We live meager, pinched lives, all of us, because we speak and write meager, pinched language. . . . What is happening to the brain of a person who uses the passive, who writes, “Delay should not be allowed to take place,” instead of “Hurry!”? The user of the passive verb doesn’t want a universe where responsible agents do their acts. You see? Bad language is ultimately immoral.
These are Richard Mitchell’s words. He has made a reputation for himself by insisting proper language is important, and I clipped his interview in Time several years ago, for I too believe language has a power far beyond our usual appreciation.
The ancient Hebrews believed words to have divine power. To them “Yahweh,” the name of God, was too holy to be spoken, for the word itself was God. To their mystical descendants, the Kabbalists, words reduced to letters and ultimately pure sound, vibrations, capable of merging with the cosmic hum. Letters were the tools with which God created. The three primordial letters, the aleph, mem, and shin, contained all potential elements, and man, a microcosm, had these letters imprinted in his soul.
To Kabbalists, combining name and form with meditative power gave man command over Nature. It explained Moses’ parting of the Red Sea. He simply invoked the proper combination of words and channeled idea into phenomenon.
The oldest of English’s sister languages, Vedic Sanskrit, was spoken by people with similar beliefs in the power of the word. Their hymns, the Vedas, go back to man’s beginnings, passed orally from father to son. There are songs of epic struggles and godly play, passing seasons, ocean, moon and stars. Casually viewed the hymns are cryptic tales, but within each word, coded by sound, seers recorded the mechanics of Creation, evolution, physics and philosophy.
For example, “Agni,” the first word of the oldest Veda, translates superficially as “fire god.” But beyond this, phonology becomes physics. The “ah” sound presents the fullness of the Absolute. The “guh,” that choke, is a sharp and complete stop. The Absolute becomes bounded, the world and relativity established. Thus the first two letters encapsulate it all, the one-two step of creation, the establishment of life’s two shores. The next two letters give the links between these opposites. The drilling sound of “nnn” negates the stop of “guh,” and “eee” pulls forward into specifics once again. Life becomes diversified, and the Rig Veda spins the details out. Each additional letter, word, hymn and chapter is a sequential elaboration of that first reality contained in “ah” and “guh.”
It is this tradition that has inspired Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man who introduced Transcendental Meditation to the West. In recent years Maharishi has spent much of his time developing parallels between Eastern philosophy and Western science. It is a wedding similar to Fritjof Capras’ work in the Tao of Physics. But Maharishi spreads the territory out to range from grammar to physics, biology and sociology. One topic flows into the next.
Agni’s interpretation holds up well with quantum theory, which describes the universe as resting upon the “vacuum state.” The vacuum is a field beyond time and space containing all potential forms and knowledge. In this non-changing absolute state, particles of mass and energy exist, disembodied, awaiting manifestation through the influence of two mathematical functions (language expressed numerically). The creator operator pulls things out. The annihilator dissolves them back. The universe is a flux between the two states, absolute and relative, connected via negating and creating impulses. It is “ah” and “guh,” “nnn” and “eee,” opposites paired two by two: the unbounded and the bound, negation and progression.
Life coded into grammar? Why not? The hymns were sung with hums and held vibrations, and all that is physic’s realm. Later, much as in the Rig Veda, the pattern gets echoed and developed, this time biochemically.
DNA, the “molecule of life,” is actually the center of a “language manipulation system,” to put it in the jargon. Molecular biologists memorize a genetic dictionary and spend years studying how transcription and translation create biology. Through the genetic code amino acids are assembled into proteins and molecules for structure and enzymatic action — that is, form and function. The DNA coordinates this cellular creation with knowledge pulled from within itself, as if it tapped some molecular vacuum state; and finally, all this is done with just four basic elements, nucleotides, paired again with opposites.
My chemistry book concludes that 3000 million years ago the genetic code was functioning, but with only two letters. In time a third was added to make the code we know today. This growth occured by matching codons (words) with amino acids (form). So there it is again. At the heart of evolution, the word goes with the form.
“Name and form” the rishis call it. “Function and form,” biologists reply. Parallels accumulate. Coincidence perhaps, but I am forced to wonder. How much power is in a word, and can I make it mine?
Life is precipitated language. I think, “hungry . . . apple . . . eat,” and it becomes my life. I find an apple in my mouth. Thoughts are steps I take into my world. But can I walk on water? No. Nor can I make the Red Sea part. Those thoughts cannot solidify.
But as the saying goes, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and if one particular truth be known, my mother, grandmother of five, ex-Cub Scout den mom and Brownie leader, levitates twice a day. Most of my friends do.
It is another of Maharishi’s probings into Vedic knowledge. Can the mind think “fly” and the body do it? Can the word produce the form?
My father told me how he first saw it. Mom, while napping, inadvertantly mumbled the formula and flew up off the bed. She came down with a thud, then took off two more times, a foot straight up, bed sheets flapping. Of course, it gave old Pop a start, though later he admitted with almost little boy sincerity, “I think it’s only proper that I learn about such things from my wife.” He regained his composure and lectured on the energetics of raising a woman such as Mom so violently as that. He wanted calories and ergs, and suddenly I saw a whole new era of father-daughter talks about the facts of life. Good-bye to “meager pinched lives” — man can fly.
Yet there is another aspect to all this. Levitation is not all that great. The act is really just an exercise and test. The goal isn’t perfection of some flashy parlor trick, but rather evolution: full unfolding of our potential, the coordination of mind with body, the linking of word with reality.
Over two thousand years ago such exercises were spelled out in the Yoga Sutras. Called sidhis, or perfections, they include refined sight, subtle hearing, greater compassion and friendliness. But the intricacies of practice weren’t comprehended and were never widely put to use. Now we see a revival of the knowledge, sutras with some sense and linked to science. More than once I have wondered if words touch upon the vacuum state. Can words impinge upon Creation’s source?
* * * *
In the beginning was the Word, and the
Word was with God, and the Word was
I was just naive enough. I went to the dictionary looking for that word. It wasn’t there, of course. What I did find went something like: from the Sanskrit “vratam,” meaning command or law. From this there came the Latin “verbum,” and ultimately the English “word.”
So in the beginning it wasn’t “the Word” so much as “the Law.” Somehow, that is reassuring. There is not just one key word eluding me. Rather, it is words as laws, laws of Nature and certainly, laws of man. Again I think of Mitchell, “bad language is immoral.” It brings to mind a story in last year’s Atlanta Daily World: “TM Program Seen Reducing Crime.”
The article reported that a group of people had gotten together in a warehouse to do TM and the sidhis for about an hour each evening. It was a week-long experiment conducted by Dr. Arthur Aron of the Institute for Advanced Research in Consciousness. He wanted to see if a group, located in the midst of Atlanta’s highest crime zone, could generate a wave of peace and rationality. Of course the world is filled with folks in churches every Sunday trying just this sort of thing, but never had a scientist followed up with controls, computers, police reports and statistical analysis, and never had the results been so unambiguous.
It has been repeated three times, with basically the same results each time. In the neighborhood where the sidhas meditate, violent crime drops 20 percent, while in the area they leave, their usual meeting place uptown, crime rises an equal amount. After a week’s trial, the sidhas return to their normal routine, and the crime rates reverse again. A little math shows that 40 meditators can affect 160,000 citizens. That is a number 100 times the square of sidhas.
A physicist might say this isn’t so unusual. Nature is always ordered by the few. Drop one crystal into a saturated solution and crystals precipitate all over. Align one electron in one hundred and iron becomes magnetized. A physicist could also argue that meditators’ brain waves reflect such an ordering. The electrical activity of the brain, and thus consciousness itself, becomes synchronized, and synchronicity breeds power and new phenomena: lasers and superconductivity.
He could also explain that on the quantum level mind and matter meet; there is really no separation between an observer and the universe. On the finest level the mere act of becoming aware effects the situation. He could model the mind after “super-radiance,” where atoms falling synchronously radiate not with doubled brightness, but their square.
Wading through it all, theory comes alive, and numbers work it out. The improbable becomes the possible. Yes, we touch the vacuum state. The word is at the origin. But a more poetic view would say it much more simply: the sidhis work. They have a power and it’s almost poetry. A few words here, but thought from There. A whole new age is dawning — once more words are full.
What is happening to the brain of a person who uses the passive verb? Any verb is passive when the brain and consciousness are weak. Without developed consciousness every word becomes a passive thing. Life is pinched and meager. We live out of step with Nature and her laws, and words become immoral, for we live as specks, alone and irresponsible, because we lack the power to respond.
Mitchell comes so close. That is the artist’s way. The poet Evan Connell writes:
. . . Whoever speaks in primordial languages speaks with a thousand tongues. He elevates and lifts that which he treats from the individual and transitory toward the eternal; he exalts our personal lot to the lot of Man, releasing in us those ineffable forces that enable humanity to rescue itself from the grips of unspeakable events.
Yes. The lovers of language, the poets, writers and grammarians, treasure the word knowing that through it they can touch a power and delight. There is a longing for knowledge dimly recognized, a yearning to recapture the Original, to realign the word exactly with the form.
Gerturde Stein, typical of all in her atypical style, was trying to accomplish this, to bend English back around and find that perfect unity. She summed it up this way:
In writing a word must be for me really an existing thing, it has a place for me as living, this is the way I feel . . . A noun is the name of a thing, and therefore slowly if you feel what is inside that thing you do not call it by the name by which it is known. Everybody knows that by the way they are in love . . . I called them by their names with passion and that made poetry.
A Vedic story tells how when it came time for Bramha, the Creator, to create the universe he didn’t know what to do. (It was a new experience for him.) So he closed his eyes and meditated. Coming out of meditation he looked around and every thought he had precipitated into form.
Can we capture some of this linguistic skill, learn to live with passion, speak and think and work with words always enlivened by their source?