“Mortals, of tou the Immortal, we meditate upon your many names” Vatsa Kanva, Rigveda VIII.11.5.
In The Word as Revelation: Names of Gods, Ram Swarup explores the core issues of religion, culture and spirituality for all humanity. He examines speech, language and communication starting from an ordinary level leading to the human attempt to communicate with the Divine and the Infinite. His book causes the reader to create a new relationship with language and look at words with careful consideration, if not deep contemplation. Our words carry power and motivation, not simply their meaning as found in the dictionary. They influence others deeply whether we intend them to or not, and in ways that go beyond what words literally or figuratively indicate. Words shape our minds and become the raw material out of which we create our culture and ourselves.
Following Upanishadic thought one could say that speech is the essence of the human being. Speaking is our main motor activity in life and our most characteristic expression as a species. Yet speech is a power that we have not often used wisely or shaped consciously. Only rare enlightened beings have discovered the real power of the word and used it as a liberating force for the spirit. For most of us and for our culture in general words are mainly propaganda tools and transmit various prejudices and stereotypes. They do not communicate and unite but separate and isolate into warring camps.
Our words are psychic containers that hold certain memories and experiences, not only our own but of our entire society. Each word has a history and carries the weight of thought and emotion of those who have used it over time. Words grow and develop in positive or negative ways, just as our culture can evolve or decline spiritually or materially. Indeed words are like Gods or cosmic powers in their own right. They shape us from on high and can inspire us to transcend our human limitations. However, words can also function like demons and stir up our baser inclinations. Words can be tools of wonderful creation or wicked weapons of corruption and destruction. Unless we use them consciously they can cause unforeseen difficulties that we may not be able to control. If we do use them consciously, they can work wonders and transform the heart, mind and soul.
Revelation: A Blessing or a Curse?
Ram Swarup’s study focuses on the spiritual dimension of language in which the word is the vehicle of a higher perception. This is what he means by revelation—a revealing of the higher truth directly to the receptive human mind. However, he also examines the entire issue of revelation in various traditions East and West.
The different scriptures of the world speak of ‘revelation’ or the existence of a Divine Word beyond our mere human speech. They know of an Eternal Word beyond our transient human mutterings. They recognize a higher form of knowledge revealed through this Divine Word—which occurs in a transcendent state of consciousness—a Supreme Truth that affords sure guidance how to live rightly and shows the way to immortality.
All cultures from the most ancient times have teachings about the Divine Word, the Names of God, or Names of Gods and Goddesses. All ancient cultures have their great sages, seers, prophets and rishis who proclaimed this Divine Word to a particular people or culture. Often, as in the case of ancient India, these sages were the original founders of the civilization of the region.
Certainly such revelations are one of the greatest legacies of humanity and the key to much of culture even today. All over the world ancient and medieval scriptures remain the most commonly read, spoken and chanted books. They inspire the greatest amount of human behavior in the entire spectrum from loving kindness to vicious terrorism. ;
Unfortunately, several so-called scriptures or their interpreters proclaim their revelation in a parochial manner. They say that they alone have the Word of God and no one else. They identify the Supreme and Eternal Word of God with a particular historical document that is really the product of a few human beings and not the Divine Word at all (which is not entirely expressible in this material world anyway). They condemn those outside their particular revelation to damnation or at least to everlasting inferiority. For this reason the term ‘revelation’ today inspires as much fear as faith and rightly so.
These exclusive religious traditions grant their founders a unique ability to transmit revelation that other human beings are barred from achieving. Their prophets or Son of God alone are given the ability to mediate between God and humanity and communicate God’s wishes to the world, without which the ordinary mortal is lost. In these traditions revelation is a unique event that future generations can only read, imitate and try to follow but cannot themselves directly experience. For other traditions—particularly those beyond the pale of Western monotheism and its characteristic rigidity—revelation and spiritual realization are the potential and ultimate goal of all human beings. Teachers may be necessary but a special prophethood or saviorhood is a distortion, if not an impediment.
This arrogation of revelation occurs in the Christian tradition that turn the Bible—which is essentially the religious document of the Jewish people—into an eternal truth for all humanity, the supreme and final scripture. It similarly occurs in Islam, which turns the Koran—the revelation of Mohammed, a single person— into a lasting, final and supreme revelation for all humanity. For such traditions the Divine Word belongs to certain historical leaders who serve as its intermediaries for the rest of humanity, who must rely on their interpretations and follow their injunctions. The Divine Word is not a human birthright but a special dispensation to the chosen one who in turn passes it on to the rest of humanity from on high. Such a Divine messenger not surprisingly becomes more important than the Divine itself. People can only know what God wants of them through the savior or messenger and his prescriptions. Anything else is heretical. People are dependent upon the words of the messenger and fail to develop their own internal connection to the Divine. They remain trapped in the shadow of his personality and the events of his particular life.
Revelation of truth and communion with the Divine Word— Ram Swarup emphasizes—is not the possession of certain monotheistic religions but is a characteristic of religion and spirituality as a whole. It is not something owned by a prophet, book or church but is a matter of individual communion with Divinity that rests upon a certain state of mind and specific spiritual practices. Those who speak of revelation as a mere book have not experienced the revelation of truth at all. This requires a higher state of consciousness in which one goes beyond external names, forms and institutions.
Traditions that emphasize spiritual and mystical experience over any church—such as both Pagan and Eastern Dharmic traditions—abound in revelation as a higher form of perception. They have well-defined yogic and mystical practices so that anyone can arrive at union with the Divine. The Indic tradition recognizes higher forms of seeing and hearing (drishti and Sruti) that reflect this. Great Pagan savants like Apollonius or Plotinus had their revelations as glorious as any Biblical vision. Pagan traditions like the Druids have had their sacred languages and holy books as extensive as the Bible.
Unfortunately, monotheistic traditions try to own revelation and reduce it to their books and prophets alone. They deny any direct knowledge of the Divine outside their tradition. They even deny their members any direct revelation of their own and make them go through the intermediary of the book or prophet. Such monotheistic revelations are limited, reduced to a person or historical event, and fail to open up their followers to the inner truth of consciousness. Their believers often take them literally, which results in intolerance and the need to convert others to a belief. This expropriation of revelation becomes a good justification for condemning others as unholy. It is also the end of any real revelation for those who are involved in it.
Ram Swarup points out the dangers inherent in arrogating the Word of God. Speaking in the name of God contains a great potential for deception; not only of others but also of oneself. It is gratifying to think that God speaks to us or through us. It can be the greatest glorification possible of the ego. We note how fundamentalist preachers in America proclaim ‘God says’ when they are just projecting their own prejudices. Or they say that ‘God says in the Bible’ as if it were the last word on anything, ignoring the fact that the Bible is hardly the Word of God and has many layers and opinions both high and low that can be interpreted in various ways. This idea of exclusive revelation—which leads to the need to bring the world under one religious banner—has caused untold confusion and misery in this world. It is not true revelation but rather a darkening of the light.
As Ram Swarup explains, such religious beliefs reflect an ego state of consciousness. They may have a connection with the Divine but it is distorted—filtered by an impure or immature mind. They want to possess the truth as if it were a material object and turn it into an institution. Their literalism is nothing but spiritual materialism. Their religion becomes more a political practice of conversion than any internal meditation, whose importance they may not even know.
Such credal beliefs are content with what is at best second-hand knowledge. They are not seeking a higher consciousness for humanity but merely imposing a label on people, as if that would somehow magically make everyone holy. Along with their belief in revelation comes every sort of superstition including eternal heaven and hell and the impending end of the world. While it would be easy to dismiss such beliefs as merely childish, Ram Swarup shows that they carry a tremendous psychic force, energized by a one-sided emotion that can easily become destructive. Certainly their effect upon humanity has been enormous and their emotional force has often overwhelmed more intelligent peoples and cultures. This is because they mix spiritual truth and ego together, which is a very dangerous and volatile combination. The problem is that nectar mixed with poison becomes poison.
The Divine Word in Indic Traditions
To truly approach the Divine Word first requires a purification of our own minds and hearts. This is an internal broadening of our nature in which we cease to identify ourselves with a mere body or even with a single culture. It is not a matter of accepting a prophet, savior or scripture, however great, but of genuine self-knowledge. This, however, is much more difficult to do than loudly proclaiming a belief to a spiritually untrained and unprepared audience. It requires real meditation, critical introspection and self-examination on an individual level.
From the standpoint of Indic or Dharmic traditions the Divine Word or the Word of God can never be identified with any single book or with the utterance of any particular prophet, however great. It is a state of consciousness, not a written text that must be subject to misinterpretation. It is the word of truth inscribed into the heart that transcends all formulations. To discover that Divine Word requires individual sadhana or spiritual practice. It cannot come from another, from the outside, from a book, though such things can help catalyze its internal manifestation if they are approached with humility and understanding.
The Vedas, the oldest spiritual teaching and root revelation of the Indic tradition, reflect the mantras of various sages who were able to reach a state of cosmic consciousness in which they could commune directly with the Divine Word. They do not rest upon any particular personality. Their purpose is not to promote a belief but to connect us with Dharma or cosmic law, ultimately to connect us with our own individual nature or svadharma and a realization of the Divine Self, the Atman within. To truly liberate our consciousness we must open up to the full force and manifestation of the Divine Word that transcends all external forms, persons and revelations. That is the real challenge of spirituality, not merely accepting and blindly following a particular text. In fact, the Divine Word itself has a level of meaning that transcends all human language. It is a metalanguage of sound, symbol, energy and consciousness that unfolds many dimensions of meaning and power and cannot be circumscribed into the box of belief.or the coffins of dogma. It is mantra, not philosophy, theology or debate, much less propaganda, injunctions or prescriptions of rewards and punishments.
The Issue of Language
Of course we have little use for the Divine Word today. Ours is the age of advertising and political slogans, which extends to religion. Our scriptures are old and dead books that we take literally in order to freeze our minds so that we don’t have to think seriously about life. We are content with propaganda, marketing and stereotypes, none of which can open up the real power of revelation or direct insight that most of us cannot even imagine anyway. Compared to the ancient languages our modern tongues suffer from a profound spiritual poverty. Our words are like sand. They cannot be compared to the nectar of the ancient sages. We lack the very words to express higher truths. The words we do have, like the word ‘God’ itself, more easily perpetuate prejudices than convey anything transcendent.
This issue of the Divine Word takes us to the issue of language itself. Language contains the history of a culture. The development of its words shows the development of the civilization. Each word in a language is like a samskdara for the culture. It holds the memory and the tendencies of the culture and carries them on to future generations. It can teach us a lot if we are receptive to what it really indicates. Look at how little of the sacred remains in our speech. No wonder there is so little meaning or depth in our lives.
Actually all language should be an effort to express the Divine Word. It should be a means of ennobling ourselves and reaching out to the greater universe of consciousness. In the Hindu view speech itself is the Goddess Sarasvati and should be honored as such. We should let Sarasvati speak through us, rather than seeking to impose our own voice upon the world. Language today, however, has little Sarasvati in it. Rather, it is an Asuric formation to control and manipulate that takes shape as the mass media and its growing violence. Unless we stop this process and respiritualize the world through the Divine Word, our culture must eventually collapse.
The Sanskrit Language
Ram Swarup’s study revolves around various key Sanskrit terms. Sanskrit itself is a Divine language, the reputed language of the Gods. Every word, in fact every syllable of it, naturally becomes a Divine Name. The Vedas themselves, the origin of the Sanskrit language, are powerhouses of Divine Names. Vedic language is a sophisticated vehicle for invoking the Divine, not only in general but also relative to specific needs and issues of life, spiritual and mundane. The energy hidden in the Vedic language can transform our entire consciousness, both individually and collectively, if we open up to it and practice it regularly. This is how the ancient enlightened Vedic culture was created and sustained.
The worship of the name, nama, occurs everywhere in the Indic tradition from the Rigveda itself. It characterizes the entire Hindu religion. Each God or Goddess is a Name of the Supreme Divine in one aspect or angle of approach. Each great God or Goddess like Shiva, Vishnu or Devi has his or her own thousand Names that encompass all of reality, personal and impersonal, formed and formless. Meditation on the Divine Names and Mantras is one of the main Vedic paths. It is the basis of Bhaktiyoga, the yoga of devotion. Each Name reflects an aspect of Divine or a relationship with the Divine for us to emulate in our hearts.
Ram Swarup shows how such an honoring of the Divine Names extended from the Vedic era to later Hinduism. He shows how it is reflected in the other religions of the world, including in the Pagan traditions that have been denigrated as unholy and devoid of revelation. The religions that claim to own God or restrict divinity to one formulation are not the real bearers of the sacred, but conceal the mischief of the anti-gods whose role is to usurp and distort the powers of the Gods. Many Gods and Goddesses reflect the richness of the Divine Name that is the basis of all qualities and all functions in the universe. They reflect an infinite unity, not a divided multiplicity. Each Divine Name has its personality and power that can be envisioned in the form of a particular deity, which in turn becomes a doorway to the Infinite.
Pagan traditions honor many Names and Forms of God, just like Hinduism, the world’s oldest and largest Pagan tradition. They abound in revelation as a living reality, not merely as an old book. There is more of the Divine Word in their teachings than most of what we call monotheism. They see the Word of God in the hills, the vales, the rivers and the clouds. They show us how the book of Nature is itself the manifestation of the Divine. Their various Gods and Goddesses are various Divine Names, not separate entities, just as the Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism.
Pagan traditions, including the Native American, are well aware of a single Great Spirit manifesting through these many Names and Forms. But that Great Spirit or Brahman is a cosmic truth and consciousness, not an imperialistic Creator, intolerant, jealous and seeking to impose his will on all. This vision of the Great Spirit echoes the Upanishadic view that the Purusha or conscious being is everywhere in Nature.
Of course we must remember that the word ‘pagan’ itself is a pejorative term, a slur of denigration like heathen or kafir. Pagan originally referred to ‘peasant’, as the countryside people of the Roman Empire held on to the old religions longer than their urban counterparts that were more under the rule of the state. Pagan eventually came to mean non-Biblical beliefs of all types, particularly those that the Biblical traditions opposed and eradicated, including the glorious spiritual and occult traditions of Egypt and Babylonia.
The word ‘pagan’ is part of a whole set of negative religious terms including ‘polytheist’ and ‘idolater’ that include some of the most negative appellations found in human language. These are part of a kind of language of demonizing—for discrediting those of other religious backgrounds as unholy—including rejecting their revelations as not only wrong but evil. These terms are like racial slurs such as nigger, which were used to impose racism and to promote the oppression of one race by another. They similarly impose religious exclusivism and promote the oppression of one religion by another.
To really approach the Divine Word we must set such negative terms aside and embrace the Divine Word in all of its forms. When some absolute evil, eternal hell or Satan is placed in opposition to the Divine Word, it turns the Divine Word into intolerance. The true Divine Word is not caught in such duality. It overcomes darkness with light and shows a hidden Divine light even behind suffering and ignorance. The Pagan traditions show the Divine presence in all aspects of life, embracing duality and multiplicity in a creative and a transcendent unity. The monotheistic rejection of their teachings is a rejection of a higher truth and more many-sided understanding.
Ram Swarup sets forth a clarion call to non-Biblical (Pagan) and Native traditions to revive their ancient Gods and Goddesses. He encourages them to return to their ancient ways, to restore a broader, pluralistic approach to Divinity and reformulate it anew in the modern world. He requests them to study and connect with the Hindu tradition as an aid and ally in this process.
This awakening of Pagan and Native traditions is a necessary part of humanity reawakening to its greater spiritual heritage—the legacy of the ancient seers within us—which is ‘not promoting a single belief but opening many paths to Self-realization. The ancient Gods and Goddesses contain our older and deeper spiritual impulses that we need to energize once more today in order to really grow in consciousness and integrate as a species.
Once more invoking their Names is a means of this regeneration. The Gods and Goddesses represent our higher Selves that have been frozen by beliefs and institutions and must once more be set free to restore our spiritual vitality in life.
Ram Swarup also promotes a new scholarship that looks at these older traditions in a spiritual light and honors their critiques of the religions that have denigrated them. We find that these diverse traditions have more spiritual wisdom and grant a deeper spiritual experience to their members than the more monotone religions that displaced them and still seek to eradicate them. We have been taught to look at Pagan and Native traditions according to the jaded views of an exclusive monotheism. We now need to look at monotheism from the viewpoint of these more mystical traditions that it has opposed. Once we do this we find that monotheism is not the supreme truth it has been portrayed to be, but a lesser truth that we must transcend.
We see the ancient and Eastern Gods and Goddesses awakening today as part of the expanding consciousness of the dawning planetary age. The Earth itself is the main Goddess that we must honor again. It is time for humanity to embrace all of its revelations, all of its Gods and Goddesses. This requires going beyond the limitations of monotheism, which is only one aspect of the human religious experience. It requires that we contact our true Self of which the entire universe is a manifestation. Monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, dualism and monism are but facets of the same Reality that cannot be limited by an ideology or a belief.
Sound and Consciousness
According to yogic philosophy, sound is the sensory quality that belongs to the element of ether (Gkasa). Ether is the subtlest of the elements and the origin of all of them, the great matrix or prima materia. Sound, through creating and controlling ether or Space, creates and sustains the entire universe. All that we see is a manifestation of vibration, sound or the cosmic word. Yet there is not only the material space but also the space of the mind. This ha its own kind of sound, which is thought vibration. The mind itself is like space, which is the basis of perception. When the mind has space we are happy and wise. When the mind is constricted we are disturbed and biased.
Beyond the mind-space is the space of consciousness, an infinite expanse in which there is everlasting peace, bliss and love. This space of consciousness (cid-aka@sa) is reflected in the Divine Names, which are the truth-vibrations that it carries. The Divine Word is the inherent self-expressive power of pure consciousness. This Divine Word in the space of pure consciousness is what creates, sustains and dissolves the universe.
The Word as I am
The true Divine Word is of the nature of I am (aham). It is the supreme Self, Paramatman, in its self-articulation. This I am is the basis of consciousness. The Divine I am or Paramatman dwells in the hearts of all beings as their own soul and self, Jivatman. This I am (Atman) that is the vibration of consciousness is also Brahman or the Absolute. It is of the nature of infinite expansion (brihamana). Throughout the universe the I am is ever proclaiming itself in various worlds and creatures, ever unfolding its unlimited being in ever-changing ways.
In the Vedantic view there is only one valid relationship that we have, not only with the Divine but with all beings. It is not “I and thou”. It is certainly not “I and you.” It is “I and I’, the Self to the Self. This is also the inner meaning of the great mantra OM. The Divine Name is a relationship of I to I or Self to Self in which we mere humans can work with the Gods.
This Divine Word is also energy. Space through sound creates Prana, which is the movement of life. Through its pranic force the Divine Word energizes and enlivens all things. To the extent that we partake of it we become filled not only with wisdom but also with vitality. This Divine Word is not simply the fiat or fatwa of a monotheistic Father God, judging all creatures from his throne above. It is the creative utterance and formation of Dharma. It is the very foundation of cosmic law and sustains the order of karma and rebirth in the universe. This Divine Word is not only the basis of the Creator but of the many Gods and Goddesses that are the different names, forms and functions of the Creator in the diverse aspects of creation.
The Divine Word is not simply male; in fact it is primarily feminine. In the Vedic view speech or the word is feminine, is the very form of the Goddess or Divine Mother. The letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are the great mothers that create the world. The Word forms, nourishes and protects us like a mother. Actually all names belong to the Divine, as do all forms. There is only One Being and Consciousness behind the diversity of names and forms in the entire universe. It embraces all things and excludes only partiality.
In his approach to the Vedas, Ram Swarup follows in the footsteps of great modern Vedic interpreters like Sri Aurobindo and Swami Dayananda of the Arya Samaj. Dayananda felt that all the names of the Vedic Gods were simply different names of the One Truth or Divine Reality. Sri Aurobindo more clearly delineated how each name relates to a different aspect of Divinity and a different path to wholeness as part of the yogic quest. Ram Swarup develops this vision yet further.
The Word as Revelation is probably Ram Swarup’s most mystical book. It shows the spiritual root of his thinking that had a firm basis in the Divine Word. His deep mind and vast interests also compelled him to write on political, social and historical issues—not for his own benefit, as he could clearly see the truth of such matters—but for others who had the intellectual potential but lacked the teachings to help them see the truth. Yet Ram Swarup remained primarily a seer, philosopher and poet and was not himself tainted or disturbed by such controversies. So one could Say that this is perhaps the core book of his inspiration. It is a good companion to his Meditations: Yogas, Gods, Religions. It also interfaces well with his studies of Christianity and Islam and helps us understand his critique of them.
The Power of the Name
Names have many mysterious powers. They link us with the object, being or person that they signify, connecting us telepathically to its energy and its qualities. They allow us to call, invoke or manifest it in our own lives. We must be careful in the names we choose and the names we invoke. They can magnify not only the spiritual power of sattvaguna but also the material powers of rajas and tamas depending on their nature. By invoking Divine Names we also call those Divine qualities and powers to manifest within us. We awaken our own sattva. Yet if we invoke the Divine out of lower motives of rajas and tamas—to conquer, control, dominate others or impose our desires and beliefs upon them—what we are doing will be more black magic or psychic violence than anything truly spiritual.
Let us therefore endeavor to contact these Divine Names and work with them in our own lives. Let us not merely repeat their sounds but etch their meanings deep within our hearts, which requires determined meditation upon them. That is the best way to honor great teachings like the Vedas and to honor great teachers like Ram Swarup who are trying to help us contact that Divine Word directly. Let that Divine Utterance arise within us in which our personal limitations are dissolved and in which the universal truth can again manifest in this material world!
Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA David FRAWLEY
Kartika Purnima (Vamadeva Shastri)
November 11, 2000