The shlöka II.3.6 of Aitareya Ārāṇyaka explains this :-
……. ‘a’ is the whole of speech and being manifested through the mutes and the sibilants it becomes manifold and various. If uttered in a whisper, it is this ‘prāṇa’, if forcefully, that body – ‘sharira’. Therefore it is hidden, as hidden as the previous body encapsulated in this prāṇa . But spoken forcefully it is that body and visible, for body is visible.Now ‘a’ ( A ) is the immutable, the symbolic Unknown – if this is the whisper, then as we force the breath just a little, what we get is the aspirate sound ‘ah’ ( A: ) . It is both ‘a’ and ‘h’ combined. This is called the visarga sound. As shown in the akshara-wheel , at the top, the visarga is not included in the main alphabet and hence it is termed ayogavāḥ or ‘that which is not part of the harness’. The visarga is the bija-mantra for the Sahasarāra or the Crown-chakra. Here we see that another level of the symmetry emerges – ‘ah’ ( A: ) closes the circle pictorially – signifying the internal/external division of the body or ātma. The individual ‘I’ has thus taken form and this is called ‘aham’ ( AhM ). It is the ‘ah’ ( A: ) sound with the Shiva bindu on top of it. Thus there is an inside and there is an outside – with the language of consciousness as the dividing membrane!
….There was nothing whatsoever here in the beginning. It was the absence of time or mrtyuh, death that hid everything. For aśnāyā or that which has not emanated, in other words is un-manifested is equivalent to death. This aśnāyā- mrtyuh or the Unnameable, Brahman had a first thought in His mind, ‘Let me be’. This generated the first movement of thought and from this worship āpo emanated.…..’Verily’, he thought, ‘since my first desire has given rise to kam (within me)’, therefore this is the essence of energy or arka of all creation – he who understands kam thus comprehends the meaning (and control) of arka….I.2.1 Both āpo and kam are hurriedly translated as ‘water’ in English versions of this shlöka. They are actually both ‘first’ emanations. Due to the desire to be, the infinite One expresses duality, right here the bifurcation of the internal mind and the external manifestation happens. āpo thus is the outward pervading matter, the plasma that is synonymous with arka or the very essence of Shakti ; kam is the expansion of thought within, turning into the seeds of the language, like Bhartṛhari’s sphöṭa. It germinates the links of words and sentences, helping to precipitate the very first desire into action.
Here Agnī Deva, the Lord of Energy is explaining the secret of Brahman manifesting as different forms of fire or energies in the Universe. He says just as kam ( kma\ ) is the Infinite so is kham ( Kma\ ). As I have explained above that īśwara, is the manifest or pratyakśa form of the Unknown that lies within the realm of our senses. Synonymously kam ( kma\ ) too is like Aleph 1, א1 – the continuous infinity of Cantor’s theory of Infinities. It too is uncountable and from it can emerge another infinite number of roots, words, sentences and so on that can name every possible form of creation. Then in the manifest speech of the sparśa the kham ( Kma\ ) is the reciprocal of the Aleph 1, א1 . This transformation gives the same diversity to kham ( Kma\ ) as is available in kam ( kma\ ) and also explains the fact that kham ( Kma\ ) means zero or shūnya in all ancient Vedic mathematical references. It is also used synonymously with ākāsha meaning vacuum or space.There are four aksharas, shown in green in the akshara-wheel viz. ‘ya’ ( ya ), ‘ra’ ( r ), ‘la’ ( la ) & ‘va’ ( va ). These are dual combinations of vowels and are called the semi-vowels or antaḥstha. These antaḥstha are so called because they are in-between the vowels and the mute consonants. However, the prefix antar means both ‘intermediate’ as well as ‘internal’. Thus they reflect the inner or ‘returning’ energies of the body or sharira. These four aksharas are the bija-mantra of the lowest four of the seven chakras according to the Shiva-sutras.
‘a’ ( A ) combines phonetically with the second pure vowel ‘i’ ( [ ) to give ( [+A) ; ‘ya’ ( ya ) and this is the bija-mantra for the Heart or the Anahata chakra. This signifies the reflection of the Ishvara and the Unknown in the hridaya or the human heart.
Similarly ‘a’ (A ) combines phonetically with the fourth pure vowel ‘ri’ ( ? ) to give ( ?+A) ; ‘ra’ ( r ) and this is the bija-mantra for the Navel or Manipur chakra. Ritah is the word for ‘order’ and it is through the navel that the umbilical cord introduces prana into the human body.
In the same manner‘a’ (A ) combines phonetically with the third & fifth pure vowels ‘u’ ( ] ) & ‘lri’ ( ; ) respectively to give ( ]+ A) ;‘va’ ( va ) and ( ;+ A) ; ‘la’ ( la ) these are the bija-mantras for the lowest two charkas – ‘va’ for the Genitals and ‘la’ for the Faecal position. These are called the Swadishthan & Muladhar chakras respectively.
These four aksharas are also called the yam ( yama\ ) symbols. And this is the name of Lord of Death in the Vedas thus it signifies time-bound decaying of energies. Interestingly, if we look at the akshara-wheel ( ma ) and ( ya ) are contiguous. If we go clockwise ‘yam’ ( yama\ ) could be the pratyahāra for the entire alphabet signifying its closure or death. On the other hand, if we go anti-clockwise from ( ma ) to ( ya ) and add an extra mātrā or meter to each syllable for extension in time – we get the unfolding of ‘māyā’ ( maayaa ) !
Now, we come back to the idea of shuddha-vikalpa and whether the concept of the Unnameable Highest Reality be brought within the realm of the matrika-shaktīs ?
The ‘entity’ that is the shuddha-vikalpa in the citta or consciousness itself is constituted of a ‘string of sounds’ or the ‘name’ or the shlöka that is the ‘description’ of the entity. Anything in the region of māyā ( maayaa ) or sounds belongs to the “countable” dimension of Shri Lakshmi. This is the space and time measure of everyday life where everything is definitive. But as we all know the next higher dimension belongs to “continuity” or Ushha and to achieve this the shuddha-vikalpa has to be repeated ‘innumerable’ times till it penetrates the Sādhak or practioner’s sub-conscious levels. Nothing else matters but this singular ‘string of sounds’ or the individual’s mantra. This repetitive chanting transcends the “probabilistic” nature of Reality and makes things happen! Much like the Quantum Mechanical theory of matter where no single event can be predicted but the probability of the experimental outcome is assured for a large number of identical experiments.
Once the Sādhak achieves this level of the Shāktopāya, he touches the next level of the Shāmbhavopāya where his very intent or icchā begins to manifest. And this is the realm of the Saraswati which has a runaway ecstatical effect on the Sādhak’s being and here the shuddha-vikalpa dissolves, negating itself and merging with Infinite (or the Infinitesimal Zero).
Let us look at this in another practical way…… The ‘intent to act’ is called the samkalpa and is first felt in the mind as a thought, as an idea to do something. This latent desire is in the realm of anahat-naad literally ‘unheard-sound’ and is also called the para-vaak or the region ‘beyond speech’. It is constructed out of our previous experience, the learned language, the symbolic memory and so on. The desire precipitates a need, a reason or a sense of purpose – this is what is called vikalpa . The mind observes, it searches for ways and means to crystallize this thought. This is the second layer of speech and it is called pashyanti. The next & third stage is madhyama, literally meaning ‘in-between’, where the life-force or prana lowers itself into the heart through 22 nervous paths called nadis. These 22 paths constitute the collection of shrutis and the heart is also the seat of the fourth chakra called the Anaahat-chakra for this reason. The breath or vayu rises from the navel or nabhi, the seat of the Manipura-chakra, in a ‘tight knot’ and combines with the prana in the hridaya or heart. Till now the sound is unbroken. As the vayu emerges from the throat, the Vishuddhi-chakra it finds distinction, delineation into the various components of speech and this fourth stage is called vaikhari. Till here the Shiva- sutras follow a 5th century A.D. scholar, Bhartrihari’s sphota theory of language. The sutras however add the matrika as the fifth stage of speech synthesis.
■■ Involution is the path of looking within ourselves. It is the path of meditation and yoga. And, a very important role, in this entire process, is played by the mantras – the ‘string of sounds’ well-knitted to enhance this inward journey. We went through four stages of evolution of speech in reaching matrika – the exposition of words and language. To summarize, these were, para-vaak, pashyanti, madhayma and vaikhari. Similarly there are four mantras to assimilate the returning energies of the Sādhak or practitioner. The first mantra, according to the Shiva- sutras, is ‘hamsa’. This mantra brings about the awareness of breathing. For, ‘ha’ is samhara-bija or the mystic letter denoting inspiration of breath and ‘sa’ is the shrishti-bija or the mystic letter denoting expiration. These sounds just happen as we inhale and exhale almost 21,600 times daily and the concentration on this fact enhances deep-breathing or prāṇayāma. Incidentally, the word ‘hamsa’ is also the name of the mythical white, swan-like bird which is very rarely seen and in folk-lore the flying away of this bird is likened to the release of prana at the time of death. These are the white swans on Goddess Saraswati’s sides.
The second mantra is ‘soham’. Here the sequence of awareness is reversed – the ‘sa’ syllable for exhaling comes before the ‘ha’ syllable for inhaling. This mantra, therefore, starts the Sādhak on his inward journey and at the same time makes him aware of his deeper self. For, ‘aham’ means self and this mantra should be understood as ‘sa-aham’ being chanted rapidly.
The third mantra envelopes the second and adds the sound of the presiding deity Lord Shiva. Thus it is ‘Shivoham-shivoham’ and it is chanted in unison with the ‘in’ and ‘out’ breathing. The Sādhak rises above the multiplicity of the external reality and begins to merge with the dichotomy of the self and Shiva. Note that the sound of ‘aum’ is already ensconced in this and the previous mantra.
For, ‘aum’ is the last mantra. It is the bīja sound for the ‘third-eye’ or the Ājna-chakra. We have seen it is the abbreviation of the entire Sanskrit vowels and mute consonants from ‘a’ to ‘ma’ . Its annunciation traces the entire organ of speech from the glottis to the lips or the labial region. When chanted it resonates sonorously in the cranial cavity urging the Sādhak back towards the realm of para-vaak or the Unknown Naad-Brahman.
This then is the explanation of the matrika-shakti in the Shāktopāya.