Q.446 satyam, j~nAnam anantam brahma

Q: Does the phrase satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma means truth-knowledge limitless or Existence-consciousness limitless? (The latter is the definition given by Swami Dayananda in one of the summer camp tapes.)

A: Strictly speaking, sat means real, existence or being; sattA means being or existence; satya means truth or being. If you look up ‘existence’, you will probably find asti or astitvam. If you look up ‘sat’ in Monier-Williams, one of the meanings is ‘that which really is, entity or existence, essence, the true being or really existent’. If you look up ‘sattva’, you get ‘being, existence, entity, reality, true essence’.

So the answer is that both are used in either context and there is no clear meaning associated with either (and I have come across both being used in both meanings. I am fairly sure that Swami D has used both to mean ‘existence’ and both to mean ‘truth’. Sanskrit is a very versatile language! (But, if you ever come across me using it clearly in one way and Swami D using it in another, take Swamiji’s meaning! He knew Sanskrit inside out; I don’t!)

In mitigation, the words ‘existent’ and ‘true’ could be considered to be synonyms in Advaita…

The suggestion that j~nAnam is translated as ‘consciousness’ is a little more difficult. It is, indeed, one possible correct translation – but it is in the sense of ‘I know’ equating to ‘I am conscious of’. If it was used in this way by Swami D, it would seem to me to be perhaps a ‘slip of the tongue’, momentarily confusing ‘satyam j~nAnam anantam’ as the ‘definition’ of brahman with ‘sat chit Ananda’ as the other common definition. chit, of course, does mean ‘Consciousness’ in this context.

Q: I am a student of James Swartz.  I was wanting to find a good reference book for learning the terminology of Vedanta in Sanskrit.  James recommended I contact you to ask which one of your books would the most helpful.  If you have time to point me in the right direction it would be much appreciated.  Thank you.

A: That’s an easy one! The best book by far (of which I am aware) is John Grimes’ book. See first entry on http://www.advaita.org.uk/library/i_indian.html (and if you click through to Amazon to buy, you will earn me a small commission!)

From another question:

Q: I always thought that the use of Sanskrit terms was a little spiritually pretentious (mainly because I’m lazy and had to do Latin at school!) I can now see the need for it in spiritual investigations. So where would I start with this to catch up?

A: I wouldn’t really recommend learning the language seriously (pity we didn’t learn it at school instead of Latin, though!). You pick up the main terms just by reading and joining email discussion groups. There is a dictionary at the website – see ‘Dictionary’ under the ‘Sanskrit’ menu – http://www.advaita.org.uk/sanskrit/sanskrit.htm. But some Sanskrit terms are essential because there are no English equivalents – mithyA is an obvious and key example. There are detailed entries on some of these terms – see ‘Terms and Definitions’ under the Sanskrit menu. Or read my book ‘Sanskrit for Seekers‘ if you want to understand a bit more (and even how to read the Devanagari text) without learning the language as such.