Verse 90, Vijñānabhairavatantra reciting the phoneme A
Summary of discussion on Vijnana-bhairava-tantra made by Guru Yogi Matsyendranath and Rev. John Dupuche
“O Goddess, as a result of reciting the phoneme A without either Ṃ or Ḥ
the great flood of knowledge arises powerfully, Parameśvara himself.”
अबिन्दुमविसर्गं च अकारं जपतो महान्।
उदेति देवि सहसा ज्ञानौघः परमेश्वरः॥ ९०॥
abindumavisargaṁ ca akāraṁ japato mahān |
udeti devi sahasā jñānaughaḥ parameśvaraḥ || 90 ||
The symbolism of the 50 phonemes:
The 50 phonemes in the Sanskrit alphabet starts with A and finishes with KṢA. The sequence is not haphazard; its very sequence expresses a theology.
The 16 vowels come first, and the 34 consonants come next. The vowels are considered to be ‘masculine’; the consonants are deemed to be ‘feminine’. The first vowel, A, starts at the back of the throat, and moves to the lips, as a sign of increasing manifestation. The first consonant, K, also starts at the back of the throat, and moves to the lips.
The fifteenth ‘vowel’ is the phoneme Ṃ, which is called ‘drop’ or ‘point’ (bindu) or ‘subsidiary vowel’ (anusvara). It is like the crest of the wave when it is about to crash. It seems to hover; all the power of the crash is there, but nothing has yet happened. The sixteenth ‘vowel’ is Ḥ, which is called ‘emission’ (visarga). It is like that split-second when the wave begins to crash.
This symbolism is continued in the orthography. The bindu is written as a single dot with the letter Ṁ: all is contained in the point. The visarga is written with two dots, : , signifying the differentiation that occurs on emission.
The phoneme K, pronounced at the back of the throat, symbolizes the very first moment of manifestation, like the breaking of the wave. The following phonemes are understood to represent the manifesting of the universe.
This śloka 90 relies on this symbolism.
The A is pronounced briefly, such that there is no mental activity of any sort associated with it. Indeed, the brevity of the recitation involves the cessation of breath (kumbhaka). The practitioner is to recite the phoneme A without bindu or visarga, which are very often the concluding phonemes of a mantra, and therefore without any hint of manifestation, and so in the state of pure subjectivity and supremacy. As a result this is the simplest of mantras. Indeed, it is the first step in pronouncing the mantra AUM, the prāṇava, which is considered to be the primordial sound.
The phoneme A, the vowel at the very start of the fifty phonemes, symbolizes Śiva himself, who is at the origin of all. It is his phonic form. (The second phoneme, Ā, symbolizes his consort, Śakti.) To recite the phoneme in all its simplicity is to come to unity and simplicity, and to the very basis of all mantras and words.
The practitioners by reciting the phonic form of Śiva will, by his grace, come to identity with him. They will in fact be Śiva reciting Śiva, Śiva expressing himself in what symbolizes him perfectly. There is identity between the sayer (vacaka) and the saying (vacya).
Yet, nothing is automatic. Even a parrot can be taught to recite A. What counts is the level of grace, the knowledge and will and the purity of motivation, as well as the correctness of the pronunciation. The saying will be total if the identification with Śiva is total, but time and practice may be required before identity of sayer and saying is attained. If the practitioners were able to recite the phoneme A in all fullness, they would need to say it only once. There would be no need to repeat.
The sound A is also emitted at moments of wonder (camatkara), pleasure, beauty and surprise, and also before what is horrible. In these moments of amazement the person goes beyond the limitations of mind and arrives at transcendence.
The moment of transcendent amazement cannot be contained, and defies all attempts at definition. Thus A contains all knowledge. It is the ‘flood of knowledge’ (jñānaughaḥ).
The Sanskrit word sahasā means ‘powerfully, ‘mightily’. It is intentionally chosen. The acts of inhalation and exhalation are symbolized by SA and HA, which are the ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ breaths, and are found in well-known mantras such as haṃsa or so ‘ham. But because the breaths alternate, each is limited compared with the utter simplicity of just A. There is more power in the single phoneme A than in SA and HA and the mantras that are based on them.
Then because of the identification with his phonic form, Parameśvara himself arises.