Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Sacred Language

"A mind can be overthrown by words; that’s the point. What is happening to the brain of a person who uses the passive, who writes, ‘Delay should not be allowed to take place,’ instead of ‘Hurry’? The user of the passive verb doesn’t want a universe where responsible agents do their acts. You see? Bad language ultimately is immoral.

…It eats me up, keeps me awake at night: thinking about the origin of language. In my heart I’m convinced that it began as poetry. “Golden Destroyer” was the name of the animal before it was called “lion.” The English language may be the greatest symbol system the world has ever devised. Yet we grow up practically mute."

Richard Mitchell, grammarian quoted in Time Magazine in the 1970’s

Maharishi went far beyond the morality of language. He introduced me to the concept that language can be sacred when spoken from the depths of consciousness- from the finest level of Creation. Maharishi described a particularly deep level of awareness as “the self-illuminate effulgence of life.” This level of awareness was, “The field of almost Absolute intelligence which underlies and pervades all activity responsible for creation and evolution of life.” This is also the finest level of the individual ego.

Maharishi further explained that Vedic Sanskrit, as opposed to present day Sanskrit, was sacred because in it “name and form” are one. He was unaware that this link of name with form is also found in other traditions. In fact, anthropologists suggests that sacred or “mantic” language appears in almost every culture. To ancient Hebrews the name of God, Yaweh, was too holy too be spoken- for the name itself evoked the Presence. Kototama teaches the 50 sacred sounds of Shinto and was an integral part of the martial art Aikido. In Pagan times, Poets stood next to the throne of the ancient Druid kings, as the power their words could control Nature herself.

How could a poet control the rain?

When name and form are one, “phonology becomes physics.” As vibration, sound has structure and this structure can exert an effect upon objects. Thus, phonemes can have a form and function arising totally from their own vibration. And since all objects of Creation consist of matter and thus ultimately vibration- “deep inside” each object – deep inside its physics, one can locate the sound and phonology of sacred language. That is how human language merges with the laws of Nature. And that is how practicing his Kototama, Aikido master Morihei Ueshiba could make the dojo lights go out.

Or, if you prefer (I do), poets also address the power of language, from a different angle:

She was sixteen when she found Jesus
He was a Puerto Rican kid
And he lived next door…

This song pokes fun at the “arbitrary” nature of everyday language- linguist assure us that phonemes have no meaning. And in that disconnect, all power is lost from any word. Parents may name their child Jesus, but he will probably turn out very differently.

By contrast, Sacred language is not “arbitrary.” Nor does supposed arbitrariness of even everyday language fool poets:

… a noun is the name of a thing, and therefore slowly if you feel inside that thing you do not call it by the name which it is known. Everybody knows that by the way they do when they are in love and a writer should always have that intensity of emotion about whatever is the object about which he writes. And therefore I say it again more and more one does not use nouns… I called them by their names with passion and that made poetry.

Gertrude Stein

Poets know that language becomes sacred when it arises from deep within, from the heart and subtlest feeling level; from the subtlest level of Creation.

This endlessly elaborating poem
Displays the theory of poetry
As the life of poetry. A more severe

More harassing master would extemporize
Subtler, more urgent proof that the theory
Of poetry is the theory of life…

It is not the premise that reality
Is a solid. It may be a shade that traverses
A dust, a force that traverses a shade.

Wallace Stevens

Returning to a “more urgent proof,” Maharishi explained that in Vedic Sanskrit name is so intimately related to form that the two may be considered equivalent. In sacred language speech runs parallel to the structure of Creation. He described four levels of speech: spoken or gross speech (baikhari); mental speech or thought (mahsentah); the subtle mental or finest impulse of thought (pashyani); and finally the transcendent level or the silent preverbal source of speech (parah).

At the levels of baikhari and madhyama one experiences speech through the “trinity of experience” (subject: process of experiencing: object of experience). The subtler two levels are experienced through the “unity of experience” (subject and object are one). The finest impulse, pashanyti, is experienced at the juncture of transcending as waking state of consciousness combines with transcendental consciousness. Here, speaker and speech are one. Para, the Absolute, is a purely transcendental experience and in the beginning is only experienced deep in meditation. It requires an enlightened consciousness to be experienced “actively,” i.e. while walking around. For example, the seers, Charack and Sushu, wrote the Nyava Veda describing herbal medicines. Legend has it that as these seers walked through the forest the herbs spoke their qualities to them on the level of pure consciousness. These insights became their herbal treatise.

So, Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama, Baikhara, the four stages of the development of speech, parallel the steps of manifestation of the whole of Creation: Finest and then the grosser, and the grosser, and the grosser… Or, using modern English and the language of science: vacuum state, sub-atomic particles, molecules, chemistry, and finally Life.
Maharishi applied Vedic grammar to the first word of the Rig Veda,“Agni ," to describe the mechanics of Creation. “Ah,” the opening of the mouth was the start of activity. Absolute begins to manifest. “Guh,” the second sound, stops this nascent activity. “Ni,” a drilling sound after the stop, creates the leading edge to the starting after the stop. The letters combine into a word: Ah + guh + ni, the mechanics of Creation, becomes Agni, a god. Agni then becomes elaborated upon by the Vedic hymn, “I adore Agni, the fire god.”

Back in 1974 when I first heard Mahrishi explain all this, a biologist in the front row pointed out to him that “the central dogma” of biology presented a similar unfolding. The DNA of our genes is “transcribed” into RNA. RNA is composed of a long string of four different bases signified by the letters (A, C, G, U) the sequence of which is set down by the DNA. These bases are then “translated,” three at a time, into any one of 64 possible “codons.” As this string of codons itself is translated, amino acid after amino acid are linked together to form a protein. Ultimately, this string of amino acids spontaneously folds into a functional, three dimensional protein.
From DNA to RNA to Protein to ultimately living cell. I learned this Central Dogma of Biology some five years after its discovery. My seventh grade science teacher wrote it down in large letters on the black board and called it … “the secret of life.” I ran all the way home that day, calling to my mom, “They’ve discovered the Secret of Life!” Notice, the biologists used metaphors to language: transcribe, translate, genetic code. No one forced them to this. They chose the terminology that made the greatest sense to them.
A skeptic, or linguist, would seriously question the possibility of sacred language. A biologist would have to also. But, to date, I have found no better illustration, suggestion, if not proof of the depth to which language is embedded into Creation. Some other day I will write about “molecular linguistics.” For now, let me just say that biologists now contemplate that the origin of Life and the origin of Language had to solve the same problems. The solutions came at different times- probably 4 billion years apart. The solutions came at different levels- one within a primordial soup of chemical, the other within the human psyche. In fact, its now argued that every major evolutionary transition over the last 4 billion or so years involved new ways of processing information.
Perhaps, following this pattern, our next evolutionary leap will involve consciously living with language being sacred as we process from the depths of consciousness.

So, that’s it for today…. I will try to add some good links for expanded the info on all this. But, that is going to have to wait! Bye!

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