Author: Swami Pratyagatmanda Saraswati (translated into English by Prof. S.N. Roy). Number of pages: 300. Price: Rs. 350. Distributor: Overman Foundation, Kolkata.
The book Japasūtram: The Science of Creative Sound (authored by Swami Pratyagatmanda Saraswati (translated into English by Prof. S.N. Roy) begins in a discursive and dramatic way, and in a manner which seems to be inclined to metaphorical and pictorial thinking. The present small book tells especially of vak and prana, of varnamala or the Creative Exponents, of nada, bindu, kala and ardhamatra, in very general terms. This may stimulate an interest for a closer and deeper study as amplified and illustrated in Japasūtram.
To enable the reader to understand better the theme of Japasūtram, a review of the original work in Bengali has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation. This review was published in the November 1953 issue of The Advent, the quarterly journal published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry.
With warm regards,
Japa or recitation of words or sounds which have special potency has been regarded as a great aid to spiritual sadhana in all countries and all ages, but nowhere has it been turned to such a scientific and efficient means as in the Tantric system of India. But though it is practised widely, its mystery is not generally known and it is more often than not practised blindly and mechanically with no result. The book under review has gone a long way in removing this veil and showing the true nature of japa and the secret of its efficiency. The former name of the author was Professor Pramathanath Mukherjee and he was a co-worker of Sri Aurobindo in the field of education. In research work in the great system of Tantric sadhana his co-operation with the late Sir John Woodroffe is well-known. He wrote many articles and books on Veda and Tantra and philosophy, but he has poured all his knowledge and spiritual experience into this work, his magnum opus. The main book is written in Sanskrit verses; like the famous Vedanta Sutras it has four chapters, and each chapter has four sections. The book is vast and only the first two parts have been published which however enable the readers to understand the main principles of Tantric sadhana and realise that behind all the symbols and rites of the Hindu religion there are deep spiritual truths. Sri Aurobindo said about the Hindu religion in his famous Uttarpara Speech, “This is the one religion that can triumph over materialism by including and anticipating the discoveries of science and the speculations of philosophy.” The truth of this great saying has been proved in this book in detail. The author himself has prepared a Sanskrit commentary on his Sutras and translated it into Bengali. In all there are more than five hundred Sutras and the elucidating verses are about two thousand in number. Most of the technical terms we find in Indian spiritual books have been explained here, and in this way the book has greatly enriched the Bengali language by providing apt words for scientific and philosophical concepts. This is possible only for a man of his vast erudition and life-long spiritual sadhana.
In the beginning there was the Word, says the Bible. Thus sound is the beginning of all creation, and it follows that a proper manipulation of sound values can be utilised for all creative activities. Their efficiency in music and poetry is well-known. Not only the significance of the words, but the sound vibrations contribute to the rasa or ananda as well as the illumination which these arts bring to us. When properly used, sound vibrations help us to rise to a higher state of being and consciousness; thus the Upanishad defines japa as abhyāroha or a means of ascent. The Gita says that of all yajnas or sacrifices the Divine is most manifest in japa, yajñānām japa-yajño’smi.
Materialism in its modern form, which arose with the phenomenal advance of Natural Science in the nineteenth century, is on the wane. People everywhere are realising more and more that there is no other solution of the persisting ills of human life than the spiritual. Still there are two great obstacles to the advent of the true spiritual age. On the one hand, the scientific attitude has made men sceptic, and though it is useful in uprooting prejudices and superstitions, it engenders a general habit of doubting spiritual values, specially among the Intelligentsia. On the other hand, those who have faith in spirituality regard mechanical performance of rites and ceremonies and the following of some mental and moral rules and dogmas as the whole of spirituality. Swamiji’s book, it is expected, will help largely in removing both these obstacles. People will understand the inner meaning and significance of symbols and images and profit by using them more intelligently. Also the sceptics will see that the tenets of Hinduism are not mere dogmas or blind beliefs, they are at least as much tested truths as the findings of Science. Not only that, when properly understood they even throw light on problems which are baffling modern scientists.
Everything in the world, says the author, can be considered in three aspects—Kriyā (Action), ākriti (Pattern), daivata (Power). For example, I am seeing an object. The seeing is an action. The special organ by which I am seeing in a definite way is the Pattern. And the power of consciousness which is presiding over the whole action is the daivata (in this case, Aditya, the presiding deity of vision). It is the latter of which material science does not take any account—it has no means of seeing that behind everything and every action in the world there is a presiding deity. The animism of the primitive people has an underlying truth which they saw darkly. Take the case of Radium, its atoms burst spontaneously, this is Action. The arrangement inside and outside the atom an account of which this bursting takes place giving rise to alpha, beeta and gama rays constitute the Pattern. But how this bursting takes place without any external cause such as pressure or heat, science is unable to explain. The Tantric system will attribute it to the third element, the Power or daivata, the presiding deity. By practising japa in the proper manner one can come into direct contact with this deity—it is in this manner that Tantrics can exercise a control over external things and events which is beyond the scope of science. Here is a field of experiment, and those who sincerely seek to know the truth should follow the Tantric discipline and test for themselves its claims which, if established, will widen the power of man over Nature far beyond what has yet been accomplished by Science. “But here also,” says Sri Aurobindo, “the latest trend is highly significant of a freer future. As the outposts of Scientific Knowledge come more and more to be set on the borders that divide the material from the immaterial, so also the highest achievements of practical Science are those which tend to simplify and reduce to the vanishing point the machinery by which the greatest effects are produced. Wireless telegraphy is Nature’s exterior sign and pretext for a new orientation. The sensible physical means for the intermediate transmission of the physical force is removed. It is only preserved at the points of impulsion and reception. Eventually even these must disappear; for when the laws and forces of the supraphysical are studied with the right starting point, the means will infallibly be found for Mind directly to seize on the physical energy and speed it accurately upon its errand. There, once we bring ourselves to recognise it, lie the gates that open upon the enormous vistas of the future.” (The Life Divine, Vol. I, ch. II)
That it is not a mere fancy to expect distant transmission of sounds and messages without the aid of transmitting or receiving sets appears from a consideration of the very nature of Sound. As this deep and subtle knowledge lies at the basis of the practice of japa, we shall give here an abridged translation of what Swamiji has said about it in an introductory essay given at the beginning of the book.
“The Science of japa is essentially a spiritual Science. It has been said that there are three accessories for japa—vak (speech), prana (vital), mana (mind). The action of japa is not performed disregarding the material body. Thus what we regard as gross is the first standing ground for japa. The laws of this material body are therefore not irrelevant to this first stepping place of japa. Japa also requires a special function of the vital force, and in that function there must be symmetry and harmony, just as this is indispensable in music. Unless there is the harmony, the action of japa will not be effective. Take the word Krisna; if it be pronounced as Krisna, as many people do, the dental s and the dental n will not be symmetrical with the guttural ka and also with s and n, and thus instead of harmonic function there will be discordant function.
Japa and for that matter any other action requires these three things for its efficacy—(1) Vidya (correct technique), (2) Sraddha (starting from working belief and interest) and (3) upanisat (grasp of basic principles). For correct technique or vidya we must take the help of Science, and in this respect we cannot ignore the expert knowledge of physical, biological and mental Science. As a matter of fact, science is science whether it be physical or spiritual, and it is wrong to erect an insurmountable wall between the two. Of course only spiritual science can claim to be perfect, but it has to reach this perfection by taking up the knowledge given by the other sciences and integrating them. Japa, taken, as here, in the wider science no doubt belongs to spiritual science, but in many respects it has to obey the laws discovered by the physical sciences. For that the sadhaka of japa need not go to a physical laboratory just as a violinist need not do so—but they have to depend on the knowledge discovered in such laboratories. Of course in spiritual matters the main thing is the deeper flow of power from the spirit or soul, but the surface and external things also cannot be ignored—the entire being of the jiva has to be taken into account.
We find in the Veda that this creation comes from sound, that sound is the origin of this universe. What sort of sound is this? Is it the same sound as we hear by our ear? The sound we hear by our ear depends on several things. First, there must be some disturbance somewhere in the atmosphere. It is something like the ripples created in water when a stone is thrown into it. That disturbance extending like waves has to strike our ear, our auditory nerves and some parts of the brain before our consciousness responds to it and we hear the sound. Again, if the disturbance is too strong or too weak we do not hear any sound. There is a lower limit and an upper limit to the rate of vibration, and unless the vibrations of the air are within these two limits we generally do not hear any sound. Yet as the existence of ultra-violet and infra-red rays outside the range of our vision is proved by science, so the existence also of vibrations beyond audible sounds is proved, and supersonics and ultrasonics are making research in those phenomena. In the formation and dissolution of chemical compounds, in the breaking of atoms, in the control of the subtle activities of the body and the mind, the influence of these subtle vibrations is being increasingly admitted. We cannot hear a sound unless a vibration is carried by the medium of air and strikes our auditory organs and reaches the brain cells. Beside this there is the factor of attention—we do not hear a sound unless our mind is turned towards it.
This rough account of the phenomena of sound shows that the ordinary sound cannot be regarded as the origin of creation. For such sound requires a vibration in air, but where is air before creation? Such sound requires auditory organs and the brain which are non-existent before creation. There is also no mind to pay attention. What we experience as sound came after creation, not before it. What is at the beginning of creation can be called a “primordial causal movement”. From that primal source issue various “lines or streams of effectual manifestation” in various directions. All the forms we see, the sounds we hear, the taste, smell and touch we experience, all the joy and sorrow we feel—are different streams of such manifestation. What was before this primal vibration, whether or how it arose in an infinite silence and immobility, we need not discuss here. It is sufficient to understand that at the source of all our experience is a vibration, spanda, cāñcalya, stressing. The resultant manifestation of this stressing in my consciousness constitutes my knowledge of things. This applies equally to all such manifestations as light, heat, sound. The atoms of some object are vibrating restlessly; ether or some such subtle medium carries that and excites my sense-organs; the response of my consciousness to that stimulus constitutes my experience of heat. We need not have any doubt that at the source of all sense-experience, there is a stir, an agitation.
But apart from the way how we know or feel an object, what is the object in itself? Take this watch, it looks like a solid and stable thing, but at this moment I can break it to pieces, those pieces can be still further divided. So far as chemistry is concerned we stop at the atom which is regarded as indivisible. But that also is not really indivisible, science says that an atom is made up of electrical particles, such as electrons; an atom has a very complicated structure, it is a solar system in miniature. So there is no rest anywhere, movements are going on inside the atom as in the bigger world outside. Where is the end of this activity? What is there inside an electron? Science, even some time ago, dared not conceive anything about it, but wave mechanics has shown that electron is not the last word in the formation of matter. Indeed in explaining the structure of matter, science is using mathematical concepts which are nothing more than symbols or a convenient or conventional way of describing the phenomena observed. This much is certain that at the beginning of creation we arrive at a spanda, a vibration or stressing. Let us designate this spanda as paraśabda, whether we hear that as sound or not; what we hear can be called aparaśabda or dhvani. There is difference in the capacity of hearing among individuals; certain animals can hear sounds inaudible to human beings. With the help of instruments like megaphone, microphone we can perhaps hear the movements of an ant’s feet. If there be any truth in the spiritual science of the Hindus, a person by practising samyama can hear the subtlest of the subtle sounds, even the movements of electrons may not be altogether inaudible. Thus the capacity of hearing is relative, variable and conditional. The sound we ordinarily hear may be called sthūla śabda, gross sound. The sound that can be heard with the help of instruments or by the development of yogic powers may be called sūksma śabda, subtle sounds. But instruments are not perfect, yogic powers may have defects—so the question arises, is there any condition in which hearing is absolute and perfect? Following the analogy of mathematics we can assert that there is such a condition where the soul can hear a spanda or vibration without the help of any instrument or organ. Such a capacity of hearing may be termed Absolute ear. Not only hearing, we can conceive also Absolute eye, Absolute tongue and so forth. These may not be gross things like the eye, tongue etc., they signify limits of a particular capacity. By the Absolute Ear we get sound as it is which is known in Indian philosophy as śabda tanmātra.
“All things in the world are centres of a play of forces, everything has at its basis a causal stress. The vibration of this basic stress of a thing as heard by the Absolute ear is its natural name or Vījamantra. Such a vījamantra has the power to create the object of which it is the natural name. This is the principle underlying all practice of japa. Take for example fire, we have no absolute ear to hear its original vibration, but by the yogic ear it is heard as ram. Our recitation of these mantras is not pure, therefore their power is dormant. By puraścaran and other Tantric processes, this power can be awakened, and then actual fire can be produced by the recitation of ram. This is not a matter of blind belief, we point here to a field of experiment, like any other field of scientific experiment. Science has gained much control over forces of Nature, but that control has not reached its highest limit. Indian Yoga is an attempt in that direction. If one can attain the Absolute Ear or very near it, it will not be impossible to dispense with transmitting and receiving sets for hearing or seeing sounds and sights from any distance.”
We have already said that there is hardly any symbol or image in Hindu religion for the true significance of which the author has not given a clue; he has, for instance, interpreted the rat of Ganapati and even the crow sitting on the chariot of Dhūmāvatī. A question arises why the ancient Rishis and sadhakas clothed deep spiritual truths in such enigmatical symbols which sometimes appear to be grotesque and even obscene. The answer is that these truths are not at once obvious because they were the result of long psychological experiment and profound internal experience. “Therefore without a long inner experience, without intimate self-observation and intuitive perception of the Nature-forces it is difficult to grasp accurately or firmly utilise them.” The symbols would be easily understood by persons who follow the spiritual path and undergo some discipline. Modern Science also is following the same path, it is using symbols (mathematical in this case) to express its highest truths such as the spherical Universe, space-Time Continuum, etc. which are absolutely unintelligible to the man in the street, but are of engrossing interest to a Science student.
It is often said that the Vedic sadhana was replaced by the Tantric as being more suitable to the people of Kaliyuga. Our author says that this does not mean any diminution or dilution to suit weaker people. It only means that humanity is progressing and as it is nearing the goal, the prospect becomes more clear and the steps can be more quickened. Following the same argument we can say that we of the modern age have outgrown even the Tantra and require a newer synthesis to arrive at the final achievement for which humanity has been preparing through ages with various means and methods. In this connection we can quote here what Sri Aurobindo said in the first chapter of his Essays on the Gita:
“There is yet another, the Tantric, which though less subtle and spiritually profound, is even more bold and forceful than the synthesis of the Gita,—for it seizes even upon the obstacles to the spiritual life and compels them to become the means for a richer spiritual conquest and enables us to embrace the whole of Life in our divine scope as the Lila of the Divine; and in some directions it is more immediately rich and fruitful, for it brings forward into the foreground along with divine knowledge, divine works and an enriched devotion of divine Love, the secrets also of the Hatha and Raja Yogas, the use of the body and of mental askesis for the opening up of the divine life on all its planes, to which the Gita gives only a passing and perfunctory attention. Moreover it grasps at the idea of the divine perfectibility of man, possessed by the Vedic Rishis but thrown into the background by the intermediate ages, which is destined to fill so large a place in any future synthesis of human thought, experience and aspiration.
We of the coming day stand at the head of a new age of development which must lead to such a new and larger synthesis. We are not called upon to be orthodox Vedantins of any of the three schools or Tantrics or to adhere to one of the theistic religious of the past or to entrench ourselves within the four corners of the teaching of the Gita. That would be to limit ourselves and to attempt to create out spiritual life out of the being, knowledge and nature of others, of the men of the past, instead of building it out of our own being and potentialities. We do not belong to the past dawns, but to the noons of the future. A mass of new material is flowing into us; we have not only to assimilate the influences of the great theistic religions of India and of the world and a recovered sense of the meaning of Buddhism, but to take full account of the potent though limited revelations of modern knowledge and seeking; and, beyond that, the remote and dateless past which seemed to be dead is returning upon us with an effulgence of many luminous secrets long lost to the consciousness of mankind but now breaking out again from behind the evil. All this points to a new, a very rich, a very vast synthesis; a fresh and widely embracing harmonisation of our gains is both an intellectual and a spiritual necessity of the future.”