Tag Archives: Prana

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 .

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.


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)


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



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Who was Uddalaka Aruni – Part Two

Continued from Part One

Uddalaka Aruni – Life and his search

Philosopher- creation of Shri S Rajam

(Philosopher- creation of Shri S Rajam)

15.1. As mentioned earlier, Uddalaka Aruni was a classic student, teacher and a philosopher of the Upanishad times. He is recognized among all the Upanishad sages and teachers as the true representative of the Upanishad age and its spirit of rational enquiry. He   is reckoned    among great of thinkers and real philosophers. Uddalaka Aruni was systematic and cogent in his approach; and, he put forward rational explanations on the nature of Man and the nature of Universe without employing the terms Brahman or God. He retained till the end, an open mind and a keen desire to learn. He remained a student all his life; yet, he was the best of the teachers.

15.2. In the philosophical texts, Uddalaka Aruni was perhaps the first to apply a form of experimental verification . His method of investigation was based in observation of facts (drstanta) and drawing inference by way of induction. Which, in other words, was reasoning and generalization based on observation. The process of his inference moves from the particular to the general, from species to the genus or from appearances to reality.


16.1. According to Uddalaka, there is nothing that is unmixed in the material world. All matter is derived from three primordial elements (dhatus: fire, water and earth) combined in various proportions. Again, each of these elements has in it some traces of the other two.  And, every material substance is composed of infinite number of extremely small particles (anu), so tightly packed they appear as a continuous whole leaving no scope for void. Each of these particles, according to him, is qualitatively different from the other; and is infinitely divisible. Each minute particle (anu) is in a churning motion within itself, by virtue of which it spontaneously unfolds or evolves; each according to its quality or nature.

The particles ceaselessly separate and recombine into newer forms.

16. 2. But, all matter composed of infinite number of   minute particles is animated by one and the same pure and invisible energy (Sat). It pervades all parts of  all living bodies as their living principle (jiva).Therefore, each living body or an organism is an animated whole, all parts of which being   pervaded by one and the same living principle. That invisible power, the potent energy or vitality is present in the core of all beings, as in the womb of a tiny seed from which a huge banyan tree springs forth into existence. When that life-force leaves any part of the tree; say, a branch of the tree, then that branch withers away and ceases to an integral part of the living whole. And, when that life-force leaves the whole tree, then the tree withers and dies. But the living principle (jiva or atman) never dies.

16.3. Uddalaka conceives Sat, the origin of all things and all beings, not as an abstract concept but as real being; alive and capable of forming a wish. It appears to be a physical conception of the power of existence. It is absolute, pure and unmixed, indivisible, universal and un-manifested. When Sat entered into the three dominant elements in order to enliven them, it was not divided in the process; it remained the Absolute. There is nothing that does not come from Sat. Eventually, at the end; everything is absorbed back into That from which everything emerged. The process of going back is natural and automatic. It does not need the striving of the individual; and it occurs in every case no matter whether one is aware of it or not

16.4. Jiva or Atman is the living principle in individual beings, plants and matter; and it is identical in almost every respect with the universal spirit (Sat). It animates, in varying degrees, all kinds of matter. The various distinct  objects, their varied natures as also their names and forms (nama-rupa) that one comes across in this world of conditional existence are conceptions of the mind and verbal identifications to enable one to distinguish one object from the other. But the proof of the existence of One subtle –force (Sat) which gives birth to and sustains all life is beyond the realm of subjective sense-cognition. It is possible understand That only through reasoning, grasped in faith.

[Here , Sat and the elements (dhatus) are, roughly, analogues to Purusha and Prakrti of the Samkhya. But, in Uddalaka’s hypothesis they work together and are entwined, unlike in Samkhya where they are ever separate.]

16.5. Following his observations and reasoning, Uddalaka tried to demonstrate the essential oneness of man and nature; that everything in the universe is made from the primeval matter, which in turn is enlivened by one and the same life-force. According to him, in the ultimate analysis, man is nothing but an evolution of  That essence. His view was crisply captured in the epithet “That thou art, Svetaketu (Tat tvam asi)”.

16.6. Uddalaka did not involve a supernatural agency in the making of man or his world. He did not refer to God or any other Supernatural Being. According to him, the process of evolution, sustenance and eventual withdrawal into the source follows, at each stage, its own natural laws. Death according to him is a natural phenomenon where the body disintegrates into matter, water and heat. And, its living-principle (jiva) eventually resolves back into ‘Sat’ the primal source.

Early years

17.1. Uddalaka’s power of exposition shines forth in part six of the Chandogya Upanishad. He also figures in Kausitaki Upanishad (Kau.Up.1.1-2) and in Satapatha Brahmana (11. 4.1-9) where he is portrayed as a person of considerable wisdom and humility that is ever willing to learn from whosoever possessed knowledge he wished to acquire. Mahabharata briefly refers to an incident from his early student days, picturing him as an earnest pupil of Rishi Ayodah-Dhaumya (Mbh.1.3.638). This incident brings out Uddalaka’s dedication to work and absolute faith in his teacher’s commands.

17.2. Uddalaka son of Aruna Aupavesi of Gautama gotra, resident of Kuru-Panchala Desha, came from a long line of sage-scholars. His country, Panchala Desha, is identified as a region in Madhya Desha; the region south of the Himalayan foothills and the North of the Ganga in the present-day Uttar Pradesh. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (6.5.2-3) in its linage of teachers (vamsha-brahmana) lists fourteen generations of revered teachers and scholars of great merit. According to that rendering, Uddalaka Aruni was the son of Aruna Aupavesi Gautama who was the son or disciple of Upavesa. It is said; Upavesa followed Kushri the student of   Vajasravas. Uddalaka’s immediate ancestors were scholars of great merit. His father Aruna is an important name even in Satapatha Brahmana, while Upavesha is mentioned in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad as a great Rishi.

17.3. Aruni of Panchala, son of Aruna Aupavesi Gautama, had his early education under the famous teacher (upadhyaya) Ayoda-Dhaumya. Two of his class-mates mentioned are: Upamanyu and Veda (Mbh.1.3. Paushya Parva). Mahabharata narrates an interesting event which epitomizes Aruni’s sense of dedication and sincerity to work assigned to him. According to the story, on one rainy night the teacher Ayoda-Dhaumya asked Aruni to supervise water flowing through a certain field. When Aruni went there, he found the dyke had breached and the water was seeping out. Aruni tried to plug the breach and to stop the leak, but was not successful. Aruni then lay down on the breach; stopping the water flow with his body. He lay there the entire night. The next morning, the teacher Dhaumya along with other students came in search of Aruni; and found the boy stretched out along the dyke trying to stop the outflow of water. Dhaumya was deeply impressed with the dedication and sincerity of Aruni. On seeing his teacher, Aruni stood up. And, as he did so, the water began to flow out.

The teacher highly pleased with the pupil Aruni called him Uddalaka: ‘Because in getting up from the dyke you opened the water-course, henceforth you will be called Uddalaka as a mark of my favour. And because you obeyed my bidding so sincerely, you shall prosper and all the Vedas and other scriptures shall shine in you (Shloka 34-35).’ Later, Aruni gained great fame as Uddalaka Aruni.

[This simple story was somehow turned into a symbolic myth where the rice-field represents human body; the leaking and uncontrolled water running away aimlessly as the mind; and Uddalaka who prevents wastage and brings water under control as the uttama-purusha who channelizes his intellect purposefully.]


18.1. Apart from his initial ‘schooling’ at the Ashram of Dhaumya, Uddalaka Aruni studied under various other teachers reputed for their special knowledge on subjects that interested him. It appears, during those days, a student could, if he so desired, learn from another teacher while still being a student of one teacher. This he did with the permission of his teacher, usually at the end a term (samvatsara-vasin – Shata.Br. Uddalaka travelled long distances across the breadth of Aryavarta from Gandhara – Madra region in the west to Videha in the east (Bh.Up.3.7.1; Ch.Up.5.3.6; 10.4). It must have taken considerable courage and determination to trudge such long distances on foot when roads were almost non-existent and the modes of travel were poor, slow and painful.

18.2. A devoted student who travelled across the country in search of suitable teachers and knowledge was termed a naistika-brahmacharin or chaaraka. Sri Shankara explained the term chaaraka as referring to one who was constantly on move, as he had taken a vow to learn wherever the knowledge was available (adhyayanartha vrata – charana –chaarakah). The Taittereya Upanishad also refers to eager students wandering from place to place in search of knowledge “They hasten from all sides to famous teachers, like water down the hill” (Tait. Up. 1.4.3). Uddalaka was a Charana or a Chaaraka in its true spirit.

19.1. Uddalaka basically hailed from Kuru- Panchala region (Sat.Brh.11. 4, 1, 2) – (roughly the present districts of Bareilly, Badaun and Farrukhabad), but sought his education under many teachers, in different parts of the country. For instance ; Uddalaka learnt about the principles and practice of Yajna from Panchala Kapya by travelling to Madra country (Sialkot area) – (Bh.Up.3.7.1).He learnt about  transmigration of souls  and about the path  taken by the soul after departing from body from King Citra Gargyayana (his name is mentioned also as Citra Gargyayani or Gangyayani ) – (Kau.Up.1.1-2). Citra Gargyayana discoursed, in particular, on the question ‘who am I?’ and said “I am a season (ritu), born of the seasons, brought forth from the womb of endless space, and generated from the light, the luminous Brahman; I am tyam”. He described Brahman as the luminous primal energy. I am from – Brahman (Kau.Up.1.1.6).

19.2. Uddalaka Aruni is said to have studied for some time in the Gandhara (north-west Punjab frontier region) which formed a part of Uttarapatha, the northern region. In his later years, he mentioned Gandhara as a seat of learning; and compared a man who attains liberation to “a blind-folded person who reaches at last the country of Gandhara” (Ch.Up.4.14). The Satapatha Brahmana mentions; Uddalaka Aruni used to move about (dhavayam chakara) among the people of Uttarapatha, the northern country (Sat. Br. 11. 4. 1. 1).The Buddhist text Uddalaka-Jataka (No.487) too mentions that Uddalaka journeyed to Takshashila (Taxsila to the north-west of Rawalpindi) and learnt there from a renowned teacher.

19.3. It is said; while moving about in the northern country, Uddalaka was impressed with the learning of the sage Saunaka (three Saunakas are mentioned with their ‘last’ names as:  Kapeya, Svaidayana or Atidhanvan?), and immediately desired to become his pupil in order to study the ritual traditions, practices and interpretations (Ch.Up.1.9.3; 4.3.5-7). But, interestingly, in his own teachings in Chandogya Upanishad (ch.4) Uddalaka rejects those traditions and interpretations, and opts for more careful observations of nature carried further by experiments and reasoning. And, he attempts to find what causes the things to appear as they do, and to offer generalizations of a rational character.

19.4. Earlier, Uddalaka had learnt the Madhu-vidya (honey doctrine) from his father Aruna Aupavesi Gautama at Kuru-Panchala (Ch.3.11.4). Uddalaka is also said to have had contacts with Bhadrasena Ajatasatru Kasya, the king of Kasi and Janaka Videha, the king of Videha.

Later years

20.1. Uddalaka was a life-long student, never too old to learn. Even in his later years he learnt from Prince Pravahana Jaivali of Panchala the theory of karma and transmigration of souls, and about the path taken by the departed souls – devayana and pitriyana (Ch.Up.5.3.10; Brh.Up.6.2). Similarly, he learnt the doctrine of Vaisvanara –vidya from King Asvapathi kaikeya in the far off north-west region (Ch.Up.7.11).

20.2. How these came about is rather interesting. As regards the former, when his son Svetaketu unable to answer the questions posed by Pravahana Jaivali (such as: Do you know to what place men go after departing from here?; “Do you know how they return again?”; and “Do you know where the paths leading to the gods and leading to the Manes separate?” etc) returned home crest fallen and asked his father to teach him the right answers, Uddalaka admitted he too did not know the answer to many of those questions. And, he then said to his son ‘let’s both go to Jaivali and learn from him ’.

Similarly, on another occasion, five householders approached Uddalaka to teach them about Vaisvanara Atma. Uddalaka did not however know the subject very well; and said to himself, ‘these householders have come to question me of which I am not able to tell them completely; let me redirect them’. Uddalaka then suggested to them: “Revered Sirs, King Asvapati the son of Kekaya knows, at present, about the Vaisvanara Atma. Let us all go to him.” He then led those five to Asvapati, promptly (travelling all the way from central UP to north-west Punjab).

20.3. In the tradition of wandering scholars who went around the country engaging in disputes and discussions,   Uddalaka too participated in debates held in the far off Gandhara and other northern regions ( Sat.Brh.11.4.1), as also in court of King Janaka of Videha in the east (along the Indo – Nepal border region)- (Ch.Up.4.14).


21. 1. It is said; the great Yajnavalkya (Brh.Up.6.3.15) as also sage Kausitaki (Sat Brh.11.4.12) to whose family the portions of the Kausitaki Brahmana are attributed, Proti Kausurubindi of Kausambi (Sat Brh. 12.2.213), and Sumna-yu (Sahkhayana Aranyaka -15.1) were at onetime the students of Uddalaka Aruni.

But his fame as a teacher and philosopher rests mainly on the discourses he imparted to his son Svetaketu (formally: Svetaketu Auddalaki Gautama). It contains the essential teaching of all the Upanishads.

21.2. In the Chandogya Upanishad, Uddalaka is portrayed as a caring father who sent his son, at his age of twelve, to a residential school. And, on his return home, after twelve years of education, Uddalaka questions Svetaketu, now a bright looking well grown young man, to find whether he had learned anything of importance. Of course, he had not.  Uddalaka then proceeds to teach his son, with great diligence,   on what the school could not instruct: ‘knowing which everything becomes know’ – the real meaning of life.

21.3 Let’s talk of Uddalaka’s teachings in the next part.


Continued in Part Three

Sources and References

Life in the Upanishads by Dr. Shubhra Sharma; Abhinav Publications, 1985

The History of Pre-Bhuddhistic Indian Philosophy by Dr .Benimadhab Barua; Motilal Banarsidass, 1921

The Upanishads by Ekanath Easwaran and Michael N Nagler; Nilgiri Press, 2007.

A Course in Indian Philosophy by AK Warder, Motilal Banarsidass, 2009

Indian Philosophy before the Greeks by David J Melling

Atman in pre-upanisadic Vedic literature By H G. Narahari; published by Adyar Library 1944.

What the Upanishads teach

The Chandogya Upanishad by Swami Krishnananada


Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Upanishads


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Who was Mahidasa Aitareya – Part Two

Continued from Part One

11.1. As mentioned earlier, Aitareya Aranyaka and Aitareya Brahmana are fairly lengthy texts. The concepts and explanations therein do not also proceed in an order. We may not be able to discuss Mahidasa’s works thoroughly. But, we can attempt to glance at his views on certain subjects.

There are no clear-cut divisions or grouping of his doctrines. But, we can attempt to classify his views under some broad heads. Those classifications are our own; but, the concepts are of Mahidasa.

11.2. The main problems that Mahidasa tried to grapple were the origin of life and the development of consciousness.

Before we get to that, let’s briefly see a few other subjects discussed by Mahidasa.

The task of philosophy

12.1. To begin with, Mahidasa pointed out that the task of philosophy is to explain ones experience. By ‘experience’ he perhaps meant a person’s relation and interaction with the rest of the world and with himself. The maxim that Mahidasa laid down for himself was : “I know the universe and myself as far as I know the gods; and I know the gods as far as I know the universe and myself”(Aitareya Aranyaka-2.17.7;  

The term ‘gods’ in his statements is taken to mean the hymns (ukta) or the elements (bhutani).

12.2. How does one explain such experiences ? According to Mahidasa, there are two methods of understanding or two levels of experience: objective and subjective. These could be termed as conventional (vyavaharika) and philosophical (paramarthika).

Mahidasa and the world

13.1. In a philosophical perspective (paramarthika), Man is conceived as the miniature universe. Man is a microcosm just as the visible world is universal man (yadvad brahma vistitam tatvati vagiti; yatra ha kva ca brahma tad vaag, yatra va vak tad va brahmatiAA Every individual is like an egg, very similar to the oval shaped spherical universe (Brahmanda); curvilinear , bending around itself with no distinct boundaries.  . Both are complete in themselves. What is in one is in the other :

“whatever there is belonging to the son belongs to the father; whatever there is belonging to the father belongs to the son” (Aitareya Aranyaka:

What is true in respect of man is also true of the universe. The whole of nature is a purposive-order, a system of ends. The finite thing of experience is not only a part of the whole but is, in essence, the whole itself.

“I as a living nomad am the universe”.

But that does not mean, he says, that the universal completely explains the particular. Obviously, there are differences. But those differences are not of kind but of intensity and degree.

The physical world

14.1. As regards the conventional (vyavaharika) or the physical world, Mahidasa considered it as a combination of the visible world, the organic world and the man. By visible world Mahidasa meant the physical world as whole. The organic world included vegetable kingdom and the animal world, as also the Man.

14.2. Of these, the visible world is a living thing and man is a living being; and connecting the two is the organic world. He believed, ‘If we know one, we know the rest’. For, there is no difference, in principle, between the physical world and the organic world; or between the organic world and the man. The fundamental difference, if any, would be in the intensity or the degree of growth. That is to say; as a naturalist Mahidasa perceived the difference subsisting between things of experience; but as a philosopher he realized the unity underlying all existence (AA

14.3. According to Mahidasa’s classification, all those shining gods – the sun , lightening, the moon, the planets, and the stars; and all the five great elements (maha-bhutani) – the earth, water , fire, air and the sky – belong to the physical world. Mahidasa regarded nature as a living form, an interconnected whole, having a unity in the midst of all changes.

As regards the organic world, it included vegetable and the animal kingdoms. And, man naturally belongs to the animal world; and is classed among the animals (prani– the living).

According to Mahidasa, the distinction between the physical world and the organic could roughly be termed as that between the dead-matter and living-matter. As said earlier, the differences among them are in the intensity or the degree of their growth.

14.4. If one extends Mahidasa’s explanation, a so-called non-living thing is in fact an undeveloped life, in the same way as man could be taken as a developed thing. Because, according to him, what takes place in the world continuously is not creation or manifestation (prakatatvam), but it is the evolution (avistarah avirbhava) of life. He described it as the ceaseless flowering of the hidden potential in all matter.

Evolution – the rope of life

15.1. Mahidasa understood evolution (avistarah avirbhava) as an ongoing process, a continuing relation between a series of causes and effects. He regards evolution of life alone as the real process in the world. He views evolution as the unfolding of life; a transition from the hidden to the manifest; from potential to the actual. Each step in evolution comes from something and becomes something. Each step is the seed (bija) of the next.

15.2. Mahidasa visualized evolution as a series of knots on a rope; each knot representing a stage in evolution (AA . Such a rope or a chain has two extremities –  two ends  – two ultimate knots , either way , between which all other knots fall ; and which therefore determine the length of the rope ( duration of the evolutionary process). Each knot (stage) is the seed of the next. Therefore what we recognize as two separate knots are essentially two aspects of one and the same reality. If we take the first cause as Brahman or God the final cause too is God; and so is whatever that falls in-between.

[In the process of evolution, a living individual is one of the many knots on the rope of life. He is one of the developed stages which matter assumes or is capable of assuming.]

15.3.  In Mahidasa’s terminology, in the Universe the first and the last knots are termed Prajapathi (the efficient cause) and Brahman (the final cause or end). In the case of the individual they are termed prana and Prajna.

Prajapathi causes the world; the world causes water; the water causes life; life begets herbs and living creatures; the manas is the heart of thinking creature; it causes thinking mind; the thinking mind expresses through thoughtful speech ; the thoughtful speech leads to thoughtful action; and the thoughtful action is in reality the man (Purusha), the abode of Brahman”( AA

16.1. Each stage is the seed (bija) of the next. A seed (effect) is developed from a seed (cause) through a process of series of changes or natural transformation. That process of change from one seed to the next is at once both a destroyer and a creator. Let’s take the example of a real plant: when a seed moves into its next stage or when it becomes a whole plant, the essence of the seed is transformed into a wholly different object. The seed and its form would no longer be there.  But a plant would not have come into existence without the presence of the seed.

16.2. In the series of changes that take place, each stage (seed) gives place to the next stage. The seed is never inactive. When the seed (cause) becomes a shoot (effect) it is no longer continuing as a seed; but its nature has altered to that of a shoot. The seed series is transformed into shoot-series, when suitable conditions prevail. But one series is in as much a flux as another. The fully grown plant , in turn, puts out the seeds. That is the cycle of life.

The ultimate product of the seed is again the seed. Regeneration and perpetuation is the theme of life

16.3. Thus, according to Mahidasa, a higher form often presupposes the lower. The process that causes development of a seed from a seed must itself undergo a certain form of change; or itself must enter into motion. In order to attain a higher form, a seed is bound to lose its own form but not necessarily its substance.

That is to say, the root and shoot (cause and effect) are, for practical purposes, distinguishable from each other; but logically they are identical in substance or in essence (AA 

Mahidasa in his picturesque language asserts: ‘no one possess that which he does not eat or the things that do not eat him…the eater and the food are in reality the food. The food is that which feeds and is fed. What we call this moment as eater may later be the food’. That is to say, the food (cause) and eater (effect) are correlated. Each stage in development is the destroyer of its predecessor.

[The same reasoning is applied to show that no extraneous causes are needed for destroying a thing. The germs of destruction are inherent in every object. If a thing does not annihilate itself, nothing else can do it.]

[In these texts, food (anna), the eater (annada); seed (bija); or root (mula) or shoot (tula) were all meant to denote ‘cause’ or ‘effect’ depending on the context.]

16.4. The relationship that binds each successive stage  is, thus, akin to the relation between the food (anna) and the eater (annada); the material and the individual; the potential and the actual; the indeterminate and the determinate. A developed seed (the effect) is more individual (independent), more actual, and more determinate and more of an object of nature than that from which it developed (AA


17.1. Mahidasa did not look upon changes from one stage to the other as unrelated or isolated events. In his view, the evolution has a unity of its own; and that unity implies identity and continuity of a common substratum of change, that is the matter. Thus matter is the ground of all plurality of forms, just as speech is the ground for all plurality of names.

17.2. Matter, according to Mahidasa, is that out of which a thing becomes; and that from which a form (murti) or a purposeful order is brought forth (AA. Form is related to matter as shoot (tula) to its root (mula); as that which manifests it (AA. Matter and form are thus conceived by him as transition from something hidden or potential to something manifest and actual or express. That is to say, there is no transition from nothingness to being; but it is derived from that which is not- yet or the potent.  The more evolved the matter is the more manifest or recognizable or better defined it becomes. (This applies also to evolution of human from primitive forms.)

17.3. Mahidasa provides an illustration “A whispered voice is just breath; but when it is aloud it acquires a distinct form or a body (sarira) . The whispered speech is the latent or the underdeveloped form of clear speech. Going further backward, the whispered speech is loud breath which in turn is an expression of formless breath. When spoken aloud, the formless breath transforms into clear perceptible speech.

Speech in this case is a kind of form . Breath is the root of speech. Similarly, going backward, breath is a form of air. Thus , going backward in successive steps we may arrive at the first or pure matter which may be entirely be devoid of form,  indeterminate or in- cognizable by itself.

On the other hand, going forward from matter to form, root to shoot, we may proceed towards forms that are better defined.

Mind – Speech

18.1. Mind is that faculty in an organized body which thinks, wills and feels (A All desires dwell in mind because it is with the mind that man conceives all desires (AA A thought conceived in the mind is expressed through speech. Thus, logically thought is prior to speech (AA At another place, Mahidasa states that thought and speech are interdependent (van me manasi pratistitha; mano me vaci prathistam AA 2.7)

18.2. Like matter or mind, speech is conceived as a continuous structure. It also is compared to a rope or a chain with many knots. As the rope or chain that runs along, it has a first and a last knot, representing the first and the final forms. The knots or links that lie in between are the names or concepts corresponding to their existent forms (vak tanti namani daamaani -AA 2.6.2).


19.1. Matter according to Mahidasa is neither being nor non-being. And, the principle of motion or the energy that brings about changes in it  is  something other than matter itself.

Mahidasa recognizes that spirit or the agent which continually causes changes as prana, or the living principle of the universe, the pure vital energy and activity. He regards that vital principle (prana) by which virtue of which we keep changing and function as living organisms, as the soul (atman). The organisms are kept alive by the vital air. Therefore, the central or the fundamental function of an organism is breathing or respiration. For, even during sleep when all sensations and mental activities cease, the process of life, its vital air (prana) goes on all the while.

[It is not clear whether or not Mahidasa conceived the vital air (Prana) as a principle separate from the elements. At one place he says that in so far as the living beings are concerned the vital principle has no separate existence from the five elements (AA At another place he considers Prana as a principle by itself, a principle which is not altogether dependent on body or material conditions (AA :  “the immortal dwells in the mortal”]


20.1. Mahidasa says consciousness (prajnana) resides in and is a function of the soul. What is consciousness? He asks and says:

“The faculty by which we see form , that by which we hear sound, that by which we perceive odors, that by which we utter speech, that by which we taste food and all that which comes from the heart and the mind, namely , appreciation , comprehension, understanding, cognition, intellect, insight, retention, judgment, reflection, receptivity, remembrance, conceiving, willing, breathing, loving, desiring – bear in varying degrees the name of consciousness (prajnanasya namadheyyani)” — (AA.2.6.2)

20.2. He recognized   prajna as pure intelligence, the eternally active self-conscious –reason (prajnana).He said ; the whole realm of change is led the self-conscious reason (prajna – netra). He declared; you could call that consciousness as God, the deity which is ‘the best and without flaw’ –Prajnanam Brahma- (AA

20.3. As between soul and consciousness, he asks:

Who is this self on whom we meditate? Is it the self by which we hear, see, smell and taste; and through which we speak in words? Is self the mind by which we perceive, direct, understand, know remember, think, will, desire and love? No, these are but the servants of the self who is pure consciousness. It is Prajna which guides all. The world rests on Prajna; and, Prajna is Brahman.


21.1. Mahidasa seems to have conceived soul as the compliment of a living body. The soul is, in essence, just the vital principle (prana) by virtue of which we exist as living beings.

From a metaphysical position, Mahidasa understood soul as a part of change or the process; as the agent of all changes. It is directly connected with the mode of cognition and indirectly with the object cognized. He did not seem to make a serious distinction between abstract reasoning and sense perception.

21.2. According to Mahidasa, the development in a living being is not merely physical but is psychological as well. He considers sense perception and reasoning – mental functions –as not different in kind but only in the degree or the intensity. They develop gradually, stage – by- stage.  Those mental functions ranging from bare sensations to comprehension have the name of reason (prajna-nasya namdheyyani -AA 4.1.3).

21.3. According to Mahidasa, we should try to understand HOW we know, rather than what we know. Gargyayana, another philosopher of those times, took the alternate view saying what we know is more important than worrying about HOW we came to know.

21.4. An interesting aspect of the soul, as per Mahidasa, is its graduated scales of function. According to Mahidasa, the whole of nature is a system of ends; and that the self develops gradually in living world (prana-bhritsu). ‘As there are infinite gradations of types of existence, so there is a graduated scale of functions of soul.’  Its primary function is nutritive, desire for food and sensations of hunger and thirst. The next function is sense perception and other body -functions. And, the third function is that of ‘heart and mind’, meaning those relating to understanding and reason. All these are merely the stages of its existence; and do not mean different kinds of existence. Similarly, the various functions of the soul do not vary in kind, but only in their degree or intensity. Mahidasa relates these concepts to the growth of life in the world.

[Mahidasa’s ideas of graded existence of the soul perhaps were the nucleus or the seed-ideas from which the later concepts of Annamaya, Pranamaya and vijnanamaya were developed.]

Mahidasa’s biology

22.1. A fascinating feature of Mahidasa’s biology is his view that the intelligence principle (chitta or chidrupa) in the living world (prana-bhritsu) develops or evolves gradually – (AA.3.2.2). He asks:

‘understand the gradual unfolding of individual things’ – (atmanam avistaram veda). Materials (what we call as life-less) do have a sense of touch or feel.  In the herbs and trees, for instance, the sap (Rasa – life) has its own intelligence.

22.2. But, chitta (consciousness or thought) in the widest sense is seen in the higher form of life. Among the latter again, some show vitality and intelligence, while others are devoid of intelligence. Among all the animals, man alone has the capacity for acquiring higher wisdom; yet in him too the soul develops gradually.

22.3. Man differs from lower animals in these respects:  

“He says what he has known. He knows what is to happen tomorrow. He knows heaven and hell. By means of the mortal he desires the immortal – thus he is endowed (A With other animals, on the contrary, hunger and thirst (instincts and impulses) only are a kind of sensation; they possess voice but no speech; mind but not prudence (AA 2.2.1-5). Animals may possess rudimentary reason but not reasoned knowledge”.

Classification of living beings

23.1. His classification of living beings includes earth, water, fire, air, and heaven (space). According to him, the matter too has one fundamental sense that of touch or ‘feel’. In a way, matter is an ‘organic-thing’ as distinguished from plants and herbs which are ‘organic beings’.

[But, Sri Sayana differed from Mahidasa. He considered earth, stone and such others as unconscious objects .They merely exist and, they do not come under the strict definition of organic beings].

23.2. Mahidasa mentions Plants and herbs in general as distinct from things. For, they can be distinguished by the sap (rasa) or moisture (ardratvam) which exhibits its peculiar intelligence (AA It has faculty that takes sunlight, absorbs water and essece from soil and converts that into plant energy. Plants are alive ; and  are endowed with sense of light, sensations of thirst and hunger. According to Mahidasa, that sense itself is developed into reason; and, a plant becomes a man by the gradual process of evolution. But like the’ organic things ’, the plants too are immovable (sthavara) lacking the freedom to move around (AA.

23.3. But, those that are higher in the scale of development can move from place to place at their will – (jangama) and are also capable of experiencing other sensations and reasoning. Physically and mentally humans are the best of all such created things. But, again, the differences among the species are the mere question of degree.

23.4. Mahidasa explains the graded signs of freedom. The sign of freedom is the power of bodily movement, the power which the stones, herbs etc (sthavara as distinguished from jangama) are deprived.The second test of freedom is the power of the thighs (uru) or the power of regeneration by means of separate sexes, that is to say maithuna.The next higher test is by the stomach (udara) , that is to have  choice of food and  the power to assimilate  etc. The last test is that of the head (sirasah) or the power of heart and mind (hridayam manasa) by which human is endowed with knowledge. A human says what he has known; sees what he has known; knows what is to happen tomorrow; knows heaven and hell; and desires the immortal by means of the mortal.

Thus, the highest in the scale of development is man who alone is endowed with the faculty of reason (prajnanam sampannatama).

Whither Man

25.1. The continual advance of life is from mere existence   towards reason (prajna); from bondage to freedom of action. That is the story of evolution. Mahidasa maintained that the intelligence principle develops or evolves gradually. Among the higher animals the two footed man surpasses the four-footed. Therefore the quadrupeds though physically stronger obey man.

25.2. All the forms of life eat and drink. All lower animals propagate the species. Even the plants, when grown up, bear fruits and seeds  (A This alone cannot be the whole duty of human being who is endowed with the extraordinary faculty of reason, by cultivating which he acquires wisdom, builds his moral self and perfects his conduct.

25.3. It is his sense of duty and his performance of duty that distinguishes the human from the rest.  The highest duty of human is to attain perfection. And, his principle means is prajnana. That is, in order to realize the full freedom, a wise person must transcend in his thought all material conditions of existence and limitations . He should aspire to attain the immortal by means of the mortal (martyena amritam ipsa). The ultimate aim of man’s life and of all life is to attain perfection which consists knowledge (Prajna or prajnana), bliss (nandana) and immortality (amritatva).

Mahidasa’s views on Art

26.1. Mahidasa regards all human arts including art of generation as an imitation, in some way, of the works of nature, the living arts.  “The creations of the divine (daiva shilpa) in nature are indeed great works of art. All human arts (manusha shilpa ) such as brass work, garment, works in gold and such toys as elephants, mule and chariot are but a reproduction (anukarana) of nature” (AB .6.5.1) . All the skillful works that appear in this light (sense) are to be regarded as arts. 

Sri Sayana explains that self-development is also an aim of those arts. He says that by practicing art, the Yajamana ( the aspirant) would improve his awareness; he becomes chandomaya – harmonious with nature; he grows  in tune with the whole of nature ;  and ,  becomes  vedamaya,  endowed with intelligence .

(The generation of offspring and bringing up a healthy and well educated young generation is also regarded an art).

26.2. Gargyayana, a sage–king who followed Mahidasa, did not, however, entirely agree with Mahidasa’s view of art. He did acknowledge the existence of the divine order in nature ; but maintained that all art creations are products of human mind. He questioned ; if all art is an imitation or a reproduction of nature, where is the scope for free play of one’s expressions or imagination. According to Gargyayana, art is how the human mind conceives and experiences the nature and the surrounding life; how it expresses that experience in its own way; and how it imposes its own forms and interpretations on nature.

26.3. Centuries later, the Buddha improved upon Gargyayana‘s view of art. The Buddha precluded all ideas of the divine as being external to man. He regarded art as a product of human experience and imagination, a representation of ideas that take birth in human mind- (charanam chittam chitten eva ciutitam- Samyukta Nikaya, 5.8 quoted in the Atthasalini). In addition, the Buddha brought in psychological aspect of art as influenced by the diversity of forms of life and human experiences.

26.4. Buddhagosha the Buddhist commentator explaining the Buddha’s view said “In drawing the finest pictures the thought arises in the mind of the painter: such and such figures are to be drawn in this picture. By this thought the drawing of the outline, colouring, polishing and other details follow in consequence whereupon a wonderful picture emerges on the canvas – (Saratthappakasini, Sri Lankan edition)


References and sources:

1. The History of the Pre-Buddhistic Indian Philosophy (1921); Calcutta University by Dr. Benimadhab Barua (Reprinted by Motilal Banarsidass, 1970)

2. A Course in Indian Philosophy; by Prof. AK Warder; Motilal Banarsidass, 1998

3. The Essence of Aitareyopanishad by Swami Sivananda§ion_id=587

4. .Aitareya Aranyaka


Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Upanishads


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