Sanskrit: language of the gods part 1


I am in the process of reviewing old material relating to Advaita Academy as part of my background research for a 2nd edition of Back to the Truth. There are a number of essays, blogs and book reviews by myself and others which I will be reposting here over the next few months (they can no longer be found on-line at present). Here is the first of these – a two-part essay by Peter Bonnici, explaining why Sanskrit is so valuable and why a qualified teacher is necessary. Dennis

Sanskrit: language of the gods – Peter Bonnici

There are many who declare themselves to be students of advaita vedAnta but do not see the value in pursuing the study of texts in Sanskrit as they believe that the proliferation of translations and commentaries on texts like the Upanishads and Bhagavad GIta available in native languages are sufficient. Then there are those who have a working knowledge of Sanskrit who feel that, armed with a dictionary and other necessary tools, they can arrive at the meaning of texts by themselves.

Both are missing something, and for the same reason: namely, the enormous expressiveness, subtlety and flexibility of the language to express the precise meaning that the speaker or writer wishes to convey. (Most of the valuable teaching of advaita was passed on orally and the written form came later.) Not only is one missing out the subtlety of meaning by side-stepping the language, but one can also be lulled into a false sense of security by the book knowledge one has. An example of this can be seen when one compares translations. Here are three translations of the first verse of shankara’s DakShiNamUrti Stotra:

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chin mudrA

small_A-U-MHere is the second extract from my forthcoming book on the Mandukya Upanishad and Gaudapada’s kArikA-s. It explains the symbolism associated with the cover image. This explanation occurs near the end of the book, since it utilizes concepts with which the reader might be unfamiliar (until he or she has read the book). But since readers of this site should certainly be familiar with the terms, there is no harm in presenting it here!

chin mudrA

Now that we have almost concluded the unfolding of the kArikA-s, we can return to that cover image! The ‘hand-sign’ is not actually mentioned in the Mandukya Upanishad, nor by Gaudapada, though it is highly relevant. As I mentioned in the introduction, it is a gesture associated with the Sage who is said to be the first teacher of Vedanta – Dakshinamurti. As such, he was the head of the teaching sampradAya and did not himself have a teacher – i.e. he was already fully enlightened. He is also identified with the God Shiva. It is called chin mudrA or j~nAna mudrA (more usually chin), where chin means Consciousness and mudrA means sign.

It is often said that Dakshinamurti taught through silence. Of course, this would not make any sense. Silence can be interpreted in innumerable ways, few of which are likely to convey useful knowledge! But, once we have the knowledge, a symbol can convey a world of information, reminding us through memory of what we have previously learned. Witness the vast amount of knowledge which is now conveyed to you through the word OM.

The hand position shown on the cover of this book is another symbol of this sort. And it is highly relevant to the same knowledge.

Here is the symbolism:

  • The thumb represents paramAtman. There is some reasoning behind this. The scriptures speak of paramAtman as residing in the space in the heart (hRRidaya). By this, we were expected to understand ‘mind’, since it used to be thought that the mind was contained in the physical organ of the heart. Since the heart is about the size of a fist, it was reasonable to think that the space inside was about the size of a thumb.
  • The forefinger represents the individual or jIva. It could also be thought of as the ego or sense of myself. It is common in many cultures to use the forefinger to point out personal opinions and also to threaten or criticize others whose views differ from ‘mine’.
  • The second finger represents the gross body, sthUla sharIra or waker.
  • The third finger represents the subtle body, sUkShma sharIra or dreamer.
  • The fourth finger represents the causal body, kAraNa sharIra or deep-sleeper.
  • The first finger is normally held in association with the other three, indicating our identification with the body and mind.
  • All four fingers depend upon the thumb for their strength and ability to do practically anything. It is this feature which distinguishes us from other animals and gave humanity its great advantage in manipulating objects.
  • When the index finger is moved to touch the tip of the thumb, it separates from the other three, indicating realization that I am not in fact these bodies at all. In forming an unbroken circle with the thumb, it is recognizing that jIvAtman and paramAtman are one, unaffected by the three mithyA states of consciousness.

I now have a firm publication date for the book, incidentally – it is September 25th. It is now available for pre-order. It is quite expensive, but then it also quite thick (431 pages).

The paperback details are: ISBN 978-1-78279-996-2 UK: £20.99 US: $36.95
and the EBook: ISBN 978-1-78279-997-9 UK: £12.99 US: $21.99

Buy from Amazon US; Buy from Amazon UK

The first extract from the book may be read here.

Topic of the Month – Brahman

brahman3The topic for Sep 2014 is brahman.

This is, of course, THE topic of Advaita – what else is there?

I posted part 1 of the 3-part essay, which I wrote back in 2009 on the subject of Brahman, last month. I will post part 2 within the next 24 hours.

I recently started looking at Shankara’s dakShiNamUrti stotram for the first time and encountered there a way of looking at tat tvam asi that I hadn’t previously encountered. jIvAtman is treated as Consciousness (tvam – you) and paramAtman is treated as Existence (tat – brahman – every’thing’). asi is aikyam – identity. You are That. Consciousness is Existence. Maybe others have studied this text and can elaborate?

Please submit your quotes, short extracts or personal blogs on this topic!