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The Buddhist does not generally understand consciousness as created or projected by any absolute external deity or "transcendent" reality, who speaks or recites to order creation.  Nevertheless, the letters and written mantras are regarded as powerful links in the chain, or items of the technical repertoire -- "skillful means," -- to be used for realizing one's Buddha-nature, and for the benefit of all beings.

One of these chains or garlands is often depicted as a Garland of Severed Heads.


Around the neck of Kali, the Hindu goddess and similarly, the neck of the Buddhist deity, Hevajra and his consort and some other tantric figures, is a garland made up of 52 severed heads.  Outwardly they may be explained as the heads of adversaries, but they stand for the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet.   

These letters stand for reality as expressed by name and form (Skt. namarupa.) That is, sound (shabda) and what it stands for -- its "object' (artha.)  They are the adornment of the Hindu goddess, Kali, who is understood as the active aspect of Time, the devourer of all (what Buddhists term, impermanence.)  At the Great Dissolution of the Universe, she "slaughters" or, withdraws into her undivided consciousness everything that they point to.  In other words, she is wearing the symbols of the sounds by which she brought the world into being (ie. by which we denote phenomena) and which, as the destroyer, she will again absorb. 

Bear in mind that Sir John Woodroffe was explaining sound and its nature within an orthodox Hindu tantric context, and not from the Buddhist perspective, when he said:

A very profound doctrine is connected with these Letters which . . .  .   . . . has been set out in greater detail in the Serpent Power (Kundalini) which projects Consciousness, in Its true nature blissful and beyond all dualism, into the World of good and evil. The movements of Her projection are indicated by the Letters subtle and gross which exist on the Petals of the inner bodily centers or Lotuses. 

Very shortly stated, Shabda which literally means Sound here lettered sound is in its causal state (Para-Shabda) known as "Supreme Speech" (Para Vak). This is the Shabda-Brahman or Logos; that aspect of Reality or Consciousness (Chit) in which it is the immediate cause of creation; that is of the dichotomy in Consciousness which is "I" and "This", subject and object, mind and matter. This condition of causal Shabda is the Cosmic Dreamless State (Sushupti). This Logos, awakening from its causal sleep, "sees," that is, creatively ideates the universe, and is then known as Pashyanti Shabda. As Consciousness "sees" or ideates, forms arise in the Creative Mind, which are themselves impressions (Samskara) carried over from previous worlds, which ceased to exist as such, when the Universe entered the state of causal dreamless sleep on the previous dissolution. These re-arise as the formless Consciousness awakes to enjoy once again sensual life in the world of forms.

The Cosmic Mind is at first itself both cognizing subject (Grahaka) and cognized object (Grahya); for it has not yet projected its thought into the plane of Matter; the mind as subject cognizer is Shabda, and the mind as the object cognized, that is, the mind in the form of object is subtle Artha. This Shabda called Madhyama Shabda is an "Inner Naming" or "Hidden Speech". At this stage, that which answers to the spoken letters (Varna) are the "Little Mothers" or Matrika, the subtle forms of gross speech. There is at this stage a differentiation of Consciousness into subject and object, but the latter is now within and forms part of the Self. 

This is the state of Cosmic Dreaming (Svapna). This "Hidden Speech" is understandable of all men if they can get in mental rapport one with the other. So a thought-reader can, it is said, read the thoughts of a man whose spoken speech he cannot understand. The Cosmic Mind then projects these mental images on to the material plane, and they there become materialized as gross physical objects (Sthula artha) which make impressions from without, on the mind of the created consciousness. This is the cosmic waking state (Jagrat). At this last stage, the thought - movement expresses itself through the vocal organs in contact with the air as uttered speech (Vaikhari Shabda) made up of letters, syllables and sentences. 

The physical unlettered sound which manifests Shabda is called Dhyani. The lettered sound is manifested Shabda or Name (Nama), and the physical objects denoted by speech are the gross Artha or form (Rupa). 

                ~  ch. 25 of Sir John Woodroffe's Shakta and Shakti. Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1929.

Tantric Buddhism also understands letters as symbols of sound which has the power to influence and affect consciousness. The efficacy of a mantra is inherent in its written form -- the letters.  See, Mantra.


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