In the Yoga Tradition there is a Tantric philosophy that illuminates how all matter is made of sound vibration, and that we can personally experience this in and through our bodies. The philosophy is carried through the theory of ‘Vac’ which elucidates what is called the ‘4 Levels of Speech’. Some of the most mystical experiences I have had in my life have been working with this practice in mantra repetition, group singing (Kirtan), and enjoying sound in sound baths.
The practice of this philosophy can enhance our lives by helping us to (among other things):
- be more open to ‘intuitive mind’
- say what we mean and mean what we say
- explore and enjoy the depths of sound & silence
Working with the 4 levels of speech is a process. There are NO guarantees in this process and working it is its own reward. The results of your practice are important, and yet unknown and unsure. What is sure is that if you never go through the process, your relationship to sound, words, speech, and intuitive mind will very likely stay the same as it always was throughout this entire life cycle.
Vac is the word in Sanskrit for ‘speech’.
4 levels of Speech/Vac
- Para Vac: Transcendent and Pure Speech
- Pashyanti Vac: Visionary and Intuitive Speech
- Madhyama Vac: Mental and Separative Speech
- Vaikari Vac: Gross and Separative Speech
Para Vac [Pure Speech] is beyond definition, explanation, and truly no words will ever come close to touching it. This principle comes to the Yoga Tradition from several different schools of Tantra. While each Tantric school might teach and utilize this principle differently, the core tenant sounds something like this:
All matter and energy in the Universe is seen as sound vibration at different levels of density emanating from Para Vac. Para Vac is seen as the Supremely Sovereign Creative Source beyond spacetime which manifests this Universe.
Using the analogy of an artist to show Para Vac, we see that the pure desire to put paint to a blank canvas is an example of this state. Before any inkling of what arises to be created, there is a pure heart desire in the living artist. The raw urge to create.
Pashyanti Vac [Visionary Speech] has a quality of manifested presence and yet it is higher than the intellectual mind and beyond personal definition and interpretation. Pashyanti means ‘visionary’ which tells us that this level of speech is ‘seen’ more than ‘heard’. Not that you can’t hear it. Just that you do not ‘hear’ it with your ordinary faculty of hearing.
Using our artist analogy, the intention to paint has started to come into clarity, and yet they cannot describe to you what it is they want to paint. The colors and images which are desiring to manifest onto a blank canvas are taking shape in the artist’s being though there is no certitude in the mind of the artist as to what it is.
Pashyanti Vac is the sound of life as it is. Pashyanti Vac is the story of life, not your interpretation or retelling of the story to yourself. Pashyanti Vac is what we might call ‘Objective Reality’. It is an instant apprehension of the impressions of life without psychological filters.
Try this experiment. Look at the grass and see how long you can see the grass without your mind calling it grass, or green, or any label at all. You can experiment with literally any object in your awareness to try this experiment. When Pashyanti Vac opens up to you, it is as if you are seeing the grass for the first time!
Madhyama Vac is the level of speech you have been using to read this article to yourself. It is also all of the other competing words and sounds in your mind which have been attempting to capture your attention as you read this article. ‘Madhya’ means middle and it is the level of speech that sits between the visionary and gross. Madhyama Vac is where all of our personal story, our judgments, complaints, commentary, and ordinary thinking occur.
At this level in our Artist analogy, the artist has a clear view of what they want to paint and it has taken full form and definition in their mind. They can describe it to you and they have a decisive mental conclusion which will lead to the rendering of the art of the canvas.
Vaikari Vac is what is known as ‘gross speech’. It is the speech of audible communication from one individual to another. It is usually sounded through the vocal apparatus of the human animal. Sign language and body language are also forms of Vaikari Vac though a bit more abstract and in the case of body language, largely unconscious.
In our artist analogy, the painting is now on the canvas for all to enjoy.
Every word or sound that has ever been uttered has arisen toward the event of manifestation from Para Vac, taken shape around intention at the level of Pashyanti Vac, thought about at the level Madhyama Vac, and then and only then been able to be sounded and heard aloud at the level of Vaikari Vac. And as what goes up must come down, all words and sound must return via the same process in the reverse direction.
We as Yogis can leverage this to work with Speech and Sound to gain insight, utility in speech, greater sympathy toward others, and much more. Simply being aware of the process in either direction is useful, though from my experience, the speed with which sound manifests from subtle to gross speech is so fast that if I do not work the reverse direction in practice first, I miss it.
Practice: working backward from gross to subtle
In mantric repetition we get a chance to observe the reverse process of speech as it moves back to the Source. This requires that we sit in a comfortable seat, have some patience and an open attitude.
Steps for working backward:
- Repeat your mantra (any) out loud for several minutes until you are making audible sound in a relaxed posture and not creating unnecessary tension through your vocal apparatus.
- Transition to repeating your mantra in a whisper for several minutes
- Say your mantra in your mind making no audible sound for several minutes. At this stage try to allow your tongue and throat, lower abdomen and pelvic floor to be still and relaxed.
- Discontinue the volitional repetition of your mantra and notice if it ‘says itself’ in your awareness. This is no special attainment. Just notice whether it does or not.
- Attempt to follow the sound of the mantra internally to its complete dissolution into silence.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. If you liked this practice please leave a comment in the comment section and add to the conversation.
By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.
Opportunities abound to explore the depths of sound and silence at Udaya Live this August in Bulgaria.