Thursday, January 5, 2012


Apabhramśa (corrupt terminology)

The term apabhramśa is, on the face of it, problematic in the Vākyapadiya. There appears to be two distinct operations which lead to the ‘fall’ brought on by use of apabhramśa terminology. These two operations are restricted to their own respective levels of abstraction. The underlying concept is that a corrupt form can only be considered so with regard to an original correct form. The immediate problem we experience is that of the Ultimate nature of language. If it is the case that śabda originates from Brahman then everything from the madhyamā level through to Vaikhari must in the ultimate analysis be considered apabhramśa, if considered independently real. In the first kanda it is revealed that it is not only the physical form of the speech which can be ‘fallen’ but also the meaning which might be associated with a given form. If one pronounces the syllables correctly but without understanding the meaning then this is apabhramśa. Or for that matter if one mispronounces a form but with the correct meaning in mind this is still apabhramśa because the corrupt form had to first stimulate the correct form in order to reveal the true meaning. It is possible to communicate meaning with either the correct or the incorrect forms with the proviso that the incorrect forms will not lead the speaker to spiritual merit.

“ The correct forms received from the cultured through tradition, are the means of obtaining dharma. The incorrect forms, although not different in meaning expressed, are the opposite. (i.e. they do not lead to dharma)” (VP, 1. 27)

On the one hand we have corruption due to incorrect pronunciation of syllables and/or misunderstanding of meaning, this is the form which normally receives notice, on the other hand there is corruption of the original, undifferentiated śabdabrahman as soon as Kālaśakti operates and the pasyanti level of speech is left. Effectively, if Brahman is not brought to mind there is differentiation. What is Bhartrhari’s point? Is he really talking about a prescriptive grammar? I hypothesise that this is not the case. Such a suggestion does not sit well with the rest of the VP.

There are clearly two fruits which can be attained through Grammar.
The first comes with the use of chaste forms of speech and leads one, through merit (dharma) to heaven. This doctrine is an inheritance carried over from the Munitraya, Pānini, Kātyāyana, and Patañjali. Of the Three, it is Patañjali who was most concerned with the perceived drift from ‘correct’ forms.  Bhartrhari is adamant that tradition should be upheld, and it is only with reference to the āgamas that this can be fulfilled. The important point seems to be that without adhering to tradition, and the śistas who transmit it, there is a danger of ‘falling’ (apabhramśa) into an ego-oriented invention which is then set up as spiritual truth. Surrendering to the word of those great seers who have gone before hampers the ego’s potential for doing harm. It should, of course, be noted, that it can not be Bhartrhari’s intention to advocate mere scriptural learning without an experiential element. The conversations of Ívetaketu and his father in the Chandogya Upanisad come to mind.

The second fruit is a new revelation from Bhartrhari himself. It comes through an understanding of the true nature of language and the subsequent liberation (moksa), which naturally pertains to such understanding. In the ultimate analysis all words refer to Brahman, as śabdabrahman. This appears to be the force of the following kārikā. (VP 1. 131)

“Therefore that which purifies the word is attainment of the Supreme Self. He, who knows the truth of its origin, attains the immortal Brahman.”

 The fact is that all of the discussion in the VP is undertaken for one purpose. That purpose is realisation of the true nature of the word. That nature is eternally undifferentiated.

©MWright 2000, 2012

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Powers of Brahman

Bhartṛhari asserts that powers such as kālaśakti (time), karanaśakti (causality), dikśakti (direction), sādhanaśakti (means) and krīyaśakti (action) are non-different from Brahman. Although they might be considered in some philosophies, such as by the Vaiśeṣikas, as separately existing entities, in the Vakyapadiya they are considered powers of śabdabrahman. They always appear united in the same object, function together, and have no independent reality at any level of discussion. A multiplicity of powers belonging to the Ultimate reality is admitted in preference to postulating multiple entities. The latter postulate moves too far from the fundamental assertion that Brahman is one. 

The primary power, according to Vakyapadiya, is Kālaśakti. It is time which allows the appearance of sequence, although all divisions in time remain unreal. Time posits the interval between two states yet no interval can be found. Time itself is possessed of the three powers, past, present, and future, which are used to explain the transitory phenomena of the universe. Without time practical analysis of grammatical tense would be impossible. According to Helārāja it is this which is important to the Grammarian, and not a philosophical analysis of time. However from a metaphysical perspective, Helārāja informs us that although time is considered to appear first, it is indeed time in combination with space (ākāśa) that allows the appearance of saṃsāra. This happens when paśyanti, which is eternally sequenceless, is seen to associate with the prāna principle (activity), and as a result appears as though it has sequence. However, all differentiation is nescience. At the empirical level, everything is unreal, and without the attainment of true knowledge, Truth remains hidden. Any idea of Creation must be dependent on a sequential progression. Past and present can only be known in relation to the present. paśyanti is always in the eternal present while the gross expressions of language are confined to the fictions of past and future. 

Excerpted from "An Exploration of the Metaphysical Rationale at the Heart of Bhartṛhari’s Vākyapadīya (Grammar as the door to liberation, a problem for the modern scholar?)" MWright; Dissertation, 2000 
© all rights reserved

Friday, December 16, 2011

Vaikhari - the Third Level of Language

Vaikharī, the fully external level of language, is situated within the physical domains of phonetics and phonology. It is spoken by the speaker and heard by the hearer. At this level, we can use scientific instrumentation to measure language. Although prāṇa (breath) is only subtly present in the previous level (madhyamā) here it plays a predominant part. It is this physical function of breath along with all the associated restrictions imposed by physics and the articulatory process that ties speech to the linear order.   

sabdesvevasrita saktir visvasyasya nibandhant | 
yannetrah pratibhatmayam bhedarupah pratiyate ||

Vakyapadiya 1.118
“The power which resides in words is the sole cause of this universe. Led by that intuitive self, this appearance of division is recognised.” 

© MWright (2000, 2011)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Madhyamā - the Second Level of Language

As śabda moves into the next level, named Madhyamā, temporal differentiation, albeit only subtly present, allows for the potential formation of a sequence which is associated with buddhi. Although still unspoken, the concept is realised at this level as pre-speech in the mind of the speaker, or as post-speech in the mind of the hearer. It is an internal discourse which takes the form of thought. It is speech in its latent form. This level can only exist courtesy of the individual, ‘I’. Without this primary thought no differentiation can take place. This "I"-thought is always the first to arise and the last to subside. In the Vṛtti, under the second Kāṇḍa, Bhartṛhari explains that word and meaning are really not different from each other. In reality it is the one Self which appears to divide.* The arising of ahaṃkāra creates subjectivity with the prerequisite naming of perceived forms. Initially the split is into vācaka and vācya, the expressive and the expressed.  The first is called śabda, the word, and the second is called artha, meaning. They are also equated with kāraṇa, cause, and kārya effect. This is the beginning of the potentials, mentioned in the opening kārikās, becoming  active powers.

*ekasyaivātmano bhedau śabdārthavapṛthaksthitau |

Excerpted from "An Exploration of the Metaphysical Rationale at the Heart of Bhartṛhari’s Vākyapadīya (Grammar as the door to liberation, a problem for the modern scholar?)" MWright; Dissertation, 2000 
© all rights reserved

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Paśyanti - the First Level of Language

The first level of language, which is called paśyanti, is undifferentiated in any way and word and meaning remain without sequence or form. This is the unmanifested śabdabrahman. Later grammarians have suggested there is a higher division of paśyanti which is always beyond verbal manifestation, and which is referred to as param rupam. However Punyarāja, who falls into this category of grammarians, seems to offer evidence which contradicts the necessity to posit a higher level of paśyanti. Gaurinath Sastri reports that “...Punyarāja himself in course of his elucidation of the text of Bhartṛhari on the Eternal Verbum and its manifestations writes to point out that paśyanti is free from all impurities, embraces all and is transcendent.” (Sastri, 1959; 69)

Unlike the other two levels, there is absolutely no dependence on vital breath. Paśyanti is the shining one, ever resplendent in its eternal purity. It is without a beginning and an end and is unchangeable. As we have already seen Brahman is described in just this way. Realisation at this level is indeed ‘mokṣa’ and Ksemendra, in his Pratyabhijñāhṛdaya, tells us that “...the soul of the grammarian is called śabdabrahman or paśyanti.  (Sastri, 1959; 69)

Reference: Sastri, Gaurinath, The Philosophy of Word and Meaning, Sanskrit College Calcutta 1959

Excerpted from "An Exploration of the Metaphysical Rationale at the Heart of Bhartṛhari’s Vākyapadīya (Grammar as the door to liberation, a problem for the modern scholar?)" MWright; Dissertation, 2000 
© all rights reserved

Levels of Language - 'the threefold speech'

The three levels of language, traditionally accepted by the Grammarians, are mentioned in 
the Vakyapadiya, in kārikā 1. 134 [142].
“This (i.e. grammar) is the wonderful ultimate abode of the threefold speech which is divided into the various levels vaikhari, madhyamā and paśyanti.” 

translated by MWright (2000) © all rights reserved

Introductory Verses of the Vakyapadiya

The introductory kārikās of the Brahmakanda 
(Vakyapadiya; I, 1 - 4) 

1.  Brahman, which is without a beginning and an end, the essence of language, the imperishable syllable,  from which the world-process 'appears to unfold'  through a transformation into objects. 

2.  Which, celebrated as neither more nor less than One, becomes fragmented because of recourse to (its denotating) potentiality. Although undifferentiated it behaves as if differentiated because of its (denotative) potentials. 

3.  Dependent on the power of time, which has small divisions superimposed on it, are the six kinds of verbal activity, beginning with production (production, existence, transformation, growth, decay, and destruction), [these are] the origins of the divisions in Being. 

4.  The One, the seed of all, to whom this multiplicity belongs, remains in the form of the enjoyer, that which is enjoyed, and the enjoyment.

trans. from Sanskrit by MWright (2000), © all rights reserved.