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Vac: The Concept of the Word in Selected Hindu Tantras.

In this massively revised, updated, and long-awaited publication of his 1964 doctoral thesis, Andre Padoux presents a wonderfully detailed and insightful account of the fundamental notions of mantrasastra according to the texts of the nondualistic Saiva tradition of Kashmir (Abhinavagupta's "emanationist nondualism" |p. 231~). The Saiva concerns, of the tenth century and beyond, with word and its powers reflect earlier Indian "speculations about the Word ... |which were~ regarded as a symbol of the Godhead, or more exactly as revealing the divine presence within the cosmos, as the force that creates, maintains, and upholds the universe". The word was regarded as an energy that could "be tapped and used by anyone who is able to penetrate its secret nature and mysteries". Its knowledge was therefore liberating.

Padoux explains his title, Vac, as "the female energy principle ... the life of Consciousness, the very energy of Siva. She is, within Siva, the Power, or the Word, better still the Energy-Word taken at its source, the power through which he creates, maintains and withdraws in himself the universe". In fact, throughout the book Padoux is careful to consider both emanation and reabsorption of the word, which is to say manifestation and dissolution as transformations in the subtle impulses of sound. Manifestation, the external movement of both consciousness and sound, ranges from the primeval rhythms of the created universe (mantramayam jagat, p. 160) to the sounds uttered by the female in sexual enjoyment (when the "uncreated |svayambhu~, spontaneous |sahaja~, pure ... phonic vibration |satatoditanada~ ... arises in her throat, swells up and becomes perceptible" |p. 283, Jayaratha on Tantraloka 3.146-148ab~). Reabsorption or dissolution (Padoux's term is "resorption"), the "flow of the energy of the Word back to its source", also occurs within the phonetic process, as an "inherence of objectivity in subjectivity, which is proper to a consciousness turning back on itself". This is metaphysics becoming phonetics.

The opposite conceptual approach, also taken up by Abhinavagupta and his followers, is the endeavor to translate phonetics into metaphysics and cosmogony. Here the entire cosmic manifestation evolves out of various aspects of Siva's energy contained within the first sixteen varnas of the aksarasamamnaya or Sanskrit alphabet, while the thirty-four tattvas evolve from the remaining varnas (ch. 5). Of ultimate import here are mantras (dealt with in ch. 6), in which significant concepts are contained in mantras not designed for pronunciation, such as hshphrem and khphrem.

Among the delights of this volume is a very good synopsis of the different Kashmir nondualist schools (ch. 2), where Padoux often defers to the recent work of Alexis Sanderson. An interesting section on kundalini relates this much-misunderstood phenomenon to the various elements of the process of manifestation. Similarly, we find a clear and authoritative discussion of the four levels of speech (ch. 4). Also, Padoux draws clear distinctions between the terms vimarsa (active, living, reflective awareness, "a mental act by which the adept becomes one with the mantra and makes it effective ... a term used precisely to define the energy of consciousness which is supreme Word" |p. 392~), pratyavamarsa (the supreme word |paravac~ as the representation of the cosmos |pp. 175-78~), amarsa ("total awareness" |p. 107~), paramarsa ("intense self-awareness" |p. 419~). These, it must be emphasized, are only a few of the many topics covered authoritatively in this volume, all of which cannot be discussed in the course of a single review.

In these and other discussions, Padoux has considered all the principal texts of the Saivas of Kashmir, including the Tantraloka, Isvarapratyabhijnavivarana, Paratrimsikavivarana and other texts by Abhinavagupta as well as the various texts and commentaries by Ksemaraja, Utpaladeva, Jayaratha and others. Occasionally, to further contextualize, he compares their views with those of texts of the Srividya school, the Vaisnavagamas, and the Yogasutras. It should be noted that this volume deals almost exclusively with theory, very little with practice. This is, however, not a fault; the subject of theory has never received such extensive and accurate treatment.

Unfortunately, the volume suffers from careless editing and proofreading. The transliteration of Sanskrit words, particularly in the notes, contains too many errors to list. Nearly as frequent are infelicities of the English language, some gruesome enough to force this reader on more than one occasion to put the book down for a couple of days, e.g.: "adding to an already accepted division of a whole one more division"; "this is one of the inner tensions (rather than conflicting elements) of Tantric Hinduism--where there are others too, as we shall see, namely one, of general character". In addition to phrases, words suffer: "efficacity", "manifestating", "manifestative", "limitating", "ambrosiacal", "precedingly", "supreme ipseity"; and several grating English karmadharayas: "sexo-yogic", "sexo-cosmic", "cosmo-theandric", "metaphysico-linguistic". Similarly, several notes are incomplete, e.g.: p. 75, n. 107: "p. 000"; p. 306, n. 234, "p. 000-00"; p. 361, n. 73, P. 000"; p. 413, n. 88, "p. 000." Perhaps we are to be reminded here of the absolute reabsorption of the word. Finally, many articles referred to in the notes do not appear in the bibliography at the end.

It should be quickly added that despite these complaints, this must have been a very difficult volume to prepare. In fact, this is the kind of volume that no American publisher would have touched until very recently because of its highly technical, Indological but non-Vedic content; and probably no one outside of SUNY Press would have dared pick it up at all. Thus, in spite of certain difficulties doubtless due to financial constraints, SUNY Press and its director, William Eastman, deserve the kudos of every Indic scholar for their temerity (in this project as well as many others). One of the pleasant features of this volume, against the practice of practically every other American publisher, is the positioning of notes where they belong, at the bottom of the page, rather than where they do not belong, at the end of a chapter or of the entire text. In distributing congratulations, the translator, Jacques Gontier, must also be given his due. In spite of the denseness of the English prose and occasional infelicities such as those mentioned above, the translation could not have been undertaken at all unless the translator possessed a strong grasp of the subject and an ability to retain the accuracy of the original French translations of the Sanskrit.

In sum, this is an important book because it is based broadly and deeply on all the appropriate texts and reflects the author's decades of careful sravana, manana, and nididhyasana on his subject. It thus challenges and instructs at every step, even those who are well versed in the subject.
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Author:Smith, Frederick M.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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