This Chapter must be read in conjunction with Chapter 8, Part 3 and Chapter 13 of this part.
What is sound? According to modern science, it is vibration. "If you examine the core of an atom you will realise that all matter is one. " This Advaitic conclusion is arrived at according to nuclear science and the concepts of Einstein. All this world is one flood of energy (sakti); everything is an electromagnetic flow. But how do we account for the manifestation of different objects? It is to be attributed to different type of vibrations.
Where there is vibration there is a sound. Conversely, to produce a sound the vibration corresponding to it must also be created. The scientific concept that the different vibrations of the same energy are the cause of creation is the same as the belief that world was created with the breath of the Paramatman manifesting itself as the sound of the Vedas.
Consider human beings and other creatures. What is it that determines their health and feelings? The breath that passes through our nadis, blood vessels, during respiration produces vibrations and on them depends the state of our health. Those who keep their breathing under control through the practice of yoga are healthy to an amazing degree. They do not bleed even if their veins are cut. They are able to remain buried in the earth in samadhi stopping their pulse and heartbeat. They are not poisoned even if they are bitten by a snake or stung by a scorpion. The reason is that they keep the vibrations of the nadis under control during breathing.
Breath is vital not only to the body but also to the mind. The mind which is the source of thought and the vital(pranik) energy that is the source of breath are the same. Healthy or unhealthy thoughts are to be attributed to different vibrations of the nadis. You may test this for youself. See for yourself how you breathe when you are at peace before the sanctum of a deity or in the presence of a great and wise person and how you breathe when your mind is quickened by desire or anger. The happiness you experience when you take part in something divine, like a bhajan or atemple festival, must be different from the pleasure that sensual gratification gives you: the vibrations of the nadis concerned will also be correspondingly different.
When you experience joy of an elevated kind the passage of breath will be through the right nostril, but when you are enjoying sensual pleasure it will be through the left. When you meditate, with increasing concentration, on the Reality Serene which is the source of all your urges and feelings, the breath will pass through both nostrils slowly, evenly and rhythmically. When you are absorbed in the object of your meditation breathing itself will cease, but there will still be life. The great awareness called jnana will then be in bloom as it were.
The inert body of a man and the awareness that is the vital essence of his life are both dependent on the course of his breathing. They grow or decay according to it. The course of a man's breath keeps his inner vibrations in order.
Is it not from the Paramatman that so many countless inert objects and so many sentient beings have originated and grown? The movements appropriate to these should have also occured in the Ultimate Object that is the Paramatman.
Even according to non-dualism, the Brahman that is utterly still and is unconditioned and has no attributes (nirguna) manifests itself in the countless disguises of this cosmos with the power of Maya, Maya that cannot be described. Disguises or no disguises, we have to concede the existence, in a mundane sense, of the inert world and of the sentient beings. But we must remember that even Maya has its source in Isvara who is "Mayin". But the power of Maya apart, all that we see have arisen from the vibrations in the Object called the Parabrahman. At the same time, with all these vibrations, this Object remains still and tranquil inwardly. This stillness not withstanding, there are movements that are apparent to our perception. They are not disorderly movements but constitute a system embracing vast heavenly bodies like the sun at one end and the tiniest of insects on the other or even something as humble as a blade of glass.
It is this orderliness that goes to make worldly life happy. The Paramatmam has created this by bringing all powers of nature within an orderly system. But if you sometimes see flaws in it and the natural forces going against us, it is because he likes to be playful now and then.
The human mind can go astray to any length. Indeed it keeps wandering aimlessly like a globin or an imp. Whatever the extent to which cosmic life is orderly, it (the human mind) breaks free from all control and runs about like a mad dog.
When the powers of nature are unfavourable to us, is there a way to change their behaviour and make them favourable to us? Is there also a means by which our mind could be brought under control when it goes haywire? If everything is caused by vibration, by sound, there must be a way of making the forces of nature favourable to us and of purifying our mind and bringing it under control through this very sound. The Vedas constitute such sound.
By controlling our breath through the practice of yoga, it is possible to gain access to the breath of the Paramatman and by this means perform such actions as can uplift our own Self as well as mankind. Here the vibrations of the nadis do not produce the sound that is audible to us. Science tells us that there are sounds outside the range of human hearing in the same way as there is light that does not pass through the lens of the human eye.
However, it is possible to bring within us (within our reach) that which is without. When a musician sings on the radio, the sound of his music is converted into electromagnetic waves which travel through space. But how do we hear music? The receiving set captures the electromagnetic waves and reconverts them into sound waves.
(Science is not opposed to religion. It seems to me that it even helps in the growth of religion. A century ago, before the radio and the telephone were invented, it would not have been easy to counter the arguments of an atheist who dismisses claims made on behalf of the sound of the Vedas as absurd. Now the discoveries of science have come to our rescue. )
It is possible for humans to earn the power of energy possessed by such an inert object as the radio set. Indeed we can earn much more, do much more. It is tapas, ascetic endeavour, that will give us such energy. What is tapas? It is the determination to find the truth: it is keeping the mind one-pointed in this search, forsaking food, sleep, home, everything. But when you are a seeker like this, you must remain humble and erase the least trace of egoism in you. You must realise that the truth you seek will be revealed to you only with the grace of Isvara. The sages performed austerities in this manner and attained to the highest plane of yoga. They could perceive the vibrations in creation, that is the course taken by the breath of the Supreme Godhead. Besides, they also knew them as sound capable of being heard by the human ear in the same manner as electric waves converted into sound waves. It is these sounds that they have passed on to us the mantras of the Vedas.
The Vedas are called "Sruti. " That which is heard is Sruti. "Srotra" means the "ear". The Vedas have been handed down orally from generation to generation and have not been taught or learned from any written text. That is how they got the name of "Sruti". Why were these scriptures not permitted to be written down? Because the sound of the Vedas cannot be properly transcribed. There are sounds or phonemes that cannot be accurately represented in any script. For instance, the one between "zha" and "la". Such sounds have to be learned by listening. Besides there are svaras for Vedic mantras (tonal variations, proper accentuation):"udatta" (raised syllable), "anudatta"(lowered syllable) and "svarita"(falling syllable). Mistakes in enunciation are likely even if diacritical or some other marks are used in the printed text. Wrong chanting will not bring the desired results. There is much difference in the vibrations caused by pronouncing a syllable laying stress on it and pronouncing it without any stress. Correspondingly, there will be changes in our feelings and urges and the divine forces that rule nature. There is a story in the Taittiriya Samhita of the Vedas which illustrates how wrong chanting can produce results contrary to what is intended. Tvasta, the divine carpenter, chanted a mantra with the object of begetting a son who would be the slayer of Indra. But he went wrong in the intonation of some syllables. So, unwittingly, he prayed for a son who would be slain by Indra instead of one who would slay that celestial. And his prayer (that had gone wrong in the intonation) was answered. When the wavelength shifts even minutely on our radio we receive the broadcast of a different transmitting station. Fine-tuning has to be done to get the required station. So is the case with the intonation of Vedic mantras. There should not be the slightest mistake in the svaras. Just as we receive a different station on our radio when the wavelength is changed, so the result is different when we go wrong in the intonation.
This is the reason why it is of the utmost importance to learn the Vedas by listening - hence the name "Sruti", in Tamil "Ezhutakkilavi" (unwritten old text). Another explanation occurs to me for the name "Sruti". The sages heard, did they not, the sound of the divine vibrations that cannot be perceived by the common people? Did they read the Vedas in any book or did they compose them themselves? Sruti is an apt name for the Vedas since they were made known to the world after they had been first heard by the sages.
The Vedic seers have the name of "mantra-drastas" --a "drasta" is one who sees. In Tamil it is "parppavan". "Parppan" also means the same thing. If the sages "saw" the mantras it would mean that they did not "hear" them. Which of the two versions is correct? Did the sages see the mantras or did they hear them? If they saw them, in what script did they appear? There was no script at the time, neither Devanagari nor Grantha nor Brahmi, the basis of all. But, then, the sound of Vedas, their svaras, cannot be truly written down in any script.
The answer to this problem is that when the sages were meditating the mantras of the Vedas appeared to them in a flash in their hearts. It may be that in this state of theirs they could neither see nor hear anything. The mantras must have appeared in a flash in the inner recesses of their minds.
"Seeing" or "looking" does not denote merely what is perceived by the eye. It is a term that covers a variety of perceptions and experiences. When we say that a man has "seen" all sorrows in his life, does the term "seen" imply only what he "saw" with his eyes? Does it not mean what he has "experienced"? The term "mantra-drasta" also could be taken in a similar manner as referring to what is perceived through experience. It is further believed that the sages were able to hear the Vedas with their divine ears.
Arjuna wished to see the Lord's cosmic form (visvarupa). The Gita has it that Krsna Paramatman said to him: " You will not be able to see my cosmic form with this eyes of yours. I will give you a celestial eye. . . . . "
Just as Arjuna was endowed by the Lord with a divine eye, the sages must have been invested with celestial ears to grasp the sound emanating from the Paramatman and pervading the vast space.
The vibrations of the Vedas serve the purpose not only of creation and the conduct of life. There are indeed Vedic mantras that help us to transcend this life and become one with the Ultimate Truth. When a man returns by the same way as he comes, does he not arrive at the starting point? In the same way when we go seeking how creation came about, we are led to the point where there are no vibrations, no movements, where there is utter stillness. Some mantras that create vibrations in our nadis accomplish the same noble task of taking us to such a goal. Such are the Upanisadic mahavakyas and Pranava.
In sum, the Vedas are not anyone's compositions. The sages did not create them, nor were inscribed by the Paramatman on palm-leaves.
For a general background, please see here