Verse 42, An unpronounceable mantra

Verse 42, Vijñānabhairava-tantra   An unpronounceable mantra

The śloka reads as follows:

“On the other hand, by [noting) in due order the ‘gross’ phonemes of any piṅdamantra, [and] by rising through the stages ‘half-moon’, ‘dot’, ‘end of sound’, ‘void’, one becomes Śiva.”

पिण्डमन्त्रस्य सर्वस्य स्थूलवर्णक्रमेण तु।

अर्धेन्दुबिन्दुनादान्तः शून्योच्चाराद् भवेच् चिवः॥ ४२॥

piṅdamantrasya sarvasya sthūlavarṇakrameṇa tu |

ardhendubindunādāntaśūnyoccārād bhavec chivaḥ || 42 ||

In the normal recitation of praṇava (AUM), according to Kashmir Shaivism, the practitioner goes through twelve stages, namely a, u, m, bindu, ardhacandra, nirodhini, nāda, nādānta, sakti, vyāpinī, samanā, unmanā. The first two are the vowels A and U followed by M whose nasalization is shown by the sign     ँ . This sign consists of two parts, the crescent shape, ardhendu (literally ‘half-moon’) and the dot, bindu. The termination of the process of sounding is nādānta (‘end of sound’). The whole process ends in unmanā or, equivalently, in śūnya. This moving upwards from the audible to the inaudible, from limited sound to the unlimited void, is called uccāra.

By mentioning only some of the twelve stages, namely ardhendu-bindu-nādānta-śūnya the śloka is referring to all.

This particular śloka 42 considers, not a mantra which is pronounceable, but an unpronouncable mantra, namely one which consists only of consonants, which are given the description ‘gross’. This is called piṅdamantra, since it consists of a ‘mass’ (piṅda) of sound. An example of a piṅdamantra is H, R, Kṣ, M, L, V, Y, Ṇ, Ūṁ which is called navātma. It cannot be pronounced but it can be thought. It is not the object of contemplation if contemplation means focusing on the mantra, for the intention is to move through the twelve stages to reach the ultimate state, which is Śiva.

The śloka 42 comes as the conclusion of a series on mantra and sound: namely ślokas 36 and 37 on bindu, śloka 38 on anāhata (‘unstruck’ or spontaneous sound), śloka 39 on AUM, 40 on the beginning or end of a phoneme, śloka 41 on the sound of a plucked string. Then śloka 43 proceeds on to techniques concerned with the void (śūnya), which is also mentioned in 42. In this way, śloka 42 forms a fitting conclusion to one series and an introduction to the next.

The technique, therefore, it is firstly to acknowledge the unpronouncable mantra and from this position to go through the various stages to the void, at which point the practitioner becomes identified with Śiva who is the void and the source of all manifestation.

This practice forms a useful corrective in case the practitioner should stay tied to a pronouncable mantra and not proceed on to silence. This śloka emphasizes that the purpose of reciting a mantra is to go beyond it to the state of Siva himself. In other words, the purpose of the audible is to reach silence, the purpose of the visible is to reach the formless, since silence and emptiness are the origin of all and contain all.

The technique starts with āṇavopāya and finishes with śāmbhavopāya.

About interfaithashram

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Roman Catholic Priest, a senior lecturer at MCD University of Divinity, and Honorary Fellow at Australian Catholic University. His doctorate is in Sanskrit in the field of Kashmir Shaivism. He is chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and has established a pastoral relationship with the parishes of Lilydale and Healesville. He is the author of 'Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka', 2003; 'Jesus, the Mantra of God', 2005; 'Vers un tantra chrétien' in 2009; translated as 'Towards a Christian Tantra' in 2009. He has written many articles. He travels to India each year. He lives in an interfaith ashram.
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