This is a simplified explanation of the Vedic theory of Sound (Vak, whose root is Vach which means “to speak” and corresponds in Latin to the word is Vox) using some examples as well as the words of the Mother of the Aurobindo Ashram.
A variety of ancient scriptures speak of the Universe created by sound or cosmic vibrations.
- The Rig Veda 1.164.45 says “catvari vak parimita padani tani vidur brahmana ye minishinah, guha trini nihita neengayanti turiyam vaco manushya vadanti” (i.e. The cognoscenti know of the Vak that exists in four forms . Three are hidden and the fourth is what men speak) .
- The Sanskrit grammarian, Bhartrhari, states in his Vakyapadiya 1.112: “vageva viswa bhuvanani jajne” (i.e. It is Vak which has created all the worlds).
- Similarly, in Tantra, it is said that the Universe was set in motion by the primordial throb (adya-spanda) and that all objects of the Universe are created by sound – “artha-srsteh puram sabda-srstih” (sound precedes the formation of objects).
- Lastly, we find in the Bible the verse, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” [John 1:1]
The rhythms of cosmic vibrations issue forth from four levels which correspond to the various levels in manifestation:
- Para-Vak is the highest form of sound. It issues forth from the Supernal Ether (paramam vyomam) where all the sound vibrations that build the various worlds pre-exist in an undifferentiated state.
- Pashyanti is the sound vibration heard in the Causal worlds. Pashyanti in Sanskrit means “seeing speech”. A sage whose consciousness is concentrated in the causal body is able to “glimpse” a Truth in a vision or a revelation. Knowledge is acquired in the inner mind by sight without the use of the reasoning faculty or sensory data.
- Madhyama (Middle)is the sound as perceived in the subtle or the Pranic world. A good example of this would be the thought-forms held in our mind.
- Vaikhari is the lowest form of sound and it signifies outward expression. This is the spoken word emerging from the our throat.
|Type of Vak||Phenomenological equivalent||Corresponding world and body sheath|
|Para||Eternal Cosmic Vibrations||Maha Karana/Supreme Causal|
|Pashyanti(i.e.seeing speech)||Sight or Vision seen at highest level of the mind as a result of spiritual illumination||Karana/Causal|
|Madhyama(i.e. middle)||Thought forms in the human mind||Sukshma/Subtle|
Illustration of Madhyama, Pashyanti, Para
Mother: Ideas have a higher origin than the mind. There is a region of the mind, higher than the ordinary mind, in which there are ideas, typal ideas (this is Pashyanti Vak), really prototypes; and these ideas descend and are clothed in mental substance (this is Madhyama Vak). So, in accordance with — how to put it?… the quality of the receiver, they either keep all their own qualities and original nature or become distorted, coloured, transformed in the individual consciousness. But the idea goes far beyond the mind; the idea has an origin much higher than the mind. So, the functioning is the same from both the universal and the individual point of view; the individual movement is only representative of the universal one. The scale is different, but the phenomenon is the same. Of course, these are no longer “thoughts” as we conceive thoughts; they are universal principles (this is Para Vak) — but it’s the same thing — universal principles on which the universes are built.
The universe, after all, is only one person, only one individuality in the midst of the eternal Creation. Each universe is a person who takes form, lives, dissolves, and another takes shape — it is the same thing. For us, the person is the human individual; and from the universal point of view the person is the universal individual; it is one universe in the midst of all the universes.
The Mother, Questions and Answers (1956): 7 November 1956
Applying Vedic Vak to demonstrate three ways of thinking
In the following dialogue, the Mother Mirra Alfassa gave a practical demonstration of Vedic Vak when she asked teachers in the Ashram school to begin thinking with ideas instead of words. She gave the illustration of a tower (i.e. human being) where the visitors (i.e. ideas or Madhyama) which came in at the top are then translated into words (i.e. Vaikhari) at the storeroom at the base of the tower.
In the Mother’s example,
- Thinking with words is Vaikhari.
- Thinking with ideas is Madhyama.
- Thinking with (spiritual) experiences is Pashyanti.
Question: Sweet Mother, You have asked the teachers “to think with ideas instead of with words”. You have also said that later on you will ask them to think with experiences. Will you throw some light on these three ways of thinking?
Answer: Our house has a very high tower; at the very top of this tower there is a bright and bare room, the last before we emerge into the open air, into the full light.
Sometimes, when we are free to do so, we climb up to this bright room, and there, if we remain very quiet, one or more visitors come to call on us; some are tall, others small, some single, others in groups; all are bright and graceful.
Usually, in our joy at their arrival and our haste to welcome them, we lose our tranquillity and come galloping down to rush into the great hall that forms the base of the tower and is the storeroom of words. Here, more or less excited, we select, reject, assemble, combine, disarrange, rearrange all the words in our reach, in an attempt to portray this or that visitor who has come to us. But most often, the picture we succeed in making of our visitor is more like a caricature than a portrait.
And yet if we were wiser, we would remain up above, at the summit of the tower, quite calm, in joyful contemplation. Then, after a certain length of time, we would see the visitors themselves slowly, gracefully, calmly descend, without losing anything of their elegance or beauty and, as they cross the storeroom of words, clothe themselves effortlessly, automatically, with the words needed to make themselves perceptible even in the material house.
This is what I call thinking with ideas. When this process is no longer mysterious to you, I shall explain what is meant by thinking with experiences.
When you think with words, you can express what you think with those words only. To think with ideas is to be able to put the same idea in many kinds of words. The words can also be of different languages, if you happen to know more than one language. This is the first, the most elementary thing about thinking with ideas.
When you think with experience, you go much deeper and you can express the same experience with many kinds of ideas. Then thought can take this form or that form in any language and through all of them the essential realisation will remain unchanged.
To be convincing when you speak, think not in ideas but in experiences.
The Mother, On Education: Teaching
- The early part of this essay is derived from Kapali Sastry’s book “Sidelights on Tantra” which has an essay “Vak of the Veda and Throb of the Tantra” in which he compares the Vedic and Tantric theory of Creative Word.
- Andre Padoux. Vac, The Concept of the Word in Selected Hindu Tantras. (amazon) (Google books)
- Janhava Nitai Das. The Vedic Conception of Sound in Four Features
- Vladimir Iatsenko. Vedic Linguistics pdf