Cognition, Breath and Speech

by Raghavan Iyer @ Theosophy Trust


COGNITION, BREATH AND SPEECH


In the "Book of Hermes", Pymander, the oldest and the most spiritual of the Logoi of the Western Continent, appears to Hermes in the shape of a Fiery Dragon of "Light, Fire, and Flame". Pymander, the "Thought Divine" personified, says: "The Light is me, I am the Nous (the mind or Manu), I am thy God, and I am far older than the human principle which escapes from the shadow ("Darkness", or the concealed Deity). I am the germ of thought, the resplendent Word, the Son of God. All that thus sees and hears in thee is the Verbum of the Master, it is the Thought (Mahat) which is God, the Father. The celestial Ocean, the Aether...is the Breath of the Father, the life-giving principle, the Mother, the Holy Spirit...for these are not separated, and their union is LIFE.

The Secret Doctrine, i 74-75    

 In the compelling mystical dialogue between Pymander and Hermes, the personified Thought Divine delivers a magnificent affirmation of the descent of the fiery power of Universal Thought from the Divine Darkness to give light and life to an intelligent and intelligible cosmos. The Divine Pymander speaks as the Dragon of light, fire and flame – the resplendent Word sprung from the primal germ of thought that lies beyond being and non-being alike. Pymander represents the concealed Deity, the ubiquitous presence and vital potency of the Word, the basis of all cognition in the cosmos. Hermes represents the finest aspect of human consciousness, involved in a sublime quest for union with Atma-Buddhi. It is that noetic intelligence, inseparable from the Thought Divine, which is capable of resonating in devotion to the vibration of the Word from which it sprang. The sacred dialogue of Pymander and Hermes intimates the mysterious relationship between mind and speech in man and the cosmos, alluding to the significance of their interaction in the mystic path towards fusion with Atman. The dialogue also points to an archetypal series of correlations between diverse principles, uniting the Aether-Breath of the Father with the life-giving Holy Spirit of the Mother within the ONE LIFE.

 In explicating this passage from the "Book of Hermes", H.P. Blavatsky correlated the Thought Divine with Mahat, a generic term having different meanings in different contexts. In its highest meaning it conveys the Universal Mind, an ideal and pre-genetic abstraction eluding any formal definition. In Gupta Vidya a fundamental distinction divides Universal Mind as the permanent possibility of Thought from universal mind as the mind of a cosmos in manifestation. Ontologically prior to any set of elements that embody it in a cosmos, Mahat in its most primary sense is the all-pervading first Logos.

 The Mahat (Understanding, Universal Mind, Thought, etc.), before it manifests itself as Brahmâ or Siva, appears as Vishnu, says Sankhya Sara; hence Mahat has several aspects, just as the logos has. Mahat is called the Lord, in the Primary Creation, and is, in this sense, Universal Cognition or Thought Divine.

The Secret Doctrine, i 75    

 Even though one may distinguish between Mahat as that which precedes the cosmos and Mahat as the cosmic mind, this distinction is essentially one of epistemological convenience. Ultimately, Mahat as the cosmic mind is itself only a kind of condensation or emanation, a radiation from the Universal Mind. As such, it is entirely unconnected with the emergence and disappearance of worlds. When Universal Mind is juxtaposed with the idea of thought, as in the conception of the Thought Divine, there is no reference to any discrete or individuated thinker. Rather, the Thought Divine conveys the idea of a purely transcendental Universal Cognition, without implying any linear succession in time. Like an eternal vision of the cosmos that was, is and shall be, the Thought Divine encompasses an entire series of possible creations and stages of the unfoldment of Universal Mind in manifestation. This pure self-reflection of Mahat at the highest level is prior to all manifestation. But it represents a plane of reality which is perpetually accessible to those awakened minds that empty themselves through meditation and learn to insert themselves self-consciously into the unmanifest ground of their own being.

 The ascent towards this inward realization must begin with the recognition that everything that is manifested is a reflection of that which is invisible, manifest only on subtle planes. One must learn to understand the visible in terms of that which is only perceptible to astral and higher senses. Yet even beyond those invisible planes of subtle manifestation abides that which is beyond all manifestation and prior to it ontologically. This is referred to as Universal Cognition or Thought Divine. Universal Cognition is incapable of having any attribute and, therefore, is incapable of predication. It cannot be the subject of any verb or the referent of any adjective. Nor should it be mistaken for a noun simply because in various mystical texts it occurs as a substantive term, It is the primordial plane of pure consciousness or reality which is fundamentally so different from everything that belongs to the process of becoming that it cannot even be thought of in terms of existence. An intuition of this reality may be glimpsed through contemplation of ideas like Be-ness and pure being, which have built into them an element of self-existence in an abstract universal sense which in no way makes any reference to any process of manifestation. Nor should it be thought of in terms of any specific absence or privation of manifestation in connection with any concretized idea of pralaya.

Mahat as universal self-existence is beyond existence and non-existence as a pair of opposites. It is only possible to ascend to such a metaphysical idea through an extremely long and arduous course of deep meditation maintained over lifetimes. Yet if one can grant in principle that there could be such a plane of Universal Cognition, a supernal realm of Universal Ideation which is the plane of the very highest perfected beings, and that there is in this a basis for universal self-existence, then one could conceive how, through a downward reflection into the world of differentiated matter, there could arise a conception of what is called, in the Second Creation, a feeling of self-consciousness or egoism.

 "That Mahat which was first produced is (afterwards) called Ego-ism, when it is born as "I", that is said to be the second Creation" (Anugita, ch. xxxvi)...i.e., "when Mahat develops into the feeling of Self-Consciousness – I – then it assumes the name of Egoism", which, translated into our esoteric phraseology, means when Ma/tat is transformed into the human Manas (or even that of the finite gods), and becomes Aham-ship.

The Secret Doctrine, i 75    

 The progressive unfoldment of Mahat is inconceivable without a parallel and coordinate development of undifferentiated matter or Mulaprakriti. Just as there is an essential aspect of Mahat that is independent of the alternation of manvantara and pralaya, there is that eternal root of all substance, the virginal veil of Parabrahm. Its first radiation may be conceived of as a super-astral or noumenal light – the mystical Sea of Fire of the Stanzas of Dzyan. This sublime ocean of primordial light, akin to Aether-Akasha, becomes in turn the realm of differentiated matter, the vesture of evolving Mahat in manifestation, The deeper this descent into manifestation, the more distorted and distorting this material medium becomes, until it reaches the stage of gross astral matter – also known as the Fiery Serpent. This transformation in the upadhi or basis of the field of manifestation is expressed by Plato in the Timaeus in terms of the same and the other. Originally, there is that which is pellucid and homogeneous, inimitable and indivisible. In the descent from the highest plane, it becomes on the lower planes divided and distorted, confused and partaking of otherness. Yet it remains through all things a projection of that which is intrinsically pellucid, intrinsically homogeneous and undifferentiated, There must be a germ within the confusion of the lower astral substance that corresponds to or is consubstantial with the pure parentage of that from which it is ultimately an emanation. Hence, there is an element of illusion in the seeming separation of Mulaprakriti and Daiviprakriti during the process of manifestation from the seemingly different gross differentiated dregs of the lower planes of material existence. If one penetrates far enough into the essential ground of every point in space, one will eventually reach Mulaprakriti, that which is the veil upon Parabrahm. This absolute notion of substance has no reference to any modes of motion or forms, but represents root matter which is connected with the primary ground of Akasha.

 As the teachings of Pymander to Hermes intimate, there is an analogy and a correspondence between these levels of the differentiation of the universal substance-principle and the levels of manifestation of Universal Cognition. There is that at the core of Universal Cognition or Mahat which corresponds with primordial root substance or Mulaprakriti, that which is beyond all reference to manifestation and which is, therefore, unconscious during the process of manifestation. It is neither a subject nor an object to consciousness or of consciousness. Yet it can in turn emanate, and this would be represented mystically as Divine Thought condensing into the Word or the Verbum. This is the cosmogonic and metaphysical basis of the mysterious relationship between speech and mind. Within the mystical Sea of Fire there is fiery substance affected by fiery ideation. The fiery cognition that is inseparable from fiery substance on the plane of the super-astral Akashic or noumenal light is the ultimate basis of the records in the library of Akasha that constitute the great spiritual utterances of humanity, This would be the storehouse of wisdom-consciousness, the Alayavijnana of the Buddhists and the supernal realm of the Vedic hymns and all the other sublime utterances that have come down in human life. All these manifestations of sacred speech have their roots in Akasha. Whether they are known or not in external form to particular human beings in any given period of history, they have their persisting reverberations. They endlessly reproduce themselves in multitudinous ways, permeating the processes of human evolution throughout manifestation, serving as the intelligent order of Nature sprung from divine ideation.

 If an individual has some theoretical appreciation of this dual unfoldment of Mahat and Mulaprakriti, then it becomes possible to discover within one's own self-consciousness, within one's own egoism, a means and method of drawing towards Universal Mind. Here egoism must be clearly distinguished from egotism. Egoism is the pure sense of "I-am-I" consciousness, bound up with the principle of individuation. It is possible to detach the pure sense of "I" from every object and every kind of concern or conception which is centered upon a differentiated world. Through an interior discipline of concentration, which may be called the aham meditation, it is possible to withdraw that sense of "I-am-I" into itself to such a degree that it can light up a field of higher awareness. This is the ultimate reason for and the basis of the imperative importance of daily and indeed constant meditation.

 Perfected human beings are masters of ceaseless contemplation. Whilst they may be recognized as heroic individuals, engaging in courageous deeds, they are essentially men of thought, constantly plunged into deep reflection. By contrast, human beings who do not master the power of thought and the differentiations of matter in their vestures are fragmented in consciousness and at the mercy of external influences. In effect, they are slaves to the desire principle, driven by limited modes of thought towards transitory objects. This is the common plight of vast numbers of human beings, and whilst all have the opportunity in one form or another to deepen their powers of reflection in life, one who postpones the effort will undergo extraordinary difficulty. It is of vital importance that children learn how to sit down, to be quiet, to meditate and concentrate. At any age in life, one must attempt these disciplines. No matter at what level one approaches the problem, one must learn to abstract, to withdraw, to sustain intact a subtler awareness. If one can develop a capacity to enjoy ideas and to penetrate through meditation to a certain level of consciousness, this will eventually become a continuous current in one's life to which one can return again and again.

 All of this amounts to a re-ascent in consciousness through the vestures of the mind towards their ultimate ground in that which is beyond manifestation. The same process may be understood in relation to the complex teaching of Gupta Vidya concerning the different aspects of breath and their relationship through speech to mind. Like everything else in arcane metaphysics, the concept of breath does not refer merely to something physical. It refers, even at the lowest level, to that which is astral, but which has its analogues all the way up to and including the highest vestures and beyond. When texts like the Anugita speak of the discipline of the breath or pranayama, they refer not to the crude physical manipulations of the breath that often pass in ignorant circles for a form of yoga. These physical practices are often dangerous in the extreme and invariably result from a fatal misunderstanding of the Teachings. Philosophically, the breaths are rhythms and motions in the karana sharira or the anandamaya kosha, inseparable from Buddhi.

 In the Anugita a conversation is given (ch. vi, 15) between a Brahmana and his wife, on the origin of Speech and its occult properties. The wife asks how Speech came into existence, and which was prior to the other, Speech or Mind. The Brahmana tells her that the Apana (inspirational breath) becoming lord, changes that intelligence, which does not understand Speech or Words, into the state of Apana, and thus opens the mind.

The Secret Doctrine, i 94    

 Inspirational breathing is important in relation to being able to aspirate properly, to speak clearly, and so to control the power of sound. To control a restless mind, for example, one could try reading aloud some passage from a sacred text, The principal thing is to forget oneself, in the lower sense. Yet this is no easy task, if only because one has spent too much time, too much energy and too much wasted breath over so many lives in lower self-meditation. Even if this is so, one can use the vestures of the lower self on behalf of a higher egoism. Through intoning sacred words, paying attention to the sound of one's own voice and the words being formulated, one may employ the power of speech to govern the restless lower mind. Because one is lending voice to intoning that which is meaningful and powerful, the practice will, after a point, prove helpful. The simplest way of doing this, honoured the world over, is by chanting. Take, for example, a single sound like "Ram" and continually chant it. Of course, this must be done with attention. There is a thin line between chanting "Rama, Rama" and chanting "Mara, Mara", between invoking the Atman and intoning "death".

 When people take advantage of the power of sound through speech in chanting to calm the mind, they are able to gain some relief from its restless activity. But as the Anugita teaches, speech which is uttered audibly is capable of affecting only the lower or movable mind. Audible speech cannot affect the immovable mind except in the case of an Adept, who is above both the immovable and movable minds and can use all energies noetically. Thus, the Anugita points to the important use of the power of audible speech in reference to the lower manas, working through the power of recitation of texts and mantras to gain self-control. This is in line with the common-sense recognition that sometimes it is necessary to talk to oneself, disconnecting from one's lower manas and giving oneself instructions, or in Buddha's phrase, "dictating terms to the mind". This can be helpful in strengthening the practice of one's resolves, in holding fast during difficult times, and it is also related to the practice of singing and chanting while working in order to maintain a certain rhythm. All of these are legitimate uses of speech. In the use of audible speech to govern the lower mind, that speech must originate in a self-consciousness that is superior and prior to the utterance. It must be inspired, guided by a breath that comes from a region of more subtle and universal substance and intelligence, if it is to have a harmonizing effect upon the physical and lower astral field of the personal mind and the body.

 According to the Anugita, it is possible through the power of silent or inaudible speech to approach the realm of the immovable mind, enabling one to draw upon its powers of inspiration. Ordinarily, people find it difficult to distinguish between what they call thought and silent speech. This is because ordinary views of the power of thought are extremely vague. Hence the crucial importance of regular efforts to engage in meditation, attempting to hold ideas in the mind, if only by trying to hold sentences or stanzas from sacred texts before the mind. As one does this, one can intone the sentence in the mind, and as one intones it, one can dwell upon it. Gradually becoming one with the Teaching in the mind, one may increasingly learn to think upon it in the true sense of the word "thought". In this way, one can begin to apprehend both noiseless speech and the mystical process whereby it nourishes the life of the soul.

 Having recounted the Teaching of the Anugita regarding the relationship of inaudible and audible speech to the immovable and movable mind, H.P. Blavatsky remarked:

 This allegory is at the root of the Occult law, which prescribes silence upon the knowledge of certain secret and invisible things perceptible only to the spiritual mind (the 6th sense), and which cannot be expressed by "noisy" or uttered speech. This chapter of Anugita explains, says Arjuna Misra, Pranayama, or regulation of the breath in Yoga practices.... This story is quoted to show how inseparably connected are, in the metaphysics of old, intelligent beings, or rather "Intelligences", with every sense or function whether physical or mental. The Occult claim that there are seven senses in man, as in nature, as there are seven states of consciousness, is corroborated in the same work, chapter vii, on Pratyahara (the restraint and regulation of the senses, Pranayama being that of the "vital winds" or breath).

The Secret Doctrine, i 95-96    

In this passage the Anugita affirms that the mind is the lord of the senses. Although in ordinary language one speaks of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing as independent powers of sensation, all of these are closely interrelated with each other. Furthermore, as the Anugita teaches, without the mind, "the senses never shine, like an empty dwelling, or like fires the flames of which are extinct". Only through the mind are the various senses able to apprehend their respective objects. Unlike some epistemological systems which attempt to conceive the full operation of the senses independently of the mind, and then to depict the activity of the mind in relation to the senses as purely inferential, the Anugita points to a much more intimate relationship.

 Each sense is seen as a differentiation both of the abstract power of thought and the abstract principle of substance on a particular plane. There is no mind-body problem in the philosophy of Gupta Vidya. There are, instead, corresponding to different planes of Universal Cognition and Mulaprakriti in manifestation, different sets of senses and organs of action. By recognizing the predominance of the mind in relation to the lower astral and physical senses, it is possible through deliberation and thoughtfulness to rise above the compulsive and involuntary processes that operate through the sense-organs of the gross body. Just as audible speech can aid in calming the lower mind, so too physical movements and disciplines can aid in gaining steadiness and control on the physical and even mental plane. This is why physical exercise or, at another level, certain physical postures can aid in clearing the mind and making it more direct. This can help an individual to moderate emotional extremes, to cut through a great deal of the confusion of the lower manas caught up in sensory life.

 This, of course, with regard only to mind on the sensuous plane. Spiritual mind (the upper portion or aspect of the impersonal MANAS) takes no cognisance of the senses in physical man.... The ancients were acquainted with the correlation of forces and all the recently discovered phenomena of mental and physical faculties and functions, with many more mysteries also.

The Secret Doctrine, i 96    

The entire capacity to calm the lower mind through the power of audible speech or physical movement depends upon tapping a reflection of the synthesizing principle of Buddhi. Buddhi is mirrored in every object, in every sense and sense-organ. Above all, it is mirrored in the higher Manas itself. In turn, it is mirrored in the synthesizing power of lower manas, considered as the lord of the senses. Higher Manas is capable of synthesizing and abstracting from all the senses, including the lower mind, which, though subtler, still exists on a plane of differentiated space, time and substance.

 By invoking the power of Buddhi, it is possible to transcend everything in this lower realm, while at the same time giving proper value to all that is being transcended. This means recognizing that the entire realm of the lower senses is a dynamic field of minor deities and intelligences. All of these work and have their place in differentiated life, and so it is always meaningful to sanctify and revere everything in reference to the sensory plane. There is also a mirroring – in the integration of these senses and powers, these deities and intelligences – of a higher synthesis to be attained self-consciously through the union of Manas and Buddhi. As the Anugita teaches:

 "There is one unmoving (life-wind or breath, the "Yoga inhalation", so called, which is the breath of the One or Higher SELF). That is the (or my) own Self, accumulated in numerous (forms)."
 This Breath, Voice, Self or "Wind" (pneuma?) is the Synthesis of the Seven Senses, noumenally all minor deities and esoterically – the septenary and the "Army of the VOICE".

The Secret Doctrine, i 96    

This mysterious unmoving breath can only be experienced if one has become proficient in deep meditation, capable of remaining abstracted from the astral form for long periods of time. This, in turn, is possible only if one has learnt how to make the astral form coil down and attenuate itself, virtually destroyed at will. These are very high states indeed, but even if unattainable at present, they are well worth thinking about. Just to appreciate these possibilities is helpful in learning to master the outer vestures.

 At the root of these mysteries of mind, speech and breath lies the mysterious union, spoken of by Pymander, of the celestial ocean, the Aether, the breath of the Father and the life-giving principle, the Holy Spirit or Mother, which together are LIFE. The Father-Mother-Son are One, the three-tongued flame that never dies, the immortal spiritual Triad in the cosmos and in man – the Atma-Buddhi-Manas. Anyone who carefully contemplates this divine unity, as conveyed by the teachings of Pymander to Hermes, will soon transcend the majority of foolish questions and doubts that arise regarding the ontology of Gupta Vidya.

 If the student bears in mind that there is but One Universal Element, which is infinite, unborn, and undying, and that all the rest – as in the world of phenomena – are but so many various differentiated aspects and transformations (correlations, they are now called) of that One, from Cosmical down to micro cosmical effects, from super-human down to human and sub-human beings, the totality, in short, of objective existence – then the first and chief difficulty will disappear and Occult Cosmology may be mastered.

The Secret Doctrine, i 75    

 As people typically cannot get rid of separateness, they go on mutilating Divine Wisdom in the name of making distinctions. In reality, the entire cosmos is a series of exact correspondences, like a series of lenses in perfect alignment and continually transmitting prismatic rays of refracted light. Since the cosmos, including human nature, is completely in order, it does not matter at what level one begins one's meditations, so long as one is inwardly attuned to a line of transmission and reflection. The source of this series of reflections and transmissions is what people often loosely call the Higher Self. It is, in reality, the spiritual fire within the human being, the Atma-Buddhi-Manas which is overbrooding. This cannot be tapped and its energies cannot be lent merely in providing continuity through the states of consciousness of the lower self. It cannot be drawn upon merely to hold body and soul together. It can only be tapped by a specific means of self-discipline which involves the transformation of the sense of self, the idea of "I-am-I", from its lower application in terms of name and form to its original meaning connected with Mahat. This discipline requires a continual balance between the differentiated aspects of Universal Cognition and those of Universal Root Matter. Whether one thinks of this as ascending a ladder or travelling a path or any other of the symbolic metaphors available to the disciple, it connotes the cognition of synthetic relationships – between Mahat and the Mahatmas, between Atma-Buddhi-Manas and the Avatar, between Nous, Daiviprakriti and the Verbum. All of these are varied but precise expressions for different levels of reflection of one and the same spiritual energy or spiritual breath and fire. In every case, however expressed, it is the seventh principle in Man and the Kosmos, one with the seventh Cosmic Principle, the highest Logos, the Avalokiteshvara.

Hermes, December 1984
by Raghavan Iyer