Introduction to Sanskrit

Mar 27th, 2014 | By | Category: Eastern Philosophy, Extract, Mantra Books

So, why would you want to learn Sanskrit? Unless you are one of those fortunate few who have a genetic disposition for language learning or unless you are unfortunate enough to have a masochistic streak, why on earth would you want to tackle such an apparently formidable language? It shares with Latin the characteristic of having to change the ending of words depending upon the role of a noun or upon who is the subject of a verb and its tense. In fact, it is even worse than Latin. In Latin there is only singular and plural number, whereas Sanskrit has singular, two, and more than two!

It really must be almost impossible to learn this language unless you begin at school. I only wish that I had had the opportunity and studied it instead of Latin! Unfortunately, I didn’t and It’s certainly too late to start now; I often have difficulty remembering what I read yesterday!

Before continuing, I may as well confirm the implied and appalling admission above: I know very little Sanskrit! I cannot construct sentences or even decline nouns or conjugate verbs. I can just about read the script. I can sometimes split words into their parts or put them together – but would almost always have to refer to other sources for assistance in this. I could write the script, very clumsily, if I had to, providing I could refer to a list of the characters or to this book. But, let’s face it, why would I want to? You need not just any italic pen, but one with a sloping nib, for goodness’ sake! With free software on the Internet to convert transliterated Roman characters into the Sanskrit script, there is not really any need. What then, you may justifiably ask, gives me the credentials (or temerity) to write a book about Sanskrit? Well, I hope that by the time you finish reading this short introduction, you will know and accept the answer.

Basically, I was – and to a degree still am – in the same position that you are.

Sanskrit is a very beautiful language. You only need to look at the flowing, cursive, perfectly proportioned script to see this, even if you cannot yet even determine where one word ends and another begins. And, when you learn about some of its other peculiarities, you will appreciate this even more. For example, once you learn how to pronounce a particular letter, you will know how to pronounce it in every word you will ever encounter.

There are not many languages which could make that claim!

Perhaps the most amazing aspect is the almost mathematical precision with which letters and syllables combine. One name that you will find invariably associated with the language is Panini – he constructed a complex set of rules, which may be memorized through short ‘sutras’. These enable one to work out how to assemble words and syllables into sentences. So impressive and logical is this set of rules that NASA have apparently proposed it as the basis for a new computer language (see http://post.jagran.com/NASA-to-use-Sanskrit-as-computerlanguage- 1332758613).

But none of this addresses the original question. What prompted you to pick up this book (and me to write it)? If it really is the case that you want actually to learn the language, then please put this book back on the shelf. There is an excellent two-volume work for learning the language written by Thomas Egenes (Ref. 6). What is more, Part 1 is available for free at http://www.scribd.com/doc/32874508/Introduction-to-Sanskritby- Thomas-Egenes so that you can try it out before committing.)

I suggest (hope) that your interest in this book comes from the fact that your actual interest is in Hindu scriptures such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and maybe even the works of Shankara and other writers on non-duality. The fact is that, up until a few hundred years ago, all books and academic texts in India were written in Sanskrit. In this respect, it is similar to Latin in the West, except that Sanskrit is much more tenacious. Whereas Latin really could be said to be dead now, Sanskrit is still very much alive in the field of spiritual study. Although it is not really spoken any longer (apart from the odd commune-style efforts), it is still written. Even today, books are being published which are entirely in Sanskrit!

The point is that traditional teaching (certainly in the philosophy of Advaita, which is my own specialization) always refers back to the original scriptural texts for its authority. This is because those scriptures are the actual source of knowledge for key truths regarding the nature of reality and of ourselves. This knowledge is simply not accessible by any other means. We cannot see God or infer that the visible universe is not in itself real but depends upon something more fundamental. These things have to be told to us, by someone in whom we can trust, until such time as we can realize those truths for ourselves.

Dennis Waite was educated to degree-level in Chemistry, he has worked for most of his life in computing. Since 2000, he has devoted his life to writing. He completed a philosophical/ecological thriller in 1999 (extensively revised in 2007-8) and a book on Earned Value metrics in March 2001. His first book on Advaita, ‘The Book of One’, was published in 2003. This was extensively revised and republished in 2010.

An introductory book on Sanskrit ‘The Spiritual Seeker’s Essential Guide to Sanskrit’ was published in India in 2005. His book ‘How to Meet Yourself’, published in 2007, was aimed at the non-specialist reader and addresses the fundamental topics of meaning and purpose in one’s life and the nature of happiness.

His major book on Advaita, also published in 2007, was entitled ‘Back to the Truth’. This is a systematic treatment of Advaita which, by using examples from many sources, helps the reader to differentiate between approaches and teachers. It compares the scriptures of traditional Advaita with the words of contemporary Sages and with the modern ‘nothing to be done’ teaching of neo-Advaita.

Enlightenment: the Path through the Jungle‘ was published in 2008. This aimed clearly to define the term enlightenment and dispel the many myths about it propagated by new-age books on the subject. It endeavored to set down the proven methods, passed down for over a thousand years in the traditional teaching of the subject and contrast these with Western approaches, demonstrating in the process that only the traditional methods are likely to bring about enlightenment.

His most recent book was ‘Advaita Made Easy’, published in 2012. This aims to summarize the essentials of the subject in a short, easily assimilable form.

Dennis maintains the most popular website on Advaita at http://www.advaita.org.uk

coverSanskrit for Seekers Publishes May 2014

Dennis Waite

Learn the rudiments of Sanskrit to enable you to read the script, pronounce words and look them up in a dictionary. Sanskrit for Seekers utilises the ITRANS transliteration scheme commonly found on the Internet.

  • eBook £6.99 || $9.99
  • May 30, 2014. 978-1-78279-226-0.
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  • Paperback £11.99 || $19.95
  • May 30, 2014. 978-1-78279-227-7.
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