The SU’s second adhyāya commences with a sequence of three passages (AitĀ 3.2.1-3) presenting bandhus between speech, the self, and the sun or year. The initial two passages are closely related and appear repetitive, but upon analysis contain a progression of bandhus that establishes the backdrop to the third passage, AitĀ 3.2.3, allowing us to detect a purposeful development of focus leading to the discussion of death-symptoms in the SU’s fourth passage. In this section, I will examine the second and third passages from the perspective of what I take to be a sequential relationship gradually building to the SU’s paramount description of saṁhitā in the context of personhood and vulnerability.
AitĀ 3.2.2: Kauṇṭharavya’s Teaching on “Connections” (sandhi)
As mentioned, the first two passages of AitĀ 3.2 are repetitive in content and structure and appear to present a variation on the same teaching given by different teachers. Where the first of these passages employs the term saṁhitā to describe the relationship of the devatā to the puruṣa at macrocosmic and personal levels (adhidaivata and adhyātman), the second passage replaces this with sandhi (written here saṁdhi), the term used to describe the euphonic combinations whose verbal production characterises the saṁhitāpāṭha mode of recitation. While the precise intention of the speaker cannot be determined, the shift from saṁhitā to sandhi draws attention to the way that parts of speech are depicted functioning as media connecting the person to the macrocosm. Note that the same connections (sandhi) account for both physiological vitality and religious attainment: when the identification of the self through speech is realized, one achieves outcomes that define the living of a complete or entire life (sarvam āyur).
Next, [the teaching of] Kauṇṭharavya.Footnote 25 There are three hundred and sixty syllables, three hundred and sixty sibilants and modifiers, three hundred and sixty connections (saṁdhi). Those which we have called syllables are the days, what we have called sibilants and modifiers are the nights, what we have called connections are the connections of days and nights – so it is with respect to the deities. Now, with respect to the self. Those which we have called syllables with respect to the deities are bones with respect to the self. Those which we have called sibilants and modifiers with respect to the deities are the marrows with respect to the self. For marrow is indeed this chief breath, this semen, and surely semen is not emitted without breath – if it were emitted without breath, it would putrefy, it would not yield. Those which we have called connections with respect to the deities are the joints with respect to the self. Of these three – of the bones, the marrows, and the joints – there are five hundred and forty [and] five [hundred and forty]; it becomes one thousand and eighty; one thousand and eighty indeed are the rays of the sun that change into the br̥hatī verses and the day. The self that is composed of sight, composed of hearing, composed of the metres, composed of the mind, [and] composed of speech is this one measured with the syllables. He who knows thus this self as being measured with the syllables, composed of sight, composed of hearing, composed of the metres, composed of the mind, [and] composed of speech obtains intimacy, assimilation, and cohabitation with the syllables, becomes rich in offspring and livestock, he lives an entire life.
The numerical allocations in Kauṇṭharavya’s teaching alert us to the fact that this passage contains a purposeful and focused development of the teaching given in the preceding. The 720 days and nights of the year that AitĀ 3.2.1 identifies with the 360 parts on each side of the human body are doubled here in AitĀ 3.2.2, firstly by positing the existence of 360 × 3 divisions of speech, and secondly by positing 540 parts on each side of the body. The resulting total of 1080 equates to the rays of the sun that this passage identifies with the br̥hatī verses and each day. Again, where AitĀ 3.2.1 asserts that sight, hearing, mind, speech, the senses, and the body – namely, the entire self – are fixed together (samāhita) on the breath (prāṇa), AitĀ 3.2.2 shifts focus to the “chief” or “leading” breath (saṁpratiprāṇa) whose presence or absence leads respectively to fertility or decay.Footnote 26 Finally, in moving beyond the previous identification of the self with the days to instead posit that the self is like the syllables in number (akṣarasaṁmānaḥ…ātmā), Kauṇṭharavya’s teaching draws the act of recitation – and, implicitly, speech itself – into the framework of connections placed around the identification of the self with the sun.
AitĀ 3.2.2 thus advances the key postulations of AitĀ 3.2.1 – that breath is the “beam” which supports the other devatā,Footnote 27 and that the self is like the days in numberFootnote 28 – by expanding them to include the relationship between breath and speech, providing this with an anchoring in the success of the puruṣa’s physiological functioning and asserting an identification between recitation and the sun. As we will see, this relationship of self-syllables-recitation-sun plays a critical role in the passages that follow.
AitĀ 3.2.3: Bādhva’s Teaching on the “Four Persons”)
These progressions reach a crux in AitĀ 3.2.3 despite this passage’s impression of deviating from the preceding pattern of teachings. This is because unlike the initial two passages which take their orientation from the vertical hierarchy implicit in the identification between adhidaivata and adhyātman spheres, AitĀ 3.2.3 is characterized by a complex model that progresses vertically, with each successive level encompassing the one prior, but which ultimately inverts or reverses with the outermost and most expansive level being identified as the essence (rasa) of the innermost. This ‘concentric’ hierarchy is explained through the image of four persons (puruṣa) – the persons of the body (śarīra-), the metres (chandas-), the Veda (veda-), and the Great Person (mahāpuruṣa) – and it is the final identification of the Great Person with the essence of the śarīrapuruṣa that provides a coherent link to the restriction on recitation that concludes this passage.
Given the importance of AitĀ 3.2.3 to our ability to detect a logical sequence of contents in the SU’s second adhyāya, it is worth considering in some detail.
The first stage of Bādhva’s teaching introduces the four persons and addresses the śarīrapuruṣa and chandaḥpuruṣa specifically. While at first glance we might expect the movement from śarīra to chandas to implicate a step upwards in Bādhva’s cosmological hierarchy, it is possible that the śarīrapuruṣa and the chandaḥpuruṣa are in fact presented as equivalent. I base this observation on the number of identifications that are made around each person: in contrast with the following two persons, which are each characterized by increases in their respective number of identifications, the śarīrapuruṣa and chandaḥpuruṣa each show two, equivalent statements – first, a bandhu disclosing identity, and second a statement of essence (rasa). On one hand these statements move in typically Upaniṣadic fashion from the least to most subtle aspects of each target. On the other hand, however, the structural symmetry seen here distinguishes the first two persons from the following. If my suggestion is accurate – that the śarīrapuruṣa and chandaḥpuruṣa are being treated as equivalent – then this introduction into Bādhva’s teaching must build directly upon the identification of the self and the syllables with which the previous passage concluded, thus marking another progression in a coherent sequence.
There are four persons (puruṣa), according to BādhvaFootnote 29 – the person of the body, the person of the metres, the person of the Veda, and the Great Person. What we have called the person of the body is indeed this corporeal self (daihika ātmā); its essence is the incorporeal intelligent self (aśarīraḥ prajñātman). What we have called the person of the metres is indeed the traditional collection of syllables; its essence is [the phoneme] a.Footnote 30
The next stage of Bādhva’s teaching introduces the person of the Veda (vedapuruṣa). Here we observe an increase in the network of connections placed around the puruṣa – in addition to the two disclosures (viz., of identity and essence) seen previously, there is an additional pronouncement that builds out from the statement of essence. In this stage, the additional pronouncement regards the selection of a brahman priest or ritualist that is brahmiṣṭha, “replete in brahman”:Footnote 31
What we have called the person of the Veda is that by which one knows the Vedas – the R̥gveda, the Yajurveda, the Sāmaveda – its essence is the brahman priest. Therefore, one should choose a brahman priest that is replete in brahman, who would see a sacrifice’s excess (ulbaṇam).
Again, it appears to be the focus on speech’s role in the development of personhood that is the contextualizing framework for the progression seen here, moving attention from cosmological connections to the place of human agency. Working from the assumption that is through the Veda that the previous identifications between human embodiment and the syllables are revealed, this shift from the microcosm of the human person to the mesocosm of ritual practice might be interpreted as expanding inclusively around the śarīrapuruṣa and chandaḥpuruṣa.
However, the corollary introduction of the brahman priest is perhaps the more significant innovation. This is not simply because of the ritual agency that this figure implies – although this is both significant and relevant to the passage that follows (AitĀ 3.2.4) – but also because the figure of the brahman is open-ended. Unlike the other priestly roles involved in ritual performance, such as the hotr̥, etc., which are predetermined in the sense of involving the delivery of undeviating contributions to a ritual, the brahman’s identity is based on an understanding of sacred speech and their performance is presumably flexible and spontaneous. Through the introduction of this figure the SU posits a conceptual paradigm that emphasizes the importance of perceiving latent influences that threaten to destroy the balance of a ritual and thus the ability of a ritual to be productive but settles this as a quality of personhood.
Of particular interest in this regard is the employment of the term ulbaṇa, a relatively uncommon word that seems to refer to a conceptual category rather than to a precisely determined referent. Standard definitions of ulbaṇa stating it denotes the the amniotic membrane appear to derive from attestations in the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka (TĀ 1.10.7) which refer literally to calving in illustration of how the sun’s rays are the caul produced from the pregnant night.Footnote 32 This meaning seems to be logically supported by the existence of a corresponding adjective, ulbaṇa, used to describe primary qualities of being massy, thick or large, and the secondary quality of being extraordinary.Footnote 33 However, it is the negated form anulbaṇa that may provide the key to understanding the employment of ulbaṇa in AitĀ 3.2.3. Occurring twice in R̥V, the adjective anulbaṇa is used to express the desire that an end product or procedure not have any excess or, perhaps, unwanted by-product. What seems clear in both of these occurrences is that the quality described as ulbaṇa is something that would disrupt the ideal state, function, or intended outcome of the phenomenon that is the focus of each verse:
R̥V 10.53.6c: anulbaṇáṃ vayata jóguvām ápo
weave a work without knots for the ever-praising ones’Footnote 35
R̥V 8.25.9b: anulbaṇéna cákṣasā
by means of eyesight without motes’Footnote 36
These attestations suggest that ulbaṇa may have been perceived as a flaw. In addition, Sāyaṇa’s commentary on AitĀ 3.2.3 suggests that ulbaṇa is something inherent within or deeply related to (saṁbandhin) a phenomenon, process, or product – indeed, as a caul to a foetus – but that it is a morbid element with qualities of intensity or excessiveness.Footnote 37 On the basis of the examples cited, we might surmise that ulbaṇa (1) is generated or exists as a corollary of another action or phenomenon, is excess to want, and causes disruption; (2) that this disruption upsets the proper functioning or intended outcome of the related action or phenomenon; and (3) that the related action/phenomenon can obtain at any level of the cosmos – from childbirth to hymn-production and sacrifice – but that its proper or ideal functioning is affective and relevant to ritual and the person alike.
I would argue that it is ulbaṇa rather than the more obvious shift from mesocosm to macrocosm that provides the core of the progression into the next and final stage of Bādhva’s teaching. What this next stage signifies is not just the completion of the bandhus connecting the four persons, but a persuasive evolution from the factors that join (sam + dhā) within one’s person and give rise to physiological identity, to a transpersonal phenomenon, the year, that sets the conditions both for life and for its failure to thrive. These conditions are encoded at the level of the individual person by the identification between prajñātman and sun – and we might recall that prajñātman was previously named as the essence of the śarīrapuruṣa in the first stage of Bādhva’s teaching. The crux of the passage, Bādhva’s revelation on saṁhitā, sees this relationship at all levels of creation:
What we have called the Great Person is indeed the year that causes some beings to fall apart and others to aggregate; its essence is the sun. One should know that this incorporeal intelligent self and the sun are one. Therefore, the sun [appears] equally to each and every person. This was said by a r̥ṣi:
“The brilliant face of the gods has arisen, the eye of Mitra, Varuṇa,
he has filled heaven, earth, and the space between: the Sun is the
life-breath (ātmā) of both the moving and the still.”Footnote 38
Thus, Bādhva has said “I consider this saṁhitā as being put together according to the correct order.” For, indeed, the Bahvr̥cas examine this in the great hymn, the Adhvaryus in the fire, the Chandogas in the Mahāvrata ritual; [they examine] this in this [world] – this in heaven, this in the wind, this in space, this in the waters, this in the plants, this in the trees, this in the moon, this in the stars, this in all beings – this alone they call brahman. The self that is composed of sight, composed of hearing, composed of the metres, composed of the mind, [and] composed of speech is this one measured with the year.Footnote 39
Bādhva asserts that saṁhitā is not just sandhi or a mode of recitation, but the truthful identifications, the state of being ‘put together’, that recitation reveals. This state of saṁhitā follows the structural order contained in the identification of self and sun – an assertion that has multiple implications for our understanding of the SU. Firstly, it suggests that saṁhitā is conceived of as a natural state of affairs. To the extent that this relies largely upon the sun as the essence of the year, it implicates both the potential for life and, by extension, the possibility of collapse as natural conditions at play in the individual person and the world. Secondly, it implicates saṁhitā in the transpersonal identity that is an outcome of true knowledge but brings the puruṣa into focus as an object and means of self-realization. This contrasts significantly with widespread popular notions of Upaniṣadic teaching that emphasize knowledge of the ātman and depict the puruṣa as having little relevance to self-realization. Yet, as we shall see, the implication of the puruṣa in AitĀ 3.2.3 establishes a coherent religious context for the following passage, AitĀ 3.2.4, which is highly illustrative of the kind of content that has been seen as diverging from the Upaniṣads’ metaphysical focus.
Thirdly, while Bādhva’s declaration extends the meaning and applicability of saṁhitā well beyond simple reference to the recitation of the R̥V, it does so without breaking the underlying relationship between speech and the puruṣa seen depicted elsewhere in the SU. Because of this speech, saṁhitā, personhood, and knowledge share conceptual terrain and structural similarities, but in what follows the SU suggests that it is the knowledgeable relationship to speech that determines the personal outcomes of recitative practice.