START EARLY: Children can also benefit from meditation and parents seeking to guide their children might like Thich Nhat Hanh’s book ‘A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles’
Dr ALEX HANKEY
In his continuing series of articles, Dr ALEX HANKEY, professor at SVYASA university in Bangalore, explains how the Vedic science of speech, Shiksha, the first of the six Vedangas, the ‘limbs’ (angas) of the Vedas, reveals vitally important information about human cognition
The previous article, seventh in this series, described how, when His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi founded Maharishi International University, he asked his new faculty to pursue analogies between the modern western sciences in which they had been trained, and the ancient Vedic sciences, which Maharishi was expounding, and which we were all beginning to learn in depth. I related how this led to the elucidation of some profound parallels between the two systems of thought, specifically how my senior, the Professor of Physics, Larry Domash from Princeton, was able to show that the vacuum state of quantum field theory and the state of pure consciousness were directly related — both are the least excited states, or ‘ground state’ in the parlance of quantum theory, of systems with an effectively infinite number of possible excited states, and both are attributed the property of somehow containing all their possible excited states in unmanifest form within their own structure.
Maharishi was very pleased with the profundity of Larry’s analogy and he was given star status within the organisation being sent to lecture in India and all over the world. While he was away, I was given the job of teaching his courses from the old ¾ inch videotapes that he had prepared, so I got to know and understand the material very well. It was a great inspiration to see how well the analogy worked and what new discoveries might come out it. It greatly helped me to commit my professional life to working for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which I was to do for the next 30 years.
Another great benefit of working at Maharishi International University, as it then was, was that I got to work with the Professor of Philosophy, Jonathan Shear, who had completed a PhD on ‘Pure Consciousness’ at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), and was the one faculty member who really understood what Maharishi was telling us all in depth. Between them, Domash and Shear greatly helped ease my entry into the study of Vedic sciences, of which I knew little.
Eventually, as my confidence grew, I was able to make valuable original contributions myself. In this article, I explain how the Vedic science of speech, Shiksha, the first of the six Vedangas, the ‘limbs’ (angas) of the Vedas, reveals vitally important information about human cognition.
Shiksha proposes that there are four levels of speech. The first is outward on a gross physical level, and refers to the sounds that we hear with our ears, when someone speaks, either us or a person to whom we are speaking. The second and third levels are subtle, on the inside; they are mental levels; while the fourth level is transcendental, and is cognized as the source of thought from which all possible spoken words arise.
The Rishis named the physical level of spoken words, Vaikere. They also recognized that, when we are speaking, we can hear the next words that we wish to speak arising ‘at the back of our mind’ as it were. They placed this level at the nape of the neck — in the area called Vishuddhi — and they called that level of mental speech, Madhyama. Any time we are speaking a sentence or two, we need to listen internally at that level, as it were, so that we know what to say next. If we speak the first words of a favourite song or poem that we know by heart, then we will ‘hear’ the next words arising in our minds – or rather, at the ‘back of our minds’. That is Madhyama.
Underneath that level of speech, there is the level from which our intellect directs what we are intending to say for the next few sentences — particularly if we are trying to give directions, or some explanation for something. Anytime we speak something more than a single sentence, the intellect sorts out some sequence of thoughts of what to say — but it does not use words, as in Madhyama. It uses ideas at a level that the Rishis termed, ‘Pashyanti’, and which they placed at the level of the heart. Finally, they recognized a fourth, deepest level for speech, which they named ‘Para’, or transcendental. That level they asserted contains all possible ideas, and if you are seeking the solution to some problem, any problem, then access to that level will enable you to solve it.
My Guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, used to refer to that level as, ‘the Home of All Solutions’, and he told us all that that level is where all useful creative thought begins. When we can reliably access that level, we gain the ability, at least in principle, to solve every problem, any problem whatsoever.
The ‘Source of Thought’ in Para is the source of all creative thinking, thoughts that can solve all challenges, whether in science, business, or society, or merely solving domestic, social or political problems anywhere. The deep purpose of meditation, he taught us, is to develop the full range of our mind’s mental potential, and gaining access to our Source of Thought, deep within, is the means by which that potential is realized.
To summarize the Vedic perspective: speech develops through four levels from the first, transcendental, though two levels of subtle speech, in order of increasing grossness, from ideas to mental thoughts of words to say, ending up at the level of gross speech to which we listen physically, and that is familiar to one and all. These four levels are called
Madhyama, mentally apprehended words to speak out those ideas, and finally
Vaikere, the level of speech with which we are all so familiar.
Note that the basis for mind is the supposedly ‘transcendental’ level. It is termed transcendental because we cannot access it as long as our minds have any mental content, either words or ideas-in-the-raw. The transcendental level can only be accessed fully and properly, when our awareness arrives at the Source of Thought, i.e. by meditation. In the literature of meditation, that state is known as ‘Samadhi’. The ability to attain it is considered the first stepping stone on the path to the full development of our full mental potential. That is why the Vedic Rishis set such great store by it. That is why their classic compendium of instructions on the purpose of meditation and how to practise it, the Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanjali, begins with a Chapter (Pada) on Samadhi, entitled Samadhi Pada.
Paradoxically, although Samadhi, transcendence, is the eighth and last of Patanjali’s eight limbs (Ashtangas) of Yoga, it is the central topic of his first Pada. The Ashtangas are truly eight (Ashta) ‘limbs’ (angas) and not eight ‘steps’ as the word is often (mis)translated!
The Yoga Ashtangas are like the eight limbs of an octopus or spider, rather than eight steps to climb to reach the goal. That is a theme I shall develop in the next article, but our concern here is with the levels of Vaikere: how can we verify their existence, and that the order in which they are given is correct? The full answer is that we need to become so skilled and experienced in our meditation practice that we can verify their existence by direct cognition. That is the ‘subjective method’ used by the Vedic sciences. But we can also reason about them from our experience, and hopefully the two approaches will concur.
The second approach to our means of cognition considers the experience of being multilingual, as are many people in India, and certainly all those reading this article. All can speak both English and their mother-tongue fluently. They can say anything they like in two languages, or, often in South India where I reside, three or four languages. That is to say that they can produce the words cognized in Madhyama and spoken out in Vaikere in any of a at least two and often more languages, and they can do so without reference to their mother tongue. They do not have to think what to say in their family’s native language, spoken at home when they were growing up, and then translating it word by word into the second language, as first time speakers of a new language have to do.
How is this possible? How does it work? The answer is simple: all of us possess translators for any language in which we are fluent, which generates words and phrases in Broca’s area, with syntax from Wernicke’s area, both on the left side of the brain. The input is the underlying ideas, the output is language: phrases and sentences in whatever language you speak fluently, and have selected for the communication in question. Evidently, the level of Pashyanti is a common level, out of which the brain generates a particular language at the Madhyama level. That can only be if the Pashyanti level encodes and manipulates ideas. In this way, the ability to speak many languages fluently becomes a means to establish that ‘ideas’ lie at a deeper level of mind than the words that we use to express them.
The question of whether the brain works primarily on digital information like words, is a central debate in neurocognitive science today. This example from Shiksha demonstrates one way that I have managed to use Maharishi’s instructions 45 years ago and show that Vedic sciences contain ideas pertinent to today.