Sanskrit: a Sacred Model of Language, Part 3

vyaas From the perspective of Yoga, all life ultimately merges into samadhi. It could be said that samadhi is the essence of yoga, In the Yoga Sutras, samadhi is defined, “tad evaathamaatraanirbhaasam-svaruupa-shuunyam iva samaadhih” that (consciousness, engaged in sustained focus upon a single object), reflecting the object alone, as if empty of its own nature, is samadhi. Everyone has had the experience of samadhi, whether in childhood, or some deeply absorbing experience, such as listening to music. It’s a period when our usual identity disappears because our habitual use of language has been discontinued.

My teacher used to say “the body is a prison only when you cannot come and go as you please”. The experience of samadhi is the freedom to come and go. Without samadhi we live in a prison of language, whose walls consist of words, whose bars and locked doors are the meanings and significance we unknowingly give to those words. Unknowingly, because the meanings were never consciously selected. They were programmed into us by prior generations. For example, when people make a mistake, they tend to feel stupid or embarrassed. But whoever (aside from lexicographers) really defined for themselves what a “mistake” is? All we know is that we make them, we feel stupid because of them, we feel we should be able to correct them, but often don’t, which is a “big mistake”. When did we ever decide my life would be enhanced if I could find a word that would make me feel stupid, embarrassed, and worthy of contempt each time I act with imprecision?” From our parents, all the way back, the past has cultivated words and meanings which now survive as our prison. We were even told that it’s a nice place and we should be able to succeed there. What was perhaps actually meant by “mistake” was “anything which one’s child does that creates a fear that the child is not finding it to be a nice place, does not want to do what everyone else is doing, will not be able to succeed, and therefore survive.”

If you multiply all the words of the English (or any) language, times all prior generations’ fears about survival, you could get an idea of just how thick the walls of this prison are. Our ultimate challenge is to see right through those walls rather than to take them apart brick by brick. The former means changing our entire relationship to language. The latter would be equivalent to getting the inmates (practically everybody) to agree on redefining each word. For example, if we got together and decided that “mistake” from now on means “what occurs during a momentary lapse of attention from one’s activity — essential (as a bio-feedback device) for all phases of human development and self discovery”, we would be removing a large brick from the wall. But when someone screams at you #!#!!# XXX, from another car, when you forget to use your turn signal, the brick has suddenly popped back into its old place. While it’s a good idea to keep redefining words and clarifying definitions, it’s absolutely essential to redefine our relationship to language. This means deciding once and for all that language is the ultimate tool for being fulfilled in life and “I choose to use it as such”, as opposed to unconsciously allowing the language of the past to subconsciously dictate my identity. “I am at the source of, prior to language, rather than at the effect of it, after it. I am using language, not the other way around.”

The sage Shankara wrote:

satsangatve nissangatvam
nissangatve nirmohatvam
nirmohatve niscalitatvam
niscalitatvam jiivanmuktih

In a state of satsanga, good company, (comes) non-attachment; in non-attachment, a state beyond confusion; in truth beyond confusion, motionlessness; in motionlessness, living freedom.

The verse could be used as a model of the necessary conditions for making the shift from being at the effect of language to being at the source of it. It all begins with satsanga, good company. The best example of this that I know of is a group of people who have come together to learn Sanskrit. It seems that on some level, perhaps unconsciously, a person who has decided to learn Sanskrit, has decided in some way to use this sacred language for that which it was designed — to be free. It is remarkably easy for such a group of people to change their relation to language, to put themselves at the source of language and then select and use language in a way that gives them access to Sanskrit, with ease and enjoyment. Without the mutual agreement of the group, satsanga, good company, it would be highly unlikely that the shift could ever take place. We grew up in a world where a mistake was a bad thing, enough so that most people would not risk making one. This led to massive withdrawal. Though people remained in a group, they were not really part of the group. In truth, fear dominated nearly all groups. Natural unity was shattered. The satsanga was lost. Groups were ineffective. Alone, individuals were powerless. Everyone was hopelessly at the effect of the language of right/wrong and smart/stupid. In effect, a “group” could have been defined as a “body of people which has come together to determine who is worthy and who is unworthy.”

Fortunately, the Sanskrit language has given us the word “satsanga”, which could be defined as “a body of people who have come together (sanga) to ascertain reality (sat).” The fundamental agreement of such a group, such as the one which has come together to learn Sanskrit, is that “I” am prior to language. I use language to direct my attention to a full appreciation of the beautiful sounds of the Sanskrit language, their harmonies and their organization, as well as the truths expressed through the language. The language that makes this possible is the language of yoga, another gift of Sanskrit. The satsanga agrees upon abhyaasa the selecting and sustained attention upon a single focal point, for example, listening to the sounds of the Sanskrit language. It’s also agreed that there’s nothing “wrong” with being off the point. Becoming aware that I am off point, without satsanga — I might worry about what I missed that others got, I might worry about being left behind — “others are succeeding where I fail.” But in satsanga where the language of yoga has been agreed upon, there is vairaagya or non-attachment, “the full awareness of my own mastery to not-attach myself to habitual experience and simply return to the point, and even acknowledge ‘I missed something — could it be repeated?'”. For the satsanga, if anyone missed anything, it’s an opportunity for it to be reviewed and clarified and enjoyed again by everyone. It sounds too good to be true. Yet it happens exactly this way by shifting our relationship to language. This would not be possible without satsanga.

In the state of satsanga (satsangatve) comes non-attachment (nissangatvam). There is no more attachment to being right, and concurrently the fear of being wrong. The real satisfaction derived from the wholeness of group unity, the much greater capacity of the group to focus together, enjoy sound together, appreciate the beauty of Sanskrit together, all make the prior condition of being at the effect of words such as right/wrong or smart/stupid or success/failure seem totally irrelevant. Through satsanga, there’s a complete shift in our relation to language — we see through the prison walls.

In non-attachment (nissangatve), there comes a state beyond confusion (nirmohatvam). I’m no longer holding myself back because of the fear of consequences. I am feeling my oneness with the group. It’s safe to put myself into it. There is no conflict over wanting acceptance, while fearing rejection. My confusion over whether to participate or not — will I be rejected if I do it wrong or isolated if I do it right — is gone. The illusion, and the confusion (moha) of being separate from others dissolves. The truth that we are one emerges. When we move as one, we go beyond success and failure and access our natural ability to perfectly reflect whatever we perceive — samadhi.

In the state beyond confusion (nirmohatve), is motionlessness (nishcalitatvam). This happens in the Sanskrit satsanga. In the absence of striving to be better, fearing getting worse, the old language that raced through our mind stops. The mind becomes still, sensitive. A state of listening is present, samadhi, in which we feel the nuances of Sanskrit, its power, and the subtle way it resonates in the heart of our being, like ancient and eternal music. There’s no more struggle to learn, to gain and accumulate knowledge. The words of Sanskrit, through their sound vibration are like waves of pure energy, which we enjoy as if watching a performance taking place inside us — while their meanings describe our own fathomless perfection, as the seer of all, ancient, eternal.

In motionlessness (nishcalitatve), living freedom (jiivanmukti), The prison walls, even the memory that they were ever there, has dissolved. From beginning to end, from the first attempt to learn Sanskrit to the direct experience of the meaning of its ancient words of truth and power, Sanskrit generates and establishes an entirely different relationship with language. It’s the proper relationship, the true one, establishing our real unity, freedom from the bondage of the past illusions. It keeps us savoring the timeless enjoyment of the universe of sound, and a perfect creation.

Article by: Vyaas (Tuck) Houston, MA

Vyaas Houston is the founder and director the American Sanskrit Institute. After teaching Sanskrit and Yoga for more than 15 years, he discovered in 1987 a successful method for teaching Sanskrit based on the yoga model of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. His Sanskrit Training has provided thousands of people with the opportunity to discover their own unique relationship with Sanskrit. Vyaas Houston is the author of Sanskrit by CD and the Sanskrit Atlas 1.0, and has recorded and translated many Sanskrit classics.

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