‘The Dialects Are In Motion’ – arcing towards a synthesis position on two views of Language
Introduction: A World of Words
One of the reasons why I have often advocated for the use of etymology in our field of Indo-European mytho-religion, is in order to strengthen our discernment of what is *actually* going on, by stripping away the desultory and the delusory deviations and derivations that’ve cropped up over the millennia, and which get in the way of the effective communication of (mythic) truth.
Or, as I put it during our recent interview on StJ, by quoting Ludwig Wittgenstein … “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language.”
Now, this also connotes a key perspective upon language – that it’s an intermediary, and a means and medium of communication, but not necessarily the *actual* thing being communicated, still much less what is actually *important*, or *real*, in and of itself. In fact, and in accordance with some perspectives that’re particularly prominent in Buddhist thinking and metaphysics, that it can actually *get in the way* of genuine communication, and hinder the impartment of understanding by hiding truths and really-real elements behind ever-so-many shrouds of mere [again, in the dual PIE pun sense of both a ‘lake/sea’ and ‘death’] words.
We shall get on to that more fully in a moment, and there’s a rather beautiful quote from Roger Zelazny’s ‘Lord of Light’ with which I shall seek to illustrate it … but before we do so, it is necessary to note two further things.
First up, that as cool and interesting and useful as this perspective is, it is *not* necessarily ‘the’ Indo-European view upon Language – which *does* often tend to hold to the ‘other’ perspective, that certain words, certain signifers (whether vocalized, particularly in specific formulas, prayerful/magical songs, and the like; or in the case of Runes, crafted into shapes that are visually apparent), *do* actually have inherent, intrinsic value. This is partially why, for us, ‘speaking’, and even (perhaps especially) ‘writing’, is such a powerful, (pro-)generative action. Why it can, quite litera(ri)lly, both “make” and thence “reshape” the World. [I have briefly parsed this point, both in interviews and some of my other writings, if memory serves, when commenting upon the ‘Fire-Spider’ metaphor deployed in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, as well as the figure of Brihaspati, inter alia; and shall consider this concept in further pieces upon the same broad theme and series as this one, in due course of time]
And second, that there is something of a ‘between’ perspective that I have (re-)developed, or uncovered, when parsing a particular RigVedic Hymnal, which can effectively ‘square the circle’, and deploy *both* concepts, towards a very useful ‘theory of language’, that also handily happens to resolve the ongoing ‘debate’ we have occasionally had in some Hindu circles that effectively goes: “If you agree that Sanskrit is a/the Divine Language of the Universe, but you also believe in Proto-Indo-European linguistics as preceding Her, does this not vitiate the first premise?”.
Anyway, on with the show!
“No word matters. But man forgets reality and remembers words.” – A Buddhist perspective
“I have many names, and none of them matter. Names are not important. To speak is to name names, but to speak is not important. A thing happens once that has never happened before. Seeing it, a man looks upon reality. He cannot tell others what he has seen. Others wish to know, however, so the question him saying, ‘What is it like, this thing you have seen?’ So he tries to tell them. Perhaps he has seen the very first fire in the world. He tells them, ‘It is red, like a poppy, but through it dance other colors. It has no form, like water, flowing everywhere. It is warm, like the sun of summer, only warmer. It exists for a time upon a piece of wood, and then the wood is gone, as though it were eaten, leaving behind that which is black and can be sifted like sand. When the wood is gone, it too is gone.’ Therefore, the hearers must think reality is like a poppy, like water, like the sun, like that which eats and excretes. They think it is like to anything that they are told it is like by the man who has known it. But they have not looked upon fire. They cannot really know it. They can only know of it. But fire comes again into the world, many times. More men look upon fire. After a time, fire is as common as grass and clouds and the air they breathe. They see that, while it is like a poppy, it is not a poppy, while it is like water, it is not water, while it is like the sun, it is not the sun, and while it is like that which eats and passes wastes, it is not that which eats and passes wastes, but something different from each of these apart or all of these together. So they look upon this new thing and they make a new word to call it. They call it ‘fire.’
If they come upon one who still has not seen it and they speak to him of fire, he does not know what they mean. So they, in turn, fall back upon telling him what fire is like. As they do so, they know from their own experience that what they are telling him is not the truth, but only part of it. They know that this man will never know reality from their words, though all the words in the world are theirs to use. He must look upon the fire, smell of it, warm his hands by it, stare into its heart, or remain forever ignorant. Therefore, ‘fire’ does not matter, ‘earth’ and ‘air’ and ‘water’ do not matter. ‘I’ do not matter. No word matter. But man forgets reality and remembers words. The more words he remembers, the cleverer do his fellows esteem him. He looks upon the great transformations of the world, but he does not see them as they were seen when man looked upon reality for the first time. Their names come to his lips and he smiles as he tastes them, thinking he knows them in the naming. The thing that has never happened before is still happening. It is still a miracle. The great burning blossom squats, flowing, upon the limb of the world, excreting the ash of the world, and being none of these things I have named and at the same time all of them, and this is reality-the Nameless.”
– Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light.
Now, it is important to note here, before I get too carried away, that i) Lord of Light isn’t, strictly speaking, a Buddhist text (although it draws rather excellently from various Buddhist materials in its construction); and ii) that there *are* actually cross-over coterminities between an array of what’s said above, and Hindu philosophical and even theological perspectives. Particularly once we start talking around the concept of the ‘Absolute’ – Brahman; which, by definition, is not really easily possible to even approach utilizing conventional language. And around, for whom, even ecclesiastic language and proper Sanskrit, can only launch vague ‘inspirational’ utterances which arken back towards this transcendental under-within/through-beyond-above the Universe. This goes even *further* than the concept of Negative Theology, as deployed within Judaism, and then developed by Jacques Derrida into a full-scale ontological approach for the (post-)theological and (post-)modernist world, wherein you can at least *begin* to define the God in question by what they are *not*, in order to even by a small part ‘limit’ the ‘definitional space’ thusly occupied by the almighty or some other, lesser concept … and, to my mind when we are speaking of Brahman, it would seem an exercise in futility to try to make meaningful statements utilizing both means and perspectives that are developed and experienced *within* the universe, to speak of its *beyondness* [and/or, dependent upon cosmological worldview, all-permeating-and-then-some] therefrom.
But nevertheless, the core point is easily explicable. In this perspective so eloquently outlined in the Lord of Light quote above, concepts exist a-priori and independent of language … which basically gets in the way of actual understanding, albeit may have some use as a convenient form of short-hand or recollection for those lacking in actual direct experience of the matter. This *also* goes, in a somewhat more indirect and discursive way, with the observation that at least some forms of Buddhism basically hold the universe [well, ‘life, the universe, and everything’ – the ‘everything’ potentially being rather a lot *bigger* than the first two] to be fundamentally *empty*. With various forms of beguiling illusion, including the tapestry or fabric of ‘reality’ itself [i.e. Maya], but also, here, Language in particular, effectively seeking to ‘paper over the cracks’, and obscurate the true Sunyata [’emptiness’] of All.
Nirvana, then, is the revelation of this alleged, purported truth, via the *opposite* unfolding to that entailed in Hindu cosmological metaphor – whereas we have Fire as the hea(r)t of Creation-In-Motion [and, eventually, Its Extinguishment at the Pralaya, the Unravelling, the Disintegration, the Burning #EkpyrosisWhenn], and very much a *something*, especially a conduit to the Supernal, the Beyond, rising up like flame and smoke [the Smoke of which – Dhumavati – even Remains after all else has been burned away, fundamentally showing Her intrinsic, immanent, and identified Connection-Emanation as AdiParaShakti – Who Is The Fire Beyond Form And Beyond Future] … Nirvana, etymologically speaking, refers to the “blowing out” of this flame. Thus leaving only the emptiness inside the shell of the lamp to remain.
Disregard Vaporous Sunyata – Acquire Fiery Sanatana
The desire to de-legitimate and therefore perhaps ultimately to ‘extinguish’ Language, in favour of pure awareness and beyond-intermediary [so therefore beyond thought, also; beyond the subjective itself, even], is exactly such a process of ‘blowing out’. Ironic, in some ways, given the manner in which we actually make vocalizations happen in the first place; but apt insofar as Fire has long held a doublet of meaning for Language, Sacral Language in particular, within Vedic and later Upanishadic, Puranic thought. [See my comments upon the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad’s “Fire Spider” Hotr metaphor, for a great example – and also its use of the great noon-day sacrificial Pyre from whence emanates sparks without extinguishing, as an evocative illustration of the principle of Brahman I have aforementioned].
Yet as you can tell, this Buddhist approach lies at the *exact opposite* of the spectrum to what we might term the ‘orthodox’ Hindu view. Which instead holds that not only are Words in Sanskrit – the Divine Speech, in particular, if we are running the interpretation that these are considerably overlapping .. which is another topic for another time – *axiomatically correlated* with Concepts, Things, therefore the fundamental fabric of Reality Itself … *but also* that Speaking thus, instead of being some sort of occasionally inconvenient shorthand that gets *in the way* of meaning – is *actually* the direct communication of ‘meaning’ itself [whether or not we may actually understand the meaning thus imparted in a purely communicative sense]. Hence part of the explanations for why Sanskrit mantras have their effects – because you are literally utilizing the tools which ‘reshape reality’ in your utterances of them. And hence, also, why we can speak of the Universe, in Vedic reckoning, potentially having been “sung” into being – as the proper and intentful, *empowered* [there is a Shakti point] enunciation of the Words in question, is what is said to have brought Them, that which the words signify, into being. This, not coincidentally, is also why many hold the Vedas – as Shruti [‘that which is heard’] to be fundamental and immanent *to* the Universe, and simply revealed to the compilers of the hymns in question, rather than ‘authored’ in any conventional sense – which also helps to explain why some instances within Them are somewhat historical [e.g. the Battle of Ten Kings], as this therefore means that these events were pre-saged [no pun initially intended] and thusly *ordained* to happen, via their inclusion and unfurling along with everything else.
So, in short, whereas these Buddhist perspectives instead tend to favour an ’empty universe’ that is distracting from its own fundamental emptiness via what Shakespeare coined as a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing [for added .. unexpected bonus points, the preceding lines not only refer to the universe through time unfolding in ‘syllable[s]’, but also speak of blowing out the candle, as part of the contra-pointed ‘illumination’ of the fundamentally illusory nature of all that is. The Shakta-Shaivite counterpoint to this, of course, as discussed in GHOST DIVISION, is to note that the Leela – the Cosmic Play – does not, via its potential scriptedness or its unfolding, actually mitigate against either the small-r idea of ‘reality’ or Capital R Reality [i.e. that there actually is *something* rather than *nothing* at the heart of it all]; the Hindu perspective would instead say that a) yes, yes there *is* Something, and b) that Something is expressing and emanating out (well, in) *into* the Universe, unfurling the Universe, via these plenipotentiary powers of Speech and Language. Although it is also necessary to note, with one of my favourite Hindu concepts fully front and center and echoing about resounding, Vacam Garjit Lakshanam [‘Indistinct Speech of the Divine’ / ‘Thunder having the Characteristics of Divine Speech’ – i.e. *roaring* rather than immediately-intelligible-to-mortal-ears-expression-ism] , that just because everything may be Speech or its immediate result, does *not* necesssarily mean it’s all Speech that we can actually understand. Which opens up a *whole* definitional mind-field over just what is or might be “Language” itself, and whether it is the ‘communicative’ or ‘signifer’, or even simply just ‘aesthetic’/’expressive’ purpose that defines the concept.
Part of the way in which this may work, the Hindu notion of An Absolute, and/or Divine Order [Rta, Orlog], which then has the Universe and its contents kinda hanging off it [this is, interestingly, not only a Yantra par excellence, but also at the root underpinning of what “Dharma” itself means, etymologically speaking – that which is ‘holding up’, ‘supporting’, in this instance and case, *everything else* via its affixion to the Sthamba of Rta [which, as we may countenance in a later article, intersects also with ‘inside reality’ in various ways and means, that are often overtly militaristic, where They are not being more .. topographical, or even personified, but more on that another time!]]; and which therefore also suffuses *through* the elaborate wall-hanging tapestry that is the world – is the concept of VAC [Divine Speech, also the Goddess Of] as the in-universe parallel manifestation and emanation of Rta out-of-universe. This has a nicely neat Shakta connotation to it also, as Rta as AdiParaShakti is well attested; therefore identifying Vac as Devi, and as below so above and beyond going back up the other way.
I have somewhat belaboured that point, but deliberately so – as it nicely illustrates the notion that even though the way in which we encounter and experience the world *may* be on at least *some* level illusory … not only is Maya *also* a Goddess [although this gets .. complex, in terms of symbolism due to a co-identification with Laxshmi ..] , but fundamentally, the Universe Itself [or ‘Herself’, Hiranyagarbha Emanation perhaps in mind] is *also* not “empty”, but rather all-permeatingly *full* – even if what it’s full *of* [in this case, Words, Meaning] is but a parallel emanation of something larger, greater, and more long-lasting [indeed, Sanatana rather than Sunyata – Eternal rather than Nothing] *outside*.
Prakriti, Purusha, Pertho
[love, as they say, can be pain – and inspiration]
The other reason for my going into some illustrative depth about the concept of Vac as an ‘in-universe’ projection of That Which Lies Beyond, is because it helps greatly with the explication of a rather highly experimental component of #NAS Theology, that is *also* built around a certain concept of Language. Or, to be more precise, *Writing*.
I am, of course, speaking of the Runes given to Odin. Potent patterns within the Fabric of Reality Itself [just like the traditional view of Sanskrit words as spoken, enunciated, oral language], Whose inscribing and otherwise employment, can effectively reshape parts of the Tapestry as a result.
Now, before going further with this explanation, it is necessary to but briefly parse the concepts of ‘Purusha’ and ‘Prakriti’ as they occur particularly in a specific Shaivite-Shakta context. A more indepth and, er, ‘accurate’ accounting for these words would take up an article many times the size of this one; for our purposes, we’ll simply run them as ‘Body’ and ‘Spirit’ respectively. [I stress that they can also mean .. other things, especially in relation to each other, including, somewhat peculiarly, almost *the other way around*] (Male) ‘Purusha’ in a cosmological context referring to the ‘universe’, the ‘world’ itself [and, indeed, there have been some academic comparisons made between the course of the Purusha Sukta and the Slaying of Ymir, in each case for a sort of cosmogonical effect], and Prakriti, here conceived of as the feminine particle, being an investiture of something supernal, a thought-form, an ‘essence’, from beyond/outside it.
So how does this relate to the Runes? Well, we’ll sketch out our thinking in more depth in a later article, but suffice to say that as the Runes are fundamental to reality, indeed precede it in an external sense, as part of Orlog [‘Orlog’ – Over-Law, Supernal, Outside/Above/Beyond-Universe Law – i.e. Rta], Their projection *into* our reality, to the Male in question [when He had briefly gone beyond, above, via self-sacrifice, tied about the *Female* World-Tree Axis Mundi] seems very like the above-aforementioned concept of Vak as Prakriti investing into the Universe, Purusha. And would also, as it happens, in a certain sense perhaps typologically mirror th way in which Freyja/Frigg teaches Odin magical secrets; or the famed Devi Sukta of the 10th Mandala of the RigVeda talks about the Divine Queen empowering the Man That SHE Loves & Chooses.
But here’s the trouble – the Runes, as we know Them, appear to have something of a derivation chain traceable through archaeological attestation, and showing that they’re the result of an ongoing period of ‘borrowing’ and further subsequent ‘development’ – “refinement”, we might say [and that is a point we shall return to later, “Sanskrit”‘s literal meaning [‘refined speech’] foremost in mind, as well!]
The means by which we might perhaps ‘square the circle’ [other than via rune Othala for O] as applies these dual perspectives – that of the linguistic expressions, the ‘shapes’ in question, whether of words and speech, or of the carved, graven emblematic insignia of the principles bearing themselves meaning, in the ‘supernal’ sense … versus the progressive ‘development’ via human hands and artifice of these various modes and means and mediums and mechanisms of communication – is actually something that is handily provided to us by an ancient hymnal of the Tenth Mandala of the RigVeda.
Now, this particular hymn [Rv. 10.71] is very interesting to me for a number of reasons; and perhaps in future we may examine some of these, in their own rite [there is a potential equivalency between Vedic Vac, and Nordic Var, that I have particularly in mind here, as set out by a more detailed cross-comparison of some of the verses in questionry].
But for our purposes, here today, we shall just quote but briefly from the Griffith translation:
“Where, like men cleansing corn-flour in a cribble, the wise in spirit have created language,
Friends see and recognize the marks of friendship: their speech retains the blessed sign imprinted.”
For you see, what is being illustrated here, is something quite different to the more ‘conventional’ understanding of proper, Resonant Speech – wherein it’s just something that’s *always* been there, immanent to the fabric of the universe, and which therefore Mankind kinda speaks by default [although it is important to note, also, that the *first* line of the hymn *does* have Brihaspati – the Father of the Songs of Prayer; and, as set forth in GHOST DIVISION, better known in the West as Odin, Galdrfodr – as setting forth some of the earliest [‘Divine Speech’] utterances , i.e. ‘projections’ out into the universe, in the course of Naming certain things: So it is important to remember that it is a *both* rather than *either* theory of language].
Rather, in this metaphor, providing I have understood and thence unpacked its ambit appropriately, we instead have a *refinement* process – whereby the ‘wheat’ is separated from the ‘chaff’, to utilize a further gran-ular [i.e. ‘growing’, to trace the PIE underpinning fundaments of *that* particle! ‘Gher’ – PIE basis for ‘growing’, ‘maturing’; yet consider also “Kerh” – which gets us ‘horn’ … which is blown, as a form of communication, so too and also; weaponized, even, in the form of the Bakura, the mighty storm-blast, in manner perhaps comparable to some fearsomely formidable employments of the Words, the Names of Vac, as Force Themselves through the air and through the aether. “My Very Name Is A Killing Word”, indeed] allusion.
So, what does this get us? What does this show? An idea, remarkable in its scope, of the speakers and the speech of previous language becoming ‘worked upon’ to the point that the word-forms in question, and the consciences, the definitions which they held [as Frantz Fanon excellently pointed out – to speak is to uphold the weight of a civilization; and to find yourself immersed within it through its lattice of conceptry thusly construed] , that all of these ‘married up’ [an appropriate choice of terms, given that this exact framing is utilized for the relationship between the Vedic Sage, thusly inspired, and Lady Vac , further into the Hymn] with the supernal points they were *supposed* to resemble and thence encapsulate.
‘Refinement’ principle, in action.
Or, phrased another way – the spoken language [or, in the case of the Runes, carved forms and their appropriate understanding and employment] eventually reaches a point wherein it has become evident to the Wise, that the ‘forms’ of it are ‘imprinted’ with the ‘blessed sign’ of this supernal value and saliency. That is to say, rather than being mere “words”, the resultant ‘refined’ forms are now *Words*. The Right [Indeed, Rite] Forms. Echoing and resemblant of [although, dependent upon just how far one is running some further theological developments in this area, not *entirely* encapsulating of *all* the forms and permutations of] the Divine Speech Itself.
Bearing The Blessed Sign – From Mind To Mind
Now this is, as it happens, a very hopeful thing. An immanently optimistic perspective. For whereas many other approaches to congealing, to conceiving of the ‘problem of Intersubjectivity’ [i.e. the difficulty two subjects have in actually truly, *really* communicating [‘communing’], because there’s always some layer of ‘veil’ between them], have made much out of the fact that exercises in deep and meaningful philosophic or emotive communication [perhaps *especially* both of those at once!], are almost inevitably to become frustrated by the underpinnings of our communicative apparatus (Or, as Terry Pratchett put it – the difficulty of discussing something as literally unutterably complex as love, or the fundamental fabric of the universe, in “a language originally designed to tell other monkeys [in the next tree] where the ripe fruit is.”) … *this* perspective instead holds that, with sufficient development, comprehension, and effort on the part of the speaker, we *can* actually get to a state wherein we *have* the right, indeed the *rite* apparatus to transmit the meaning of what we’re *actually talking about*, from our mind, to another person’s.
Which then brings us up to the *next* problem in this aforementioned setup [also contemplated in the RigVedic hymnal which I’ve been parsing above], that one may very well be “talking in philosophy, but they were listening in gibberish”, to quote Terry Pratchett once again.
Which may or may not be, dependent upon your perspective, a not entirely dissimilar thing to ladening one’s paragraphs with densely interknotted networks of in-text square-bracket-inserted mytho-linguistic trivia.
The point is, that while there is some validity to the Buddhist notion that language can get in the way of meaning, or perhaps only convey a certain, partial sense of something’s qualities and contents … this does not, in and of itself, actually speak against the concept of Divine Language; and of certain vehicles for expression being sufficiently, the *expressions themselves*, or powerful enough, resonant enough signifers *for* them, as to be useful. At most, and taking the Indo-European mytholinguistic cosmogonical perspective that not only do some Words have Power, not only is Speech a great Weapon, but that Reality Itself is made up of a tapestry of song, and word, and thought … at *most* it can be said that, if we are finding ourselves in a situation wherein the words, the sentences, the paragraphs and the conversations of our expression are *not* seeming to be supernally resonant, that this is because we are not using the right words, or talking of the right things, or perhaps even something as simple as *listening, hearing correctly*.
Alternatively, this quite literally most eloquent concept, of Maya – the fabric of ‘reality’ [small R, coz not really Capital R Real] – as being made up of words, and thence , the tapestry of Illusion [another sense in which we might mean ‘Maya’] serving as a ‘veil’ [interestingly, closely correlate to the Proto-Indo-European “Kel” particle, which underpins both “Hall” and “Hel(l”, as well as “Kaal”] similarly being constituted – well, in that sense, sure, it could be said that language is a barrier to ultimate Meaning, by which I am meaning Brahman, the Absolute. It’s just that so, too, then, is ‘existence’ all up. Although then we are right back to one of those probably unreconcilable differences of perspective between some Buddhists and many Hindus – over whether, at the heart of everything [or, rather, much like the Sahasrara Chakra in some representations, actually *above and beyond* the body, which I suppose here would be ‘Purusha’, in the sense also of ‘The Universe’ , as well] there actually is *Something*, or whether it really is and truly, simply ‘Nothing’ness, all the way down.
In any case, what I have above outlined, does not only provide a perhaps surprisingly useful illustration of how both a scientifically rooted perspective upon mythoreligious [and, clearly, linguistic] development *and* a much more overtly mythoreligious, metaphysical, downright theological position upon the phenomena under discussion … do not *have* to be read as constantly and continually at each others’ throats in some kind of life-or-death struggle for the very soul(less) of man. That way, unfounded and ever-less-in-dignity assertions lie on one side, or patent, flagrant euhemericism and philosophic nihilism upon the other. Instead, as Adi Shankara sagely observed, it is frequently a situation wherein, in cases that prima facie suggest a *contradiction* between (mytho-)religious and scientific belief upon a matter … this is quite frequently the result of somebody on at least one side of the argument bloody-mindedly failing to actually bring proper religious materials or understanding to the frame. And that, once considered with a more in-depth, better informed [in both spheres, where possible] and nuanced view, these ‘seeming contradictions’ turn out not actually to be so.
A most useful paradigm, indeed – and also an illustration of the principle of ‘paradox’ in action.
But it goes further.
Fanon’s words are unquestionably true: “To speak . . . means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilization”.
As we have hopefully but briefly glimpsed here, through the trees and the veiling, the process via which our “speech” is first defined, designed, and then developed, refined , is also to *uncover* a culture. And thence, with the proper Forms – whether Written, Carved, or Spoken, or even just Thought, in the cases of some – and especially as applies particular Vedic verses … we are, when we Speak, engaged in the upholding of the Weight of the Universe Entire!
Aum Vacaay namah !!!