“Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Ay, Bee, See are different. They are only the names of signs called ‘letters’ which are written down. They approximate the sounds they represent but we are making asanas. Each syllable exactly marks the location of the posture. We move in an arc from the sound “uhhh” deep within the chest to “oo” which exits from the lips, or from the sound “ka” in the throat to “ma” produced by pursing the lips. This arc mirrors the vault of heaven. It is sacred geography.”
This made me realize that sound is indeed linked to place, and that the practice of mantra is not so much a repetition of formulas, but yoga of the mouth.
When Hari Puri was ready to give me the next initiation into the Maheshwara Sutra, a pandit came and did a puja, a sacred ritual, just before sunrise. He tied a red string around my wrist, and Guru Ji’s as well.
Shiva Nataraj, in his manifestation as Lord of the Dance, dances to the rhythm of his own drum. Dancing is unlike walking or running in that you don’t go anywhere. At the end you are where you were at in the beginning. Shiva doesn’t go anywhere and he doesn’t create anything. He doesn’t maintain anything and he doesn’t destroy anything. The destruction of the universe is merely the collapse of illusion. Shiva’s dance is pure movement, a play of consciousness but, from the rhythm of the drum come the seeds of language beginning with his five-syllable mantra:
om namah shivaya!
and from that manifests Shiva’s Maheshwara Sutra Mantra. All human knowledge stems from the Maheshvara Sutra Mantra. So I was told, and then given the sacred syllables.
From the infant’s first sound, an experimental and unformed a, pronounced like the vowel in “hut,” springs all the sounds of his life. I became an infant once more, but this time, instead of mimicking my mother, my gurgles and new sounds were my attempts to come to terms with this new world where sound is place. He took me through the vault of heaven (or was it my vocal arc?), stopping at each station along the way, to learn the name of each by listening to the sound coming from my own mouth.
I had brought my notebook but he objected. “I want to be able to study and memorize the system,” I explained.
“This isn’t something to study,” he said, “or even something to have faith in. You go to the right place in your body, control your breath and your touch, and you are there. It unfolds itself. It’s not a system.”
I had to drop the idea of letters and the different sounds they represented. In the Extraordinary World there are just the sounds of syllables which double as their names. I was told that there was no room for error, that I mustn’t mispronounce a single syllable.
On some days Hari Puri’s mood would turn sour, like some of the apples that devotees brought me. “What? You think the Rishi Patanjali and the Rishi Panini were sitting in some Angrezi university, teaching in great halls, writing books published at university expense? You think that they just had ideas that just came into their heads, that they did research?” he said one day. “You will never understand these things.
“No, these men were great sadhus who lived at their dhunis surrounded by disciples who didn’t spent their time studying, but selflessly serving their gurus. And the gurus gave to their disciples what they had received from their own gurus. Not just the ‘teachings,’ or instruction, but the gurus transferred their own nature, so that very personality of the guru became that of the disciple. With this as a foundation, these seeds of knowledge you call ‘teachings,’ when passed down bore fruit, and that fruit bears more seeds. This is the tradition.”