“When, O Lord of the Word, the Wise established
Name-giving, the first principle of language,
Their inmost essence, pristine and pure,
Hidden deep within, was brought to light through love.”
—Hymn to Vach, Rg Veda X, 71
We live in an age in which there is an unprecedented access to words, both written and spoken by means of published literature, the internet, television and other media. Such abundant access is no doubt related to the rapid increase in literacy rates which have risen worldwide from roughly 12% merely a century ago, to over 80% today. Yet, the abuse of language is also widespread. Every day we encounter words which are used to manipulate, obscure, twist or ‘spin’ the truth rather than to factually clarify, educate or inspire. In western culture especially, it is not difficult to find commonly accepted habits of speech which are either bereft of meaningful content or which degrade, objectivize or demean other human beings. Instead of fostering empathy, spreading kindness and understanding, elucidating or clarifying meaning and drawing us all closer to truth, such a mis-use of language does quite the opposite. It is not only a form of violence to others, but also dissipates precious human energies and weakens the living force that the proper use of words can evoke. In sharp contrast to this widespread degradation, stands the profound teaching of the Sanatana Dharma, the wisdom of the ancients as explained in theosophical philosophy. Here, words are living things potentially imbued with a magnetic and vital potency; human speech in every form is revered as a sacred faculty indicative of the god within man and our daily choice of words is extolled as one of the primary means by which we may bless or curse, heal or hinder the evolutionary development of the totality of life of which we are an integral part.
In each of the great religious and spiritual traditions of the world, the restraint, control and right of use of speech is one of the primary foundations of ethical practice. Zoroastrian morality for example, is said to be summed up in the simple phrase, “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.” Truthfulness (Satya) and purity (Saucha) of speech are core virtues of Hindu thought found in the Vedas and Upanishads, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as well as the Bhagavad Gita.
“Gentle speech which causes no anxiety, which is truthful and friendly, and diligence in the reading of Scriptures, are said to be austerities of speech.”—The Bhagavad Gita, 17:15
Similarly, in Buddhism, Right Speech is the third step in the Noble Eightfold Path. Under Right Speech are listed the four abstinences: Abstinence from false speech, from slanderous speech, from harsh speech and from idle chatter. In Christianity, besides the admonitions against “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” and “bearing false witness” found in the ten commandments, there are several sayings attributed to Jesus, which make the point forcefully.
“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” —Matthew, 12:36
“Do not ye yet understand that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out…? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.” –Mathew, 15:17
All of this supports the view that the right use of speech is not merely a moral convention, but an essential and universal ethical prerequisite to the spiritual path. In theosophical thought, such ideals always have their roots in a profound view of human nature and the human purpose.
Modern physics has begun to acknowledge that the visible universe can only be explained if we include the much vaster invisible and unknown quantities now called ‘dark energy’ and ‘dark matter.’ Similarly, Theosophy has always pointed to the many planes of hidden nature, of the astral and akashic, that lie behind or within and which give rise to the visible. Theosophy teaches that each person is a microcosm of the macrocosm; that in each unit of the human race, exists all the same principles, energies and potentialities that exists anywhere and on any plane. The whole is reflected in each part. Furthermore, the human capacities of thought and of speech or of language as an expression of thought, mirrors and is analogous to the way the universe functions from unseen planes of intelligence and energy to the audible and visible; from within, without. In the everyday action of articulating our thoughts and giving them expression in the world, through languages of all sorts, we therefore perform a creative and potentially divine function. Speech manifests, shares and propagates what is hidden and unseen.
“And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothings
A local habitation and a name.”
—Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Words can be living messengers because when thoughtfully and properly chosen, they give clear embodiment to the ideas, feelings and motives behind them, while also evoking and vibrating with their corresponding elemental fields. Though visible only to the seer or mystic, in theosophical thought elementals refer to vast planes of conscious, unseen matter which permeate and pervade visible nature and whose activity and motions eventually give rise to psychological, moral and physical effects. We normally think of ideas and feelings as private and immaterial, but this is in error. Each thought as it arises links with a corresponding plane of matter and reinforces our connection with other beings anywhere on the globe whose thought resonates with or is receptive to our own. The more true, universal and beneficent the thought, the more tuned we become to those realities. The more we are focused on personal benefit, personal comforts and desires, anger, animosity and frustration, the more shadowy and deceptive we become and the more we enmesh ourselves in unrealities. In addition, each thought makes an indelible impression upon the astral light. The more sustained the thought and the deeper and more intense the feelings associated with the thought, the deeper the impression. When a word corresponding to the idea is then spoken, it propagates, reinforces and activates these links and impressions. It not only attracts and activates the energy of the idea in ourselves and others, but also imprints them on very air and the conscious planes of substance all around us. The karmic effects of all this are drawn back to the center from which they arise and will reoccur in accordance with cyclic law. There is thus a magnetic potency to words and it is upon these principles along with the many unknown laws pertaining to them, that the ethics of right speech and the science of mantras is related.
“Now we may consider that there is pervading the whole universe a single homogeneous resonance, sound, or tone which acts, so to speak, as the awakener or vivifying power, stirring all the molecules into action. This is what is represented in all languages by the vowel ‘a,’ which takes precedence of all others. This is the word, the verbum, the Logos of St. John of the Christians, who says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” This is creation, for without this resonance or motion among the quiescent particles, there would be no visible universe. That is to say, upon sound, or, as the Aryans called it, Nada Brahma (divine resonance), depends the evolution of the visible from the invisible.“—W. Q. Judge, Path, April, 1886
Logos in Greek means both ‘reason’ or ‘logic’ and ‘speech.’ Along with the Latin Verbum it also signifies ‘the Word’ that which “was in the beginning.” The idea that the primary, originating, manifesting deity, the demiurgos arises as a word, resonance, voice or vibration is not unique to Christianity. In Hinduism, the goddess Vach, a Sanskrit word meaning “speech,” is the female energy or counterpart of Brahma, the deity of cosmic creativity. Vach also corresponds to the Egyptian Isis, the mother-nature goddess of wisdom and fertility, to Aphrodite in Greek and Venus in Roman mythology. But in the Vedic tradition, Vach is also mystic speech, the “Mother of the Vedas,” who entered into the Rishis and inspired them by her revelations. In this aspect Vach corresponds, in the Jewish mysticism of the Kabala, to the Hebrew Bath-Kol, literally “the Daughter of the Voice” who inspired the prophets of Israel and the Jewish High-Priests. H. P. Blavatsky also states that Vach refers to “the voice of conscience that speaks audibly to the Initiate.” Here we are reminded of what Gandhi called “the Voice of God,” which he could hear as clearly as one sitting next to him and which infallibly guided him in times of greatest trial. In the Secret Doctrine, all of this is linked with Kwan-Yin Tien, in the Stanzas of Dzyan, the “melodious heaven of Sound.” This is the abode of Kwan-Yin, “she who hears the cries of the world,” the goddess of both Mercy and Knowledge, and which literally means the “Divine Voice”—which calls forth “the illusive form of the Universe out of Chaos and the Seven Elements.” This says H.P.B, is a reference to the androgyne origin and synthesis of the seven fold active powers in Nature, the logoic heart of Mahat or Maha-Buddhi. It is reunion with this universal, spiritual source of all sound, light and life, also called ‘Compassion Absolute’ that constitutes the culmination of the path of renunciation as described in the Voice of the Silence.
“Behold! thou has become the Light, thou has become the Sound, thou art thy Master and thy God. Thou art THYSELF the object of thy search: the VOICE unbroken, that resounds throughout eternities, exempt from change, from sin exempt, the Seven Sounds in one, THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE.
OM TAT SAT.”
—The Voice of the Silence, p 23,24
At the highest summits of enlightenment, human nature reunites with god-nature and self-consciously re-becomes the terrestrial representative of the seven-fold logos—the vehicle of the highest divine influences upon earth. In her article on “Psychic and Noetic Action,” H. P. Blavatsky states that humanity may be likened to an Aeolian harp chorded with two sets of strings; one made of pure silver the other of cut-gut. “When the breath from the divine Fiat brushes over the former, man becomes like unto his God…” When words are shared that compassionately arise from the untapped depths of the human spirit, they become transmitters of spiritual ideas and realities far beyond any objects or influences of the physical senses. The animal strings, meanwhile feel them not. They require “a strong terrestrial wind, impregnated with animal effluvia” to set their chords vibrating. It is thus always relevant to raise the question: to what plane are we attuned? What is our motive and from what plane of consciousness and awareness do our words arise? For that will be what we evoke and transmit, whether using contemporary English slang or well-pronounced ancient Sanskrit; whether attempting to articulate sacred ideas to educated adults or greeting a wayward child in the street.
W. Q. Judge states that adepts can translate a mantram into any form of language so that a single sentence uttered by them will have an immense and beneficial effect upon the person addressed, whether it be by letter or word of mouth. Such mantramic phrases can be found not only in the words uttered by the great sages of the Vedas and Upanishads, by Buddha, by Jesus and Krishna but by the mystics, poets and bards of many traditions. We should attempt to understand and assimilate their words not to rationalize our own cherished beliefs, but to purify the mind and heart by penetrating their layered meanings as a means of service to others. In doing so, the serious student will find that rational analysis, penetrative questioning and meditative reveries are all invaluably aided through synthetic theosophical insights such as we find in the writings of H. P. Blavatsky. The deeper the artesian well we draw from, the cleaner and purer is the cup of water we can offer others and the more our own words will aid and guide the aspiring mind of the race.
“Not a desire, but in obedience.
Not an idea which is not a sacred communication.
Not a word which is not a sovereign decree.
Not an act which is not a development and extension of the vivifying power of the Word.”
—Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, Theosophy, Vol. 26, 1938