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