Reading Texts: A Process of Discovering and Recovering Context
by Meenakshi Bauri
A research essay submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Arts
School of Linguistics and applied Language Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, September, 18, 2002
Levels of language
In advancing the Sphota theory of language, Bhartrhari speaks of levels of language in the Vakyapadiya. According to Bhartrhari, there are three stages of language of speech through which sabda or vak passes whenever one speaks. The stage where there is a complete identity of language and thought, is called the psyanti stage; at the intermediate stage, there is complete identity of Thought and Language, yet their difference is discernable, it can be called the pre-verbal stage. It is at this stage that the speaker sees Thought and Language as differentiable and this perception impels the speaker to speak. Lastly, then there is the vaikhari stage, ‘verbal’ stage. (Matilal, 1990, pp. 986-87).
Let us look at each level in a little more detail, based on Coward (1971, pp. 44-47).
Vaikhari is the most external and differentiated level in which vak is commonly uttered by the speaker and heard by the hearer. It is prana, or breath, that enables the organs of articulation and hearing to produce and perceive sounds in a temporal sequence. Prana/ breath is the instrumental cause of vaikhari vak. The chief characteristic of vaikhari vak is that it has a fully developed temporal sequence. At this level, individual peculiarities of the speaker (e.g. accent) are present along with the linguistically relevant parts of speech.
Going further inward, as it were, madhyama vak is the next level and its association is chiefly with the mind or intellect (buddhi). It is the idea, or series of words, as conceived by the mind after hearing or before being spoken out. It may be thought of as inward speech. All the parts of speech that are linguistically relevant to the sentence are present here in a latent form. At this level a variety of manifestation is possible. The same Sphota, or meaning, is capable of being revealed by a variety of forms of madhyama, depending on the language adopted. Although there is not full temporal sequence of the kind experienced in spoken words, word and meaning are still distinct, and word order is present. Therefore, temporal sequence must also be present along with its instrumental cause, prana.
The next and the innermost stage is pasyanti vak. Pasyanti is the direct experience of the vakya-sphota – of meaning as a nominal whole. At this level, there is no distinction between the word and the meaning and there is no temporal sequence. All such phenomenal differentiations drop away with the intuition of the pure meaning itself. Yet, there is present at this level, a going out, or a desire for expression. This is the telos inherent in the pasyanti vision that may be said to motivate the phenomenalization into sentences and words so that communication occurs. Since pasyanti is, by definition, beyond the level of differentiated cognition, it is impossible to define it in word-sentences. It is at the level of direct intuition, and therefore, must be finally understood through experience. There is speculation of yet another higher level of language, that is, para vak.
The levels of language analyzed by Bhartrhari in the Vakyapadiya are more than linguistic theory or theological speculation. They are intimately connected with the goal or purpose of living and the practical discipline for its realization. (1971, p. 50)
The goal is the realization of moksa/liberation, or complete union with Sabdabrahman/Supreme word principle.
Karika 1:123, describes the practice that helps in achieving moksa or liberation. Iyer’s (1969) translation is as follows:
Taking his stand on the essence of the Word lying beyond the activity of breath (prana), resting in one’s self with all sequence eliminated, After having purified speech and after having rested it on the mind, after having broken its bonds and made it bond-free, After having reached the inner Light, he with his knots cut, becomes united with the Supreme Light. (p.1)
The philosophical and the psychological aspects of the nature of language
According to Harold Coward (1971, p. 54), a complete analysis of the Vakyapadiya must include both its philosophical aspect (the metaphysical inquiry into the nature and meaning of language), and its psychological aspect (the yoga explanation of the process required for communicating meaning at the lower level of language, and the discipline for becoming one with the Word). Yoga, says Coward, was the traditional psychology of India in Bhartrhari’s day, and an understanding of Yoga psychology is necessary to grasp the Vakyapadiya in its full perspective. The Vakyapadiya describes consciousness as an intertwined unity of cognition and word, that seeks to manifest itself in speech (Coward, 1971, p. 54).This metaphysical aspect of the Sphota doctrine is explained by Matilal:
The metaphysical view of Bhartrhari is that whatever is called sabda, ‘language’ and artha, ‘meaning’, ‘thought’ or ‘things-meant’, are one and undifferentiated in their pre-verbal or potential state. Before the utterance, it is argued, the language along with whatever it conveys or means is like the yolk of a peahen’s egg. In that state all the variegated colours of a full grown peacock lie dormant in potential form. Later these colours are actualized. Similarly, in the self of the speaker or the hearer, or whoever is gifted with linguistic capacity, all the variety and differenciation of linguistic items and their meanings exist as potentialities, and language and thought are identical at that stage….The sphota is ultimately said to be in every sentient being. It is the linguistic capability of man, which is essentially intertwined with Consciousness….The ultimate reality for Bhartrhari is the Absolute Consciousness which is identical with Sabdabrahman, the Eternal Verbum (Matilal, 1990, p. 95)
Bhartrhari discusses his theory both from the speaker’s perspective and the hearer’s perspective, and accounts for all cognition as being identified with language, since these levels of language span the complete continuum of cognition.
Bhartrhari says there is no cognition in the world in which the word does not figure. All knowledge is intertwined with the word. (Vakyapadiya 1:23). Thought at the buddhi, or differentiated stage of word sequences is internal speaking (intermediate stage of vak). And pratibha or intuition, as a kind of muted speaking (pasyanti stage of vak).
Bhartrhari, propounded the thesis that verbalizability (or, verbal or linguistic activity at some implicit level) is immanent in our cognitive faculty (VP. I, verses 123-4). It is claimed that the cognitive faculty operates with the verbal faculty. Speech or language is not just a convenient but essential conveyor of thought, rather it constitutes a vital part of thought. It implies that we verbalize, at some deeper level, as we cognize, and we cognize as we verbalize. A cognition does not cognize if it does not verbalize, at least at some implicit level..…What happens to one’s private sensory experience or sensation? From Bhartrhari’s point of view as soon as sensory reaction stops being simply a physical or physiological event and matures into sensory awareness, as soon as it penetrates into the cognitive level, it becomes pregnant with ‘Word’, ‘Sabda’ or verbalizability. (Matilal, 1990, p. 133)
For Bhartrhari, speaking is the essence of consciousness, and the means to all knowledge. By speaking, language or thought, what is meant is the conveyance of meaning – thinking does not refer to concept formation, the drawing of inferences, etc. which exist at the two lowest levels (vaikhari and madhyama) only. Speaking, language or thought means conveyance of meaning, and meaning is intertwined with consciousness. This realization is possible at all levels of speech from moments of highest perception to simple everyday cognition.
The theory of cognition within the Indian context, gives importance to ‘perception’ as one of the methods of gaining knowledge. Most Indian philosophers – the Buddhists, the Naiyayikas, and the Mimamsakas – believe that there are two types of perceptual awareness, nirvikalpa and savikalpa. The first is related to sensory awareness where no concept and no language or word (sabda) can appear, and the second, to the awareness where words, concepts and universals are present. The argument is that the pure object – the given – is where sabda, or word, has no place, such as the body’s ‘raw feels’. Bhartrhari, however, maintained the opposite view: that even in the nirvikalpa or non-conceptual state, awareness is interpreted with sabda (word) or vag-rupata.
Without such vag-rupata (word-impregnation) which Bhartrhari calls pratyavamarsa, ‘determination by word’ (I, verse 124), (other schools of thought call it, or paramarsa) an awareness cannot be aware of an object, and illumination will not illuminate (na prakasah prakaseta). Prakasa and vimarsa-called ‘illumination’ and ‘discrimination’ in English are two mutually complementary properties of any awareness-episode. If prakasa is the light, vimarsa is what makes the object distinguishable and distinct. An awareness is thus both prakasa and vimarsa. A pure prakasa without vimarsa is impossible in theory. Bhartrthari has said that even a new born baby acts by virtue of an awareness where the seed of word-penetration must have been sown. Implicit in such argument is a special theory of action and a theory of awareness, and their inter-relationship. All our activities are implicitly prompted by some specific awareness of some purpose or other. The instinctual awareness of babies, awareness that prompts them to act, to cry, or even to make the effort to articulate their first words, must be a sort of awareness where the purpose and the method to achieve the purpose are distinguished and it presupposes vimarsa (discrimination) and hence sabdavahana (penetration by word). Implicit in such argument are a special theory of action and a theory of awareness, and their interrelationship. All our activities are implicitly prompted by some specific awareness of some purpose or other (Ibid., pp. 136-137).
And according to Houben,
Discussion on levels of speech does not occupy a central place in Bhartrhari’s thought, it is not presented as an important subject nor elaborated as such…. in the larger part of the Vakyapadiya it is useful to distinguish between reality as expressed in language and ultimate reality….In this sense Bhartrhari is very much concerned with the limits of language (1995, pp. 275-276).
The distinction between reality as expressed in language, and ultimate reality, is explored by Bhartrihari when describing word-object connection. The relation of vacya (word) and vacka (object) is called the ‘signification’ relation; the Sanskrit name is vacya-vacaka-bhava. Bhartrhari, in the first verse of chapter 3 of part III of Vakyapadiya says: “From the utterance of words, the speaker’s idea, the external object and the form of the word itself are understood. There stands (therefore) a relation between them (utterance of the word and the other three)” (Matilal, 1990, p. 124). For Bhartrhari, the ‘objects meant’ do not constitute the external objects; rather the object meant is what is grasped by the speaker’s awareness. Our activities may be prompted by language and deal with external realities, but language does not mean or signify them. They are understood at the utterance of the word because otherwise, our activities would not be possible. Linguistic signification according to Bhartrhari, refers to a separate realm.
From the point of view of Bhartrhari’s Sphota, or the notion that language is an integral part of our consciousness, both speech and writing can be the ‘illuminators’ of the Sphota. One is not primary, and the other does not distort the Sphota. Both ‘transform’ the untransformable, unmodifiable Sphota, which is part and parcel of everybody’s consciousness. In the light of Bharthari’s theory, therefore, both the translations and the original (whether vocal or written) are in some sense transformations (Matilal,1990, p. 131).
The theory of Sphota and Art
Bhartrhari’s Sphota theory of language also extends to the psychology of art. Exploring the connection between art and Bhartrhari’s theory of language, Dehajia in his book The Advaita of Art states, “Bhartrhari’s sphota is more than a theory of language….It has provided aesthetics in the Indian tradition a definition and has given it a validity and structure” (Dehejia, 1996, p. 39). In his book, Dehajia explores how sabda evolves into kavya – poetic language. According to Dehejia, Indian thought is interested not only in cognitive knowledge, but also subjective realization. Dehajia’s interest is a close examination of Bhartrhari’s analysis of language to see if it can provide that missing link in the evolution of sabda (word/language) understood as kavya (poetics). Bhartrhari’s exploration of the theory of Sphota influenced poetics and literary criticism within the Sanskrit tradition in major way.
In conclusion, I quote what Bhartrhari scholars have to say about Bhartrhari:
Matilal on Bhartrhari’s theory of language.
Bhartrhari’s theory of language is a very complex one. For him language is an activity – a type of activity in which all human beings, in fact all sentient beings, engage. The Sanskrit name for this activity is sabdana or sabda-vyapara. It is ‘languaging’. In Bhartrhari’s metaphor it is the very vibration (spanda) of consciousness
This theory has many facets.
- Bhartrhari tells us that language or sabda plays an indispensable part in our cultural life at different levels of consciousness. In fact, it makes the transaction between sentient beings possible.
- He further asserts that sabda or language is the basis of the distinction between the sentient and the insentient
- All thought, all awareness in intertwined with ‘languaging’, for there cannot be any manifestation of awareness unless it is illuminated by sabda.
- There are two levels of language or sabda which all linguists must recognize, the implicit or the inner speech and the articulate noise. The former he called sphota, the latter nada, ‘sound’, ‘noise’. The former is more real, it is the causal basis of the latter.
- Above all, Bhartrhari propounds a cosmological thesis. The whole universe (or we should say the linguistic universe), consisting of two different types of things, the vacyas,(signified) bits and pieces of the constructed world to which language refers, and the linguistic expressions, the vacaka (signifiers), has evolved out of one principle called the Word-Essence, sabda-tattva, the Eternal Verbum, sabda-brahman, the ever-extending consciousness of the sentient. We may discount this point as a theological or metaphysical bias, but there may be an important truth implicit in it here. Our perceived world is also an interpreted world. And this interpretation is invariably in terms of some language or other. Interpretation is ‘languaging’. Bhartrhari believes that both language and the world it purports to refer to (and this world by his own explicit admission may or may not refer with the external, actual world) form an indivisible, unitary whole. In the light of such a theory it is easy to see how the vacaka-vacya (signifier-signified) distinction is artificial, provisional and ultimately collapsible into a unity from which it never arises.
The first verses of the text Vakyapadiya runs thus:
The essence of language has no beginning and no end. It is the imperishable Brahman, the ultimate consciousness, which is transformed in the form of meanings and which facilitates the functioning of the world. (Verse 1,1)
An absolute beginning of language is untenable. Language is continuous and co-terminous with the human or any sentient being. There is no awareness in this world without its being intertwined with language. All cognitive awareness appears as if it is interpenetrated with language. (Verse 1,123)
If the language impregnated nature went away from it, then a cognition would not manifest (any object), for that (language impregnated nature) is the distinguishing nature of our cognitive awareness. (Verse 1,124) (Matilal,1990, pp. 120-130)
Harold Coward on Bhartrhari’s thinking:
I found myself particularly drawn to Bhartrhari’s thinking because it spanned the diverse disciplines of philosophy, psychology and theology, and because it has been debated right up to the present day….Although Bhartrhari lived in India many centuries ago, his writing has a universal appeal that spans the years and bridges the gulf between East and West. This very timelessness in conjunction with universality strongly suggests that Bhartrhari as a Grammarian, metaphysician, and poet has come close to revealing the fundamental nature of consciousness itself. (1971, preface).
And, Houben, in the chapter on the Vakyapadiya and its interpretation makes the following comments:
Last century, the work of the grammarian-philosopher Bhartrhari (c. 5th century AD) attracted the attention of indologists like Kielhorn and Bühler, who still had to work with the manuscript sources then accessible. Bhartrhari studies made only slow progress in the decades which followed, and as recently as in 1977, Hartmut Scharfe could write that “The study of Bhartrhari’s thought is still in its infancy; critical editions and usable translations come forth only slowly.” Nearly twenty years later, the grammatical and linguo-philosophical contents of Bhartrhari’s work, especially of his magnum opus the Vakyapadiya, are receiving mounting scholarly attention. One of the reasons for this must be that the subject matter of the Vakyapadiya is strongly consonant with crucial themes in twentieth century Western thought, in spite of the very different background and elaboration of the issues…Some important authors with whom Bhartrhari’s has been compared are Saussure – (Kunjunni Raja, 1969),Wittgenstein – (Ganguli, 1963; K. Raja, 1969; Shah,1991; Patnaik, 1994), Quine – (Aklujkar, 1989) and Derrida – (Coward, 1990, 1991; Matilal, 1990). (1995, pp. 11-20)
And Matilal says,
What is language? Is one of the trickiest questions of our times. What Bhartrhari meant by language was not always absolutely clear. But he said a lot of things about it. And it is on the basis of such writing that we can speak today about Bhartrhari’s theory of ‘speech’ or language. Our journey into the past can never be complete or final. This is not because we can never exhaustively discover the contours of the past, the land that we have left behind, from the control of theatricals that we now have at our disposal. Rather we take new trips to the old land to see new landscapes from a new angle of vision (1990, pp. 120-121).
The realization just dawns on what I might have missed if I had not been encouraged to investigate my vague intuitive feeling!
In this chapter I have attempted to present a brief rendering of Bhartrhari’s theory of language. Because of the technical nature of the arguments I have quoted extensively from the works of Bhartrhari, scholars such as Matilal, Houben, Coward and Murti. What I also could not resist doing, is to present in their own words, these scholars’ fascination with Bhartrhari’s philosophy of language, emphasizing his contribution to the study of nature and meaning of language.
In the next chapter I examine aspects of the investigation and comment on the reader/text relationship to reflect and highlight some significant realizations in my reading process.
Chapter 6: The Reading process: a result
In chapter seven of Thought and Language, Vygotsky says, “Let us consider the process of verbal thinking from the first dim stirrings of a thought to its formulation” (Kozulin, 1997, p. 217). In this section, I present a synthesis of the process of my reading experience, which itself, is a result of investigating the first dim stirrings of a thought. In other words this paper, is a reflection of pursuing a vague thought to its formulation.
In presenting a synthesis of my reading process I will
- Give a brief summary of the main ideas explored in each of the five chapters.
- Highlight parallel ideas in Vygotsky and Bhartrhari discovered as part of the reading process, and
- Indulge in concluding reflections on the reading process itself.
Summary of the main ideas explored in each of the five chapters.
In the introduction, I ask the question if it were possible that Bhartrhari’s Vakyapadiya served as a foundation text for Vygotsky’s Thought and Language, because reading Vygotsky’s text reminded me of the Indian Philosophical tradition. My method of inquiry based on the reading process was to indulge in interpretive self-reflection. This paper, therefore, accounts for what can happen in an encounter between a reader and a text. The reading process was concerned with exploring iconographic traces of ‘Bhartrhari’s’ (I use Bhartrhari here in a cultural sense) thought in Vygotsky’s Thought and Language. The reflections and commentaries in Chapter Two reflect my thoughts upon reading the Author’s Preface and Chapter 1 of Vygotsky’s Thought and Language. These beginning pages were, to me, full of ambiguities, which I, as the reader sometimes questioned and sometimes tried to rationalize. To me it seemed that Vygotsky’s problem and his approach was directed at how to bring about a synthesis of the Eastern and Western thought within scientific discourse. It is my reflection that precisely because of this, he needs to be placed within a global perspective, bringing together the theoretical traditions of the East and the empirical traditions of the West. This would help to accommodate the problem of consciousness, which Vygotsky claims, is the perspective that his investigation opens up (Kozulin, 1997, p. 255). The Indian philosophical tradition deals with the problem of consciousness systematically and logically, and had been the focus of attention of Western scholarship through Indological studies.
Within this context in Chapter Three, I question the conventional perspectives on Vygotsky. In Chapter Four, my attempt is to understand the discourse of Vygotsky’s times, and to search for a historical grounding for the tracings of Indian thought in Vygotsky’s Thought and Language. Such an exploration is in keeping with the idea that it is the historical reader, in all its aspects, that interacts with the historical text and author in all of their aspects. Chapter Five deals with Indian thought and Bhartrhari’s theory of Sphota. As a result of this reading process, my speculation is that a genealogical view of the development of the theory of Sphota could be shown as follows:
- The concept of Sphota can be traced back to the Vedic period, to the Mystical meditation of the Vedic risis – 4,000 – 1,000BCE
- Patanjali provides the initial framework for the Sphota theory (150 AD).
- Definition of Sphota by Bhartrhari (450 AD) in his work – the Vakyapadiya. Bhartrhari gives a systematic philosophical analysis with illustrations of Word knowledge manifested and communicated in ordinary experience.
- Logical analysis by Mandana Misra in his work – Sphotasiddhi (690 AD). Mandan Misra elaborates Bhartrhari’s theory.
- Scientific experimentation by Vygotsky in his work – Thought and Language (1934). Vygotsky tests it empirically.
The above speculation rests on the assumption that Bhartrhari’s thought might have found an expression in Vygotsky’s scientific experiments.
Parallel ideas in Vygotsky and Bhartrhari discovered as part of the reading process
I didn’t find any direct evidence connecting Bhartrhari’s Vakyapadiya and Vygotsky’s Thought and Language, but there is much indirect and circumstantial evidence in support of this connection. In this concluding section, I would like to highlight significant similarities and parallels between Vygotsky and Bhartrhari. It is not within the scope of this paper to extend into a full comparative discussion of the thoughts of the two philosophers; however, as a part of the reading process, it is possible to give a few examples, which serve as indications signifying a possible connection or perhaps serve as an introduction to establish a dialogue between them. These signifying aspects of Vygotsky’s text can be classified into those where Vygotsky gives details and discusses the findings of his investigations; and those where he chooses to use poetic language instead, leaving the reader with an impression and a presence. As examples of Vygotsky’s poetic expression I refer to the commentaries on Vygotsky’s statement “A thought may be compared to a cloud shedding a shower of words” (Kozulin, 1997, p. 251); also his references to atoms, – ‘as an atom relates to the universe’; ‘to a new direction’; and to a ‘universal consciousness’, which I discuss in Chapter 2: Quotes and commentaries.
The examples below, from the last chapter of Vygotsky’s Thought and Language relate to Vygotsky’s discussions on the findings of his investigations.
In chapter 7, Vygotsky says, that in the process of discovering the relation between thought and word he studied, in short:
Levels of speech – Vygotsky identifies 3 levels-inner speech; egocentric speech; external speech. He also identifies a level still more inward than inner speech – “That plane is thought itself.”.
Connection between word and object
Word and reality
Relation of word and consciousness.
And the fact that words signify the general. (1997, p. 249)
Vygotsky explores these in more detail as the following quotes reveal: Word meaning is a phenomenon of thought only so far as thought is embodied in speech, and of speech only so far as speech is connected with thought and illuminated by it. It is a phenomenon of verbal thought, or meaningful speech – a union of word and thought. …Our experiments fully confirm this basic thesis. Vygotsky distinguishes between two planes of speech. Both the inner, meaningful, semantic aspect of speech and the external phonetic aspect, though forming a true unity, have their own laws of movement… .However the two are not independent of each other. On the contrary, their difference is the first stage of a close union. There is an inner relatedness. As thought becomes more differentiated it is difficult to express it in single words. Conversely progress in speech to the differentiated whole of a sentence helps the child’s thoughts to progress from a homogeneous whole to well defined parts. In our speech there is always the hidden thought; the subtext. Because a direct transition from thought to word is impossible. Thought must pass through meanings and then through words. Thought is not begotten by thought; it is engendered by motivation i.e. by our desire and needs, our interests and emotions.
Thought and word are not cut from one pattern. The structure of speech does not mirror the structure of thought. Thought undergoes many changes as it turns into speech; it finds its reality and form.
The relation of thought and word cannot be understood without a clear understanding of the psychological nature of inner speech. Inner speech, speech for oneself; external speech is for others. There is absence of vocalization, it is abbreviated and incoherent. Context and sense of the word. A word derives its sense from the context. Inner speech is thinking in pure meanings; in inner speech words die as they bring forth thought.
Then there is the plane of thought…Every thought creates a connection, fulfills a function, solves a problem. The flow of thought is not accompanied by a simultaneous unfolding of speech. The two processes are not identical…(Vygotsky comes to the conclusion) If perceptive consciousness and intellectual consciousness reflect reality differently then we have two different forms of consciousness. Thought and speech turn out to be the nature of human consciousness.
How to put thought into words. Thought has its own structure and the transition from it to speech is no easy matter. A thought does not contain of separate units. (Vygotsky, 1997, pp. 210-256).
As a comparison to the above, I present the following quotes related to Bhartrhai’s thought, roughly corresponding them with the categories discussed by Vygotsky. These are discussed in greater detail in Chapter Six.
Semantic aspect of speech and the phonetic aspect of speech; motivation:
In his discussion of the distinction between word and sound , Bhartrhari employs three technical terms: sabda/sphota, dhvani, and nada. By sabda and or sphota he refers to the inner unity which conveys the meaning. The dhvanis are described as imperceptible particles which, become gross and perceptible sounds and are called nada. These nada function to suggest the word, sphota or sabda. And since these nadas which are gross and audible, have division and sequence, the word also has parts, when in reality it is changeless and sequenceless. Bhartrhari offers the example of reflection in water. Just as an object reflected in the water may seem to have movement because of the movement of the water, similarly the word, or sphota, takes on the properties of uttered speech (sequence, loudness or softness, accent, etc.) in which it is manifested…why is the unity expressed in the diversity called speech? In Bhartrhari’s view, it is because the spota itself contains an inner energy (kartu) that seeks to burst forth into expression. What appears to be unitary is thus seen to contain all the potentialities of multiplicity and complexity like the seed and the sprout or the egg and the chicken. In the Vakyapadiya, Bhartrhari suggests two ways in which the energy of speech causes the phenomenalization of the sphota. On the one hand there is the pent up potentiality for bursting forth residing in the sphota itself, while on the other hand there is the desire of the speaker to communicate Bharthari finds language to contain and reveal its own telos. (Coward, 1971, p. 37).
Word and Meaning; union of thought and word:
Epistemologically, it is a two level theory as applied to linguistic cognition. The Sphota is a necessary intermediary and is called the Madhyama vak as distinct from empirical speech called vaikhari vak. These two belong to different orders – one is empirical and the other is submerged and hidden and therefore has to be excited and manifested by the overt sounds. The relation between them is that of the soul and body, is one of identification or superimposition…that they (word and meaning) stand related and are generally identified implies that they both spring from some common source which is the ground of their being….Indian philosophers of language are not content to stop at any duality, the duality of Word and Meaning or the duality of Thought and Reality. As Bhartrhari states it: “All difference presupposes a unity”; where there is a duality there is an identity pervading it. Otherwise one cannot be related to the other; each would constitute a world by itself. (Murti, 1963, pp. 368 – 369)
Levels of speech:
In advancing the Sphota theory of language, Bhartrhari speaks of levels of language in the Vakyapadiya. According to Bhartrhari, there are three stages of language of speech through which sabda or vak passes whenever one speaks. The stage, where there is a complete identity of language and thought, is called the psyanii stage;. At the ‘intermediate’ stage, there is complete identity of Thought and Language yet their difference is discernable, it can be called the ‘pre-verbal’ stage. It is at this stage that the speaker sees Thought and Language as differentiable and this perception impels the speaker to speak. And then there is the vaikhari stage, the ‘verbal’ stage. There is speculation of yet another higher level of language, that is, para vak. (Matilal, 1990, pp. 986-87).
The next and the innermost stage is pasyanti vak. Pasyanti is the direct experience of the vakya-sphota – of meaning as a noumenal whole. At this level there is no distinction between the word and the meaning and there is no temporal sequence. All such phenomenal differentiations drop away with the intuition of the pure meaning itself. Yet there is present at this level a going out or a desire for expression. This is the telos inherent in the pasyanti vision that may be said to motivate the phenomenalization into sentences and words so that communication occurs. Since pasyanti is, by definition, beyond the level of differentiated cognition, it is impossible to define it in word-sentences. It is at the level of direct intuition and therefore must be finally understood through experience. (Coward, 1971, pp. 44-47).
Word and Consciousness and Word and reality:
The metaphysical view of Bhartrhari is that whatever is called sabda, ‘language’ and artha, ‘meaning’, ‘thought’ or ‘things-meant’, are one and undifferentiated in their pre-verbal or potential state. Before the utterance, it is argued, the language along with whatever it conveys or means is like the yolk of a peahen’s egg. In that state all the variegated colours of a full grown peacock lie dormant in potential form. Later these colours are actualized. Similarly, in the self of the speaker or the hearer, or whoever is gifted with linguistic capacity, all the variety and differenciation of linguistic items and their meanings exist as potentialities, and language and thought are identical at that stage (Matilal,1990, p. 86)
…. The sphota is ultimately said to be in every sentient being. It is the linguistic capability of man, which is essentially intertwined with Consciousness….The ultimate reality for Bhartrhari is the Absolute Consciousness which is identical with Sabdabrahman, the Eternal Verbum Within this theory consciousness and thought are intertwined, and language is the base of all human activity. (Ibid,. 1990, p. 95)
Impossibility of a direct transition from Thought to word
From the point of view of Bhartrhari’s sphota or the notion that language is an integral part of our consciousness, both speech and writing can be the ‘illuminator’ of the sphota. One is not primary and the other does not distort the sphota. Both ‘transform’ the untransformable, unmodifiable sphota, which is part and parcel of everybody’s consciousness. In the light of Bhartrhari’s theory, therefore, both the translations and the original (whether vocal or written) are in some sense transformations (Matilal,1990, p. 131).
As mentioned above the parallels highlighted surfaced while reading Bhartrhari and Vygotsky’s thought. The examples above serve only as grounds to speculate that perhaps Bhartrhari and Vygotsky can be made to talk to each other; that it is possible do so became evident to me after my study of the two.
Reflections on the reading process
This paper has focused on the process of reading itself, and I would like to say a word about it. Caught between the dynamics of the text and the reading, my experience as the reader of Vygotsky’s text, has left me with the realization that the process of interpretation is the act of balancing the context within which the text is interpreted by scholars, the direction the text itself and the author seem to point to, and the direction the reader chooses to take. Within this act, the knowledge that I as the reader brought to the reading of the text, played a crucial role. This knowledge was largely cultural and intuitive. This background knowledge gave the reading process the first momentum; the actual building, verification, refutation assimilation etc., then became a long and convoluted reading process – a process, where I, as the reader, set upon an intellectual as well as an emotional journey of surprise, anger, the euphoria of discoveries and the realization of how little one knew and how little one could do. This is where thoughts came to a point where the duality of existence assumed an experiential grounding. I became aware of the awesome force of the historical process, my own historical embeddedness and a struggle to create ‘meaning’. It became a process of self-realization, and the world was never quite the same again. Between the reading and the writing is a process all its own. At least that is how it was for me, who encountered Vygotsky’s text with some background knowledge of Bhartrhari.
This personal experience relates a subjective journey from one to another level of consciousness, as Bhartrhari would have said it, which would include the formation of concepts through ‘systematically organized learning in an educational setting’ as Vygotsky might have said. However, Vygotsky also says.
As soon as we start approaching these relations, the most complex and grand panorama opens before our eyes. Its intricate architects surpass the richest imagination of research schemas. The words of Lev Tolstoy proved to be correct: “the relation of word to thought, and the creation of new concepts is a complex delicate and enigmatic process unfolding in our soul” (Tolstoy, 1903, p. 143). (Quoted from Vygotsky, 1997, p.218)
Bhartrhari would describe this as a process towards moksa, or liberation….
Taking his stand on the essence of the Word lying beyond the activity of breath (prana), resting in one’s self with all sequence eliminated, After having purified speech and after having rested it on the mind, after having broken its bonds and made it bond-free, After having reached the inner Light, he with his knots cut, becomes united with the Supreme Light. Karika 1:123 Iyer, 1969).
Perhaps Vygotsky would describe the same as having encountered the plane of verbal thought: “…the one still more inward than inner speech. That plane is thought itself” (1997, p. 249).
In Thought and Language Vygotsky, suggests, “Facts are always examined in the light of some theory and therefore cannot be disentangled from philosophy. Who would find the key to the richness of the new fact must uncover the philosophy of the fact – how it was found and how interpreted’ (Vygotsky, 1997, p. 15). My reading experience of Vygotsky’ s Thought and Language is one long journey in search of the philosophy behind the fact, in search of that theory which cannot be disentangled from philosophy.
Let’s look at Vygotsky’ s ideas on the ‘influx of sense’, he says, “A word derives its sense from the sentence, which in turn, gets its sense from the paragraph, the paragraph from the book, the book from all the works of the author” (Vygotsky, 1997, p.245). Continuing his reflections on the influx of sense, Vygotsky further says, “The title of a literary work expresses its content and completes its sense….” (Vygotsky, 1997, p.247). Vygotsky’s text, Thought and Language, is called Myshlenie I rech in Russian, and should be rendered in English as: Thought and Speech. This identification with ‘speech’ in the title of the Russian work is not fully realized in the title of the English translation. According to Murti (1963, p. 363) “The very life of language is communication. And the term ‘speech’ brings out this aspect more clearly. For Indian thinkers, language was primarily the spoken word, or speaking itself – VAK as it is called in Sanskrit.”
My concluding reflection is, keeping the above in mind, a possible translation of the title of Bhartrhari’ s Vakyapadiya could be ‘Thought and Speech’; and so we return to where we started – Could it be that Bhartrhari’s Vakyapadiya served as the foundation text for Vygotsky’ s Thought and Language?
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Glossary of Sanskrit Terms [modified and abridged from Coward, 1986]
ahimsa, non-violence in thought and deed
artha, word-meaning – distinct from the sound of the word; the inner meaning of a word
brahman, the Supreme or the pure consciousness; also reality
darsana, narrowly defined as schools of thought; no English equivalent
dhvani the uttered syllables of a word; also, in Indian aesthetics, the use of poetic words to evoke feeling that is too deep, intense and universal to be spoken
guna, characteristic or quality; generally refers to the three gunas related to consciousness – Sattva,Tamas and Rajas. Sattva – the pure bright illuminating consciousness; Rajas – energy or activity; Tamas – materiality
Jñana, pure knowledge of word or object
Kratu, an energy (within speech) that bursts into external speech thus bringing sequence and diversity to the unitary whole sphota
Madhyama vak, intermediate level of speech, the pre verbal stage of external speech
Mimamsa, one of the six schools of Classical Indian thought;
Moksa, liberation from suffering and bondage of prakrti/nature
nada, physical embodiment of sound of the word
para vak, a fourth level of speech
pasyanti vak, intuitive knowledge which comes in a flash
prakrti, materiality, one aspect of the duality of our existence
prama, true cognition
pramana, a valid way of knowing through perception;
prana, breath, the cause of speech at the lower level
rsi, the seer who receives divine knowledge
sabda, spoken word
Sabdabrahman, The supreme word principle for Bhartrhari, the supreme reality
Sphota, meaning whole within our consciousness, evoked by the spoken word; the sentence meaning as a whole idea
Vaikhari vak, external speech, the level of uttered speech
Vak, language which has different levels – from the spoken word to the highest intuition
Vakyapadiya, Bhartrhari’s work – possible English trans. thought and speech
Vacya-vacaka, vacya-signified; vacaka-signifiers;
Vedanta, one of the six schools of Indian thought, identified with monistic absolutism
Vedas, the earliest of Indian texts, they consist of a whole corpus of texts
Vyakarana, The school of Grammar; Bhartrhari belongs to this tradition
Yoga, one of the six schools of Indian philosophy; describes a practical psychological discipline for achieving release; systematized by Patañjali
Influences Of Indic Thought On Russian And European Intellectuals
Significant philosophers: Panini (400BC), Katyayan (300 BC), Patanjali (200 BC), and Bhartrhari (430-510 A D); of the Grammar School of thought; Nagarjuna (200), Dinnaga (439-540), Dharmakriti (600-660): – Buddhist philosophers;
and Sri Aurobindo(1872-1850) a contemporary philosopher
Minayev, (1840-1890) was the founder of Russian Indology.He was a friend of Tolstoy.
Stcherbatsky (1866-1942) worked with Indian scholars and translated the works of Buddhist philosophers. Was a student of Bühler. It is suspected Stcherbatsky’s article, Dignaga Theory of perception, Journal of Taisho University Tokyo. 1930. vol. 6 7 Papers of Stcherbatsky belonged to Bhartrhari a work not available at present.
Potebnja was a follower of Humbolt. He was influenced by his ideas on inner speech. He was a Sanskritist.
Members of the Bakhtin Circle:
Bakhtin (1895-1975) borrowed profusely from Cassier. It is said Bakhtin’s thought has more than a correlation with the philosophy of Nagarjuna the Buddhist philosopher. He was a neo-Kantian.
Kagan (1889-1937) student of Cassier; founder of the Bakhtin Circle.
Voloshinov (1895-1936) also worked with Cassier’s ideas.
Russian School of Romantic Poetry
Members of the Socio-religious Society of St Petersberg
N. Roerich (1874-1947) Artist, Philosopher linguist.Started Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute.
Tolstoy (1828-1970) was greatly influenced by Indic thought.
Sorokin (1889-1968) Sorokin was associated with the Psycho-Neurological Institute while at St. Petersberg. Influenced by Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy. He conducted scientific experiments on the practice of yoga.
Lev Semenovich Vygotsky (1896-1934) Author of ‘Thought and Language‘. Vygotsky was a neo-Kantian, influenced by structuralism – and therefore by Saussurean linguistics and according to Werstch, indebted to the Formalists for the formation of the most important idea in his cultural-historical theory of the development of higher mental functions – that of semiotic mediation. Did Vygotsky know or work with other neo-Kantians such as Bhaktin and his group, and Stcherbatsky, or the Roerichs? Was he aware of the scientific experiments of Sorokin and Schödinger?
George Bühler German Indologist. He had studied Bhartrhari. Probably had to work from manuscripts.
Cassier (1874-1945) was Bühler’s student. He had a great influence on the Bakhtin Circle. Cassier greatly admired the work of Humbolt. Howard Coward mentions that Humbolt was greatly influenced by Bhartrihari.
William von Humbolt (1767-1835) German Indologist and comparative linguist.
Ferdinand Saussure (1857-1913) Professor of Indo European linguistics and Sanskrit; founder of modern linguistics. Started the structuralist revolution whichhad wide spread repercussions in many areas of European thought. One of the sources the major of influences on Vygotsky Bakhtin Circle and the Russian Formalists and the school of Romantic Poetry.
Schrödinger used Vedic ideas in his book on modern biology.
Schopenhauer (1788-1860) well known for appropriating from the Upanisads.
The above is a very concise listing (chart) shows possible filtering of Indic thought through European intellectuals, to influence the development of Vygotsky’s thought concerning – Thought and Language.