Tag Archives: Bindu

The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Eleven

Continued from Part ten


Para vac

According to Abhinavagupta

As mentioned in the previous Part, it is explained that the process of manifestation of speech, like that of the Universe, takes place in four stages. First, in the undifferentiated substratum of thought an intention appears. This first impulse, the self-radiant consciousness (Sva-prakasha-chaitanya) is Para-vac (the voice beyond). Thereafter, this intention takes a shape. We can visualize the idea (Pashyanthi-vac) though it is yet to acquire a verbal form. It is the first sprout of an invisible seed; but, yet searching for words to give expression to the intention. This is the second stage in the manifestation of the idea. Then, the potential sound, the vehicle of the thought, materializes, finding   words suitable to express the idea. This transformation of an idea into words, in the silence of the mind, is the third stage. It is the intermediary stage (Madhyama-vac) between un-manifest and manifest. The fourth stage being manifestation of the till then non-vocal verbalized ideas into perceptible sounds. It is the stage where the ideas are transmitted to others through articulated audible syllables (Vaikhari-vak).  These four stages are the four forms of the word.

In this part, let’s talk about the theories expounded and the explanations offered by two of the great thinkers – Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari – on the subject of different levels of speech or awareness.

While Bhartrhari regards levels of speech as three (Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari), Abhinavagupta discusses on four levels (Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari).

Some scholars have tried to reconcile that seeming difference between the stance of the two scholars  by explaining that Bhartrhari’s concept of the speech-principle Sabda-tattva or Sabda-brahman the fundamental basis of the all existence, virtually equates to Para Vac , the Supreme Consciousness adored by Abhinavagupta. In this connection, they remind of a passage in Bhartrhari’s Vritti on his Vakyapadiya where the description of Paśyantī Vac  is followed by a subtle hint at a para paśyantī – rūpam, which they take it as pointing towards  Abhinavagupta ‘s   Parā Vāc.

Let’s briefly take a look at the theories expounded by Abhinavagupta on various stages of language, speech and consciousness.


Abhinavagupta Acharya (Ca. 950 to 1020 C.E) the great philosopher, mystic and a true sadhaka, was the intellectual and a spiritual descendant of Somananda the founder of the Pratyabijnya School of Kashmiri Shaiva monism.  He was a many sided genius; a visionary endowed with incisive intellectual powers of a philosopher who combined in himself the experiences of a spiritualist and a Tantric. He was a prolific writer on Philosophy, Tantra, Aesthetics, Natya, Music and a variety of other subjects. His work Tantraloka in which he expounds Anuttara Trika, the ‘most excellent’ form of Trika Shaivism (Nara- Shakthi- Shivatmakam Trikam)  is regarded as his magnum opus. It is a sort of an encyclopedia on Tantra – its philosophy, symbolism and practices etc.

Abhinavagupta was also a scholar-commentator par excellence, equipped with extraordinary skills of an art critic.  Among his notable commentaries are: the Īśvarapratyabhijñā-vimarśini and its detailed version Isvara-pratyabhijña-vivrti-vimarsini, both being commentaries on Isvara-Pratyabhijña – kārikā and vtti (Recognition of Shiva as self) by Utpaladeva or Utpalācārya (early 10th century), an earlier philosopher of the Pratyabhijñā Darśhana School. And, Abhinavagupta’s Paratrisika-Laghuvritti (also known as the Anuttara-tattva-vimarsini) and its expanded form Parātrīśikā–vivarana a commentary on Parātrīśikā also known as the Trikasūtra (a seminal text on Kashmiri Shaivism) – which is based in the concluding portion of the Rudra-yamala-tantra – is held in high esteem.

And, his work Abhinavabharati though famed as a commentary on  Bharata’s  Natyasastra  is,  for all purposes, an independent treatise on aesthetics in Indian dance, poetry, music and art; and , it helps in understanding Bharata and also a number of other scholars and the concepts they had put forth. The Abhinavabharati along with his other two works – Isvara pratyabhijna Vimarshini and Dhvanyaloka Lochana – are highly significant works in the field of Indian aesthetics.

 [For more on Abhinavagupta, please click here]


Generally speaking, the Tantra-s of all tendencies deal with the nature of Vac and its manifestations. But, the tradition to which Abhinavagupta belonged – namely the Bhairava Tantra, and in particular to the Kula and Trika Tantras –  differs from the others in that it bestows greater importance to the nature and to the role of Vac.  It views Vac (language) at its highest level as identical with the Supreme Reality.

Abhinavagupta’s ideas and concepts with regard to language are based in the scriptures of his School and in his philosophy of language. Abhinavagupta’s speculations on the nature, on the levels of Vāc and its manifestations are, therefore, some of the important aspects of all his works. They run like a thread that ties together the diverse aspects of Abhinavagupta’s vast body of works.  The speculations on Vac also interweave his views on the religious and philosophical traditions that he expounds.

According to the Pratyabhijna School, Shiva is the Ultimate Reality; and, the individual and Shiva are essentially one. The concept of Pratyabhijna refers to self-awareness (parämarsa); to the way of recognition and realization of that identity. It firmly asserts that the state of Shiva-consciousness is already there; you have to realize that; and, nothing else. As Abhinavagupta puts it: Moksha or liberation is nothing but the awareness of one’s own true nature –Moksho hi nama naivathyah sva-rupa-pratanam hi tat.

Abhinavagupta, while explaining this school of recognition, says, man is not a mere speck of dust; but is an immense force, embodying a comprehensive consciousness; and, is capable of manifesting , through his mind and body, limitless powers of knowledge and action (Jnana Shakthi and Kriya Shakthi).

According to the Tantras of Kashmir Shaiva tradition, which recapture the ancient doctrine of Sphota, the manifestation of all existence is viewed as the expression of Shiva (visarga-shakthi) occurring on four levels. These represent the process of Srsti or outward movement or descending or proceeding from the most sublime to the ordinary. It is said; such four levels of evolution correspond with the four levels of consciousness or the four levels in the unfolding (unmesa) of speech (Vac).

Just as a Samkalpa (a pure thought) has to pass through several stages before it actually manifests as a concrete creative force, so also the Vac has to pass through several stages before it is finally audible at the gross level as Sabda (sound). Each level of Vac corresponds to a different level of existence. Our experience of Vac depends upon the refinement of our consciousness.

The latent, un-spoken, un-manifest, silent thought (Para) unfolds itself in the next three stages as pashyanti (thought visualized), Madhyamā (intermediate)   and Vaikhari (explicit) speech).

Though the speech (Vac) is seen to manifest in varied levels and forms, it essentially is said to be the transformation (Vivarta) of Para Vac, the Supreme consciousness (Cit),   which is harboured within Shiva in an undifferentiated (abheda) unlimited  form (Swatrantya).


Abhinavagupta describes Parā vāk as a luminous vibration (sphurattā) of pure consciousness in an undifferentiated state (paramam vyomam). While Shiva is pure consciousness (Prakasha); Devi is the awareness of this pure light (Vimarsha). It is highly idealized; and, is akin to a most fabulous diamond that is also aware of its own lustre and beauty. The two – Prakasha and Vimarsha – are never apart. The two together are manifest in the wonder and joy (Chamatkara) of Para vac. And, there is no knowledge, no awareness, which is not connected with a form of Para vac.

The Devi, as Parā Vāc, the vital energy (prana shakthi) that vibrates (spanda) is regarded as the foundation of all languages, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions; and, is, therefore, the seat of consciousness (cit, samvid). Consciousness, thus, is inseparable from the Word, because it is alive.

Vac (speech), he says, is a form of expression of consciousness. And, he argues, there could be no speech without consciousness. However, Consciousness does not directly act upon the principle of speech; but, it operates through intermediary stages as also upon organs and breath to deliver speech.

 Thus, Vac is indeed both speech and consciousness (chetana), as all actions and powers are grounded in Vac. Abhinavagupta says: Someone may hear another person speak, but if his awareness is obscured, he is unable to understand what has been said. He might hear the sounds made by the speaker (outer layer of speech); but, he would not be able to grasp its meaning (the inner essence – antar-abhiläpa)).


Abhinavagupta explains the process of evolution (Vimarsa) of speech in terms of consciousness, mind and cognitive activity (such as knowing, perceiving, reasoning, understanding and expressing).

In his Īśvara-pratyabhijñā-viti-vimarśinī  Abhinavagupta says: the group of sounds (Sabda-rasi) is the Supreme Lord himself; and, Devi as the array of alphabets (Matraka)   is his power (Shakthi) .

iha tāvat parameśvara śabdarāśi, śaktir asya bhinnābhinnarūpā mātkādevī, vargāṣṭaka rudraśaktyaṣṭaka pañcāśad varā pañcāśad rudraśaktaya

Abhinavagupta says: “When She (Parā vāc) is differentiating then she is known in three terms as Pašhyantī, Madhyamā, and Vaikharī.” The Kashmir Shaiva tradition, thus, identifies the Supreme Word, the Para Vac with the power of the supreme consciousness, Cit of Shiva – that is Devi the Shakthi.


According to Abhinavagupta, the Vac proceeds from the creative consciousness pulsations (spanda) of the Devi as Para-Vac, the most subtle and silent form of speech-consciousness. And then, it moves on, in stages, to more cognizable forms: Pashyanti (Vak-shakthi , going forth as seeing , ready to create in which there is no difference between Vachya– object and Vachaka – word); Madhyamā ( the sabda in its subtle form as existing in the anthahkarana or antarbhittï prior to manifestation); and ,  Vaikhari (articulated as gross physical speech). This is a process of Srsti or outward movement or descending proceeds from the most sublime to the mundane.

It is said; the gross aspect (sthūla) of nāda is called ‘sound’; while the subtle (sūkma) aspect is made of thought (cintāmaya bhavet); and, the aspect that is devoid of thought (cintayā rahita) is called Para, the one beyond

Sthūlam śabda iti prokta sūkma cintāmaya bhavet | cintayā rahita yat tu tat para parikīrtitam |

[This is similar to the structure and the principle of Sri Chakra where the consciousness or the energy proceeds from the Bindu at its centre to the outward material forms.

The Bindu or dot in the innermost triangle of the Sri Chakra represents the potential of the non-dual Shiva-Shakti. When this potential separates into Prakasha and Vimarsha it is materializes into Nada, the sound principle.]


There are also other interpretations of the four stages in the evolution of Vac.

:-It is also said; the stages of Para, Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari correspond to our four states of consciousness – Turiya (the transcendental state); Sushupti  (dreamless state);  Swapna  (dreaming state), and Jagrut (wakeful state).

Thus, Para represents the transcendental consciousness, Pashyanti represents the intellectual consciousness, Madhyamā represents the mental consciousness, and Vaikhari represents the physical consciousness. Our ability to experience different levels depends upon the elevation of our consciousness.

:-The three lower forms of speech viz. Pashyanthi, Madhyama and Vaikhari which correspond to intention, formulation and expression are said to represent iccha-shakthi (power of intent or will), jnana-shakthi (power of knowledge) and kriya-shakthi (power of action) of the Devi .These three are construed as the three sides of the triangle at the centre of which is the dot-point (bindu) representing the undifferentiated notion Para-vac. The triangle with the Bindu at its centre suggests the idea of Isvara the divinity conceived as Sabda-Brahman.

Rāmakantha (aka Rājānaka Rāma; Ca. 950 CE) in his commentary (Vritti) on Spandakārikā, explains, “The speech is indeed an action, the mediating part of the Word is made of knowledge, the will is its visionary part, which is subtle and is common essence in all [of them].”

Vaikharikā nāma kriyā jñānamayī bhavati madhyamā vāk/ Icchā puna pašyant ī sūkmā sarvāsā samarasā vtti/ /

 :-According to the Yoga School, the Para stage manifests in the Karanabindu in Muladhara chakra; and then it passes through Manipura and Anahata chakras that denote Pashyanti and Madhyama states of sound. And, its final expression or Vaikhari takes place in Vishudhi chakra.

 The Yoga Kundalini Upanishad explains thus: “The Vac which sprouts in Para gives forth leaves in Pashyanti; buds forth in Madhyamā, and blossoms in Vaikhari.”

:-The Tantra worships Devi as Parā Vāc who creates, sustains and dissolves the universe. She is the Kuṇḍalinī Śkakthi – the serpent power residing in the human body in the subtle form coiling around the Mūladhāra Chakra


According to Abhinavagupta, the Para Vac is always present and pervades all the levels of speech; and, is indeed present on all the levels from the highest to the lowest. By its projection, it creates the flash of pašyantī vāc, the intellectual form; and finally the articulate form, the Vaikhari. He also says that without Her (parā vāk), darkness and unconsciousness, would prevail.

pašyantyādi dašasv api vastuto vyavasthitā tayā vinā / pašyantyādiu aprakāšatāpattyā jaJaā-prasagāt /

 “Everything (sarvasarvātmaiva); stones, trees, birds, human beings, gods, demons and so on, is but the Para Vac present in everything and is, identical with the Supreme Lord.”

 ata eva sarve pāšāa-taru-tirya-manuya-deva-rudra-kevali -mantratadīša- tanmahešādikā ekaiva parābhaṭṭārikā-bhūmi sarva-sarvātmanaiva paramešvara- rūpeāste

Thus, the entire process of evolution of Vac is a series of movements from the centre of Reality to the periphery, in successive forms of Para-Vani.  Abhinavagupta states: Shiva as Para is manifested in all the stages, from the highest to the lowest, right up to the gross sound through his Shakthi; and, he remains undivided (avibhaga vedanatmaka bindu rupataya).


To put the entire discussion in a summary form:

:- According to the explanations provided here: Para is the highest manifestation of Vac. Para and Pashyanti are inaudible; they are beyond the range of the physical ear; and so is Madhyama which is an internal dialogue.

Thus, it is said, there are three stages in the manifestation of Vac: Para (highest); Sukshma (subtle – Pashyanti and Madhyama); and, Sthula (gross – Vaikhari)

Para, the transcendent sound, is beyond the perception of the senses; and, it is all pervading and all encompassing. Para is pure intention. It is un-manifest. One could say, it is the sound of one’s soul, a state of soundless sound. It exists within all of us. All mantras, infinite syllables, words, and sentences exist within Para in the form of vibration (Spanda) in a potential form.

Para-Vani or Para Vac, the Supreme Word, which is non-dual  (abeda) and  identified with  Supreme consciousness, often referred to as Sabda Brahma, is present in all  the subsequent stages; in  all the states of experiences and expressions  as Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari.


:-  Pashyanti , which also means the visual image of the word, is the first stage of Speech. It is the intuitive and initial vision; the stage preceding mental and verbal expression.  

Paśyantī is prior to sprouting of the language or ‘verbalization’, still potent and yet to unfold. Pasyanti, says Abhinavagupta, is the first moment of cognition, the moment where one is still wishing to know rather than truly knowing. 

In Pashyanti (Vak-shakthi, going forth as seeing, ready to create) there is no difference between Vachya – object and Vachaka – word. The duality of subject-object relation does not exist here. Pashyanti is indivisible and without inner-sequence; meaning that the origin and destination of speech are one, without the intervention of mental constructs (Vikalpa). Paśyantī is the state of Nirvikalpa.

It is the power of intent or will (Icchāśakti) that acts in Paśhyantī state. And yet, it carries within itself the potentials of the power of cognition, jñāna šhakthi, and the power of action, kriyā šhakthi.


:- Madhyama is an intellectual process, during which the speaker becomes aware of the word as it arises and takes form within him; and, grasps it. Madhyama vac is a sequenced but a pre-vocal thought, Here, the sound is nada; and, is in a wave or a vibratory (spandana) form.

Madhyamā is the intermediate stage (madhyabhūmi) of thinking. It is the stage at which the sabda in its subtle form exists in the anthahkarana (the internal faculty or the psychological process, including mind and emotions) prior to manifestation) as thought process or deliberation (chintana) which acts as the arena for sorting out various options or forms of discursive thought (vikalpa) and choosing the appropriate form of expression to be put out.

The seat of Madhyamā, according to Abhinavagupta, is intellect, buddhi. Madhyamā represents conception and internal articulation of the word- content. Madhyamā is the stage of Jñānaśakti where knowledge (bodha) or the intellect is dominant. It is the stage in which the word and its meaning are grasped in a subject-object relationship; and, where it gains silent expressions in an internal-dialogue.


:- And, finally, Vaikhari Vac is sequenced and verbalized speech, set in motion according to the will of the person who speaks. For this purpose, he employs sentences comprising words uttered in a sequence. The word itself comprises letters or syllables (varnas) that follow one after the other.

Vaikhari is the articulated speech, which in a waveform reaches the ears and the intellect of the listener. Vaikhari is the physical form of nada that is heard and apprehended by the listener. It gives expression to subtler forms of vac.

The Vaikhari (which is related to the body) is the manifestation of Vac as gross physical speech of the ordinary tangible world of names and forms. Vaikharī represents the power of action Kriyāśakti. This is the plane at which the Vac gains a bodily- form and expression. Until this final stage, the word is still a mental or an intellectual event. Now, the articulated word comes out in succession; and, gives substance and forms to ones thoughts. Vaikharī is the final stage of communication, where the word is externalized and rendered into audible sounds (prākta dhvani).

There are further differences, on this plane, between a clear and loud pronunciation (Saghosha) and a one whispered in low voice (aghosha), almost a sotto voce. Both are fully articulated; what distinguishes them is that the former can be heard by others and the latter is not.


That is to say; Vac originates in consciousness; and, then, it moves on, in stages, to more cognizable forms : as Pashyanti, the vision of what is to follow; then as Madhyama the intermediate stage between the vision and the actual; and , finally as Vaikhari the articulated , fragmented, conventional level of everyday vocal expressions.

Thus, the urge to communicate or the spontaneous evolution of Para, Pashyanti into Vaikhari epitomizes, in miniature, the act of One becoming Many; and the subtle energy transforming into a less- subtle matter. Thus, the speech, each time, is an enactment in miniature of the progression of the One into Many; and the absorption of the Many into One as it merges into the intellect of the listener.


While on Abhinavagupta, we may speak briefly about the ways he illustrates the relation that exists between Shiva, Devi and the human individual, by employing the Sanskrit Grammar as a prop.

In the alphabetical chart of the Sanskrit language, A () is the first letter and Ha (ह) is the last letter. These two, between them, encompass the collection of all the other letters of the alphabets (Matrka).

Here, the vowels (Bija – the seed) are identified with Shiva; and, the consonants are wombs (yoni), identified with Shakthi. The intertwined vowels and consonants (Malini) in a language are the union of Shiva and Shakthi.

[ In the Traika tradition, the letters are arranged as per two schemes: Matrka and Malini. Here, Matrka is the mother principle, the phonetic creative energy. Malini is Devi who wears the garland (mala) of fifty letters of the alphabet.

The main difference between the Matrka and Malini is in the arrangement of letters. In Matrka , the letters are arranged in regular order ; that is , the vowels come first followed by consonants in a serial order. In Malini, the arrangement of letters is irregular. Here, the vowels and consonants are mixed and irregular; there is no definite order in their arrangement.]

According to Abhinavagupta, word is a symbol (sanketa). The four stages of Vac: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari represent the four stages of evolution and also of absorption ascent or descent from the undifferentiated to the gross.

Abhinavagupta then takes up the word AHAM (meaning ‘I’ or I-consciousness or Aham-bhava) for discussion. He interprets AHAM (अहं) as representing the four stages of evolution from the undifferentiated to the gross (Sristi); and, also of absorption (Samhara) back into the primordial source. In a way, these also correspond to the four stages of Vac: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama – and Vaikhari.


He explains that the first letter of that word – A () – represents the pure consciousness Prakasha or Shiva or Anuttara, the absolute, the primal source of all existence. It also symbolizes the initial emergence of all the other letters; the development of the languages.

And, Ha (ह) is the final letter of the alphabet-chart; and, it represents the point of completion when all the letters have emerged. Ha symbolizes Vimarsha or Shakthi, the Devi. The nasal sound (anusvāra) which is produced by placing a dot or Bindu on ‘Ha(हं) symbolises the union of Shiva and Shakthi in their potent state.

The Bindu (◦) or the dimension-less point is also said to represent the subtle vibration of the life-force (Jiva-kala) in the process of creation. It stands at the threshold of creation. It is the pivot around which the cycle of energies from A to Ha rotate. Bindu also is also said to symbolize in the infinite nature (aparimitha-bhava) of AHAM.

As regards and the final letter M (ह्म) providing the final nasal sound, it comes at the end of the vowel series, but before the consonants. It is therefore called Anusvara – that which follows the Svaras (vowels). And, it represents the individual soul (Purusha).


Abhinavagupta interprets AHAM as composed of Shiva; the Shakthi; and the Purusha – as the natural innate mantra the Para vac.

In the process of expansion (Sristi), Shiva, representing the eternal Anuttara, which is the natural, primal sound A () , the life of the entire range of letter-energies (sakala-kala-jaala-jivana –bhutah) , assumes the form of Ha’ (हं) the symbol of Shakthi; and, then he expands into Bindu (◦) symbolizing phenomenal world (Nara rupena).

Thus, AHAM is the combine of Shiva-Shakthi that manifests as the world we experience. Here, Shakthi is the creative power of Shiva; and it is through Shakthi that Shiva emerges as the material world of human experience. AHAM , therefore, represents the state in which all the elements of experience, in the inner and the outer worlds, are fully displayed. Thus, Shakthi is the creative medium that bridges Nara (human) with Shiva.


At another level, Abhinavagupta explains: The emergence (Visarga) of Shakthi takes place within Aham.  She proceeds from A which symbolizes unity or non-dual state (Abedha). Shakthi as symbolized by Ha represents duality or diversity (bedha); and, the dot (anusvara or bindu) on Ha symbolizes bedha-abeda – that is, unity transforming into diversity. These three stages of expansion are known as Para visarga; Apara visarga; and Para-apara visarga.

Here, Para is the Supreme state, the Absolute (Shiva) ; Para-apara is the intermediate stage of Shakthi, who is identical with Shiva and also different; she is duality emerging out of the undifferentiated; and, Apara is the duality that is commonly experienced in the world.

Aham (अहं), in short, according to Abhinavagupta, encapsulates the process of evolution from the undifferentiated Absolute (Shiva) to the duality of the world, passing through the intermediate stage of Bheda- abeda, the threshold of creation, the Shakthi. All through such stages of seeming  duality , Shiva remains undivided (avibhaga vedanatmaka bindu rupataya).

The same principle underlines the transformation, in stages, of the supreme word Para Vac the Supreme Word, which is non-dual and identified with Supreme consciousness, into the articulate gross sound Vaikhari.


[ Abhinavagupta in his Paratrisika Vivarana says :  In all the dealings , whatever happens , whether it is a matter of knowledge (jnana) or action (kriya) – all of that arises in the fourth state (turyabhuvi) , that is in the Para-vac in an un-differentiated  (gatabhedam ) way. In Pashyanti which is the initial field in the order of succession (kramabhujisu) there is only a germ of difference. In Madhyamā, the distinction between jneya (the object of knowledge) and karya (action) appears inwardly, for a clear-cut succession or order is not possible at this stage (sphutakramayoge).

Moreover , Pashyanti and Madhyamā fully relying on Para which is ever present and from which there is no distinct distinction of these ( bhrsam param abhedato adhyasa)  (later ) regards that stage as if past like a mad man or one who has got up from sleep.


Abhinavagupta in his Para-trisika Varnana explains and illustrates the Tantric idiom ‘sarvam sarvatmakam’: everything is related to everything else. The saying implies that the universe is not chaotic ; but , is an inter-related system. The highest principle is related to the lowest (Shiva to the gross material object) .

Abhinavagupta illustrates this relation by resorting to play on the letters in the Sanskrit alphabets, and  the tattvas or the principles of reality.

He says “ the first is the state of Pasu , the bound individual; the second is the state of jivanmuktha or of the Pathi , the Lord himself  for : khechari –samata is the highest  state of Shiva both in life and in liberation”. Khechari is the Shakthi moving in free space (kha) , which is an image of consciousness. Khechari-samaya is described as the state of harmony and identity with the Divine I-consciousness-Akritrima-aham-vimarsha .]


In a play on words, Abhinavagupta turns Aham backwards into Maha; and, interprets it to mean the withdrawal (Samhara) or absorption of the material existence into the primordial state. Here again, in MAHA, the letter Ma stands for individual; Ha for Shakthi; and, A for Shiva (Anuttara the ultimate source).

In the reverse movement, Ma the individual (Nara) is absorbed into Shakthi (Ha) which enters back into the Anuttara the primal source the Shiva (A).  That is; in the process of withdrawal, all external objects come to rest or finally repose in the ultimate Anuttata aspect (Aham-bhava) of Shiva.

Thus the two states of expansion (sristi) and withdrawal (samhara) are pictured by two mantras Aham and Maha.

In both the cases, Shakthi is the medium. In Aham, it is through Shakthi that Shiva manifests as multiplicity. And, in Maha, Shakthi, again, is the medium through which the manifestation is absorbed back into Shiva. She, like the breath, brings out the inner into the outer; and again, draws back the outside into within. That is the reason Shakthi is often called the entrance to Shiva philosophy (Shaivi mukham ihocyate).

 Abhinavagupta remarks: this is the great secret (Etad Guhyam Mahaguhyam); this is the source of the emergence of the universe; and, this is the withdrawal of the mundane into the sublime Absolute. And, this also celebrates the wonder and delight (Chamatkara) emanating from the union of the two Shiva and Shakthi.


[ In all the voluminous and complex writings of Abhinavagupta, the symbolism of Heart (Hrudaya) plays an important role. He perhaps meant it to denote ‘the central point or the essence’. His religious vision is explained through the symbol of heart, at three levels – the ultimate reality, the method and the experience. The first; the Heart, that is, the ultimate nature (anuttara – there is nothing beyond) of all reality, is Shiva. The second is the methods and techniques employed (Sambhavopaya) to realize that ultimate reality.  And, the third is   to bring that ideal into ones experience.

The Heart here refers, in his words ‘to an experience that moves the heart (hrudaya-angami-bhuta). He calls the third, the state of realization as Bhairavatva, the state of the Bhairava. He explains through the symbolism of Heart to denote   the ecstatic light of consciousness as ‘Bhaira-agni-viliptam’, engulfed by the light of Bhairava that blazes and flames continuously. Sometimes, he uses the term ‘nigalita’ melted or dissolved in the purifying fire-pit the yajna–vedi of Bhairava. He presents the essential nurture (svabhava) of Bhairava as the  self-illuminating (svaprakasha) light of consciousness (Prakasha).  And, Bhairava is the core phenomenon (Heart – Hrudaya) and the ultimate goal of all spiritual Sadhanas.

When we use the term ‘understanding’, we also need to keep in view the sense in which Abhinavagupta used the term.  He makes a distinction between the understanding that is purely intellectual and the one that is truly experienced. The latter is the Heart of one’s Sadhana.

The Heart of Abhinavagupta is that a religious vision is not merely intellectual, emotional or imagined. But, it is an experience that is at once pulsating, powerful and transforming our very existence.

The Triadic Heart of Siva by Paul Eduardo Muller-Ortega]


In the next part let’s see the explanations and the discussions provided by Bhartrhari on the various levels of the language (Vac).



In the

 Next Part

Sources and References

Abhinavagupta and the word: some thoughts By Raffaele Torella

Sanskrit terms for Language and Speech

The Four levels of Speech in Tantra

Bettina Baeumer -Second Lecture – Some Fundamental Conceptions of Tantra

 Sphota theory of Bhartrhari

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 edited by Harold G. Coward, K. Kunjunni Raja, Karl H Potter

Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regained by William S. Haney



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The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine


Levels of speech

The various ancient texts speak of the levels of speech, which, generally, are taken to be four. Each School – Grammarians, Mimamsa, Upanishads, Tantra, Yoga, mythology etc – offers its own understanding and explanation of the four levels of speech. These levels are variously explained  as the varieties of  speech  that are said to be  spoken either in four regions of  the universe;  or spoken by divine beings and humans ; or as speech of the  humans , animals, birds and creatures .  These four are even explained as four levels of consciousness.

For our limited purpose, let us briefly scan through other interpretations, before we discuss  the Grammarians’ views and their explanations of the four levels of speech.


The Asya-vamiya – sukta  (Rig Veda: 1.140- 164) which is one the most philosophical , but  rather enigmatic Suktas (hymns) of Rig Veda, ascribed to Rishi Dīrghatamas  Aucathya  (son of  Ucathya  ),  who was  also called as Mamateya (son of Mamata) ,  mentions  about the levels of speech, among many other things.

According to Rishi Dīrghatamas, there are four levels of speech. Only the wise who are well trained, endowed with intelligence and understanding know them all. As for the rest; the three levels remain concealed and motionless. Mortals know  only  the fourth.

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihita nengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti. (Rigveda Samhita – 1.164.45)

But, he does not specify what those four levels of speech are.


The notion that there are four quarters or  four levels of existence ; and of which, only  one quarter is within the experience of mortals also appears in the Purusha-sukta  (Rig-Veda 10.90.3) ascribed to Rishi Narayana – Paadosya Vishva Bhutaani Tri-Paada-Asya-Amrtam Divi .

There are similar notions with regard to Pranava Om where the three syllables A, Vu, and Ma are normally visible. But it is its fourth element the Anusvara (Brahma-bindu) that leads from being to non-being; and , from the word to the silence beyond it.

svarena samdhayed yogam asvaram bhävayet param asvarena hi bhävena bhävo näbhäva  isyate– Brahmabindu Upanishad

And, there is also the Turiya paada (Chaturtha or Fourth) the fourth line of the Gayatri mantra. It is said; while the traditional three lines of Gayatri mantra can be grasped by reason, the fourth line, which is mystical in its import, and can be comprehended only through intuition. The fourth line (Turiya paada) which reads ‘paro rajas ya tapati’ is said to be hidden (darshatasya) or un-manifest (apad); beyond intellect; resplendendent, shining beyond the worlds known; and , which is the support of the Gayatri itself and of the Universe.


That idea of four quarters  is extended to speech as well. The texts of several traditions speak of four levels of speech. For instance :

The Maitrayaniya (Maitri) Upanishad (1, 11.5), of Krishna Yajur-Veda, mentions the four quarters of speech as those belonging:  to the upper region – the heavens (Divi); to the intermediate space (Antariksha); and, to the region of earth (Prithvi) as spoken by the humans (Manusi); and, to the animals (Pashu).

The Atmavadins (mainly those belonging to Nyaya and Vaisesika Schools) say: the four fold speech can be found in the animals; in musical instruments (such a flute); in the beasts ; and,  in the individuals (Atmani)

–  pasusu tunavesu mrgesu atmani ca iti atmavadinah

The Satapatha Brahmana (1.3.16) categorizes the speech into four kinds: as that of the humans; of animals and birds (vayamsi); of reptiles (snakes); and, of small creeping things (kshudram sarisrpam)

– varā vā ia iti hi varā io yadida kudra sarīspa

Similarly, those who believe in myths and legends say that – the serpents; birds; evil creatures; as also the humans in their dealings with the rest of the world – all use speech of their own.

Sarpanam vagvayasam ksudrasarispasya ca caturthi vyavaharika-ityaitihasikah 

The Jaiminiya-Upanishad-Brahmana (1.40.1)  deals with the four levels of speech in a little more detail. In a verse that is almost identical to the one appearing in Rig-Veda Samhita – 1.164.45, it mentions that the discriminating wise know of four quarters of speech.  Three of these remain hidden; while the fourth is what people ordinarily speak.

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihita nengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti //

Then, the text goes on to explain that of the four quarters of speech: mind is a quarter, sight is another quarter, hearing is the third quarter; and, speech itself is the fourth quarter. 

 tasya etasyai vaco manah padas caksuh padas srotram pado vag eca caturtah padah

Further, it says: what he thinks with the mind, that he speaks with speech; what he sees with the sight, that he speaks with the speech; and, what he hears with hearing, that he speaks with speech.

 tad yad vai manasa dyayanti tad vaco vadati; yac caksus pasyati tad vaca vadati; yac srotrena srunoti tad vaco vadati/

Thus, finally, all activities of senses unite (Sam) into speech. Therefore speech is the Saman.

Nageshabhatta (Ca. between 1670 and 1750), in his commentary on Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, accepts the four forms of Vac; and, explains the expression ‘Catvari padjatani namakhyato-upasargani-patah ‘as referring to Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari :

 Bhashya padajatani Para-Pashyanti-Madhyama- Vaikhari rupani / ata evagre nipatah  ceti cakarah sangacchate


In the later Upanishads, speech is said to be assimilated with consciousness. The four divisions of speech are explained as four states of consciousness. For instance; Sri Gauda-Paada, the Parama-Guru of Sri Sankara (the teacher of his teacher) , in his celebrated commentary (Gaudapada-karika) on the Mandukya Upanishad while explaining his concept of Asparsha Yoga or pure knowledge,  identifies the four levels of speech with the four states of consciousness : Vishva or Vaisvanara in wakeful state (Jagrat); Taijasa in dream state (Svapna); Prajna in deep-sleep (Shushupti); and, Pranava AUM with Turiya, the fourth, the Absolute state which transcends all the three states and represents Ultimate Reality .


Explanations offered by Sri Sayana

Sri Sayana in his Rg-Bhashya   deals with the subject of four levels of speech in a little more detail. He says, people use speech in a variety of ways to fulfil their roles and responsibilities in life. And, similarly, the animals, birds, creatures and objects in nature do use their own sort of speech to serve their needs.  He  then , while explaining these four levels or quarters of speech (ani tani catwari ityatra bahavah) , remarks that  each School  offers explanations  (bahudha  varnayanti ) according to its own  tenets  (sva- sva-mantanu-rodhena). He, next, briefly mentions what those explanations are:

: – According to Vedantins, the four levels of speech could be the Pranava (Aum) – which is the sum and substance of all the Vedic terms (sarva-vaidika-vag-jalasaya), followed by three Vyahritis (Bhu, Bhuh and Suvah). Thus the Pranava along with three Vyahritis form the four quarters of speech.

: – According to Nirukta (Etymology), the language of the three Vedas (Rik, Yajus and  Saman ) and the speech commonly used  for dealings in the world , together make the four quarters of speech– (Rg-yajuh-samani-caturdhi vyavharikiti nairuktah )

: – The four levels of speech could also be related to four regions representing four deities : on the Earth as Agni (yo prthivyam sa-agnau); in the mid-air as Vayu (Ya-antarikshe sa vayau); and, in the upper regions as Aditya (Ya divi saditye). And whatever that remains and transcends the other three is in Brahman (Tasya-mad-brahmana).

: – The speech, though it is truly indivisible, is measured out or analyzed in the Grammar as of four kinds or four parts-of-speech (akhandayah krtsnaya vacah caturvidha vyakrtattvat).  Accordingly, the four divisions of speech are named by the followers of the various Schools of Grammar (vyakarana-matanus-arino) as: Naaman (Nouns), Akhyata (Verbs), Upasarga (prepositions or prefixes) and Nipata (particles)

:-  According to the wise who are capable of exercising control over their mind; the Yogis who have realized Sabdabrahman; and, others of the Mantra (Tantra) School,  these four levels of speech (Evam catvari vacah padani parimitani)  are classified as : Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari.

Manisinah manasah svaminah svadhinamanaska brahmana vacyasya sabdabrahmani dhigantaro yoginah paradicatvari padani viduh jananti 

Apare mantrkah parkarantarena pratipadanti Para, Pasyanti, Madhyama   Vaikhariti catvariti 


The power of the spoken word

In the Indian traditions, it is believed that it is only  in its oral form that the language becomes fully alive and reveals  its true nature , provided it is spoken properly.  For Indian thinkers, language was  primarily the spoken word or speaking itself (vac); while the written word, as a secondary aid, was only a coded-representation of the spoken word; but, without its nuances. Perhaps the most salient feature of ancient Indian linguistic culture was its concern for preserving the purity of the spoken word.

It was the speech, the spoken word not the written letter that is at the base of the Sanskrit grammar. All speculations and practices are concerned with the oral. Panini’s Astadhyayi is also based on the sounds of spoken Sanskrit. The spoken language in Sanskrit was/is the real language.

Therefore, right from the earliest period, the study of speech has been one of the major concerns of various Schools of Indian traditions. The power of the spoken word or still more of the potent un-spoken sound was well recognized.


Levels of awareness and speech

The notion of various levels of awareness and speech is accepted and discussed in almost all the Schools of Indian philosophy and Grammar. Although numerous meanings are read into the term catvari vak (four kinds or levels of speech), the one that is commonly understood and commented upon by most Grammarians and philosophers is the classification of speech into four strata: Para; Pashyanti; Madhyama; and, Vaikhari.

The entire system of such classification is rooted in the faith that at the top of this language hierarchy, there is only One-indivisible (ekameva) Reality; and, it transforms itself (Vivarta), manifests itself , resulting (Parinama) in  variety of  sounds,  word, sentence etc.

The theory underlying the evolution of speech is an extension of that faith; and it asserts, though there are several levels in the hierarchy of language, they all emanate from one indivisible reality Sabdabrahman. And again, the Sabdabrahman is identified with Para Brahman, the Absolute.

The principle that is involved here is also based in the dictum that diversity essentially pre-supposes an underlying unity (abedha-purvaka hi bhedah).  In other words, it says, where there is difference or division there must be a fundamental identity underneath it ; else, each cannot relate to the other; and , each object in the world would be independent of , or unconnected to  every other thing in existence.

This concept provides the foundation for treating all forms of speech as emanating from a single source. The various levels of language from the most subtle to the gross are, therefore, treated as hierarchy or the levels of a unitary language-system. Most of the philosophical speculations on the process of manifestation of language; and, the discussions upon its various stages – from the subtlest (Para) to the most explicit (Vaikhari) – are based in that principle.


Grammarians’ view

Each of the major schools of Indian philosophy and Grammar tried to explain the origin and nature of the Universe by exploring the nature and manifestations of the sound. They built elaborate philosophical edifices around the concepts they evolved during that process. Those traditions considered sound as one of the most important principles of existence; as the source of matter ; and , also the key to be free from it. They described Sound as the thread-like link connecting  the material and spiritual realms.

The analysis of the speech by the Grammarians is not merely an intellectual exercise, but is also a philosophical quest in an attempt to identify all forms of speech as originating from Sabda-Brahman, the ultimate ground of all speech phenomena. The study of Grammar was itself looked upon as a means or as a right-royal-path to liberation (moksha-manamam ajihma raja-paddhatih).


Speech was  regarded as the verbal expression of a thought that arises in a person’s consciousness. If there is no consciousness, there would be no speech. Speech (Vac) is indeed an outward form of consciousness (chetana). Vac is the word principle that gives expression to the latent or unmanifest thoughts and feelings.

That was meant to say; thinking is, in fact, a sort of internal speaking. Such inaudible speech was regarded the seed or the potent form of explicit speech that is heard by others. It was also said; all knowledge is interpreted in terms of words; and, it is quite not possible to have any sort of cognition that is free from words (Vakyapadiya: 1.123)

The process of transformation of a thought or an impulse arising in ones consciousness into a cognizable, explicit speech is said to resemble the evolution of the Universe from the un-manifest (A-vyakta) to the manifest (Vyakta) material world.

Such process of unfolding is said to take place, at least, in two stages. The first one is the thought that flashes and takes a form within. And, the other is that which comes out as audible speech riding the vehicle of words and sentences; attempting to convey the idea that arose within.  The former is intuition that springs up; and, the latter is the effort that is exerted, both internally and externally, to put it out.

Here, the latent, unspoken form of thought that instinctively springs up and is visualised, within one’s self, is called Pashyanti Vak (thought visualized). The Pashyanti, which also suggests the visual image of the word, is indivisible and without inner-sequence; in the sense, that the origin and destination of speech are one. Here, the ‘internal speech’ or ‘thought’ stands for what is intended to be conveyed. That intention is instinctive (prathibha) and immediate; and, it does not involve stages such as: analysis, speculation, drawing inferences and so on. At the level of Pashyanti Vak, there is no distinction between word and meaning. And, there is also no temporal sequence.

The Pashyanti Vak thereafter transforms into an intellectual process, the level of thought (Buddhi), during which the speaker looks for and identifies appropriate words, phrases, and their sequence, which are capable of conveying his intention candidly. That sequence of thoughts results in definite and clear array of words. As that cognition arises and takes a form within, he grasps it. This is the intermediate stage – The Madhyama vak, a sequenced but a pre-vocal thought – described as the voice of silence; perhaps best understood as internal speaking. Here, there is no perceptible sound (Nada). The Madhyama vak is in an inaudible wave or vibratory (spandana) form.

And, the Madhyama, when it is put out explicitly through uttered words and sentences; and, when it comes out of the speaker’s mouth in sequenced and verbalized speech-form, it is called Vaikhari Vak. For the purpose of putting out the Vaikhari Vac, the speaker employs a sentence comprising words uttered in a sequence. The word itself comprises letters or syllables (varnas) that follow one after the other in space and time.

Thus, the Vaikhari is the articulated speech, which, as sound waves, reaches the ears of the listener and then on to her/his intellect.  The Vaikhari is the physical or gross form of the subtle thought or is the outward expression of the intention of the speaker. And, when it emerges as the spoken-word, it is the one that is heard and apprehended by the listener, in a flash of understanding (Sphota). 

 [The process of Hearing, that is what is heard and grasped by the listener, of course, operates in the reverse direction.]

The spoken word comes out of one’s mouth, no doubt. However, it needs the assistance of breath and of several body parts in order to manifest itself (Vikhara literally means body; and, Vaikhari is that which employs bodily organs). The head, throat, tongue, palate, teeth, lips, nose, root of the tongue and bosom are said to be the eight places which assist  the sounds of the letters to become audible and explicit.

When a person wills to express a thought orally, the air (Prana) inside his body spurs and moves up. Sabda or the Vac (speech or utterance) then manifests through Dhvani (sound patterns), with the assistance of appropriate organs.

[The King Pratardana of Kasi (Kasi-rajah-Pratardanaha), in the Kausitaki Upanishad, makes an interesting observation that one cannot breathe and speak at the same time (‘when a man speaks he cannot breathe; and when he breaths he cannot speak’- kau.Up.2.5).

Yavadvai purusho bhasate na tavat-pranitum shaknoti pranam …. Yavadvai purushah praniti na tavat-bhashitum shaknoti vacam-kau.Up.2.5]

Thus, the transformation of a thought into spoken-words involves two kinds of effort: the internal process (abhyantara prayatna) and the external effort (bahya prayatna). The former is classified into two kinds (Pashyanti and Madhyama), while the latter (the external) is said to be of eleven kinds.

And, of the three levels or stages of speech, Pashyanti is regarded the subtle forms of Vac; while Madhyama and Vaikhari are its gross forms.

The chief characteristic of Vaikhari Vak is that it has a fully developed temporal sequence. At this level, the speaker’s individual peculiarities (such as accent, voice modulation etc) are present, along with relevant parts of speech. Though the Vaikhari gives expression to subtler forms of Vac, it is not considered as the’ ultimate’.


The ancient Grammarians went to great lengths, systematically, to trace the origination of each letter, its appropriate sound; the intricacies and efforts involved in producing them. (Please see the Note * below)


[* In the Sanskrit, the vowels and consonants sounds are classified and arranged dependent on their origin (pronunciation) in different parts of mouth, such as throat, palate, teeth or lips.

The vowels and consonants are so arranged that those emanating from the throat come first. These are followed by those pronounced through tongue; the palate; teeth and the lips. All sounds are arranged as those from the inside of the mouth proceeding outwards, in that order. No other ancient system of writing seems to have been so systematically thought out.

The vowels (Svara-s) , alternating long and short, come first : अ(a)  (aa)  इ(i)   ई(ee)  उ(u)  ऊ(oo)  ऋ(r)  ॠ(r)  लृ(lr)  ए(e)  ऐ(ai)  ओ(o)  and औ(au)

The commencing vowels अ(a) and  (aa)  are pronounced in the throat – Kantya  (कण्ठ्य). They are followed by vowels इ(i) and  ई(ee) produced by the tongue touching the base of the teeth ,Taalavya (तालव्य). The vowels उ(u)  and ऊ(oo)  are produced using the lips making a rounded opening – Oshtya (ओष्ठ्य).  The vowels ऋ(r) and ॠ(r) are produced by the tip of the tongue curling back against the roof of the mouth- Murdhanya (मूर्धन्य). The vowel लृ(lr) is produced by the tongue touching the upper teeth – Dantya (दंत्य).  The vowels ए (e) and ऐ (ai)   are produced near the throat by the tongue touching the bottom of the teeth and sucking in the air – Kanta-taalavya (कंटतालव्य).  The vowels  (o) and औ (au) produced near the throat by the rounding of the lips are called Kantoshtya (कंटोष्ठ्य).

The two ornamental nasal (Anusvara) letters अं (am) and  अः (aha ) ,which are used to decorate the vowels, are called the Visarga , meaning  sending forth . These sounds, which are neither consonants nor vowels, add a softening short burst effect at the end.  These are usually listed as a part of the vowel -group; but are shown at the end.

Similar is the emanation of the consonants – from throat outwards to the lips .

The set of consonants – क(ka) , ख(kha) , ग(ga) , घ(gha) , and ङ(nga) – are guttural (throaty) consonants – Kantya  (कण्ठ्य). Then the consonants – च(cha) , छ(chha) , ज(ja) , झ(jha) , and ञ(nja)- are pronounced on the palate- Taalavya (तालव्य). The next set of consonants –  ट(ta)  ,ठ(tha) , ड(da) , ढ(dha)  and ण(na) – is  produced by the tip of the tongue curling back against the roof of the mouthMurdhanya (मूर्धन्य). Next are  those on the teeth (दन्त्य), like – त(ta) , थ(tha) , द(da) , ध(dha) and  न(na) . And last come those on the lips प(pa)  फ(pha)  ब(ba)  भ(bha)  and म(ma) – (ओष्ठ्य). Oshtya (ओष्ठ्य).

The list is rounded off with semi-consonants like – य(ya) , र(ra) , ल(la)  and व(va) ; and the aspirated and sibilant sounds like श(sha)  ष(sha) ,  स(sh)  and ह (ha ).

Such unique organization of the alphabet underlines the attention paid to the patterns of articulated sound; points  of its location; and , to degree of resonance,  in a way that has not been attempted in any other language]

[ Abhinavagupta offers a mystic explanation of the arrangement of the Sanskrit alphabets, which are placed in between A and Ha. According to him, in the Sanskrit alphabet, the very first letter A stands for Shiva, the primal source of all existence. A is the initial emergence of all the other letters; and hence is Anuttara, the absolute. And, A not only represents the origin of the language; but, also the expansion of consciousness.

If A  the first letter represents Shiva the transcendent source, then Ha the final letter of the alphabet represents the point of completion when all the letters have emerged. If A is Shiva, Ha the last letter is Shakthi, His cosmic outpouring that flows back into Him.

Again, the vowels (Bija – the seed) are identified with Shiva; and, the consonants are Yoni identified with Shakthi. The intertwined vowels and consonants in a language are thus the union of Shiva and Shakthi.

Thus, the sequence of A to Ha contains within itself not only all the letters of the Alphabets, but also every phase of consciousness, both transcendental and universal.

The entire sequence of alphabets, according to Abhinavagupta, represents the state in which all the elements of experience, in the inner and the outer worlds, are fully displayed.]


Philosophers’ view

In the ancient traditions of India, the Grammar, the philosophy of Grammar and the Philosophy run into one another. At times, it is hard to separate them.

While the Grammarians, generally, speak about three levels of speech, the philosophers identify four levels or stages of speech (Vac): Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari.  Of these four forms of Vac, Para and Pashyanti are the subtle forms of Vac; while Madhyama and Vaikhari are its gross forms.

The explanations of the Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari are almost the same as offered by the Grammarians; however, their interpretations and connotations differ slightly.


It is said; the sound has four divisions:  Para manifested in Prana (vital energy); Pashyanti manifested in the mind (Manas); Madhyama manifested in the senses (Indriyani); and, Vaikhari manifested in articulate expressions (Vac).

Para Vac is the ultimate and unmanifest principle of speech, the Sabda-tattva (Sabdasya tattvam or Sabda eva tattvam), where there is no subject-object distinction; and, is of the nature of the Absolute (vag vai Brahmeti).

Para vac is identified with Pranava (Aum), the primordial speech-sound from which all forms of speech emanated. It transforms or manifests (Vivarta or parinama) as all forms of sounds, speech etc.


According to Abhinavagupta, word is a symbol. The four stage of Vac: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari represent its four phases of evolution and also of absorption; the ascent or descent from the undifferentiated to the gross.

It is explained; Para Vac as Sabda-Brahman is the creative energy (Shakthi) that brings forth all existence. It is also the consciousness (chit, samvid), vital energy (prana shakthi) that vibrates (spanda) and enlivens.

While Para Vac is pure consciousness; the three other forms are its transformations. The three lower forms of speech viz. Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari which correspond to intention, formulation and expression are said to represent ts powers , such as :  iccha-shakthi (power of intent or will) , jnana-shakthi (power of knowledge) and the power of becoming (bhuti sakti) or the power of action (Kriya shakthi  ). Thus, out of the transcendent Para, the three phases of its power (Shakthi) emanate.

The urge to communicate or the spontaneous evolution of Para into Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari   epitomizes the Cosmic act of One becoming many; and, the subtle energy transforming into a less- subtle matter.

Thus, the speech, each time it emanates, is an enactment, in miniature, of the unfolding (Vimarsa) of the One into many.  And each time, when that speech is grasped by the listener and each time it merges into her/his intellect, it re-enacts the process of absorption (Samhara) of the many into One.

The process of manifestation of speech is, thus, compared to the evolution of the Universe. And, that process is said to take place in four stages. First, in the undifferentiated substratum of thought, an intention appears. This first impulse, the self-radiant consciousness is Para-vac (the voice beyond).  This latent, un-spoken, un-manifest, silent thought (Para) unfolds itself in the next three stages as Pashyanti (thought visualized), Madhyama (intermediate)   and as Vaikhari  (explicit) speech).

In its second stage, the subtle thought visualised (pashyanthi-vak) is yet to acquire a verbal form. It is the first sprout of an invisible seed (Bija); and, is the second stage in the manifestation of thought or intention. Then the potential sound, the vehicle of the thought, materializes finding   words suitable to express the idea. This transformation of thought into words, in the silence of the mind (Buddhi), is the third or the intermediate stage of Vac (Madhyama-vak). From this non-vocal or un-voiced thought, emerges the fourth stage – the audible sound patterns. It is in that fourth stage, the ideas acquire cognizable forms of speech; and, are transmitted through articulated audible syllables (vaikhari-vak).  These four stages are the four forms of the speech.



The three- Pashyanthi, Madhyama and Vaikhari – are construed as the three sides of the triangle at the centre of which is the dot-point (Bindu) representing the undifferentiated notion of Para-Vak. The triangle with the Bindu at its centre suggests the idea of Isvara the divinity conceived as non-dual Shiva-Shakti.

In the traditions of Tantra, the process of evolution of the principle of speech (Sabda Brahman) from its most subtle and soundless state of sound – consciousness (Para), in successive stages, into the gross physical speech (Vaikhari) is explained through the principle underling the structure of Sri Chakra.


Sri Yantra is a ‘Cosmogram’ – a graphic representation of the processes of evolution (Sristi) of the Universe emanating from its core; and, re-absorption (Samhara) of the created existence back into itself. And, at the very core or the centre of the Sri Chakra is the Bindu, the dimensionless point about to expand immensely. The Bindu denotes what is hidden; the subtle and the most sensitive.

It is said; the true nature of the Supreme Goddess is beyond mind and matter. She is limitless and formless. She is Arupa. But, when She takes a form, the Bindu is her intense representation. The Bindu symbolizes Her most subtle micro form as the Universal Mother, womb, yoni, creator, retainer as also the receiver of the created universe. It is this Bindu that is, in reality, the Sri Chakra; and, everything else is an expansion and manifestation of its aspects.

The Sri Vidya texts call the Bindu also as Sarva-ananda-maya (all blissful); and, the transcendental power (Para Shakthi). It denotes the absolute harmony (saamarasya) between Shiva and Shakthi; as the immense potential of the non-dual Shiva-Shakthi, the union of Purusha and Prakriti.

The evolution (shristi) from the primary state into the mundane level is said to be the apparent separation of Shiva and Shakthi (avarohana karma). And, the reverse process of re-absorption or withdrawal from the gross to the very subtle state is termed Samhara karma.

According to Sri Vidya ideology, in the process of evolution (Vimarsa), that is in the process of shristi or the outward movement or descending arc of creative activity, the speech proceeds from the creative consciousness pulsations (spanda) of the Devi as Para-Vac, the most subtle and silent form of speech-consciousness. And, in successive stages or forms,  it moves on to more cognizable forms as : Pashyanti (Vak-shakthi, going forth as seeing, ready to create in which there is no difference between Vachya– object and Vachaka-word); Madhyama (the speech in its subtle form as existing in the anthahkarana prior to manifestation); and, Vaikhari (as articulated gross physical speech).

If the Bindu represents the Para-Vac, its immediate expanded form, the triangle formed by three points, represents the Pashyanti, the second stage of the sound (Nada). The enclosure next to this, the eight sided figure (ashta kona chakra) is the Madhyama or the third stage in the development of sound. The rest of the Chakra represents the physical or the phenomenal stage, the Vaikhari, which is the manifest and articulate form of sound. The Vaikhari form is represented by the fifty letters of the alphabet, called Matrka-s or the source of all transactions and existence.

Thus, in the process of Sristi, in the outward movement from the centre of Reality to the periphery, from the most sublime to the ordinary, the Para assumes different forms, in successive stages. All these four forms, apparently different, are indeed the manifestations of Para Vac which pervades the entire structure of speech and consciousness, in all their levels – from the highest to the lowest; and, it transforms (Vivarta) projects itself in various forms (Parinama).  

 (Abhinavagupta treats these aspects in a very elaborate manner. We shall talk about the explanations provided by Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari in the next part.)



 The Tantra explains the concept of Mantra and Japa in a similar manner.

Mantra is said to connect, in a very special way, the objective and subjective aspects of reality. The Mantra, in its sublime form, is rooted in pure consciousness. The Shaiva text Shiva Sutra describes Mantras as the unity of Vac and consciousness: Vac chittam (Shiva Sutra: 2.1). It is the living sound, transcending beyond the mental plane; the indistinct or undefined speech (anirukta) having immense potential.  In its next stage, it unites harmoniously with the mind. Here, it is union of mind (Manas) and word (Vac).  That is followed by the Mantra repeated in the silence of one’s heart (tushnim). The silent form of mantra is said to be superior to the whispered (upamasu) utterance.

[When one utters a deity’s Mantra, one is not naming the deity, but is evoking its power as a means to open oneself to it. It is said; mantra gives expression to the identity of the name (abhidana) with the object of contemplation (abhideya). Therefore, some describe mantra as a catalyst that’ allows the potential to become a reality’. It is both the means (upaya) and the end (upeya).]

The reverse is said to be the process of Japa (reciting or muttering the mantra). It moves from Vaikhari through Madhyama towards Pashyanti and ideally, and in very cases, to Para vak.

Ordinarily, Japa starts in Vaikhari form (vocal, muttering). The efficacy of the Japa does depend on the will, the dedication and the attentiveness of the person performing the Japa. After long years of constant practice, done with devotion and commitment, an extraordinary thing happens. Now, the Japa no longer depends on the will or the state of activity of the practitioner. It seeps into his consciousness; and, it goes on automatically, ceaselessly and inwardly without any effort of the person, whether he is awake or asleep. Such instinctive and continuous recitation is called Ajapa-japa. When this proceeds for a long-time, it is said; the consciousness moves upward (uccharana) and becomes one with the object of her or his devotion.

[The term Ajapa-japa is also explained in another manner. A person exhales with the sound ‘Sa’; and, she/he inhales with the sound ‘Ha’. This virtually becomes Ham-sa mantra ( I am He; I am Shiva). A person is said to inhale and exhale 21,600 times during a day and night. Thus, the Hamsa mantra is repeated (Japa) by everyone, each day, continuously, spontaneously without any effort, with every round of breathing in and out. And, this also is called Ajapa-japa.]



The system of Yoga also accepts and speaks in terms of Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari. Here, those terms are meant to denote different sounds (Nada) or the stages of consciousness. It is explained:

: – Para is the most subtle form of sound, not audible; and, in its un-manifest (Avyakta) form resides as Nada at the base (Karana-bindu) in the centre of the Muladhara-chakra, solar plexus (Ekaiva nadatmika vak muladharadudita sati Para ityucyate)


: – And, with the ascent of Prana (vital energy) it moves up to Manipuraka-chakra in the region of navel; and, it is transformed to Pashyanti when it enters the heart-region (hradayakhya) and becomes visible to the Yogis (hradayakhya udiyamanatvat)


The Pashyanti (radiant) stage is compared to a well nourished seed (Bija) which sprouts into two leaves. it, then, acquires the qualities of subtle sound ( which is not audible to the physical ear) , and hue of colour (varna) which can be seen (Pashyan).

: – The Pashyanti, moving up and enters the mind (Buddhi) with a desire or the urge to express itself (Saiva buddhim gata vivaksam prapta madhyama ityucyate). And, on reaching the Anahata–chakra in the region of the heart, it is transformed into Madhyama Vac.  Anahata literally means un-struck. Here; the subtle sound (Nada) at the level of the mind is like ‘internal-speech’ which is heard, internally, by the Yogi.


[It is said; the Vac which sprouts in Para gives forth leaves in Pashyanti; buds forth in Madhyama; and, it blossoms in Vaikhari.]

: – When the Madhyama moves up further from heart-region to throat, tongue and mouth it becomes articulate (Vyakta) sound, clearly audible to the external ear at the Vishudhi -chakra. This is Vaikhari, the last stage of sound or speech when it emerges out of the mouth with the help of syllables, words etc and is heard by the listener. And, Vaikhari is the intended speech that comes out clearly through the mouth with the assistance of tongue, lips, teeth and the breath


(Atha yada saiva vaktre sthita talvosthadivyaparena bahirnirgacchati tada vaikhari ityuchyate)

Nageshabhatta in his Parama-laghu-manjusha also   describes the four forms of Vac (Para-Pashyanti-Madhyama- Vaikhari), in terms of the Yoga, as those arising from Muladhara, Nabi (navel); Hridaya (heart region) and Kanta (throat)



Other explanations

Various other interpretations are also imposed on these four terms.

It is said;   Para represents transcendental consciousness; Pashyanti the intellectual consciousness; Madhyama the cerebral consciousness; and, Vaikhari the physical consciousness.

Further, these levels of consciousness are said to correspond with varying levels of awareness:  Turia (the fourth, the transcendental or the one-beyond); Shushupti (deep sleep); Svapna (dream state) ; and Jagrat ( wakeful state) , in that order.

And again, these states of consciousness are said to relate to different states of being (bodies). Para which is referred to as the Supreme form; the first form; the pure and resplendent Highest-light etc, is indeed beyond all forms (Turiya); and it is formless. The sphere of consciousness at Pashyanti is said to be the causal body (Karana-sarira); at Madhyama, the subtle or psychic body (Sukshma-sarira); and at Vaikhari, the physical body (Sthula-sarira).

While Para is pure consciousness, the other three are said to be its powers through which it differentiates as its power of will (iccha shakthi) at the subtle level of Pashyanti; as the power of discrimination or knowledge (Jnana shakthi) at the mental level of Madhyama; and, as its power of action (Kriya Shakthi) at the physical  level of Vaikhari.


In the next part, let’s talk about the theories expounded and the explanations offered by two of the great thinkers – Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari- on the subject.

Buddha Meditation Song




The next part

Sources and References

Ritam “The Word in the Rig-Veda and in Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri

.Vedic river and Hindu civilization; edited by Dr. S. Kalyanaraman

Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India…Edited by John Muir

Devata Rupa-Mala(Part Two) by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 edited by Harold G. Coward, K. Kunjunni Raja, Karl H



Posted by on April 8, 2017 in Artha-Meaning, Bhartrhari, Sanskrit


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