An Indian Civilizational Perspective

MY first Sanskrit Class – Monism vs Monotheism

Last week I started my first Sanskrit class at the local Arya Samaj temple. This was followed by a class on Upanishads. The dedication of the Acharyas (teachers) is indeed praise-worthy! It is really a privilege to be taught by some of the most learned people in this area. Both the Acharyas are very learned in Vedas and Upanishads. While the Sanskrit teacher (Acharyaji) has had his grooming in the लौकिक or Literary Sanskrit, the other Acharyaji has been groomed in वैदिक Sanskrit. So their interpretations have different meanings and perspective. Both the forms of Sanskrit were different as in how a word is interpreted.

For me, it was a unique experience! I have marvelled at the loftiness of the ideas and thoughts of Vasistha in Yoga Vasistha and of Krishna in Bhagwad Gita, so it was another experience – in the original language – to marvel at the high level that human thought had risen to!

The Sanskrit class typically starts with a shloka and the first Acharyaji translates that for us. This was the shloka above. Its basic intent is very similar to the Gayatri Mantra in that it says –

Before the creation (or manifestation), that who was self-illumined and the Lord of every thing;
That who holds the earth and the Universe, do “His” (or Its) Upasana with all your Love.

Now, there are a few words that are very important.

1. एक: – I asked the question whether it meant “He” is the ONLY ONE, or “He” is the ONE ONLY. Acharyaji then differentiated for me in a very nice manner between Monotheism and Monism – which is what I was trying to get at. He believed in the Monotheism as Dayanand Saraswati had defined it. He went on with that interpretation and averred that Vasistha’s interpretation in Yoga Vasistha was not properly understood by the Advaitists. We shall revisit this a little later.

2. उपासीत – this word comes from the very popular उपासना – Now उप means near (or as I suspect “Like” which is how it is used in उपेक्शा) and आसन – which means “Sit” or “Be”. Now if we take the interpretations as Like and “Be”, then we are saying that उपासना is NOT prayer but “Being Like God – or the Supreme Consciousness”.

The sanskrit class was followed by the Upanishad class where we read through the second shloka but more important this Acharyaji (the senior one) wanted to follow up on the Monism and Monitheism discussion. And although he was a Pracharak of Arya Samaj – he had done his PhD as well in Vedas (Rig veda specifically) – he started off by saying he was a student of both, Vedanta and Vedic. And according to him the reason why the Advaitists argued most against Dualism (at least in its initial days – and those who were learned) is because Dualism represented the beginning of “Cruelty”. I could not believe what he said, but immediately understood his import! J. Krishnamurti expressed this thus:

“… And in that distance, the division between the seer and the thing seen, in that division the whole conflict of man exists”.

The first part of the second shloka means – Everything is only and definitely Brahman! This shloka is from Chandogyapnishad. If there was any definitive statement on the debate of Monotheism vs Monism, then this was it. A Rishi could not have gotten more assertive in Sanskrit than this!

Once again the word उपासीत made an appearance here in this shloka, and my understanding of it became even better.

Now, there is another important word – संकल्प – I believe that it has mostly been misunderstood. It is often translated as “Willed” – in the sense of desire or thinking of doing something. It is a very subtle word actually in that it actually means manifestation or projection. At a closer analysis you find, it is a mechanism for creation. It is the same mechanism that Vasistha talks about in Yoga Vasistha for creation. I do not have the Sanskrit version with me right now, but I believe he also uses the same word to suggest that the first product of संकल्प was Vishnu who then manifested the Brahma and He the rest. It is not without reason that निर्विकल्प (Nirvikalp) Samadhi or meditation is the highest state! संकल्प is the beginning of thought and निर्विकल्प is the end of it.

Also please note the meaning of the word – प्रार्थना and its cousin अर्थना. It will tell you why उपासना is a higher form of devotion than प्रार्थना.

In the closing – the very discussion between Monism and Monotheism may be a useless one from Vasistha’s standpoint. He has the last word:

Dualism presupposes unity, and non-dualism suggests dualism. Only when the creation is known to be utterly non-existent the Lord is realized.

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15 Comments
  1. Anonymous says

    Your interpretation and the naration of your first day of class to us,simplified to get the message across indicates your level of focus.

    I see this weekly feature of your experience in Sanskrit class to be a good article to follow and educate ourselves through your experience.

    Keep the torch of learning,burning bright!!!

    Girish

  2. Desh says

    Thanks, Meenakshi! You are the one who has motivated me toward this through your writings. I intend to go deeper and hopefully be ready to write on the common project that we had thought about earlier….

  3. Desh says

    Thanks Girish.. hopefully will be able to justice to my teachers!

  4. Anonymous says

    Awesome job, Desh. I shall learn thrugh “correspondence”! Sankalpa is an “intention” that is a manifestatin of a “thought” that sends out its vibrations through universe. The more you ‘concretise” it, the more it has the potential to “manifest” in the physical plane.
    All the best. My pranams to your Acharyas. I studied for 3 years in DAV.
    Meenakshi

  5. Desh says

    Thanks, Meenakshi! You are the one who has motivated me toward this through your writings. I intend to go deeper and hopefully be ready to write on the common project that we had thought about earlier….

  6. Desh says

    Thanks Girish.. hopefully will be able to justice to my teachers!

  7. Anonymous says

    Wish you a happy journey towards learning.
    Regards,
    Naveen

  8. Anonymous says

    Desh,

    Thanks for sharing your learning. Other people have told me that Acharya Shridhar ji is a master and so you are lucky to be learning from him in the US. Vedic Sanskrit – considered the original form of Sanskrit – is decidedly different from standard modern-day Sanskrit which follows Panini’s codified rules. The conjugation forms and synonyms are greater in Vedic Sanskrit and so it is considered more difficult. So potentially a modern-Sanskrit scholar could have difficulty comprehending the right meaning of some of the Vedic mantras. I am fascinated that Acharya Shridhar has a PhD in it.

    There was also an interesting assertion I read about it made by one learned person Dr Harish Chandra, who was the keynote speaker at the Arya mahasammelan in 2007. He said that Vedic Sanskrit is a language that came out of the Vedas instead of the other way around (the language did not predate the work).

    Regards
    VK

  9. Desh says

    Naveen: Thanks for your wishes!

  10. Desh says

    VK – I agree with you! Acharya Sridharji is really very good. He brings a lot of philosophical interpretation to everything. I am amazed at his scholarship and his enthusiasm at this age!

  11. Desh says

    Naveen: Thanks for your wishes!

  12. Desh says

    VK – I agree with you! Acharya Sridharji is really very good. He brings a lot of philosophical interpretation to everything. I am amazed at his scholarship and his enthusiasm at this age!

  13. Anonymous says

    Hi Desh,

    I chanced upon your blog by trying to google the meaning for a particular shloka from Sama Veda.

    Do you think you can verify if this shloka from Sama veda is correct?

    Tvad jaataah tvai charanti madhyaah
    Tvam vibhuushyati dvipadah
    tvam chatushpadah

    I would also appreciate it if you can translate the meaning?

    If not, no problem. But I would like to hear from you.

    I was wondering if it is possible to have a live online learning class in Sanskrit. Wouldn’t it be nice.

    Usha

  14. Desh says

    HI Usha:

    I will take this shloka to my acharyaji and ask him for the translation. And post it later this week.

    About the online sanskrit classes, I can ask the teachers and the administration there to see if it can be done. The technology is there of course, but let me put this request up to them and see what they think?

    I will try and relate what I learn through my columns though. You can contact me directly at desh dot kapoor @ gmail dot com.

  15. Desh says

    HI Usha:

    I will take this shloka to my acharyaji and ask him for the translation. And post it later this week.

    About the online sanskrit classes, I can ask the teachers and the administration there to see if it can be done. The technology is there of course, but let me put this request up to them and see what they think?

    I will try and relate what I learn through my columns though. You can contact me directly at desh dot kapoor @ gmail dot com.

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