir, has the Uluberia local train departed yet?” The gentleman snaps angrily, “Is it my duty to keep information about the Uluberia local train? Am I a railway timetable? How idiotic! People like you make life hell for others. This is the reason the country is going to the dogs. What do you think I am, an enquiry office?” Another gentleman standing nearby says helpfully, “Were you asking about the Uluberia local? The train will leave from platform eleven in five minutes. If you hurry you’ll catch it.”
The first gentleman has an uncontrolled vitarka vrtti whereas the second gentleman has uttered pramita va’k [balanced statements]. In pramita va’k only relevant words are used.
T’ha is the acoustic root of anuta’pa vrtti [repentance]. One is seized by a feeling of repentance when one realizes (either from within or with the help of a second person) the impropriety of one’s action. In northern India anuta’pa is called pascha’tta’pa. Both anu and pascha’t mean “later” or “after”; ta’pa means “heat”.
D’a is the acoustic root of lajja’ vrtti [the propensity of shyness].
Senseless, sadistic killing is called pishunata’ vrtti. If meat-eaters slaughter animals in the way that inflicts the least pain, that is not pishunata’; but if they kill them slowly and cruelly, first chopping off their legs, then their tails, then their heads, it is definitely pishunata’. These days in many civilized countries people are unable to give up meat-eating, but have at least devised modern methods to kill the animals less painfully. But remember, the killing of animals, no matter how it is done, is contrary to the spirit of Neo-Humanism.
Once I saw a harrowing sight in a market place: part of a live tortoise had just been chopped off and sold, but the poor creature was not completely dead and was trying to crawl away, leaving a stream of blood. Such cruel things should be abolished altogether. The cruel slaughter of that innocent tortoise is certainly a case of pishunata’.
To kill human beings is totally undesirable, but if people do want to eliminate their enemies, they should do so with a minimum of torture. The kings of old used to kill criminals by impaling them on spikes; or by half-burying them in the ground, sprinkling salt over them, and letting the dogs eat them. Sometimes people were flayed alive. These actions certainly deserve universal condemnation. They are all examples of pishunata’.
N’a is the acoustic root of iirs’a’ vrtti [the propensity of envy].
Ta is the acoustic root of staticity, long sleep and deep sleep. It is also the acoustic root of intellectual dullness and spiritual inertness. That which brings about the cessation of dullness and staticity is called Tantra – Tam’ ja’dya’t ta’rayet yastu sa tantrah parikiirttitah.
The root-verb tan means “to expand”. If a person bound by ropes manages to expand his body, the ropes will snap automatically. That which leads to liberation through tan, expansion, is also Tantra – Tam’ vista’ren’a ta’rayet yastu sah tantrah parikiirttitah.
Tha is the acoustic root of vis’ada vrtti, of melancholy (melancholiness, melancholia).
Da is the acoustic root of peevishness. If one speaks in a nice way to a peevish person, he or she reacts adversely; if one speaks in a harsh way, he or she takes it calmly.
Dha is the acoustic root of thirst for acquisition. This limitless craving for wealth, name, fame, power and prestige is called trs’n’a in Sanskrit. Here trs’n’a does not mean “thirst for water”. To divert all the pure and impure thoughts of the mind towards Parama Purus’a is the only cure for limitless psychic craving.
Na is the acoustic root of moha vrtti [blind attachment or infatuation]. This propensity of blind attachment is usually divided into the four categories of time, space, idea and individuality. When one loses one’s rationality out of blind attachment for one’s country, it is called deshagata moha, “geo-sentiment”. People who live in a country where not even a blade of grass grows, where people die of starvation, and which imports huge quantities of food grains from other countries, become so infatuated with their country that they say it has an abundance of water, has a bountiful fruit harvest, and is a net exporter of food to other countries.
Ka’lagata moha is blind attachment for a particular period of time. One becomes so attached to a certain period of time that one is unable to discern its positive or negative aspects. Some people complain that the behaviour of the present generation of children is disappointing. They say that when they were young they could easily digest iron pans, but the present generation has trouble digesting even water! They lament the great misfortune that has befallen the present age.
When a particular idea has a strong impact on mind, the mind rushes towards it again and again. Thieves, in the shock of the moment, always make a quick getaway from the scene of the crime. Later, however, they brood repeatedly about the place, and often return, straight into the hands of the police! A person who uses an object for a long time develops a fascination for that object. This is called a’dha’ragata moha [fascination for an object]. There are many rich people who have a strange weakness for some old, battered object such as a rickety chair with one arm broken off. I know a story about how a pretty pot made of bell-metal was the cause of a bitter quarrel among the daughters-in-law of a certain family, so bitter that it led to the eventual break-up of the family. Na is the acoustic root of moha vrtti.
The only way to free oneself from the clutches of infatuation is to superimpose the ideation of indifference and divert one’s mental thoughts towards Parama Purus’a. It may be possible to control this propensity of wild fascination temporarily by intimidation or by enacting laws, but only temporarily. Those who believe in the equal distribution of the world’s wealth, naively underestimate the power of moha vrtti. The human mind can be sublimated only by spiritual ideation, not by any high-sounding philosophy. This utopian idea has proved ineffective in the past and in the present and will continue to prove so in the future.
Pa is the acoustic root of ghrn’a’ vrtti [the propensity of hatred or revulsion].
The underlying weaknesses which cause immense harm to human beings are called ripus [enemies]. They are six in number: ka’ma [longing for physicality], krodha [anger], lobha [avarice], mada [vanity], moha [blind attachment], and ma’tsarya [jealousy]. And when our various mental bondages exploit these ripus in order to tighten their grip on the mind, they become known as pa’shas [fetters]. These pa’shas are eight in number:
Ghrn’a’ shaunka’ bhayam’ lajja’
Jugupsa’ ceti paincamii;
Kulam’ shiilainca ma’nainca
As’t’ao pa’sha’h prakiirttita’h.
[Hatred, doubt, fear, shyness, dissemblance, vanity of lineage, cultural superiority complex and egotism – these are the eight fetters.]
Pa is the acoustic root of the fetter of hatred. It is a defect not directly traceable to any one ripu, but stemming from more than one ripu. Although hatred and fear are related to other ripus, they are mainly related to the moha ripu, or propensity of blind attachment. [E.g., when one’s desire for something becomes frustrated, one may develop hatred for what was the object of desire.]
When one’s psychic attraction is toward the crude, the mind has a downward tendency (in Sanskrit the root-verb pat or patati carries this sense), which leads to one’s eventual downfall. But when the mind moves upward it is called anurakti [attraction for the Great]. The consummation of this attraction is devotion. For this the Sanskrit verb is u’rdhva gam or u’rdhva gacchati.
One who is weakened by excessive attachment to alcohol falls an easy prey to the fetters of hatred and fear. Moha ripu makes people the objects of hatred to others, and makes others the objects of fear to them. Such is the deceptive allurement of moha vrtti that people rush toward their objects of desire without any discrimination. I already explained the different types of moha while discussing the consonant na.
Pha is the acoustic root of bhaya vrtti [the propensity of fear]. Though fear is generally caused by more than one factor, it is mainly born of moha ripu.
Ba is the acoustic root of avajina’ vrtti [indifference]. When one ignores something which is actually unacceptable, that is called upeks’a’, but when one neglects something which may actually have some value, that is called avajina’. Avajina’ is somewhat similar in meaning to avahela’. Upeks’a’ is not always used in a bad way, but avahela’ certainly has a negative connotation. It is said,
Maetriii-karun’a’-muditopeks’a’n’a’m’-sukha-duhkha-pun’ya’ – Pun’yavis’aya’na’m’ bha’vana’tashcittapra-sa’danam.
Often when someone sees another person who is happy in life he or she feels pangs of jealousy; but this is not an ideal attitude. An ideal person will develop a benign attitude toward the happy person, saying, “That person is in such a happy frame of mind – may he stay that way forever.” And for those people who live in misery one should develop an attitude of compassion. One should never feel happy upon seeing the sorrows of others, but should think, “What a miserable life that person is leading. I hope things get better for him soon.”
Neither should one be jealous of a person who performs many virtuous deeds and charitable actions. Rather one should think well of the person since he or she is doing good work. “Let his intellect continue to inspire him to perform such virtuous actions. I fully support him.” And if someone is engaged in unrighteous deeds, his neighbours should ignore his dark side, and should not repeatedly condemn him. One should say, “Well, I’m not bothered by what he says or does – that’s his own business.” But this attitude of tolerance can only be accepted to a certain extent. If the person’s sinful or wicked actions harm society and disrupt social life, one can no longer afford to be indifferent.
Bha is the acoustic root of the mu’rccha’ vrtti. Here mu’rccha’ does not mean senselessness; it means to lose one’s common sense under the hypnotic spell of a particular ripu. To avoid the unsalutary effects of murccha’ vrtti, one should direct one’s mind along the path of righteousness through the practice of pratya’ha’ra yoga.
Those who have not learned the technique of pratya’ha’ra yoga* should do kiirtana aloud or sing devotional songs to escape the clutches of mu’rccha’ vrtti.
Ma is the acoustic root of pran’a’sha [the propensity of annihilation]. It is also the acoustic root of prashraya vrtti – giving latitude [or treating with indulgence] – in Hindi bar’hva’ dena’.
* Editors’ note: In Ánanda Ma’rga sa’dhana’, shuddhis (visualizations for withdrawing the mind) and Guru Pu’ja’.
Ya is the acoustic root of avishva’sa vrtti [lack of confidence], and is also the acoustic root of constant movement (like the movement of air). You may have met people who have no confidence in themselves at all, even if they are told to be self-confident. Such people say right up to the end of their lives, “Shall I be able to do it?” They can never accomplish anything great in this world. As they also lack confidence in others, others have no confidence in them.
Ra is the acoustic root of agnitattva or pra’n’ashakti — vitality. (Ram’ biijam’ shikhinam’ dhya’yet, trikon’am-arun’aprabham.) It is also the acoustic root of sarvana’sha [the thought of annihilation]. Sarvana’sha causes people to think, “I have nothing of my own. Everything is gone. I am undone.” Such a negative outlook can only be cured with the constant auto-suggestion, “Parama Purus’a is mine,” which in the language of Tantra is called guru mantra. The feeling that one is defeated in life is ra-biija’tmak [symbolized by ra], and its cure is the auto-suggestion that “I have come to win. I am destined to win.” People of developed mentality try to keep the minds of people of such negative outlook free from the unhealthy effect of that mentality by outer-suggestion. To do this is the duty of each and every good person. We should see that our fellow human beings are never allowed to throw themselves into the abyss of frustration and disappointment; they should be rescued before they jump.
Ra is also the acoustic root of fire. So the monosyllabic word ra means “fire”.
La is the acoustic root of krurata’ vrtti [cruelty]. When human beings encounter this propensity in other human beings, they should counteract it with the propensity of compassion. When one sees someone in the throes of misery one should think, “Oh, what great misery the man is suffering from! Is there anything I can do to reduce his misery? Although the person is a human in all other respects, how crude he is in thought and behaviour. Can’t I help him to arouse his latent intellect?” This attitude of compassion is the effective counter-measure for krurata’ vrtti.
La is also the acoustic root of ks’ititattva, the solid factor.
Lam’ biijam’ dharan’iim’ dhya’yet
Va is the acoustic root of dharma. Dharma means ensconcement in one’s original stance. The innate propensity of human beings is to move along the path towards subtlety in the psychic and spiritual spheres, and finally to merge into Parama Purus’a. The unbroken movement of the human mind towards Parama Purus’a is called ma’nava dharma. It moves one from a state of ordinary happiness ever forward and eventually establishes one in the realm of Supreme Beatitude.
Sukham’ va’inchati sarvvo hi
Tacca dharma samudbhu’tah;
[All living beings long for happiness. Dharma originates from that innate propensity. Hence dharma should always be observed meticulously by all people.]
* * *
Dhriyate dharma itya’huh sa eva paramam’ prabhu.
[Dharma is that which sustains.]
The seed of humanity cannot sprout and flourish unless it is planted in the soil of dharma. To diverge from the path of dharma means to rush headlong towards total annihilation. In all one’s actions one should keep Parama Purus’a as the goal, and be well-established in dharma.
Va is also the acoustic root of jalatattva [the liquid factor], and the acoustic root of the mythological rain-god Varun’a Deva. Jalatattva means not only water, but any liquid.
Sha is the acoustic root of rajogun’a [the mutative principle]. It is also the acoustic root of artha [psychic longing].
Of the four vargas [basic goals of life], one, already mentioned, is dharma, whose acoustic root is va; the second varga is artha, which brings about the temporary cessation of worldly wants. (That which brings about the permanent cessation of worldly wants is Parama’rtha.)
Sha is the acoustic root of both artha and the mutative principle. Ra is the acoustic root of energy. So shra is indicative of the mutative principle supplemented by vitality. Shra + uniis’ (feminine suffix) = shrii.
The expression of vital energy arising due to the influence of the mutative principle on one’s existence is natural for human beings in the mundane sphere. Hence the practice of using shrii before someone’s name [as a blessing on one’s dynamism] has been the custom since ancient times.
S’a is the acoustic root of tamogun’a [the static principle], and is also the acoustic root of all kinds of worldly desires – desires for things such as wealth, opulence, name, fame and social position. The word ka’ma is used in Sanskrit as the collective term for these desires and longings.
Dharma [psycho-spiritual longing], artha [psychic longing], ka’ma [physical longing], and moks’a [spiritual longing, the longing for unqualified liberation] are the four recognized longings or goals of human life.
To avoid any confusion, I say once again in unambiguous terms that ka’ma means all types of physical longings.
Sa is the acoustic root of moks’a [salvation, unqualified liberation]. (As mentioned, va is the acoustic root of dharma, ensconcement in one’s original stance; sha is the acoustic root of artha, the removal of worldly wants; and s’a is the acoustic root of ka’ma, worldly [and especially physical] wants.) Each of the letters is the acoustic root of one of the four vargas. Va is additionally the acoustic root of the liquid factor; sha is the acoustic root of rajogun’a; s’a is the acoustic root of tamogun’a; and sa is the acoustic root of sattvagun’a [the sentient principle].
Ha is the acoustic root of the ethereal factor, of daytime, of the sun, of svarloka, and of para’vidya’ [intuitional sci-ence]. Opposite to ha is t’ha, which is the acoustic root of nighttime, of the moon, of bhu’varloka,* and of the ka’mamaya kos’a.*
Ha + ao = hao, which is the acoustic root of Shiva in His posture of dancing ta’n’d’ava. But the acoustic root of Shiva in His role of spiritual preceptor is aem’. (It has already been noted that aem’ is also the acoustic root of one’s preceptor and of the goddess of learning – Aem’ gurave namah; Aem’ Sarasvatyae namah).
Ks’a is the acoustic root of mundane knowledge, and is also the acoustic root of material science.
Ánanda Ma’rga Philosophy in a Nutshell Part 8
* Editors’ note: The lokas of the Macrocosmic Mind are Its different “levels”, or “layers”, or “spheres”. They represent different stages on a continuum from subtle to crude. And the ka’mamaya kos’a represents such a stage in both the Macrocosmic Mind and the microcosmic mind. The ka’mamaya kos’a of the microcosm is its “crude mind”, as it is the layer of mind closest to the physical body. It is concerned with physical sensations and physical desires.