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
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,
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
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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