There are two opposing views about language, both advanced by distinguished thinkers. One view holds that a language is external to objects and thoughts; the otherview regards it as fundamental to them. In what sense or senses are these views true? Can they be reconciled?
Language has not merely expressed man's fears; it has also expressed his sense of mystery. Again and again, man has sung of Gods and Divine Life and his idea of the Good and the Beautiful in sublime speech. This sublime speech, these inspired words, he has treasured as his veritable heritage, his Vedas. But in the passage of time, man's thought-habits and speech-mores change and the inspired words become difficult to understand. Can a study of language help us to recapture the meanings of older scriptures? Can this study help us to understand the deeper life' of man, his vision of Gods and the Good? Can this study throw some light on religious consciousness in general and the cherished old scriptures in particular? For example, can we understand the mentality of the seers of the Vedas- humanity's oldest extant scripture-by studying their language? Or can we understand the import of their language by entering into the state of their mind?
The book studies human speech in its relation to man's deeper psyche and religious consciousness. It adds a new dimension to the science of Semantics by showing how physical meanings of a word become sensuous meanings, become concepts and ideas, become names of the powers of the psyche, become Names of Gods, depending upon the organ of mind-indriya, manas, buddhi, -which is using that word as also on the level of purity- bhumi-of the organ concerned.
Next, by applying this method of unlocking the highest and the most secret meanings of words, it adds a new chapter to Vedic Exegesis.
Thirdly, refuting that Vedic Gods represent the attempt of the primitive human mind, through Nature's symbols and objects, towards groping for a unitary principle, it asserts that the truths of the Self can be expressed equally well in polytheistic as well as monotheistic terms, and that One God or Many Gods are opposed only on the mental plane while they meet in the unity of the Spirit.
Fourthly, it invites us to extend this new approach to promote an understanding of several existing religions and many classical religions of the past-of Egypt, Iran, Greece and Rome. Such a study should help the modern Europeans to have a better understanding of their old Gods as also of the Gods of the Africans and American Indians.
Finally, though briefly, the book offers a practical advice. A meditation on the Names and Attributes of Gods has a transforming power not only for the individual but also for his physical, social and cultural environment. As an individual's consciousness is purified and raised by meditation on the Names of Gods, he becomes increasingly aware of the inertias and impurities around himself and is activated towards achieving a spiritually meaningful environment.
In The Word as Revelation: Names of Gods, Ram Swarup explores the core issues of religion, culture and spirituality for all humanity. He examines speech, language and communication starting from an ordinary level leading to the human attempt to communicate with the Divine and the Infinite. His book causes the reader to create a new relationship with language and look at words with careful consideration, if not deep contemplation. Our words carry power and motivation, not simply their meaning as found in the dictionary. They influence others deeply whether we intend them to or not, and in ways that go beyond what words literally or figuratively indicate. Words shape our minds and become the raw material out of which we create our culture and ourselves.
Following Upanishadic thought one could say that speech is the essence of the human being. Speaking is our main motor activity in life and our most characteristic expression as a species. Yet speech is a power that we have not often used wisely or shaped consciously. Only rare enlightened beings have discovered the real power of the word and used it as a liberating force for the spirit. For most of us and for our culture in general words are mainly propaganda tools and transmit various prejudices and stereotypes. They do not communicate and unite but separate and isolate into warring camps.
Our words are psychic containers that hold certain memories and experiences, not only our own but of our entire society. Each word has a history and carries the weight of thought and emotion of those who have used it over time. Words grow and develop in positive or negative ways, just as our culture can evolve or decline spiritually or materially. Indeed words are like Gods or cosmic powers in their own right. They shape us from on high and can inspire us to transcend our human limitations. However, words can also function like demons and stir up our baser inclinations. Words can be tools of wonderful creation or wicked weapons of corruption and destruction. Unless we use them consciously they can cause unforeseen difficulties that we may not be able to control. If we do use them consciously, they can work wonders and transform the heart, mind and soul.
Revelation: A Blessing or a Curse?
Ram Swarup's study focuses on the spiritual dimension of language in which the word is the vehicle of a higher perception. This is what he means by revelation-a revealing of the higher truth directly to the receptive human mind. However, he also examines the entire issue of revelation in various traditions East and West.
The different scriptures of the world speak of 'revelation' or the existence of a Divine Word beyond our mere human speech. They know of an Eternal Word beyond our transient human mutterings. They recognize a higher form of knowledge revealed through this Divine Word-which occurs in a transcendent state of consciousness-a Supreme Truth that affords sure guidance how to live rightly and shows the way to immortality.
All cultures from the most ancient times have teachings about the Divine Word, the Names of God, or Names of Gods and Goddesses. All ancient cultures have their great sages, seers, prophets and rishis who proclaimed this Divine Word to a particular people or culture. Often, as in the case of ancient India, these sages were the original founders of the civilization of the region.
Certainly such revelations are one of the greatest legacies of humanity and the key to much of culture even today. All over the world ancient and medieval scriptures remain the most commonly read, spoken and chanted books. They inspire the greatest amount of human behavior in the entire spectrum from loving kindness to vicious terrorism.
Unfortunately, several so-called scriptures or their interpreters proclaim their revelation in a parochial manner. They say that they alone have the Word of God and no one else. They identify the Supreme and Eternal Word of God with a particular historical document that is really the product of a few human beings and not the Divine Word at all (which is not entirely expressible in this material world anyway). They condemn those outside their particular revelation to damnation or at least to everlasting inferiority. For this reason the term 'revelation' today inspires as much fear as faith and rightly so.
These exclusive religious traditions grant their founders a unique ability to transmit revelation that other human beings are barred from achieving. Their prophets or Son of God alone are given the ability to mediate between God and humanity and communicate God's wishes to the world, without which the ordinary mortal is lost. In these traditions revelation is a unique event that future generations can only read, imitate and try to follow but cannot themselves directly experience. For other traditions-particularly those beyond the pale of Western monotheism and its characteristic rigidity-revelation and spiritual realization are the potential and ultimate goal of all human beings. Teachers may be necessary but a special prophethood or saviorhood is a distortion, if not an impediment.
This arrogation of revelation occurs in the Christian tradition that turn the Bible-which is essentially the religious document of the Jewish people-into an eternal truth for all humanity, the supreme and final scripture. It similarly occurs in Islam, which turns the Koran-the revelation of Mohammed, a single person- into a lasting, final and supreme revelation for all humanity. For such traditions the Divine Word belongs to certain historical leaders who serve as its intermediaries for the rest of humanity, who must rely on their interpretations and follow their
injunctions. The Divine Word is not a human birthright but a special dispensation to the chosen one who in turn passes it on to the rest of humanity from on high. Such a Divine messenger not surprisingly becomes more important than the Divine itself. People can only know what God wants of them through the savior or messenger and his prescriptions. Anything else is heretical. People are dependent upon the words of the messenger and fail to develop their own internal connection to the Divine. They remain trapped in the shadow of his personality and the events of his particular life.
Revelation of truth and communion with the Divine Word- Ram Swarup emphasizes-is not the possession of certain monotheistic religions but is a characteristic of religion and spirituality as a whole. It is not something owned by a prophet, book or church but is a matter of individual communion with Divinity that rests upon a certain state of mind and specific spiritual practices. Those who speak of revelation as a mere book have not experienced the revelation of truth at all. This requires a higher state of consciousness in which one goes beyond external names, forms and institutions.
Traditions that emphasize spiritual and mystical experience over any church-such as both Pagan and Eastern Dharmic traditions-abound in revelation as a higher form of perception. They have well-defined yogic and mystical practices so that anyone can arrive at union with the Divine. The Indic tradition recognizes higher forms of seeing and hearing (drishti and sruti) that reflect this. Great Pagan savants like Apollonius or Plotinus had their revelations as glorious as any Biblical vision. Pagan traditions like the Druids have had their sacred languages and holy books as extensive as the Bible.
Unfortunately, monotheistic traditions try to own revelation and reduce it to their books and prophets alone. They deny any direct knowledge of the Divine outside their tradition. They even deny their members any direct revelation of their own and make them go through the intermediary of the book or prophet. Such monotheistic revelations are limited, reduced to a person or historical event, and fail to open up their followers to the inner truth of consciousness. Their believers often take them literally, which results in intolerance and the need to convert others to a belief. This expropriation of revelation becomes a good justification for condemning others as unholy. It is also the end of any real revelation for those who are involved in it.
Ram Swarup points out the dangers inherent in arrogating the Word of God. Speaking in the name of God contains a great potential for deception, not only of others but also of oneself. It is gratifying to think that God speaks to us or through us. It can be the greatest glorification possible of the ego. We note how fundamentalist preachers in America proclaim 'God says' when they are just projecting their own prejudices. Or they say that 'God says in the Bible' as if it were the last word on anything, ignoring the fact that the Bible is hardly the Word of God and has many layers and opinions both high and low that can be interpreted in various ways. This idea of exclusive revelation-which leads to the need to bring the world under one religious banner-has caused untold confusion and misery in this world. It is not true revelation but rather a darkening of the light.
As Ram Swarup explains, such religious beliefs reflect an ego state of consciousness. They may have a connection with the Divine but it is distorted-filtered by an impure or immature mind. They want to possess the truth as if it were a material object and turn it into an institution. Their literalism is nothing but spiritual materialism. Their religion becomes more a political practice of conversion than any internal meditation, whose importance they may not even know.
The present volume was unintended. It was not conceived in the form it has assumed.
There are two opposing views about language, both advanced by distinguished thinkers. One view holds that a language is external to objects and thoughts; the other view regards it as fundamental to them. Some say that in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God; others preach that words are God-eclipsing and soul-veiling; and yet some others hold that words in any role other than that of physical referents are deceptive and even the words God and Soul are a linguistic trick. In what sense or senses are these views true? Can they be reconciled?
One reason for taking up these questions was that we wanted to make for ourselves some sense out of the Vedas, the oldest Hindu scriptures and indeed the oldest extant literature of the Aryan race. We wondered if an archaic glossary concealed their obscure meanings; or if there was a code that needed decoding for their proper understanding or if there was a certain number of keywords which had to be properly understood before the Vedas yielded the meanings they held.
These and other related questions and interests led us to reflection on language itself. And hence the present study.
But though the book started as an inquiry into language, it soon passed into questions of psychology, philosophy, theology, yoga, and meditation. This turn was inevitable considering the interest with which we started. We also believe that any worthwhile inquiry into linguistics must merge into an inquiry into the nature of Reality. The roots of a language go deep into the soil of man's being. So, we hope that readers will see that there is nothing forced about this approach; that it is a natural, beautiful and true coming together of things which are inevitably related; and that the fusion is no confusion.
How are things named and how do names acquire their larger meanings? In a sense, these questions are central to any inquiry into the phenomenon of language; but a language could also be studied in its more external though quite important and legitimate aspects: acoustic, phonetic, neural, philological, etymological, etc. These are precisely the aspects on which the present-day studies of linguistics try to concentrate with considerably happy results. These studies have yielded nothing new but they have confirmed some old insights. They have not been able to enter the citadel but their peripheral reconnoitering is not without its use and interest. The present study makes use of their labour but it also has its own approach and temper and develops the subject in its own way. It treats the subject psychologically, and even meta- psychologically, that is, in terms of deeper levels of consciousness accessible only to yogic meditation, and belonging to a different discipline and quest of life. It has followed an analytical approach in order to build up a larger synthesis.
If we keep all this in view, it should help to answer some possible objections which were in fact made by some friends. They thought that the book discussed only names when a language is more than names. It is, for example, also parts of speech, syntax, grammar. The argument is valid. But, as we have said, the book is not about language as such; nor does it study it in the spirit of present-day sciences of linguistics; on the contrary, it is about names and their meanings, particularly the higher ones. Therefore, naturally, the treatment of the subject is lexical, dealing with the vocabulary of a language as distinguished from its grammar and construction.
Another objection was that, in tracing the etymologies of various words, we have stopped short at old Sanskrit forms whereas we should have gone back to Indo-European roots. Are we suggesting that Sanskrit is the mother language and modem European languages are derived from it?
To this objection our answer is that the purpose of this study is not etymology as such; but etymology has been used to the extent it shows that words have life, vivacity, suggestions, signification, resilience, adaptation. They live, grow, symbolize, associate with each other like living things. For this purpose the old Sanskrit forms will do as well as the Indo-European roots. But the former have one advantage over the latter: they have a living tradition behind them.
Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary defines Etymology as the history of a linguistic form (as a word) shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language where it is found, by tracing its transmission from one language to another, by analyzing it into its component parts, by identifying its cognates in other languages, or by tracing it and its cognates to a common ancestral form in an ancestral language. In this book, we have conformed to this definition of etymology. We have traced a word to its 'earliest recorded occurrence', which in many cases happens to be Sanskrit. In doing this, there is no intention of claiming for Sanskrit the status of being the mother language; nor do we think less of the modern European languages because they are derived from their own old forms with close affinity to Sanskrit. Whatever be their past affiliations, a time came when they separated and struck independent paths and began to develop in their own specific ways, in response to their new environment. They incorporated new experiences, and expressed the psyche of their speakers under new influences, in new forms. They have now their own beauty and truth.
But even after this explanation if some people still prefer Indo- European roots, they are welcome. It will take away nothing from the central thesis of this book, nor compromise any of its arguments in any way. We ourselves have great respect for these roots, in spite of certain reservations into which we need not go here. A good deal of scholarship, skill and labour has gone into making them though perhaps the initial impulse was not purely scholarly. These roots were constructed at a time when Europe had to be the gracious dispenser of everything and Asia a grateful recipient. But when Europe discovered Sanskrit, a different kind of fact stared her in the face. Sanskrit's affinity with European languages, old or new, could not be denied; it was also the oldest of all mown Aryan languages. So if there was any deriving or borrowing, it was in the other direction. But it was humiliating for European languages to own descent from an Asian source. So there was a motive in inventing something still older, preferably with a European home, from which Sanskrit as well as other allied languages could be derived. This made Sanskrit into a distant kinsman but not a direct ancestor. It was still unsatisfactory but it was the best that could be done under the circumstances.
There could be another objection. While the book aims at dealing with language as a human institution in its more universal aspect, it draws all its illustrative material from the Indo-European group of languages. This is due to the author's limitation, his lack of familiarity with non-Aryan languages. But if speech and meanings are deeply human phenomena and if they follow deeply-laid patterns of the mind and heart, then they must share certain common characteristics, however differently clothed, and certain truths must hold good for them all. This the scholars of different language-groups could test for themselves.
We have also to offer another necessary clarification. Because the book deals with words and their higher meanings and even refers to yoga and meditation, it could be confused with Sabda Yoga. There is a good deal of discussion of sabda (sounds) in Indian religious literature, particularly of the tantric persuasion. But the present volume is different both in its subject-matter as well as in approach. It deals with logos, with vak, speech, the pregnant word, not with dhvani or sabda, sound. Its approach too is not esoteric. It does not eschew the logical and the mown; but it uses them in a way that they stimulate love for the supra-logical and the supra-rational; it uses the mown so that it points to the unknown. The unknown and supra-logical of this book, however, is not arbitrary and does not violate man's deeper reason and his larger sense of the truth.
As the discussion proceeds in the book, it shows how, beneath the surface meanings of a word, deeper meanings are hidden; how names of physical objects become names of concepts and qualities and how they, in turn, become names of psychic and spiritual truths, become names of Gods, become names of the truths of the Self. It also shows how these deepening meanings could be unearthed through alert and devout attention, called meditation in yogic literature.
Meditation has different meanings and different functions in different Yogas. It could be used for unfoldment and growth as well as for trance and ecstasy. It also makes use of different methods and techniques. Certain Yogas use certain sounds for concentration; other Yogas, knowing that mystic truths cannot be adequately expressed in conventional logic, propose certain illogical thoughts and puzzles, called koans, for reflection. The idea is to exhaust the mind as a preparation for a sudden jump into the great Void.
While these methods have their place and utility and are good for a certain kind of mind and for certain defined purposes, their limitations should be clearly understood and they should also not be conceived too mechanically. A baffled mind before God's or life's mystery is not the same thing as a mind consciously planning to get baffled with the help of a koan. Nor is a pacified and purified heart that has given up hankering the same thing as a mind lulled to a soothing inactivity by the hypnotic effect of a sound.
Meditation in this volume carries a different connotation. Meditation here means attention to sublime objects and meaningful and noble thoughts and words which increasingly reveal deeper, sublimer, and nobler meanings. Not the jump of a mind staggered by a koan to the paradoxes of a vast Puzzle or Pun or Jest or Conundrum, but the journey of an increasingly purified heart to the holy life and higher meanings of the Self.
According to the conclusion of this book, language is more than a mechanical tool. If we become aware of it, human speech is a great, sacred gift of God and expresses the deep, mysterious life of man's psyche, the same as temples, cathedrals, great music and great sculpture do. If the present work inculcates a feeling of reverence and holiness about our language and a sense that we should not abuse it, then its purpose will be served. We repeat, the book is not on language in the narrow sense of the term. It is about the deeper truths of the psyche and spirit; it is about the higher life as articulated in human speech; it is about Gods and their Names, which reveal increasingly deeper meanings and also become increasingly dynamic in life, through purity and dedication. It may interest many to know that Mahatma Gandhi, at an early stage in his life, had memorized the thousand Names of God; but this performance initially mnemonic became, through great inner searching and invoking, truths of his mind and heart, became Self- revelatory. In later life, he came to concentrate more and more on one Name, God as Truth, which became reversible for him in Truth as God. While the cultivation of one truth gave him the benefit of all other truths as well, it also taught him that truth of God is ultimately the truth of one's own secret Self.
We owe a great deal to Sir M. Monier-Williams' Sanskrit- English Dictionary, to Rev. W.W. Skeat's Etymological Dictionary of English Language, to Eric Partridge's Origins, to Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, and to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. We contributed the direction, the logic, the pattern and the arguments, but these volumes provided the material for the embroidery, the necessary scholarship and authenticity; in short, the body and blood to the soul of the book.
For the English renderings of the Sanskrit texts, we have mostly used H.H. Wilson's and R.T.H. Griffith's translations of the Rgveda, R.E. Hume's translation of The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, and Annie Besant and Bhagavan Das's translation of the Bhagavadgita.
At the end, we would like to thank friends who contributed in making this book what it is. We would mention in particular the names of Shri A.B. Chatterjee, Shri H.P. Lohia, Mr. James Michaels, Dr. Raimundo Panikkar, Shri and Shrimati Gautam Dharmapal, Dr. Uno Rernitz, Dr. Govind Gopal Mukhopadhyaya, Shri Som Benegal, Dr. Mukund Lath, Dr. Wolfgang Somary, Madame Vesna Krmpotic, Shri S.B. Roy, Shri Balkrishna Rao, Shri Surendra Saxena, Dr. Gita Dharampal, Shri Vasudeva Poddar, and Mrs. Irene Ray.
Some of these friends helped in ways that cannot easily be spelled out; the contribution of others was more palpable. They all read the manuscript, many of them in its first version, and gave it a generous welcome. They also found it useful. Dr. Remitz, for example, said that after reading the book, Gods for him became living and acquired a reality which they did not have before; Dr. Somary and Dr. Peter Schreiner said that the book helped them to have a better understanding of the Hindu concept of Gods. All this placed us under a moral obligation to put in necessary effort and make the manuscript ready for publication.
Dr. R. Panikkar went through the first draft carefully and made valued comments. He helped both by saying as well as not saying certain things. Other friends helped in more concrete ways. Mukund Lath and Gauri Dharmapal checked the Sanskrit texts; Mrs Irene Ray, without accepting larger editorial responsibilities for lack of time, yet suggested many editorial improvements. Vijayan and Rajan did the typing.
My friend Sita Ram Goel, scholar and publisher, was associated with the preparation of the manuscript in its various stages. In a way, the book belongs to him. He also prepared the Glossary and the Index. The Glossary gives important Sanskrit terms used in the text; the Sanskrit Names of Gods, mostly concentrated in Chapter XII, have been omitted.
The widely accepted scheme of transliteration has been used for rendering Sanskrit sounds into the Roman script. But for the sake of smooth reading popular spellings of certain words like Sanskrit, Vedic, Krishna, Vishnu and Shiva, already well- established. in the English language, have been retained except when they appear in a learned context.
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