Friday, June 26, 2009

how to study ancient works (of sanskrit)?

it is great that some people decide to read, study the minds and works of generations gone by long ago. it is amazing that lot of what ails us as a human race today, had been topic of discussion long back. and perhaps they had the advantage of being free of marketing and advertisement deals, lobby groups, mad rush hour traffic tensions, divorce, alimony, or the many other blessings of modern life.

reasons to study
why do people study ancient works? there could be many motivations -
  • agenda (affirmation to self viewpoint) - maybe we have an agenda that we want to prove or achieve, and are looking for ways to just somehow garner some support from time immemorial, sure, that will give us some weight! dead weight of millennia!
  • learn from past experience - since the biggest breakthrough of humans, apart from opposable thumbs, is the passing on of knowledge through language, there is a lot to learn from the past. some good, some bad. and if nothing else, we should know what NOT to do! sanskrit has a treasure trough of wisdom, wit, beauty, philosophy, almost something for everyone.
  • pride in heritage - this needs to be verified quickly with some real study and understanding, else turns into vanity and chauvinism.
a lot of us in india, grew up on the staple literary diet of 'amar chitra kathA' the comic books based on indian art of story telling, some call it mythology, but we don't put "chicken soup" series in fiction, do we?

while we read about atoms in 7th grade, electrons in 9th, energy levels in 11th and rutherford's experimental details in 12th, we keep visiting the same topic in further depths every year or so.

but amar chitra kathA - we read once and declare - "indian culture, mythology, religion - i know it all!"

maybe it is time to graduate from ACK and revisit some topics in deeper depths.

problems in studying
  • language knowledge is not enough - this is true of any subject even today. e.g. just knowing english is not enough to understand a medicine book, unless one has the prerequisite medical study experience. different times, language usage and norms, practices, symbols, motifs, technical terms, all matter. e.g. the same word "cell" means completely different in context - prison, mobile phone, smallest living entity, battery (in india). 2000 years later if some one reads the word cell, it will depend on context, what the meaning was. and if someone reads the word "torch", the meaning would depend upon american context (fire on a stick) or indian context (a flashlight).
  • cryptic or symbolic usage - e.g. E=mc^2 would mean nothing but bad english to a 3rd grader, but has changed the world of science and philosophy for the one who understands its deeper meaning. similarly, the icon of "shiva" may mean a tribal, uncouth, sexual symbol for some. but just like a dollar bill can't be eaten, but the power of it to buy food that can be eaten is still there, the bill is a symbol of society's promise to you for your share of its resources, those who ponder, understand the symbol of shiva.
  • not knowing our lack of preparation - come with open mind. if we don't understand something, our first reaction should be "maybe i don't understand" rather than "if i don't understand, it must be useless or illogical." we don't do that in a regular class of quantum physics or coordinate geometry.
  • not all is good or great - well, even in a language as great as sanskrit, not all is great, specially if we don't correct a statement for changed times and places. just like we should not think everything is useless, we shouldn't blindly accept everything as great either. take what is good, leave or put on hold what doesn't seem to be correct.
and the most important:

न स्वल्पमप्यध्यवसायभीरोः करोति विज्ञानविधिर्गुणं हि ।
अन्धस्य किं हस्ततलस्थितोऽपि प्रकाशयत्यर्थमिह प्रदीपः ॥

na swalpam_api_adhyawasAya-bhIroH karoti viGYaana-vidhiH guNaM hi |
andhasya kiM hasta-tala-sthitaH_api prakAshati_artham_iha pradIpaH ||

(I = long ee, A = long aa, _ splits sandhi, - splits samAsa)

the process of science can't benefit the one who is scared to do even the smallest of studies. the lamp placed even on the palm of the blind, can't lighten (his world).

swalpam_api_adhyawasAya-bhIroH = scared (bhIraH)) of even (api) very (su) little (alpaM) study adhyavasAya
viGYaan-vidhiH = process (vidhi) of science (viGYaana)

andhasya = of the blind
hasta-tala-sthitaH = positioned (stithaH) on the surface (tala) of hand (hasta)

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(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
Practical Sanskrit. All rights reserved.


  1. Dear sir,
    I am from India,Kerala. I would like to know whether you know of any place in India where this sampradaya of vidyabhysa still exists unbroken by the interference of the British education policies, so that I can learn and understand sanskrit and learn to read and understand Vedas, Upanishads, Itihasas and puranas.
    I have been an ardent follower of modern science but one day I met a sanyasi, he questioned the fundamentals of this modern science and that day my faith in it eroded totally....I was left dumbstruck for three days, I was thinking all my life of 23 years of education, I have learned things that are not fundamental, my thirst for knowledge has been rekindled ,I have realised that great knowledge that I have no knowledge about things and I am an uneducated with academic I want to embark upon that journey of knowledge, for money has never appealed to me...I need a direction before i set out

  2. Thejes, where are you now? Am from Kerala. Would like to speak to you.


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