Jan 27, 2015

Sutra 1.26. Ishvara, prakriti and sanskrit grammar

In the previous article I have mentioned the Tantric concept of Purusha (Ishvara) and Prakriti in which Ishvara comes as a static “male”, passive-ordering principle that is opposed to Prakriti – the active and chaotic, “female” one. This correlation of principles is symbolized in many different ways, for instance, by the therein given figure of Kali dancing on the sleeping Shiva (who despite being asleep still has his phallus erect). As we can see, this concept differs from the traditional European idea about relations between male and female principles that is borrowed from popular versions of Taoism where Yan is both male as well as ordering and active principle, while Ying is female, chaotic and passive. This of itself speaks for relative rather than absolute content of gender roles, yet this is not the subject of this note that is dedicated to the ways of metaphoric explanation of the said Tantric concept.

And indeed, how can one use examples to show what these passive ordering and active chaotic principles are? For it is the ability to draw a specific instance illustrating an abstract concept that tells a man skilled in correct abstract thinking from the one who is in thrall to speculative void categories.

In order to explain these categories in a very traditional and “coarse” way I was for some good while using a quite mundane metaphor that I don’t remember whether to have coined myself or to have found in some book on Indian philosophy. The given principle was illustrated by the following example. If we want to have the flour clean from some foreign matter that is in it, we use a sieve. A sieve is a regulating principle. But if we just put the flour onto the fixed sieve it shall not get bolted; moreover it shall not run out at all. In order to get the process started we need to shake it. The shaking in itself is an energetic act still of chaotic effect and if it were not for the sieve it would have mixed the flour and foreign substances even further. Yet when set together, the sieve and the shake-through put the things in order.

Should we somewhat extend the metaphor we might see that there are different factors that can act the part of the “sieve”. In biology, for instance, these are the factors of the natural evolutionary selection, while the part of Prakriti in this case is played by biologic activity of the corresponding ecosystem. Shall the circumstances be favourable for the life in general, the species shall be faster with its evolution; it was yet Darwin who noticed this in the process of his research done on the Galapagos Islands.

When trying to explain this approach to people with mathematical background I was comparing Prakriti to the matter and Ishvara – to an equation describing some system. The equation of itself is not material at all, it is just an abstract description of a consistent pattern. But any real system in this or that way is “subject” to its equations and regularities set by them.

This winter I have learnt from an outstanding Indian pandit whom I had the pleasure to take the lessons of Sanskrit from another amazing metaphor that describes the essence of Purusha-Prakriti relations by the analogies of Sanskrit grammar. The fact is that in Sanskrit the process of word formation happens in the following way: there is a certain set of the so-called verbal roots that are added by primary and secondary suffixes and prefixes. The root alone is not a part of speech and it cannot be used as a single word. But is has a set of its own (sometimes quite different) “potential” meanings. On the other hand a suffix does not have its proper meaning; moreover, when isolated from the whole system of Sanskrit grammar it does not have any sense in itself (just like any ‘x’ does not make sense in case we don’t see the whole equation). Yet it is this suffix that by attaching it to the root determines the part of speech that is formed and the meaning that the thus formed word shall have. It as if singles the ‘actual’ meaning out from the set of all ‘potentials’. And a suffix that is placed first – to the right of the root, if read along the text – starts to “modify” the root. The latter can come with transformed vowels (the rule of guna and vriddhi) as well as the last consonant (the rule of sandhi [1]). The root is as if “tinged” by the suffix. The Indian grammars believe these grammatical “relationships” between the word morphemes to illustrate the relations between Shiva and Shakti (Ishvara and Prakriti). The reader must have already guessed that the root containing potentially a good deal of everything is the Prakriti while the suffix that regulates the things in terms of grammar yet lacks its own sense and meaning is the Ishvara. Prakriti is “arranged” by Ishvara and comes to “match” it – by means of transformations within the root. While the word formed comes as the result of the act of creation.
[1] The metamorphoses of the same kind can be found in Russian grammar as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment