My Sanskrit Journey
Posted on: 24/11/2021
Many people are called to learn Sanskrit and benefit from the gems of wisdom given in Sanskrit literature, but not many who hear, take up the offer to be awakened by the sacred knowledge.
Many people laughed at me for taking an interest in learning
As a child in Central Java, one day I was told that the stories of the Rāmāyaṇa were being spoken in the Javanese language at an open-air puppet theatre over seven nights. Many people laughed at me for taking an interest in learning but there was no other opportunity to know more about the Rāmāyaṇa. Since that day, it took over a decade until a teacher of Bahasa Indonesia decided to deviate from the curriculum and spend three hours narrating the Javanese version of the Rāmāyaṇa. A year later, I came across books on the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata published in English that clarified the stories that took place in the epics.
This course started lifelong learning of Sanskrit
Many more years went past before I received the details of a Sanskrit course that was being held on Saturday mornings at St James School, Kensington Olympia. I immediately enrolled on a beginner’s course taught by David Stollar. This course started lifelong learning of the Sanskrit language and literature for me. Sanskrit has taught me many lessons to go deeper into the message behind just a single word.
Sound is a very important aspect in Sanskrit
Laziness in pronouncing long and short vowels can change the meaning of words such as mayā meaning ‘by me’ and māyā meaning ‘illusion’. Stress on consonants and correct measure of breath is also important to perfect when pronouncing words – eg not ‘sidi’, but ‘siddhi’. Sound is a very important aspect in Sanskrit and unclear pronunciation can alter the message being conveyed.
For example, ahiṃsā doesn’t just mean harmlessness/non-violence, it encompasses non-violence in thought, speech and actions. While I thought I had understood it, I found deeper meanings to ahiṃsā such as treating animals and inanimate objects in the same way, i.e. not to slam the door but close it with care to produce unnecessary noise that disturbs the surrounding objects.
There are many lessons taught in Sanskrit literature
There are many lessons taught in Sanskrit literature such as the Upaniṣads and the Bhagavad Gītā. An example of one is ‘not to tell lies’, many people justify their actions by assigning it as ‘telling harmless white lies’, even though the Manusmṛiti states “priyam na anṛtam brūyāt”, ‘do not speak pleasant untruth’.
Many books on the power of the mind advise people to refrain from giving instructions with “do not” because the mind always interprets it as “do”. It would appear that Sanskrit is best sung with love, which can filter out the negative emotions from the sound that comes out of the speaker’s mouth, thus “na” is neutralised by care and loving speech “satyam brūyāt priyam brūyāt”, ‘one should speak the truth pleasantly’.
Sanskrit has taught me many things.
In the future, I wish to continue studying literature such as the Upaniṣads and understand concepts such as the start of the universe. Despite it being difficult, I also wish to take on the teachings of the scriptures and try to overcome the small challenges of life by practices such as telling the truth, and patience. Overcoming these will allow me to slowly conquer my inner enemies of kāma, krodha, lobha, moha, mada, īrṣyā. This can only be done through perseverance, after which the result of everlasting peace and bliss, ānanda, can be attained.
Theo, long-term student of David Stollar
Sanskrit@StJames supports Sanskrit courses for beginners. Visit www.sanskritexams.org.uk for more details.