Louise Landes Levi


An Introduction

The vocabularies of Prayer include an entire range of human expression, dance, design, dramaturgy, art, architecture &, of course the spoken word. Preserved since antiquity, the metaphysical & aesthetic qualities in Indian Dance , Tibetan Sand Paintings, Islamic calligraphy seem as vital to us now as they were 1000 years ago.

As poet & translator my preoccupation or 'dharma' has been with the spoken & written word. Experience in esoteric schools of learning attuned me , in particular, to the vocabularies & methods of 'transmission'. The resonance of prayer in ancient tongue 'Hebrew resonated through my childhood imbuing it with a sense of the primordial.

I hope the following article will serve to illustrate what I feel to be the inner, outer & secret methods of prayer & the way esoteric & esoteric culture maintain our human link to the non-dual or contemplative state.


Semiotic or modern language theory speaks of appropriated or motivated & non-appropriated or arbitrary language systems.

"Is there between words and things a rapport of simple convenience or an eternal appropriateness? In India, as in Greece, both of these theses were supported. But the second, expounded by Bhattihari does not exclude the first..." R.Daumal, RASA

Appropriated or motivated language systems are those in which the word for a person, place or thing is a subtle form of that 'thing' and, as such, of course can not be 'translated'. Non-appropriated or arbitrary systems, like our modern European ones, utilize words which indicate or formulate but are not considered to BE the object implied & thus many different words exist, in the different languages, for table, bird, chair or friend et.al.

In general, prayer implies a dualistic relationship between the speaker and the object of the prayer. In appropriated language system, such as the one derived fr. Sanskrit exposition mantra, this is not the case. Here the implied object is inherent in the language system & not considered to be apart from it. The letters themselves are understood to be the subtle (sthula) form of the deity or Goddess shakti. and each syllable is a bija mantra directly reflecting divine powers & potential. (1)

Appropriated or motivated language theory (in which a word is the subtle form of the object it describes) is traced to at least 2 other language systems, ancient & esoteric Greek & Hebrew. The formulas developed in these are furthermore, at least in the Sanskrit tradition, protected by formal initiation in which circumstances are created to favor the empowered nature of this speech.

When non-motivated or arbitrary systems are in use, prayer becomes a supplication to divine power. The needs of an individual can be met through complete supplication, at least theoretically, but spiritual practitioners attest to the phenomena of the answered prayer. Indeed in the Sanskrit tradition the disciple or shisya is assured that the guru or teacher is mystically compelled to respond to the prayer, or request if the request or indeed command is made 3 times & only in that case.

In the Tibetan tradition certain mantras or ritualistic maps are written in language which is neither Sanskrit mantra nor discernible through methods of ordinary reception or comprehension. Such is the Language of the Dakini ( lit. in Tibetan sky-walker ) which cannot be understood through discursive analysis but which in itself evokes the powers it describes & the beings for whom, according to the theory, this language is inherent.The Song of the Vajra or Vajra Lu in the Maha Ati School of Tibetan Buddhism Ema kiri kiri is an example The melodies to such 'songs' are received in dream by the masters of the lineage through which the text has been 'transmitted' & singing them is a direct means of entering into the state of realization of the master, with or without a conceptual understanding of the text.

But modern poetry, disassociated from formal metaphysics can also be understood as a form of prayer in that ordinary, ie. social or scientific (rational) powers of linguistic discourse are subjugated to an interplay of irrational perceptual process which link subtle fields of vision, sound & feeling or emotion in the poet's mind. Although the object of these formulas may not be a deity, by the interconnection of diverse synaestheic phenomena & unconscious respect for laws of resonance (or harmony) the poet evokes & transmits transcendent principle, the underlying order of our perceived world.

The Lord's Prayer originally in the Aramaic tongue (& said to be in Christ's direct speech-an answer to the request of his disciples 'How do we pray?') is an example of another sacred formula in which numeric proportions surpass the supplication implied in the text & transmit to the speakers the non dual nature of the sacred world. Similarly in Sanskrit & Tibetan (& in the Hebrew of the Song of Songs) mystic languages (specifically identified in Sanskrit as Sandhya Bhasa or Twilight Speech) are developed in which at least 4 levels of meaning can be read, depending on the initiatory level of the reader. Such a text will manifest as fable for the unitiated & as 'method' for the initiated. Fairy tales, in the western tradition, have similar properties but in the Western tradition, less designated as such. The 7 line prayer, in Tibetan, to Guru Padmasambhava is both a presentation of hagiographic details or legends from the master's life & a precise presentation of 'method' for each of the 4 schools of Tibetan Buddhism, each school interpreting the text according to its view & practice.

The Kaddish or 'mourner's prayer' also in Aramaic is another formula whose literal meaning is far surpassed by its energetic content. Subjective emotion is sacrificed or transformed on behalf of the energetic continuity of a people & the monotheistic method in their care. The Kaddish, it is said, has practical value for the deceased & is pronounced to directly assist and protect the being for whom it is recited. (2)

There are examples, in the bhajan of the Bhakti Kal in l6th century India, in which, in the Sanskrit or Devanagairi tradition both appropriated & non appropriated or motivated and non motivated language is employed, the great example being perhaps Tulsidas' Hanuman Chalisa, the 4O line Medieval Hindi prayer in praise of the monkey god Hanuman, Master of the 8 realms (& an incarnation of Siva ). However,in the tradition, when motivated words are in use they are identified specifically by the term tatsam, indicating the change in linguistic level. According to the lineage of the Chalisa , its mere recitation can produce miraculous effects, a power which at least in the tradition, had been attributed previously only to the appropriated (Sanskrit) works.

As with all deductive canon there are phenomena which fall outside the system employed. In traditions of ( so-called) sacred speech it can occur that a master recites a prayer which then becomes a conduit to his realization for those who adapt it to their practice , or that, certain liturgies, recited with faith, century over century, such as the Ave Maria, gather an energy which enables them to affect miraculous occurrences or to be the repository of a faith which itself empowers the verse. Thus ordinary speech or in the language of this article, non-motivated speech attains the state of motivated utterance. Mantra, pronounced incorrectly, but with faith, can also, of course, produce, under certain circumstances, the intended effect of the mantra.

The scope of this article is not to analyze these phenomena but to deconstruct the notion of prayer & to give a small indication of its component- subjective & objective language systems employed in its elaboration, exaltation & ease.

1. The letters are, furthermore, situated within the human body, as well as, in an alphabetic form, external to it. They are located as precise points around the chakras or internal energetic 'wheels', and are directly affected by the chant, prayer or Sanskrit recitation. The divinity is, thus, not addressed as an external object but as the quintessential aspect of he who recites the prayer or formula.
2. Some traditions refer to 90 minute periods of protection following every recitation while other assert that the Kaddish, recited on the Sabbath will protect the deceased being until the following Sabbath in the Jewish year following the death

I would love Mary
as nuns love Jesus

I would sleep with Mary
as nuns sleep w. Jesus

I would hold Mary
In my arms like Nuns do Jesus

And girlishly sigh I love You
    You poor little thing


I take you to bed with me
My Mary, my dear, \
    My husband.

                  Gregory Corso



                            When I was a child of two
      My mother dressed me only in white and blue
                                  O Holy Virgin
                             Do you love me still
                                      Me I know
                                          I will
                                 Love you till I die
                          Even though I've changed
                  I don't believe in heaven or in hell
                           I don't believe I don't believe
                            The sailor who was saved
                           Because he never forgot to say
                                A hail Mary every day
                 Looked just like me looked just like me

(Translated by Ron Padgett)




The Tibetan alphabet, based on the devanagari (the
U-Chen or capital letter style) & on the writing system dev-
eloped in the ancient capital of Shang Shung (the U-me or cursive
letter style) contains magical properties which allow certain
letters under certain circumstances to store entire
texts, as if the letter itself had

the capacity of a living being or brain. These let-
ters however are not perceived by ordinary mind. The Ter
who discovers the ter or text does so in dream or in a state

of consciousness which has gone beyond
our 3 dimensional universe. There is also a sex-
ual component to the reception of these documents
in that the terton in general does not receive the text
without the correct consort or 'yum'--indeed
entire teachings have been lost or

delayed for the lack of the
appropriate consort, such as Master

karma lingpa

a few centuries ago.


The text when revealed reveals itself either in a msc.
form when the terton wakes fr. dreaming it--in this case
he must write out the received text 2 times in
succession to test its authenticity
(from memory of course)--or

he will wake literally w. a small msc.

known as a Yellow Scroll containing several
syllables whose 'content' he will read
as if he is reading a book or

text. It is believe that
our poetic capacity derives fr. gifts
such as these but of an order which functions diversely
& for different ends. The msc.
received by the terton

has been 'stored' in his mind & reveal itself
when the appropriate matrix, sangha or group is ready
to receive the instruction indicated.





"All appearances manifest as letters"
fr. the Namtar of diverse masters

"The entire universe is letters":
fr. the Mandarava Terma of
Namkhai Norbu

"From the indestructible spheres
of the 5 vast spaces arise
the letters which are