The Mysteries of Sound
Oriental Department, July, 1896
CHHANDOGYA UPANISHAD: ii, 22-24.
I select and assign the different notes of the chant.
The animal note is the up-singing of the Fire-lord.
The undefined note is the up-singing of the Lord of beings.
The defined note is the up-singing of the Lunar lord.
The note that is soft and smooth is the up-singing of the Breath-lord.
The note that is smooth and strong is the up-singing of the Sky-lord.
The note like the heron’s cry is the up-singing of the Great lord, the teacher.
The falling note is the up-singing of the Lord of the great deep.
All these notes let him practice; but the note of the Lord of the great deep, let him leave.
Let me sing deathlessness for the bright powers;—thus let him chant; the offering for the fathers; hope, for men; grass and water, for animals; the heavenly world, for the sacrificer; food, for myself; thus let me sing. Thinking on these things in his mind, let him praise with concentrated thought.
All vowels are the selves of the Sky-lord.
All breathings are the selves of the Lord of beings.
All consonants are the selves of the Lord of death.
Therefore, if anyone should find fault with him in the vowels, let him say to him: I have taken my refuge in the Sky-lord; he will speak against thee.
And, if anyone should find fault with him in the breathings, let him say to him: I have taken my refuge in the Lord of beings; he will destroy thee.
And, if anyone should find fault with him in the consonants, let him say to him: I have taken my refuge in the Lord of death; he will burn thee up.
All the vowels are to be pronounced sonant and with force, with the words: let me give force to the Sky-lord.
All the breathings are to be pronounced with a partial contact, with forward breath, with an expanding movement, with the words: let me give self to the Lord of beings.
All consonants are to be pronounced with a short contact, not prolonged, with the words: let me leave the self of the Lord of death.
There are three branches of formal duty: sacrifice, study, gifts.
The first is fervor; the second is service of the Eternal as a pupil, and dwelling in the family of a teacher; the third is perfectly mastering self in the family of the teacher. All these bring holy worlds; he who stands in the Eternal goes to immortality.
The Lord of beings brooded with fervor over the worlds. From them, thus brooded over with fervor, the triple science flowed forth.
Over it he brooded with fervor. From it, brooded over with fervor, these syllables flowed forth: Bhur, Bhuvah, S’var, that is, Earth, Mid-world, Heaven.
Over these he brooded with fervor. From them, brooded over with fervor, the syllable OM flowed forth. And as by the leaf-stalk all leaves are joined together, so by the syllable OM the whole word is joined together. For the syllable OM is verily this all; the syllable OM is this all.
Those who have the word of the Eternal say that the early morning oblation belongs to the powers of lights, the midday offering to the powers of the storm, and the third offering to the solar powers and the host of bright ones.
Where, then, is the place of the sacrificer? He who knows not that, how could he perform works? Knowing thus, let him perform works:
Before performing the early morning oblation, taking his place by the household fire, and facing the north, he intones the chant to the powers of light:
Open wide the door of the world; let us behold thee, for power!
Then he offers the oblation.
Obeisance to the Lord of fire that dwells in the earth, that dwells in the world; find thou a world for me, the sacrificer; this is the world of the sacrificer; I shall enter it.
Then the sacrificer, saying:
Draw back the bolt, at the end of my span of life!
rises, and the powers of light draw near to the early morning libation for him.
Before performing the midday oblation, taking his place by the fire of offerings, and facing the north, he intones the chant to the powers of the storm:
Open wide the door of the world; let us behold thee, for wide rule!
Then he offers the oblation.
Obeisance to the Lord of breath, that dwells in the mid-world, that dwells in the world; find thou a world for me, the sacrificer; this is the world of the sacrificer; I shall enter it.
Then the sacrificer, saying:
Draw back the bolt, at the end of my span of life!
rises, and the powers of the storm draw near to the midday libation for him.
Before performing the third libation, taking his place by the fire of oblations, and facing the north, he intones the chant to the powers of the sun and to the hosts of powers:
Open wide the door of the world; let us be hold thee, for sovereignty!
Then he offers the libation.
Obeisance to the lords of the sun and to the hosts of powers, that dwell in heaven, that dwell in the world; find ye a world for me, the sacrificer; this is the world of the sacrificer; I shall enter it.
Then the sacrificer, saying:
Draw back the bolt at the end of my span of life!
rises, and the powers of the sun and the hosts of powers draw near to the third sacrifice for him.
He, verily, knows the measure of the sacrifice, who knows thus, who knows thus.
THE NOTES AND THE CHANT
With a certain feeling of gratitude to past ages and their inheritance, we are able to announce that the passages on the Mysteries of Sound are completed by the present installment, for the time being, at any rate; so that we shall have an opportunity of going on to something more satisfactory and tangible.
It is not that the subject is not interesting, even fascinating; but that the conditions of things are such that we cannot reach really satisfactory and definite opinions. It is quite certain, at least, that portions of the book we are dealing with are avowedly text-books of the greater mysteries and, in our limited way, we can verify that. It is also certain that these text-books, in part at least, formed a connected course of study in a particular school. Again it is certain that the original teachers were Rajput sages; while most of their pupils, and, in particular their successors from whom we actually received the manuscripts of these works, were men of Brahman caste or race, the descendants of the priesthood of an ancient sacrificial and ceremonial religion, the sacrificial element of which survives, in the same hands, in India to-day. And this sacrificial and ceremonial religion was fully developed, and dominant among the Brahmans, long before the first of them sat at the feet of the Rajput kings to learn the real wisdom of the better way; so that these pupils came to their masters with their minds already full of ritual, their imaginations moulded and colored by their ceremonial. Now we have the strongest reason to believe that a part, and a very important part of this ceremonial consisted of psychic mysteries of the baser sort, such as flourish abundantly in many religions at the present day, while the more innocent pomps of worship look, to say the least of it, extremely like symbolical and dramatic representations of the said psychic mysteries; in other words, the rites of the fire and the moon-fluid may be far less innocent than they look. So that, with pupils whose minds and imaginations were full of these things, the imparting of the hidden wisdom was, at the best, a matter of doubtful result; it might either lead to entire purification, compromise, or degeneration. In the first alternative, the psychic awakening already reached, might be a strong power for good; in the last, it might be a powerful instrument of evil. And this element of uncertainty could only be decided by actual experiment.
Historically, it appears that the result was rather of the nature of a compromise. The hidden wisdom was preserved and handed down among the new pupils, but the ritual and ceremonial, with their psychic lining, were also preserved. And the work of the great teachers of later times, men like Krishna, Buddha, and Shankara, was largely devoted to an effort to re-establish a true relation between these two elements, as we shall, in due course, show by ample translation from their works.
If the historical result was largely compromise, the literary result,—the result for the written records,—was this also. Hence we have, in the records, mixed elements; parts which clearly belong to the hidden wisdom, parts which not less clearly belong to the ceremonial ritual, and, lastly, parts the precise character of which is doubtful; they look like echoes of the ritual, yet they also look like symbols of the teaching of wisdom. For, we have had reason to believe, the teachers used the forms and pictures in the minds of their priestly pupils, as vehicles for the new teaching. We may give a striking example of this. In one passage, the re-entry of the soul into life is described; its rest in the spiritual world, its descent thence to the psychic world, and thence, through the gates of birth, to the human world. These stages of descent are being taught to a Brahman, familiar with the religion of rites and ceremonies, yet dissatisfied with it, and ready to give up everything and follow the teaching of the better way. The teaching is in this form. The spiritual world is spoken of as a sacrificial fire, and its powers as the smoke, embers, sparks and flame of the fire. The soul is said to be sacrificed in this fire, and from this sacrifice the “lunar lord”—the psychic self—comes into being. The psychic world, in which the lunar lord dwells, is again spoken of as a fire, with sparks, flame, and the rest; and, sacrificed in this fire, the lunar lord is transformed into “water,” that is, a stage between the psychic body and the embryonic form of human life. In this “water,” Shankara tells us, germinate the seeds of works done in a former birth. By passage through the third sacrificial fire, the physical world, the water becomes “food,” that is physical matter, the actual physical germ of the man who is to be born. All this is plain enough. Here is a part of the “hidden wisdom” expressed in terms of ritual ceremonial, the apparatus of the sacrificial fires and all the rest of it.
Here arises our difficulty. We cannot tell quite certainly whether such and such a passage, equally descriptive of the old sacrificial ritual, does or does not contain a hidden meaning, and this is particularly the case with the whole series of passages on the Mysteries of Sound. Parts of it are clearly symbolical. Parts are quite doubtful and uncertain. And from this arises the unsatisfactory feeling which makes us glad to have done with it, and to get on firmer ground once more.
The beginning of the passage just translated is fairly clear. Seven notes, which are evidently the seven notes of the musical scale, are mentioned, and each of them is correlated with a particular divinity, or power, or principle. Further on, we shall come to the same kind of correspondences with metals and colors, in each case, as in the case of the musical notes, seven in number. Now this sort of thing we are fairly able to appreciate, and we can, with a certain amount of confidence, identify the lunar lord, the lords of the sky, of breath, of fire, and the rest, and we shall find the correspondences hold good in other passages.
But what of “hope for men, grass and water for animals, the heavenly world for the sacrificer, food for myself”? Is this merely a prayer for wealth, for the well-being of flocks and herds, or is it symbolic? We can hardly tell.
On the other hand, there is a very definite and profound meaning in the assignment of the elements of speech: vowels, breathings, and consonants, to the regents of the three worlds; and we may come at the meaning of this along the theory of the gradual development of human speech in the earlier races; first a period of vowels, then a period which introduced breathings and semi-vowels, and, lastly, a period which introduced consonants. This same sequence is followed, spontaneously, and by inward impulsion,—or, if it be preferred, heredity,—in the case of every infant learning to speak. The “lord of death” was the first mortal who died, the king of the first race which tasted death,—so says the old legend,—and another legend says that this was the first race whose speech materialized into consonantal sounds.
Again, this is clearly a description of the values of sounds in incantations,—sentences chanted or musically pronounced, to produce certain effects of vibration; thus: all the vowels are to be pronounced sonant and with force, with the purpose “let me give force to the sky-lord.”
Then follows a sublimation of the old priestly ritual of sacrifice, study, gifts into the practices of the better way, fervor, service of the Eternal, and self-mastery; a very striking example of the process we have outlined, of teaching new truths through old forms of thought and imagination. And this again is followed by the teaching of the mystic OM as symbol of the three worlds. Lastly, closing the section, we have what seems to be a description of actual elements of the old ritual worship, with its sacrificial fires and incantations, which are marked with a musical notation in the original, with special reference to the pronunciation and prolongation of the vowel-sounds.
With a very slight permutation of images, we can easily give the whole of this ritual a symbolic sense, referring to certain processes of meditation; but whether it is intended to bear this symbolic sense is just one of those uncertainties which make this whole series of passages so unsatisfactory. We have seen before that the three fires are avowedly used as symbols, but we cannot say conclusively whether they are so here.