The Language of the Gods

by Raghavan Iyer @ Theosophy Trust


THE LANGUAGE OF THE GODS


Out of the silence that is peace a resonant voice shall arise.                   Light on the Path

 "In the beginning was the Word", declare St. John and the Upanishads. All existence is a confluence of vibratory motions, from the cosmic to the atomic. Creative speech – Logos, Verbum, the Word – is sound impregnated with the potency of ideation. The primordial and sempiternal sound is like the quiet pulsation of the ocean's depths and the inaudible reverberation hidden within the gentle whisper of the breeze, the joyous dance of the elements and the "still, sad music of humanity". When the mind listens to the cacophony of seemingly discontinuous sounds, or speaks a transient tongue which corresponds to evanescent phenomena, it is turned away from its true Self out into the world. It perceives an array of discrete entities and separate existences, and constructs for itself an illusory identity. This is the fugitive psyche, the soul that is captive to a temporal succession of images, bound up with likes and dislikes. When the mind turns within, searches for the root of sound in the silence, it retreats and looks to its own ultimate origin. When it engages in deep meditation, it senses a continuity in duration which reflects an eternal wholeness.

 Ancient philosophers and mystics held that through this inward turning the mind becomes an awakened nous, a noetic focus which renders universal truths intelligible in relation to everyday experience. In A.E.'s apt words,

 The meditation they urged on us has been explained as "the inexpressible yearning of the inner man to go out to the infinite". But the Infinite we would enter is living. It is the ultimate being of us. Meditation is a fiery brooding on that majestical Self. We imagine ourselves into Its vastness. We conceive ourselves as mirroring Its infinitudes, as moving in all things, as living in all beings, in earth, water, air, fire, aether. We try to know as It knows, to live as It lives, to be compassionate as It is compassionate. We equal ourselves to it that we may understand It and become It.... "What a man thinks that he is: that is the old secret", said the wise. We have imagined ourselves into this pitiful dream of life. By imagination and will we re-enter true being, becoming what we conceive of.

The Candle of Vision

 Whilst this vision brings its own proof to the Spirit, we are rightly conscious that criteria for knowing are necessary if the mystical perspective is not to degenerate into mere epistemological relativism. Knowledge-claims may be for many people what Plato called true opinion, statements for which they can offer no support outside received tradition or majority convention. For the mystical philosopher, however, knowledge-claims must be validated. Some claims to knowledge may be simply avowals which do not tell us anything about the world or ourselves, but merely report the subjective experiences of another. Other claims to knowledge are pragmatic. Their apparent objectivity is established if they are conclusions which all investigators are likely to reach, or if they are expedient within the contexts to which they are held. Such validation, of course, does not yield timeless truths or any fundamental insight into the structure of the world or the self. Knowledge-claims may also be justified as inferences from other accepted statements, or if they at least do not contradict such statements. As strict inferences, such statements do not add to the sum or significance of knowledge, however much they may spell out what is thought to be known already. Often a statement is offered as true in the belief that it in some way "corresponds" to the facts. Since we commonly assume that we know both the relevant facts and the meanings of statements, this view finds general, if uncritical, acceptance. But specific facts are not easily discerned or interpreted, and the general concept of a "fact" is obscure, while many statements and even "statement" are not unambiguous. It can be philosophically frustrating to make precise the notion of "correspondence" without restricting it to familiar operations.

 Our shared language is putatively divided between words which denote sense-objects and words which signify ratiocinative concepts. For the mystic who has experienced the harmonics of invisible nature and intimations of the fount of sound itself, such language seems woefully inadequate to the task of elucidation. A.E. wrote of his experience:

 The tinted air glowed before me with intelligible significance like a face, a voice. The visible world became like a tapestry blown and stirred by winds behind it. If it would but raise for an instant I knew I would be in Paradise. Every form of that tapestry appeared to be the work of gods. Every flower was a word, a thought. The grass was speech; the trees were speech; the waters were speech; the winds were speech.

A.E. speaks in company with mystics throughout the ages, and cannot be understood by the simple application of a single criterion for knowledge-claims. We must look to the integrity of the seer and to our own authentic experience to discover whether we are warranted in ascribing truth and meaning to what he says. If in meditation one focusses the mind with laserlike precision upon one object, penetrating to its inmost and ineffable core, one is able to trace the roots of existence and simultaneously to unveil the origins of things, witnessing terraces of being from near perfect homogeneity to almost total heterogeneity. This process allows one to discern different levels of causality and intermediate orders of existence. In The Candle of Vision A.E. warned the reader:

 When I am in my room looking upon the walls I have painted, I see there reflections of the personal life, but when I look through the windows I see a living nature and landscapes not painted by hands. So, too, when I meditate I feel in the images and thoughts which throng about me the reflections of personality, but there are also windows in the soul through which can be seen images created not by human but by the divine imagination. I have tried according to my capacity to report about the divine order and to discriminate between that which was self-begotten fantasy and that which came from a higher sphere.

 Mystics find the sifting of the imagination a lonely task to which neither modern psychology nor philosophy give assistance. "I surmise", A.E. wrote, "from my reading of the psychologists who treat of this that they themselves were without this faculty and spoke of it as blind men who would fain draw although without vision." One untutored in geometry would be foolish to declare a theorem undemonstrated and more foolish still to pronounce geometry a superstition or aberration of the speculative mind. One must train the mind to comprehend the nature of axioms, rules of inference, geometrical operations and proofs before making judgements. This applies also to the cognitive content of mystical experience, as A.E. recognized:

 We rarely find philosophical writers referring to vision of their own, yet we take them as guides on our mental travelling, though in this world we all would prefer to have knowledge of earth and heaven through the eyes of a child rather than to know them only through the musings of one who was blind, even though his intellect was mighty as Kant's.

No laboriously elaborated conventional wisdom can threaten the self-validating authority of direct experience, though unscrutinized experience can be misleading. To A.E.'s own question, "What certitude have you that these things you speak of are in any way related to a real world invisible to our eyes?" he replied that he could not fall back upon external authority, even that of other mystic seers. Rather,

 On that path, as an ancient scripture says, to whatsoever place one would travel that place one's own self becomes, and I must try first to uproot false ideas about memory, imagination and vision so that by pure reason people may be led out of error and be able to distinguish between that which arises in themselves and that which comes otherwise and which we surmise is a visitor from a far country.

 Freed from enslavement to a conventional picture of reality, reason and the self-willed expansion of the range of experience together warrant claims to knowledge for the mystic. His world is not reserved for a unique class of individuals who have special spiritual privileges. Meditation is a deliberative experience undertaken for the purpose of discovery without the burden of pre-established goals or results. What is discovered can then be subjected to reason. As A.E. frankly acknowledged, "being an artist and lover of visible beauty, I was often tempted from the highest meditation to contemplate, not divine being, but the mirage of forms". Neither the vision nor the layers of delusion are exclusive to him. There is nothing uncommon about such visions. It is in the interpretation of them that errors arise. The crucial test of mystical claims to knowledge lies for A.E. in our innate capacities for self-transformation as thinking beings.

 On the mystic path we create our own light, and at first we struggle blind and baffled, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, unable to think, unable to imagine. We seem deserted by dream, vision or inspiration, and our meditation barren altogether. But let us persist for weeks or months, and sooner or later that stupor disappears. Our faculties readjust themselves, and do the work we will them to do. Never did they do their work so well. The dark caverns of the brain begin to grow luminous. We are creating our own light.

 When this disciplined effort is made, we may share some inexplicable but recognizable flashes of resplendent insight. We may then readily acknowledge the long lineage of mystic seers and sages. Furthermore, we can distinguish clearly between the psychic images of personal consciousness and the universal noetic vision of mystical awareness. Claims to knowledge will gain a coherence forged by pure reason, a vital correspondence to a world unfolded in lucid insight, and timeless relevance to the spiritual nature of man. This prospect is universal because the authentic language in which it is always expressed is a distant echo of the Logos in the cosmos, the transcendent Word and the Soundless Sound. Man, the microcosmic mirror of the macrocosm, elaborates the archetypal patterns of sempiternity in time, patterns which are themselves a mystic presentment of the eternal and unknowable. The universe itself could be viewed as a soliloquy of Deity wherein Ain-Soph talks to Ain-Soph. The core of man's being is consubstantial with the root of nature. No bridge need be built between man and Deity save the bridge of awareness, constructed out of unfolding knowledge through meditation. The primordial Word is both primordial light and universal form. The language of the gods is the primary modulation of that light – "colours beyond the rainbow" and first figures. The Word resounds throughout the abstract medium which is space.

 The Akasa of the Hindu philosophers is not a vacuum but rather a homogeneous and supple substance. It receives, transmits and echoes that first speech imprinted upon it, and as sound recrosses sound, a world composed of interlaced vibrations arises, assumes forms and eventually crystallizes in its grosser aspects into the world of ordinary experience. Mortal speech is a distant derivate of divine speech and must ultimately be traced back to the Word or Verbum. This arcane view of the origin of language is at variance with the theory that language is to be traced back to rudimentary conventions derived from pre-human onomatopoeia. We may discover a spiritual relation between sounds and the various powers, forms and colours, and the universe. The roots of human speech are the sound correspondences of powers which in their combination and interaction make up the universe. To trace the origin of language through the discovery of its fundamental structure is to outline the unfoldment of nature from its seed in the abstract Word. In human speech, "every root is charged with significance, being the symbol of a force which is itself the fountain of many energies, even as primordial being when manifested rolls itself out into numberless forms, states of energy and consciousness".

 A.E. proposed that the first root of language – A – is "the sound symbol for the self in man and Deity in the cosmos". Its equivalent in symbolic form is the colourless circle, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere, in the language of Pascal, Nicolas of Cusa and Hermes Trismegistus. "The old world," H.P. Blavatsky wrote, "consistent in its symbolism with its pantheistic intuitions, uniting the visible and invisible Infinitudes into one, represented Deity and its outward VEIL alike – by a circle." St. John states that "the Word was with God, and the Word was God". The second root – R – represents motion, the lines which generate heat – H – and gives rise to the triangle, symbol of life and transformation. As the root sounds proceed from the back of the throat (A) toward the closed lips (M), they represent the increasing involvement of Spirit in material planes, the ultimate dissolution of voiced creation and the return to stasis (00). The investigation of Indo-European or Aryan roots uncovers abstract conceptions more than particular terms. We find for example comparatively few words, such as "bow", "arrow" and "tent", while there are a great many expressing abstract or reflective ideas, like "to shine", "to fly", "to know", "to burn". A.E.'s own vision and expression, his compassion and conduct, brought word and deed together in a living example of more divine and primordial speech which is the manifestation of the Word against the background of eternal Silence.

 The myth of Prometheus is a veiled version of ancient accounts of cosmogenesis. It presupposes a perpetual struggle between regeneration and regulation, between free thought and orthodoxy, between spiritual and material creation. The higher powers of solar intelligences are continually at war with the lesser powers attached more intimately to form and stasis. They incarnate into the lower regions to rescue man from his spiritual inertia and bestow upon him the sacred prerogative of creative ideation. Passivity induced by all systems of external authority is contrasted with the autonomy of the individual and the integrity of the unconditional and indefinable element in every soul. Each man is an integral ray of Absolute Consciousness, simultaneously allied with oneness and manyness. Man's task is to harmonize and transcend the antipodes of his being, to contemplate that divine Triad of mind, energy and matter exalted above itself and existing in a unity. In Pythagorean language, such a being makes of the Triad a Tetraktys, a triangle of cosmic force with a point in the centre concentrating its focus in and through the enlightened man. Such beings are complete symbols of the Self-Existent or Solitary of Heaven in whom all qualities inhere and yet who are committed solely to the ethical elevation of the human race.

 The solar element in man is the true hero in the secret saga of history. It is the spiritual genius latent in every individual which, when stirred by the fires of wisdom, is able to reflect some facet of the Heavenly City, its true ancestral home. Patanjali postulated that the whole universe exists for the enlightenment of the human soul. Politics bears a similar relationship to many's immortal self. It is an imperfect means to a transcendental end, the repeated channelling of human energies for the enlightenment of the entire race. Its perfectibility is based upon its approximation to that celestial city of divine beings who are attuned to the silent music of the immortal soul. The earth is ensouled by a planetary spirit, a divine Logos honoured in the great religions and mythologies of mankind. Universal history, recorded in archaic symbols and myths, is the ceaseless activity of this moving spirit which manifests through avatars. They appear during critical epochs, intoning the accents of sacred speech, the language of the gods, incarnating the eternal resonance of Brahma Vach.

Hermes, September 1979
by Raghavan Iyer