Language, Mind, and Reality

Benjamin Lee Whorf

A very unusual article, written by one of the most influential modern linguists during the last year of his life.

On the simplest cultural level, a mantram is merely an incantation of primitive magic, such as the crudest cultures have. In the high culture it may have a different, very intellectual meaning, dealing with the inner affinity of language and the cosmic order. At a still higher level, it becomes “Mantra Yoga.” Therein the mantram becomes a manifold of conscious patterns, contrived to assist the consciousness into the noumenal pattern world—whereupon it is “in the driver’s seat.” It can then SET the human organism to transmit, control, and amplify a thousandfold forces which that organism normally transmits only at unobservably low intensities.

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The commitment to illusion has been sealed in western Indo-European language, and the road out of illusion for the West lies through a wider understanding of language than western Indo-European alone can give…
The scientific understanding of very diverse languages—not necessarily to speak them, but to analyze their structure—is a lesson in brotherhood which is brotherhood in the universal human principle—the brotherhood of the “Sons of Manas.”

Originally published in the Theosophist (Madras, India), 1942, then as a chapter in Language, Thought, and Reality, Boston (MA), MIT Press, 1956.

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