Thursday, January 1, 2015


(This is a Paper presented in the National Seminar Organized by Sahitya Akademy)

Vākyapadīya is one among the acknowledged authoritative works in Sanskrit Grammar. It is in Vākyapadīya , one can say with certainty that with full-fledged statement and discussion of philosophy of grammar is given. There are references in Sanskrit literature of the Doctrine of Śabdabrahma¸ right from the Vedas downwards. However, the complete postulate and discussion on Śabdabrahma¸ could be found in Vākyapadīya only, which is beyond any debate. The first Canto, known as Brahmakāṇḍa, deals with the basic concepts of Śabdabrahma¸. The second Canto deals with the nature of words and sentences. The third canto discusses grammatical topics mostly concerning with words. With this work, Bhartṛhari establishes himself as Linguistic Philosopher par excellence.

The basic difference between Indian and Western Research Methodologies is that the Indian Research Methodology and more particularly the RM of Āstikadarśanas depend on authority of Vedas; they never deviate from the sources of Vedas. Whereas the Western RM mainly depends on reasoning and it does not have any authority to rule over or command over it. So, when Bhartṛhari establishes that Supreme Word or Śabdabrahma¸ is the source, the sustenance and the end of all manifestations, immediately he quotes that the Vedas reflect this Brahman.

Vākyapadīya became the basis of Sphoṭa theory in Sanskrit Linguistics. Bhartṛhari views language in a holistic way. The word and the meaning referred by the word cannot be separated. He categorically says that the word and the Universe referred by it cannot be separated. By meaning he means the Universe or the objects that the word refers. Meaning has no independent entity as it is inbuilt in Sphoṭa. He also believes that all knowledge is elucidated by words. Thus, all knowledge is linguistic in nature, and the distinctions of objects are due to distinctions of words. Further, he postulates that the Word is the bearer of the meaning. Thus, the Word becomes the Sphoṭa. When the Listener hears a word, he or she at once decodes the meaning of the word he or she heard. The Word consists of two parts – phonetic part and the meaning part. The speaker’s mind first chooses the phonetic part and then employs it to convey the meaning. The Listener also first concentrates on the phonetic element, then passes on to meaning part. A word is to be first heard, before it can convey a meaning. There is causal relation between the word and the object. The object that exists within the form of the word is the cause, while the externalized word is the effect

There are two schools of thought – Monists and Pluralists among the Linguistic Philosophers. Monists hold that the sentence alone is the reality – the single unit. The words and syllables only appear to be complete entities. Pluralists are of the view that the syllables have a reality of its own, the word is a sum total of the syllables and the sentence is only the words added together, whereas Monists hold that the differences of diction and the like, which belong to the category of the produced sounds are superimposed on the indivisible Supreme Word i.e Sphoṭa and wrongly conceived to belong to the latter.

Speech occupies a key place in the scheme of things. It is crucial in the process of comprehension and action. Consciousness is comprehended only as associated with speech. Speech is man’s self and Mokṣa or Liberation is realizing identity with Speech or Śabdabrahma. He who knows the secret of the functioning of words and attains the achievement of faultless speech enjoys Brahman.

In this background of consciousness, we can compare the Concept of Linguistic Philosophy of Bhartṛhari with Jacques Lacan’s Theory of Subjectivity. In Vākyapadīya , Bhartṛhari  observes that he who has got the Vedic Knowledge, which shines unbroken like consciousness is not influenced by the inferential arguments of the Logicians. Here, the subject is conscious, which cannot be influenced by any authority. Institution also cannot be desecrated by rules. It is considered as the right and therefore, universal for cultured people. In Lacan, how the subject forms its subjectivity relies on the authoritative person, or the Law of the Father. Once he or she gets command over the language, he or she distinguishes himself or herself that he or she is a separate entity, different from his or her reflection on the mirror. Further, Bhartṛhari states that speech exists within and outside all living beings. Consciousness can exist in all creatures only after it is preceded by speech. Thus, he establishes supremacy of speech over consciousness.

Let us now turn our attention to Lacan's concept of the Real that dates back to 1936 and his Doctoral thesis on Psychosis. It was a term that was popular at the time, Emile Meyerson, who referred to it as an ontological absolute, a true being-in-itself. Lacan reopened the discussion in 1953 and continued to work on it until his death. According to Lacan, Real is different from Reality. Not only opposed to the Imaginary, the Real is also exterior to the Symbolic. Unlike the latter, which is constituted in terms of oppositions (i.e. presence/absence), there is no absence in the Real. Whereas the Symbolic opposition (presence/absence) implies the possibility that something may be missing from the Symbolic, the Real is always in its place. If the Symbolic is a set of differentiated elements (signifiers), the Real in itself is undifferentiated - it bears no fissure. The Symbolic introduces a cut in the real in the process of signification. Lacan stated that it is the world of words that creates the world of things - things originally confused in the here and now of the all in the process of coming into being. The Real is outside language that resists symbolization absolutely. In Seminar XI, Lacan defines the Real as the impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the Symbolic, and impossible to attain. Finally, the Real is the object of anxiety, insofar as it lacks any possible mediation and is the essential object which is not an object any longer, but this something faced with which all words cease and all categories fail, the object of anxiety par excellence.

Bhartṛhari believes that a person is born carrying linguistic intuition that he or she inherits from the previous generations. He imagines a prototype of language that expresses and shapes itself according to the culture. This linguistic intuition is perhaps what Lacan meant above. Further, Bhartṛhari says that in this world, the knowledge of the proper action entirely depends on speech. Even a boy has this knowledge of the proper action, having in him the accumulated experience of the past. Thus, Bhartṛhari is of the view that the Word or the Language from which this Universe originates. However, in contradiction to the statement of Lacan, that something faced with which all words cease and all categories fail, the object of anxiety par excellence, whereas Bhartṛhari  maintains that Supreme Word or Sphoṭa  is All Possible or Sarva Samartha. Further, he holds that in this world no comprehension is possible except as accompanied by speech. All knowledge shines as permeated by speech. Hence, there is no such impossible factor in Bhartṛhari ’s Word or Language.

Grammar is the most important of the disciplines, which have come out of Vedas that leads to the realization of the Brahman in the form of Supreme Word. We know the Reality about the things through words, and we know the Reality about the words through Grammar. Thus, Grammar helps us purify our speech and mind. Further, Bhartṛhari states that Supreme Word is devoid of all distinctions, and such distinct entities we observe, have their distinct forms as apparent parts of that Supreme Word. He classifies words into two categories: created and not created. Both can be described as eternal. The created words are only the manifestations of the Supreme Word and the eternal nature of which there is no question.

Dear Scholars, please keep in mind, that this was observed or established by Bhartṛhari in 7th Century CE, almost 1200 years before Lacan.   

Now let me switch over to Linguistic Relativity. Language is related to cognitive process. This linguistic relativity talks about the structure of a language that affects the ways in which its speakers conceptualize their world, or otherwise influence their cognitive processes. This theory is known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism. Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf never wrote anything together and never floated their thoughts in the form of a hypothesis. This theory has two versions. The first version that language determines thought and those linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories and the second version that linguistic categories and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behaviour.

The idea was first evidently expressed by 19th century thinkers, such as Wilhelm von Humboldt, who viewed language as the expression of the spirit of a nation. However, Sapir in particular wrote more often against than in favour of anything like linguistic determinism. Sapir's student Benjamin Lee Whorf came to be seen as the chief advocate. He perceived linguistic differences to have consequences in human cognition and behavior. In 1960s, the study of the universal nature of human language and cognition came into focus. As a result, the idea of linguistic relativity fell out of favour among linguists. A 1969 study by Brent Berlin and Paul Kay demonstrated the existence of universal semantic constraints in the field of colour terminology, which contradicted the existence of linguistic relativity, although this conclusion has been disputed by relativists.

From the late 1980s, few linguistic relativity scholars have examined the effects of differences in linguistic categorization on cognition. They found extensive support for non-deterministic versions of the hypothesis in experimental contexts. Some effects of linguistic relativity, though they are weak, have been shown in several semantic domains. Presently, a fair view of linguistic relativity is promoted by the linguists holding the view that language influences certain kinds of cognitive processes in non-trivial ways. Research is focused on exploring the ways and extent to which language influences thought.

Let us now examine what constitutes the substance of speech. Here, Bhartṛhari floats three theories in Vākyapadīya. It is held by some that the Air, the Atoms, and the Consciousness become speech. There are an endless number of variant views in this matter. According to the first theory, even powerful objects are broken by air which possesses the attributes of speed and accumulation, blowing with the capacity to cause. If it so, it is quite nature that the language influences cognitive processes relatively.

Regarding the second theory, the Atom theory, the Atoms unite and separate, transform themselves into shadows, light, and darkness and also into speech on account of their possessing all possible capacities i.e the capacity to be transformed into all things. This theory also supports the language relativity.

The third theory, Consciousness Theory holds that the inner knower who exists in the subtle quintessential speech transforms himself into audible speech for the purpose of revealing his nature. Then the Consciousness taking the form of the mind and ripening in the fire of the stomach enters the life-breath, and it is then uttered. This theory directly relates speech or the language with mind and other organs, thereby establishing the strong bond between the language and the relativity.

Dear scholars, we can go on quoting and establish the supremacy of Indian Linguist Philosopher Bhartṛhari and equating him with the views of other Linguistic Philosophers of rest of India. However, mere presenting a paper by didactic form would not solve our issue. A scientific study is to be undertaken to prove the point. With this word of caution, I conclude my paper.    

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