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THE SPHOTA THEORY AND ITS INFLUENCE ON MANTRA

THE SPHOTA THEORY AND ITS INFLUENCE ON MANTRA

THE SPHOTA
THEORY AND ITS INFLUENCE ON MANTRA

In Hinduism,
there are Two Dominant Views about the Connectivity between Word Meaning (Varna)
and Word Sound (Dhvani), which make up Sabda, or Linguistic
Sound in general. One view is called Mimamsa, which
tries to establish that the Veda is Divine Law and
that one can only come to Know Dharma from Vedic Command. This
idea relies on the pretences that Meaning (Artha) and “The Eternal
Word”
can only exist in the Veda “and does not manifest
in any other form apart from the specific Linguistic Constructions found there”.
The Theory attempts to explain that individual letters are the
main substance of Sacred Speech. The Grammarian view is different
in that it allows for Sabda-Brahman [Sabda- Brahman

refers to the Sonic Absolute] to exist “both in the Cosmos and
within normal Human Consciousness”. The Concept of Sphotavada
and the Sphota Theory were developed by the Grammarians
and the Mimamsa School discards the Sphotavada
because it undermines their Doctrine that relies on the “Reality of Vedic
Words”
. The Sphota Theory tries to depict “The Mysterious
Manner by which Meaning is Conveyed in Sentences”
which is a Cognitive
approach to the “Intuitive Perception of the Absolute as Sabda-Brahman”. Sphota

also illustrates that words (Sabda) and sentences are
important in conserving the Vedas.

The Sphota
Theory
“Refers to the Interior Apprehension of Meaning in Language”.
Sphota comes from the Sanskrit Word Sphut which
literally means “To Burst Forth or when Applied to Language a Bursting Forth
of Illumination or Light”
. This Means that Words, specifically in
Sanskrit, get their meaning from something set intrinsically within them, and
literally ‘Shed Light’ on to what they are referring to. “Probably
the Simplest and Clearest Image for the Meaning of Sphota is that of a Light
Bulb Flashing on when one understands (“gets”) an Idea”
. Sphota has
Two Parts, Internal and External, both important, and reliant on one another.
One is the Sound which the Meaning is carried in (Dhvani),
and the other is the actual Meaning that the Sound carries (Varna).
Notions of Speech as Sacred sound are revealed mainly in the Vedic Texts, the
Brahmanas, the Upanishads, Āranyakas,
and the Vedangās.

The g-Veda, which is the
Oldest of the Vedic Texts, is said to be “Impregnated with Sacred
Speech”
and has extended insight into the Origins of Language. The Sphota
Theory
was originally developed by Grammarians Patānjali
and Bhārtrharī who wrote the Mahābhaśya

and Vākyapadīya respectively. “Wider Concepts Concerning
the Philosophy of Grammar in India draw mostly from Patanjali and Bhartrhari”
.
According to Grammarians, Sphota is a “Kind of Meaning – Bearing
Sound Revelation within normal Human Consciousness”
, and meaning (Ārtha)
comes from Human Consciousness, it is something that comes from the Mind, and
does not dwell in things or “Objective Existence”. From the Mahābhaśya,

Patānjali’s definition of a Word is “that Sound from
which there arises the Knowledge of Things in the affairs of the World”
.

Understanding Language
and Meaning is very important in the Hindu Religion. Mantras
are a Major Part of their Daily Life, “The Chief Instrument of Tantrism”,
and are based on the Major Hindu Texts like the Vedas. A brief
definition of Mantra is; a Spiritual Utterance

to be recited at the Time of Spiritual Exercise”.
There are Two Uses for Mantras, either in a Planned Ritual
or Ceremony, or in “Spontaneous Meditation”.

Mantras like the Gayatri

Mantra are used daily.

Language (Vak) has Origins
that are explained in the
g-Veda. There are Three
References to Vak in the text, “The Goddess Vak…,
Vak as Speech in general, and Vak in the Symbolism
of Cows”
. The Vak explained in the
g-Veda mentions the
meaning that exists in even the Sounds produced by Birds and Beasts. This
extends to even the heavens, where thunder is supposedly the voice of Vak.
The
g-Veda contains a
tale about the Creation of Human Speech, and how it came to be
because of a quarrel between Indra and Vayu. The two Gods went to
Prajapati for help, and when the soma that they were fighting over was divided
up Indra took offence to his small portion and made it so that
the Speech of Man would be unintelligible to the Gods.

There is only
one Hymn about the Goddess Vak in the
g-Veda. It Asserts Her
Divinity and Power, and along with a similar Hymn from the Atharva-Veda,
is “The earliest Document of the Personification of Speech as a Productive
Principle of Energy”
. Later Vak is expanded and even has
influence on “The Earliest meaning of the Word Brahman” which was

“Sacred Word.” This shows a direct relationship between Language
and the Primary Concepts of Brahman and Hinduism.

Mantras are related
to the Sphota Theory because of the Mystic Origins of
the Mantras. There is an assumption that Mantras

are Language because many are often a recitation of Vedic Texts,
but that does not mean that they are all Language. Bija, or Seed
Mantras
, like Om and Aum, are probably the
best known type, and consist of only one syllable. Stobhas Mantras
are the Vedic forms of Bija Mantras, and also only
contain one syllable. Both Types of Mantras do not contain Language
per-say, but are supposed to be a means of realizing Brahman. The

Om syllable is believed to be reminiscent of the Child of Brahma
with the same name, who defeated the Asuras, or Demons,
when they were attacking a city. As a reward to the son the make it so “no
Holy Text shall be Chanted without Om”
.

Sphota is the “Transcendent
Ground in which the Spoken Syllable and the conveyed meaning find themselves Unified”
.
People use Language to Think. The Great Goddess of Language, Vak,
is even associated with the Goddess of Learning Sarasvati. And,
the

Brahmanas Point out that
the Hymn about Vak and Language should be recited when students
first meet their Teachers (Guru). With such an intrinsic connection
between Knowledge, Language, and Meaning it follows that once a
person can use a single syllable Mantra to calm their Mind, and Focus
on its Undefined Meaning, then perhaps they can use that to understand Brahma,
and find Mindful Silence and Liberation.

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