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Friday, 27 May 2016

Vēdic Recitation

The vibration in each nadi creates certain feelings or urges in the consciousness. Sensual desire is aroused by some, sloth by some and sorrow by some others. To reverse this, when there is sensual desire there is a vibration in some nadis, and when there is anger there is vibration in some other nadis, and so on for each type of feeling or emotion or urge. We know this from actual experience. When we are at ease there is a special glow on our face and this glow is caused by some nadis being cool and unagitated. There is a saying "One's inner beauty is reflected outwardly on one's face". Our emotions cause their own reactions in our nadis. If we succeed in bringing the nadis under control we shall be masters of our urges and feelings. There will then be no need to depend on any external agency for the purpose.

One way of acquiring control over the nadis is the practice of Rajayoga of which pranayama is the most important feature. Mantra Yoga is another. When we vocalize a syllable, the vital breath is discharged through the space intervening our throat, tongue, lips, the upper and lower parts of the mouth, etc. It is then that the syllable is voiced or the "aksara dhvani" produced. Vibrations are created in the nadis located in those parts of the body where the vital breath courses through as a consequence of the aksara-dhvani.

What are the Vedic mantras like in this context? Chanting them means only voicing such syllables as would cause beneficent vibrations of the nadis, beneficent vibrations that would produce such mental states as would lead to well being in this world and the hereafter and ultimately to liberation. No other type of vibration is caused by the chanting of the mantras.

What is a mantra? "Mananat trayate": that which protects you by being turned over again and again and again in the mind. By birth the Brahmin is invested with the duty of chanting mantras again and again and producing such vibrations in the nadis as would bring Atmic well being. Through the power of the mantras he must create this well-being not only for himself but also for all creatures.

How are the mantras to be chanted so that we may master them and derive the full benefit from them? But first let us consider the faulty ways of chanting.

How one should not chant Vēdam? 

Vedas have to be properly recited by adhering to the svaras, matras and diction. By not conforming to the injunctions (niyamas), one would get adverse effects. There are six types of persons whose Vedic recitation is considered defective.

Six types of adhama pAthakas with reference to Vedic recitation:

गी‍ती शीघ्री शिर:कम्‍पी तथा लिखितपाठक: । 
अनर्थज्ञो अल्‍पकण्‍ठश्‍च षडेते पाठकाधमा: ।।

gItI SIghrI Sirah kampI tathA likhita pAthakah । 
anarthajnah alpakantasca shadete pAthakadhamah ।।

gītī: is one who chants in a singsong fashion. This is not correct. Though sāmavēda is musically recited, the Vēdam can be recited only in the approved musical way and not as one pleases. Further, since the sound and its variations have potency, recitation other than in the proper svara is not only improper but harmful. It should be recited only in the prescribed mode.

śhīghrī: is one who chants in a quick tempo and ends the recitation quickly. This is also wrong. The Vedic words should be intoned by closely adhering to the time limits prescribed for uttering each word-sound for full benefits.

śhiraḥa kampī: is one who shakes and nods his head needlessly while chanting. One should sit straight in concentration and allow the pure vibrations to occur naturally by themselves. Nodding of the head like a musician disturbs the vibrations.

likhitapāṭhakaḥa: is one who reads from the written script. This is not right. It should be learnt by the ear from oral chanting by a teacher and committed to memory in the proper manner.

anarthajñaḥa: means one who does not understand the meaning. It is necessary to know the meaning of the words of the mantras in order to have the full beneficial effect.

alpakaṇṭha: is one who recites in a feeble voice. In order that the sound vibrations have a good effect, the sounds should be properly audible and not mumbled. The term "alpakantha" in the verse quoted above means one who has a thin voice (one who chants the Vedas in a thin voice). The Vedic mantras must be intoned full-throatedly, sonorously and their sound must pervade space to the maximum extent possible.

The sound of the mantras does good to the man chanting them as well as to the listener by producing vibrations in the nadis of both. As it fills the air it will be beneficent both in this world and in the next. This is the reason why the Vedas must be chanted with vigour, so that their sound reaches the utmost limits possible.

The proper way of chanting Vēdam

Six types of utthama pAthakas with reference to Vedic recitation:

माधुर्यमक्षरव्‍यक्ति: पदच्‍छेदस्‍तु सुस्‍वर: ।
धैर्यं लयसमर्थंच षडेते पाठका गुणा: ।।

Sweet, clarity, proper punctuation, right pronunciation, courage and good rhythm are the essential qualities of a good speaker.

The Vedic letters must be spoken very lucidly. 
The letters should not be blurred. 
The sound should not slip down or fade-out. On the other hand, they should not be barked out. 
They should neither be loosely or casually chanted nor spat out in staccato tones. 

The comparison is with a mother tiger carrying its cub. Cats and tigers carry their young by their teeth. The cub is held firmly so that it does not slip and fall, but, at the same time, the teeth do not cause any hurt or pain. Likewise, words are to be pronounced delicately but firmly.

Mantra Upasana

तेनोभौ कुरुतो यश्चैतदेवं वेद यश्च न वेद । 
नाना तु विद्या चाविद्या च यदेव विद्यया करोति 
श्रद्धयोपनिषदा तदेव वीर्यवत्तरं भवतीति 
खल्वेतस्यैवाक्षरस्योपव्याख्यानं भवति ॥ १.१.१०॥
- छान्दोग्योपनिषत्

tenobhau kuruto yashchaitadevaM veda yashcha na veda | 
nAnA tu vidyA chAvidyA cha yadeva vidyayA karoti 
shraddhayopaniShadA tadeva vIryavattaraM bhavatIti 
khalvetasyaivAkSharasyopavyAkhyAnaM bhavati || 1.1.10 ||
- chhAndogyopaniShat

An interesting thought occurs to me here. In Sanskrit the suffix "taram" is used for the comparative degree. "Viryavat" means "strong", "Viryavat taram" means "stronger". It is said in the Chandogya Upanishad that he who meditates on the truth of Omkara with a knowledge of its meaning, will gain benefits that are "viryavat taram". The implication here is that those who practice such meditation without knowing the meaning will obtain benefits that are " viryavat". In his commentary on this Upanishad, Adi Sankaracharya remarks that those who meditate on Omkara, even without grasping the principle behind it, will gain much benefit though it may not be the same measure as that gained by those who meditate on it knowing its meaning.

We may or may not know the meaning or significance of a religious rite, but we will be duly rewarded if we perform it in deference to great men who have urged us to do it or because we follow the example of our forefathers who have done it. What matters is the faith inspiring our action. This applies particularly to mantra upasana (worship through chanting mantras) more than to anything else. The reason is that in such worship the proper voicing of the syllables of the mantra and the vibrations created are what matter in bringing beneficial results. The meaning of the mantras comes later.

In this context it seems to me that performing a rite without knowing its meaning yields results that are "viryavat taram", that is more potent than performing it with a knowledge of its meaning (the benefits in the latter case are "viryavat"). The chanting of mantra, or the muttering of it, without knowing it's meaning, is also more rewarding than chanting or muttering it knowing the meaning. How?

A man sends a petition to the collector through his lawyer. Another man, an unlettered peasant, has his petition written by somebody else but he personally hands it to the collector. He requests the official to treat his case sympathetically. The latter is moved by the man's simple faith and decides to help him. If we approach the collector through a lawyer and if he takes it amiss, he might turn against us. Also, if he finds that we have knowingly committed a wrong, he will have greater reason too be displeased with us. But if he realises that we have committed a mistake unknowingly, he may be inclined to forgive us.

We must not refuse to perform a rite because we do not know it's meaning, nor must we ask why we should perform what is prescribed in the sastras. Conducting a ritual without knowing its significance, it occurs to me, is "viryavat taram".

You may take it that this observation of mine has not been made in any seriousness. But, when I see that intellectual arrogance and deceit are on the increase and that the ignorant are being deprived of their one asset, humility, it seems to me that doing things in mere faith is to be lauded.

You must, in fact, be intellectually convinced about the need to perform a religious duty and, at the same time, you must be humble. The mantras are the laws of the dharmasastras. If we knew their meaning we would be better able to live according to them. 

Collated from:
Sruti, the eternal echoes

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