Update: 2010-11-25 08:12 AM +0800


The Sphoṭa theory of language
as Relevation 



by Harold G. Coward, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Ltd. 1st ed. Dehli 1980, reprints Delhi 1986, 1997. ISBN:81-208-0181-4, as given in Google book preview.

Downloaded and edited by U Kyaw Tun, M.S. (I.P.S.T., U.S.A.), Not for sale. No copyright. Free for everyone. Prepared for students of TIL Computing and Language Center, Yangon, MYANMAR .

M03-BEPS-indx | |Top

Contents of this page

06.02.  Sphoṭa  and Sentence-Meaning (Vākya Sphoṭa) - p119
    (Page 119 is not part of this book preview)
  Pratibhā  - p123

07. Sphoṭa in Relation to the Levels of Language - p126

08. Summary and Conclusion - p134
  Summary of the Major Sphoṭa Tenets - p134
  Conclusion - p136

Bibliography - p138
Glossary of Sanskrit Terms - p147
Index - p155


Noteworthy passages in this file: (always check with the original section from which they are taken.)

UKT notes

Contents of this page

06.02. Sphoṭa  and Sentence-Meaning (Vākya Sphoṭa) - p119

[Page 119 is not part of this book preview.]

observation that in common everyday language people speak in sentence units rather than individual words. He is convinced that the chief reality in linguistic communication is the indivisible sentence and sentence-meaning (vākya-sphoṭa). Although within his hierarchicial theory he can speak of the phoneme (varṇa {wuN~Na.}) and the individual word (pada ) as meaning bearing units (sphoṭa), the main form of the latter is the sentence. (fn120-01) [{UKT ¶]

UKT: In daily conversations, do we speak in whole sentences, or, in phrases, single words, and body gestures (like shoulder shrugging), and hand gestures? The answer according to my observation on mono-lingual (Burmese or English) and sparingly bilingual (most of the so-called present-day modern educated in Myanmar) and completely bilingual (highly educated like the late Dr. Htin Aung - author of the Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism - folk-indx.htm included in this package) is in the negative: we do not speak in whole sentences. Moreover, do the listener hear whole sentences? Again the answer is in the negative. The listener hears only bits, letting her memory or mind fill in what she supposed had been meant by the speaker even when he had not utter those words. I am thinking of my father speaking to my mother, and my mother telling me what my father had said! Of course, I would check with my father, thereby starting a little family quarrel. - UKT101124

In kāṇḍa two of the Vākyapadiya, Bhartṛhari establishes this position reference to two ancient scholars, Vārttākṣa and Audumbarāyaṇa, whose rejection of the fourfold classification of words as parts of speech he adduces in support of the unitary reality of the sentence. (fn120-02) Bhartṛhari also refers to   {yûþ~ka:} Yāska's Nirukta and, according to one scholar, shows him to be in agreement with Audumbarāyaṇa's view that it is the sentence-meaning as a whole which exists in the mind of the hearer, and therefore the existence of four parts of speech is denied. (fn120-03)

Everyday communication is achieved through sentences which the speaker has in his mind and which he evokes in the mind of the hearer. Regardless of whether such sentences are fact or fiction, they exist as unities. In the mind of the speaker as he begins to speak the sentence-sphoṭa assumes two aspects: the sentence-sounds or component words, and the expressed sentence-meaning. Only as the hearer hears all of the words of the sentences in conjunction with their vague meanings does the realization of the sentence-meaning (vākya-sphoṭa) burst forth as a flash of intuition (pratibhā). This sentence-meaning is quite different from the meanings of the individual words which in the end are seen to have no ultimate reality in themselves. As the words of a sentence are heard one understands their meanings in a particular manner, but when the whole sentence is grasped by the mind the meaning appears to be quite different. This occurs, for example, in the case of a sentence in which the meanings of many words seem to be understood only to be completely changed by a negation at the end. Thus one cannot take the meanings of the individual words seriously until the whole sentence is heard, and then it is [{p120end/p121begin}] the sentence-meaning which is always determinative. (fn121-01) This is further evidenced when it is realized that each subsequent word in the sentence conveys its partial meaning as influenced by the partial meanings of the preceding words. In each case the meaning offered by the individual word occupies only a temporary and ultimately unreal existence. As Iyer puts it, "The fact is that the understanding of these partial meanings in the middle is only a means to an end and once the end, namely, the understanding of the sentence-meaning, is achieved, the intermediary meanings are abandoned." (fn121-02) As was the case between the phoneme and word-sphoṭa, the relation here is the same "vivarta" type of paradox. The individual words of the sentence have apparent existence only because of the prior reality of the sentence-sphoṭa. The latter assumes phenomenal differentiation as uttered words, because (due to avidyā) that is the only way we can communicate and think at the level of ordinary consciousness. For us listeners, these phenomenal words become the means by which the noumenal sphoṭa, intended by the speaker, bursts forth upon our cognition. Once the sentence-meaning is  perceived, the partial meaning of individual words are seen to be incomplete, erroneous, and therefore totally transcended. The vākya-sphoṭa is the true sentence or speech-unit, which exists behind the unreal but necessary facade of sensuous phonemes and words. (fn121-03) (fn121-04) The relationship between these two levels of speech is, as was shown previously, one of the superimposition or one-sided identification, with the sentence-meaning as the ultimate real. [{p121end/p122begin}]

According to Bhartṛhari, the chief characteristic of the sentence is that there is a certain completeness about its meaning. This completeness is said to occur when the purpose or intention of the speaker is conveyed to the listener. In the situation where a word may have several meanings or several different words may convey the same meaning, orderly communication is brought about by the controlling influence of the speaker's intention. (fn122-01). In effecting completeness, the intention of the speaker must operate on the level of the sentence-meaning and not on the level of the word-meanings. This essential characteristic of completeness is also described by Bhartṛhari in relation to the so-called one word sentence (see, e.g., "Lion !" above), which is common in experience. In such situations it is clear that completeness does not depend on any particular number of words which the sentence must have, nor on any particular kind of word, such as a verb, which it must contain. (fn122-02). Whatever partial meaning or grammatical status may be attributed to the phenomenal utterance of the single word sentence, the sentence-meaning is only conveyed when, through the causality supplied by the speaker's intention, added word-meanings are mentally understood so that completeness results. In the situation where the single utterance is a noun, which alone can express only an incomplete meaning, its utterance may be pregnant with some verbal action which is added mentally so that a complete meaning is communicated. (fn122-03). If the single word utterance is a verb then the intention of the speaker results in the mental understanding of a noun and possibly other accessory word meanings, so that completeness of the meaning is perceived. (fn122-04). Regarding the psychological process required in such situations, the fundamental difference of opinion between the Kumārila and the Sphoṭa  theorists is again clearly evidenced. Kumārila  requires that the unheard words be understood by inference and be individually cognized before [{p122end/p123begins}] the complete sentence-meaning can be understood. (fn123-01) . Bhartṛhari, however, holds that when a single word (be it noun or verb) is uttered, it brings, without the inference of any other word or words, but with the help of the context or the speaker's intention, any other meaning which is required to complete it. (fn123-02). For Bhartṛhari, this completeness of the sentence-meaning is experienced, not through inference, but in the special kind of perception called pratibhā .

Contents of this page


Pratibhā is described by Bhartṛhari as the perceiving of the meaning-whole of the sentence ( vākya-sphoṭa ) in a flash of intuition. (fn123-03). It is not logical in nature, nor is it capable of being directly described to others. The words used in attempting to describe this pratibhā to someone else can do no more than evoke in the other the conditions which will allow that vākya-sphoṭa (already present in his inmost self) to be revealed in the listener's own pratibhā experience. Pratibhā , therefore, is of the nature of one's inner self, but normally requires uttered word or words for its manifestation.  The meaning it reveals is the  complete and indivisible sentence-meaning. In the context of one word sentences pratibhā functions to complete the sentence-meaning by making present, in a unitary act of intuition, whatever other meaning or meanings may be required  -- without mentally adding any word or words to the word actually uttered.

UKT: It seems Pratibhā  (intuition) is tied up with another "psychic phenomenon": Shaktipat or Śaktipāta (from sakti ("psychic energy") and pāta ("to fall") refers in Hinduism to the conferring of spiritual "energy" upon one person by another. Shaktipat can be transmitted with a sacred word or mantra, or by a look, thought or touch -- the last usually to the ajna chakra or third eye of the recipient. See my note on Shaktipat .
   It is believed in Myanmar "esoteric circles" (both "White Magic" and "Black Magic") that the passing on of {piñ~ña} 'secret knowledge'  can be done by the guru to his or her neophyte by transmitting with a mantra or letting the neophyte chew on a betel quid that had been being chewed in the mouth of the guru. - UKT101125

Sphoṭa theory defines pratibhā as the indivisible meaning expressed by a sentence which is ingrained in each person. Chakravarti attempts to make this unique aspect of Indian thought understandable to the modern reader by describing it as follows:

To the grammarian pratibhā is inborn intelligence; it is innate and not postnatal. Pratibhā is neither an acquisition that is sense-born nor does it result from common experience. It is called saṁskāra or bhāvanā, firmly seated in our mind and linked together with the continuous currents of knowledge flowing from previous stages of existence. Here we [{p123end}]

[Page 124 is not part of this book preview]

(4) concentration of the mind (yoga), (5) actions done in prior lives ( adṛṣṭa ), and (6) intuition given one by the grace of a special person ( viśiṣṭopahita ). (fn125-01). As Kaviraj observes, when it comes to the psychological analysis of the manifestation of pratibhā  the Sphoṭa theorists, through their reference to antenatal dispositions, seem to open the way for an explanation in terms of Yaga "psychology". (fn125-02). This would be a fruitful undertaking in a further study. [{p125end}]

[Pages 125 to 127 are not part of this review.]

the metaphysical principle of beginning-less ignorance or avidyā is held to be the initial cause of the One manifesting itself as many. Helārāja summarizes Bharṛhari's position as follows:

... Within Nescience (avidyā) which is the cause of the phenomenal world, there emerges, first of all, the phenomenal world (saṁskāra), consisting in the appearance of differentiation. Differentiation is spatial and temporal. Of the two, temporal differentiation comes first in the creation of the world. Consciousness in the form Paśyanti  is without any sequence, but when it is associated with the Prāṇa principle (activity) it shines as Time, as though it had sequence... (fn128-01)

The importance of the above metaphysical considerations for our present purpose is that it is the power of time in producing sequence in our experience of the really unitary word-consciousness that results in the division of the sphoṭa into word-sentences which make communication possible. It is under the power  of time, therefore, that the Paśyanti level of word-consciousness assumes the lower and progressively more differentiated levels of madhyamā and vaikhari. From the hearer's point of view the process is reversed. The word-sounds (vaikhari) and the inner word-meanings (madhyamā) are both initially cognized under the sequence of time until, with the final perception of the vākya-sphoṭa, the level of paśyanti is manifested. In this pratibhā state noumenal knowledge dawns, and all differentiation due to the sequence of time is transcended.

Having seen how the levels of language fit into and categorize Bhartṛhari's overall metaphysics, let us now examine each level in somewhat more detail. (fn128-02) Vaikhari is the most external and differentiated level in which vāk is commonly uttered by the speaker and heard by the hearer. It is prāṇa or breath that enables the organs of articulation and hearing to produce and perceive sounds in a temporal sequence. Prāṇa  may therefore be taken as the instrumental cause of vaikhari vāk is that it has a fully developed temporal sequence. At this level individual peculiarities of the [{p128end/p129begin}] speaker (e.g., accent) are present along with the linguistically relevant parts of speech. Going further inwards, as it were, madhyamā vāk is the next level and its association is chiefly with the mind or intellect (buddhi). It is the idea or series of words as conceived by the mind after hearing or before speaking out. It may be thought of as inward speech. All the parts of speech that are linguistically relevant to the sentence are present here in a latent form. At this level a variety of manifestation is possible. The same sphoṭa or meaning is capable of being revealed by a variety of forms of madhyamā, depending on the language adopted. Although there is not full temporal sequence of the kind experienced in spoken words, word and meaning are still distinct and word order is present. Therefore, temporal sequence must also be present along with its instrumental cause prāṇa. Traditional Yoga is able to demonstrate a subtle but direct connection between breathing and cognition. (fn129-01)

The next and innermost stage is paśyanti vāk. Paśyanti is the direct experience of the vākya-sphoṭa  -- of meaning as a noumenal whole. At this level there is no distinction between the word and the meaning and there is no temporal sequence. All such phenomenal differentiations drop away with the intuition of the pure meaning in itself. Yet there is present at this level of a kind of "going-out" or desire for expression. This is pratibhā  "instinct," referred to above, which in one sense may be said to motivate the phenomenalization into sentences and words of the paśyanti vision, so that communication may occur. Thus the Vedic vision or dhi of the ṛṣi, which in itself is paśyanti, becomes phenomenalized so that by its uttered word men might rise above their ignorance and be grasped in their cognition by the revelation of ultimate reality. Therefore, there is a sense in which Veda and pratibhā are identified as paśyanti is, by definition, beyond the level of differentiated cognition, it is impossible to define it in word-sentences. It is at the level of direct intuition and therefore must finally be understood through experience. Nevertheless, there has been no dearth of speculation over the exact nature of paśyanti and the possibility of yet a higher level of language, i.e., parā vāk. Although such speculation is beyond the concern of this present [{p129end}]

[Pages 130 to 160 are not part of this preview. The preview text ends here.]

Contents of this page

Footnotes : Chapter 06.02

Page 119 is not part of this book preview.

fn120-01. Iyer, Bhartṛhari, p. 182. fn120-01b

fn120-02. J. Brough, "Audumbarāyaṇa's Theory of Language," in Bulletin
  of the School of Oriental and African Studies
XIV, (1952), pp. 78-77. fn120-02b

fn120-03. See Vāk., II:143, pp.70-71. fn120-03b

fn121-01. See Iyer, Bhartṛhari, p. 195. fn121-01b

fn121-02. Ibid., p. 194. fn121-02b

fn121-03. See Vāk., II:437-438. fn121-03b

fn121-04. In this connection it is interesting to note Allen's observation that
  for phonetic purposes the basic linguistic unit is sometimes described as
  the "breath-group" (eka-prāṇa-bhāva), corresponding in the Vedic hymns
  to one line of verse. The denial of independence to the word is further stressed
  by the Sanskrit system of writing which takes no particular account of
  word division. The "pada" or "word texts", having the word-isolate as
  the basic unit are generally recognized as products of an artificial analysis
  devised by grammarians, and others for the purposes of instructions.
  See W. S. Allen, Phonetics in Ancient India, pp. 9-10. fn121-04b

fn122-01. See Vāk., II:399-402 fn122-01b

fn122-02. See Iyer, Bhartṛhari , p.196 fn122-02b

fn122-03. See Vāk., II:325a. In such noumenal one-word-sentence situations,
  it seems as though Bhartṛhari would accept asti  as well as kriyā-type verbs
  as meeting the requirements for completeness. See, for example,
  Pillai's note 82 to this Kārikā   offering "Here is a tree" as an example, p.172. fn122-03b

fn122-04. Ibid., II:325b-326a . fn122-04b

fn123-01. See Vāk., II:327a. fn123-01b

fn123-02. Ibid., II:335-6. See also Iyer's summary of this argument in Bhartṛhari , pp. 197-198. fn123-02b

fn123-03. See Vāk., II:143-145. fn123-03b

[{p124 is not part of this book preview}]

fn125-01 See Vāk., II:152. See also Iyer, Bhartṛhari , pp.88-90 . fn125-01b

fn125-02 Kaviraj, Pratibhā   , p.18. fn125-02b

[Pages 126 to 127 are not part of this review.]

fn128-01. Iyer, Bhartṛhari, p. 123. Iyer quotes Helārāja. fn128-01b

fn128-02. The following summary depends mainly upon Iyer's presentation
  of Bharṛhari's position in Bhartṛhari, pp. 144-146 fn128-02b

fn129-01. Yoga sūtras, II:53.  fn129-01b

[Pages 130 to 160 are not part of this preview. The preview footnotes end here.]

Contents of this page

On back cover
Of related interest:


His Work and its Traditions

by George Cardona

This is the first part of a study of Pāṇini's work, its antecedents, and the traditions of interpretation and analysis to which it gave rise. Subsequent volumes take up in detail issues of interpretation, method, and theory associated with Pāṇini's grammar. The present volume is meant to provide a basis for such detailed discussions. To this end, the author describes briefly the structure of Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyi with its ancillaries, outlines Pāṇini's derivational system, and considers in general the principles that guided Pāṇini in composing his grammar in the manner he did as  well as the grounds on which he arrived at the particular basic forms with which he operates in his derivational system.

Contents of this page


by Otto Böhtlingk

The book was first published under the title Pāṇini's acht Buecher grammatischer Regeln (Pāṇini's eight books of grammatical rules). The first volume appeared in 1839. It contained Pāṇini's Sūtras with Indian commentaries. The second volume published in 1840 contained the introduction, explanatory notes and indices. A second edition appeared in 1887 with shorter introduction and commentary under the present title. Böhtlingk added the Dhātupātha and Pāṇini's vocabulary to the indices.

This edition and translation of Aṣṭādhyāyi by Böhtlingk has rendered a great by service to the study of Sanskrit and Indo-European linguistics. As a matter of fact, Böhtlingk's edition was responsible for the revolution in linguistic thinking both in Indo-European linguistics and general linguistics. It was a pioneering work and was considered a standard edition in Europe. The impact of Pāṇini's work on Indo-European studies was great and it was realized for the first time, for example, in the history of linguistics that a word could be neatly broken into root, stem-forming suffix and desinence.

n. A grammatical ending; an inflection. [French désinence ] desinential adj.
-- The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
-- online from: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/desinence 101124


Contents of this page

UKT notes


From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaktipat 101125

Shaktipat or Śaktipāta (Sanskrit, from sakti ("(psychic) energy") and pāta ("to fall"))[1] refers in Hinduism to the conferring of spiritual "energy" upon one person by another. Shaktipat can be transmitted with a sacred word or mantra, or by a look, thought or touch - the last usually to the ajna chakra or third eye of the recipient.

Saktipat is considered an act of grace (anugraha) on the part of the guru or the divine. Its reception cannot be forced though the recipient must be open to such an influx since it also cannot be imposed by force.[2] The very consciousness of the god or guru is held to enter into the self of the disciple, constituting an initiation into the cult or the spiritual family (kula) of the guru.[3] It is held that Shaktipat can be transmitted in person or at a distance, through an object such as a flower or fruit or else by telephone or letter.[4]


Paul Zweig has written of his experience of receiving shaktipat from Swami Muktananda[5]. In the same book Itzhak Bentov describes his laboratory measurements of kundalini-awakening through shaktipat,[6] a study held in high regard by the late Swami Satyananda Saraswati, founder of the Bihar School of Yoga, and by Hiroshi Motoyama, author of Theories of the Chakras.

Barbara Brennan[7] describes shaktipat as the projection of the guru's "aura" on the disciple who thereby acquires the same mental state, hence the importance of the high spiritual level of the guru. The physiological phenomena of rising kundalini then naturally manifest.

Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) commented that to understand the phenomenon it was necessary to understand that all that exists is energy and that "the way of consciousness is exactly the way of a river - it goes downwards, following the path of gravitation". "When the master touches the disciple's third eye, if the disciple is available - and that is a great if, which rarely happens - then suddenly a flow of warmth, life, consciousness starts hitting the point which for specific reasons we have called the third eye. It is the point that, if it opens, makes you a seer. Then you can see things about yourself, about others more clearly, more transparently - and your whole life will start changing with this new vision."

However he continued; "I have not used the method of shaktipat for six years because I felt there were some flaws in it. First, the disciple has to be in a lower state than the master -- which I don't like. Nobody is lower here; nobody is higher. The disciple has to be just a receiver. He cannot contribute anything to it. He becomes dependent also, because only when the master touches him does he feel full of energy, full of joy, but not otherwise. Secondly, the very idea of surrender is basically difficult, and to ask for total surrender is to ask for the impossible. We should think in human terms. We are dealing with human beings, we should not ask something which they cannot do. And when they cannot do something and are condemned, they start feeling guilty that they are not open, that they are not totally surrendered, that there are doubts in their mind.[8]

UKT: More in the Wikipedia article.

Go back shaktipat-note-b

Contents of this page

End of TIL file