Breath and Word in Veda and Judaism


The Vedic rite of sacrifice required the participation of four kinds of priests, with very different functions.

The Adhvaryu prepared the animals and the altar, lit the fire and performed the actual sacrifice. They took care of all the material and manual part of the operations, during which they were only allowed to whisper a few incantations proper to their sacrificial activity.

The Udgatṛi were responsible for singing the hymns of Sama Veda in the most melodious manner.

The Hotṛi, for their part, had to recite in a loud voice, without singing them, the ancient hymns of the Ṛg Veda while respecting the traditional rules of pronunciation and accentuation. They were supposed to know by heart all the texts of the Veda in order to adapt to all the circumstances of the sacrifices. At the end of the litanies, they uttered a kind of wild cry, called vausat.

Finally, remaining silent throughout, a Brahmin, a referent of the good progress of the sacrifice, guarantor of its effectiveness, supervised the various phases of the ceremony.

These four kinds of priests had, as one can see, a very different relationship to the word of the Veda. The first murmured (or mumbled) it, the second sang it, following a melody, mingled with music, the third proclaimed it, concluding with a shout. Finally, silence was observed by the Brahmin.

These different regimes of vocal expression can be interpreted as so many possible modalities of the relationship of the word to the divine. They accompany and give rhythm to the stages of the sacrifice and its progression.

The chant is a metaphor for the divine fire, the fire of Agni. « Songs fill you and increase you, as the great rivers fill the sea » says a Vedic formula addressed to Agni.

The recitation of Ṛg Veda is a self-weaving narrative. It can be done word for word (pada rhythm), or in a kind of melodic path (krama) according to eight possible varieties, such as the « braid » (jatā rhythm) or the « block » (ghana rhythm).

In the « braid » style, for example, a four-syllable expression abcd was pronounced in a long, repetitive and obsessive litany: ab/ba/abc/cba/bc/cb/bcd/dcb/bcd

When the time came, the recitation finally « burst forth » like thunder. Acme of sacrifice.

The Vedic word appears in all its successive stages a will to connect, an energy of connection. Little by little set in motion, it is entirely oriented towards the construction of links with the Deity, the weaving of close correlations, vocal, musical, rhythmic, semantic.

It is impregnated with the mystery of Deity. It establishes and constitutes by itself a sacred link, in the various regimes of breath, and by their learned progression.

A hymn of Atharvaveda pushes the metaphor of breath and rhythm as far as possible. It makes us understand the nature of the act in progress, which resembles a sacred, mystical union: « More than one who sees has not seen the Word; more than one who hears has not heard it. To the latter, she opened her body as to her husband, a loving woman in rich finery.»

The Vedic Word is at the same time substance, vision, way.

A comparison with the divine Word and Breath in the biblical texts can be interesting.

In Gen 2:7, God breathes a « breath of life » (neshmah נשׁמה) so that man becomes a living being (nephesh נפשׁ ). In Gen 1:2, a « wind » from God blows (rua רוּח). The « wind » is violent and evokes notions of power, strength, active tension. The « breath » of life, on the other hand, can be compared to a breeze, a peaceful and gentle exhalation. Finally, God « speaks », he « says »: « Let there be light! ».

On the subject of the breath and wind of God, Philo of Alexandria comments: « This expression (he breathed) has an even deeper meaning. Indeed three things are required: what blows, what receives, what is blown. What blows is God; what receives is intelligence; what is blown is breath. What is done with these elements? A union of all three occurs. »

Philo poses the deep, intrinsic unity of breath, soul, spirit and speech.

Beyond languages, beyond cultures, from the Veda to the Bible, the analogy of breath transcends worlds. The murmur of the Adhvaryu, the song of Udgatṛi, the word of Hotṛi, and its very cry, form a union, analogous in principle to that of the divine exhalation (neshmah, נשׁמה), the living breath (nephesh, נפשׁ ), and the wind of God (rua, רוּח ).

In all matters, there are those who excel in seeing the differences. Others see especially the similarities. In the Veda and the Bible, the latter will be able to recognize the persistence of a paradigm of speech and breath in seemingly distant contexts.

The Aryan Veda and Semitic Judaism, beyond their multiple differences, share the intuition of the union of word and breath, – which is also a divine prerogative.

Is the (real) Tradition the Talmud, the Kabbalah or the Zohar?


Alphonse-Louis Constant was a French clergyman and a controversial figure of occultism in the 19th century. As the author of an abundant work, he took the pen name Eliphas Levi, or Eliphas-Levi Zahed, which is a translation of his name into Hebrew. In 1862, he published Fables and Symbols, a work in which he analyzed the symbols of Pythagoras, the Apocryphal Gospels, and the Talmud. Here is one of these fables, « The Fakir and the Bramin », and its commentary, which are not unrelated to a certain topicality:

THE FAKIR AND THE BRAMIN.

Carrying an axe in his hand,

A fakir meets a bramin:

– Cursed son of Brama, I can still find you!

I love Eswara!

Confess before me that the master of heaven

Is the best of the gods,

And that I am his prophet,

Or I’ll split your head open!

– Strike, » replied the bramin,

I don’t love a god who makes you inhuman.

The gods do not murder anyone.

Believe or not that mine

Is more forgiving than yours:

But in his name, I forgive you.

SYMBOL – THE FAKIR AND THE BRAMIN.

« When the opposing forces do not balance each other, they destroy each other.

Unfair enthusiasm, religious or otherwise, causes the opposite enthusiasm through its excess.

That is why a famous diplomat was right when he said: ‘Never be zealous’.

That is why the great Master said: ‘Do good to your enemies and you will build fire on their heads’. It was not revenge by occult means that Christ wanted to teach, but the means to resist evil by learned and self-defense. Here is indicated and even revealed one of the greatest secrets of occult philosophy. »

Eliphas Lévi also made an interesting statement on the veil, a difficult subject admittedly, not unrelated to current events.

« Absconde faciem tuam et ora. Veil your face to pray.

This is the use of the Jews, who, in order to pray with more contemplation, wrap their heads in a veil which they call thalith. This veil originates from Egypt and resembles that of Isis. It means

that holy things must be hidden from the profane, and that everyone must only count on God for the secret thoughts of his heart. »

Finally, here is an extract from a small dialogue, quite lively, between an Israelite and Eliphas Levi.

Israelite: I am pleased to see that you are making cheap of the mistakes of Christianity.

Eliphas Levi: Yes, I suppose so, but it’s to defend the truths with more energy.

Israelite: What are the truths of Christianity?

Eliphas Levi: The same as those of the religion of Moses, plus the effective sacraments with faith, hope and charity.

Israelite: Plus idolatry, that is, worship that is due to God alone, given to a man and even to a piece of bread. The priest put in the place of God himself, and condemning the Israelites to hell, that is, the only worshippers of the true God and the heirs of his promise.

Eliphas Levi: No, children of your fathers ! we do not put anything in the place of God himself. Like you, we believe that his divinity is unique, immutable, spiritual and we do not confuse God with his creatures. We worship God in the humanity of Jesus Christ and not this humanity in the place of God.

There is a misunderstanding between you and us that has lasted for centuries and has caused much blood and tears to flow. The so-called Christians who persecuted you were fanatics and unholy people unworthy of the spirit of this Jesus who forgave by dying to those who crucified him and said: Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do (…)

Israelite: I arrest you here and tell you that for us the Kabbalah is not authoritative. We no longer recognize her because she was desecrated and disfigured by the Samaritans and the Eastern Gnostics. Maimonides, one of the greatest lights of the synagogue, sees the Kabbalah as useless and dangerous; he does not want us to deal with it and wants us to stick to the symbol of which he himself formulated the thirteen articles, from the Sepher Torah, the prophets and the Talmud.

Eliphas Levi: Yes, but the Sepher Torah, the prophets and the Talmud are unintelligible without the Kabbalah. I will say more: these sacred books are the Kabbalah itself, written in hieroglyphics, that is, in allegorical images. The Scripture is a closed book without the tradition that explains it and the tradition is the Kabbalah.

Israelite: That’s what I deny, the tradition is the Talmud.

Eliphas Levi: Say that the Talmud is the veil of tradition, the tradition is the Zohar.

Israelite: Could you prove it?

Eliphas Levi: Yes, if you want to have the patience to hear me, because it would take a long time to reason.