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Monday, August 18, 2014

Categories and Definitions in Sanskrit Texts

The name for various systems of Philosophy in Sanskrit is darṣana. On reading these ancient texts, I admire the minds of Indian thinkers and those who structured our ancient languages, specifically Sanskrit and Tamizh. Our ancient scholars were meticulous about categorizing things and defining words. They liked to use minimum number of words and set them to meters that are easy to memorize. This is how many ancient texts were preserved for generations, purely by the spoken route before the arrival of writing and then printing.

When one categorizes and defines any set of items, it is always for a purpose. Therefore, there are different methods of categorizing the same set and different definitions of the same idea. The following are words from the Sanskrit texts I have read. I looked up several sources deliberately for the meanings and sometimes I stumbled upon them.

Here they are arranged according to categories and definitions to help you when you delve into this ocean of literature. If you can correct some of them and add some more, I will be only too delighted.

(Please note that I have used transliteration of the alphabets. If there are errors, please let me know)


Ᾱcārya is so called because Ᾱśinōti hi śastrārtat (he knows the subject) ā yo sthāpayati svayam ācaratai ( helps student follow by his example) yah ca ācāryam pracakṣate (him we call acharya) (Other similar words include upādyāya, one who sits by the side and teach and also charges a fee to teach; and Guru, one who removes our ignorance)

Agni is so called because agre gacchati iti, it is in front (to receive the oblations)

Akṣara   so called because na kṣīyate, not reducible

Ᾱlayam (temple) is so called because ā samantāt layah (place for privacy and sleep)

Ambā so called because ambane badhnāti iti, binds you with love

Aparoksha is realization of the Brahman based on intuition, inspiration and experience and relates to the Whole.

Aśvattha is the name of a celestial tree with its roots at the top and the branches below; this is what is represented in the design of the temple towers (gōpuram) in the south. It is so called because a (not) stāthah (existing) śvah (tomorrow), in other words impermanent.

Asura  so called because asūṣu ramate iti  which means they rejoice in falsehood, not realizing that Self is other than this body and external objects.

Also note the possible relationship to the Zoarostrian tradition from which this concept could have come. In that tradition, there is a story about the battle between the “Good and the Bad” forces. In that battle Azur Mazda (Ahura Mazda) was from Heaven and represented fire, sunlight and life. Ahirman was from the underworld and represented darkness and death. They were evenly matched. Zoroastrians believed that Ahura Mazda will win and will be the supreme leader. Although the similarity of sounds (Ahura or Azura and Asura) is obvious, you can see that in the vedic tradition, asura is for the evil force. How the representations got changed is not clear.

Bhagavān is so called because he possess Bhaga or excellence or qualities that give splendor to the owner. The qualities are: śri, sampat, śobha, kāma iccha, māhātmyam, aiśvaryam, vīryam, yatnam, prayatnam, arka, kīrti, sūryayaśah

In Dayāśatakam the list includes only six: bōda (Knowledge) bala (strength) aiśvarya (wealth) vīrya (courage) śakti (energy) and dayā (compassion). In a beautiful poem in which these qualities are listed, the saint tells the Lord (Bhagavān) that He is no use if He has the first five qualities until He gets the sixth quality (compassion) in the form of His Consort whose name is Dayā (compassion) residing in His chest.

This is probably based on Viṣṇupurāṇam (6:5:74) which states      

            Aiśvaryasya samagrasya dharmasya yaśasah śriyah,

            Vairāgyasyāta mokṣasya ṣaṇṇām bhaga itīraṇāh.

It is also interesting to know that the word bhāgyam we use in several Indian languages means attainment of at least one of these qualities.
Bhakti is defined as love to a higher person which is mixed with respect and which does not ask for anything in return. Bhakti can be shown to the Supreme in several ways. They (nine ways of showing Bhakti or worshipping)  are listed in Nārada Bhakti Sūtram as follows:

            Śravaṇam kīrtanam viṣṇoh smaraṇam pādasevanam

            Arcanam vandanam dāsyam sakhyam ātmanivedanam

In order, they are listening to His stories and purāṇās, singing his praise, meditating, serving at his feet, doing arcane as in pūja, bowing down, being His slave being his friend and surrendering to Him.

Bhījākṣara (root alphabets) used as symbols in rituals. Here they are and what they stand for: lam (for Earth), vam for water, ram for fire, yam for wind and ham for space. (You might have heard these sounds and also some other sounds such as aa, oo etc in Sāma veda called stobha..

Brahmam (note the alphabet m at the end, not Brahma) is defined by Adi Śankara in Brahma Sutra II: 1. 30-31 as Nitya-suddha-Buddha-mukta svabhāvam (Innately eternal, pure, all knowledge and ever free)  AND  sarvagñam sarvaśaktisamanvitam (all knowing and repository of all energies) AND sarvōbeta ca darśanāt (non-dual from points of view) (sometimes the word Brahman is used)

Candas: this is equivalent to meter in English poetry and thodai in Tamizh poetry. There are at least 90 varieties but the 8 most important are listed in Uddhava Gita Chapter 16, sloka 41. They are: gāyatri, uṣnik, anuṣtp, brihati, pankti, triṣtup, jagati and atijagati. It is interesting to note that gāyatri has 24 syllables, and each of the succeeding meters have 4 additional syllables so that atijagati has 52 syllables. (Note that syllables are counted differently in Sanskrit)

Deva:  One of the original words from Rg Vaida. Root is div which means to shine, be bright. In earliest usage, this word was used to denote organs of sthe ensory system (eye, ear, tongue, skin and nose, and interestingly the mind also) and movements of the body since they were considered to have received their energy for function from the deva’s. Later, this word was used to denote divine entities which energized different functions of the Universe such as wind, fire, water, earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.

            When this was combined with the classification from Samkhya philosophy, deva’s are those dominated by satva guṇa, asura’s are considered to be those dominated by rajo guna and rākshasa are those dominated by tamo guna. This interpretation is suggested in Uddhava Gīta 20:19. Aidhamāne guṇai sattvai daivānām balamaidhtai, asuraṇām ca rajasi tmah uddhava rakṣsām.

            Deva, as defined in ancient texts, has only an indirect perception of Brahman, not direct experience.

            Note the similarity of the word deva to the English word divine supporting the scholarly view that Latin and Sanskrit have common roots. This is probably the reason why the westerners linked the word God to the word deva and missed the entire idea of One Brahman.

            Also note that Purāṇās state that the sage Kāśyapa is the son of Brahmā. The name Kāśyapa is the reverse of Paśyaka, which in Samskrit means “one who sees”. He had 2 wives. The first one was Diti, representing lack of knowledge and her sons were called Daitya’s or Asura.  The second wife was Aditi, knowledge and Discrimination and her sons were the Deva, also called Ᾱditya, Dānavā and Tanujā.

Dharma is so called because it dhriyate loke anena, or dharati lōkam vā  It supports the world

Gaṇaiśa is so named because He is Gaṇānām īśah  the leader of gaṇā (aggregate of humans, which includes body, spirit, mind, knowledge, consciousness, tendencies and self or ego)

Gāyatri is so called because Gāyantam trāyate iti  this manta protects those who sing it

Gñanam is spiritual knowledge, self efflugent, ability to understand things as they are by its own power.  This is different from Vigñānam, specific and external knowledge (equivalent to science)

Gōvinda is so called because stands for our senses, therefore one who controls our senses; or in its meaning as speech, one who can be reached with speech, namely prayers or in its meaning as animals or life-forms, one whom all of us aim for.

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