Sanskrit has to be spoken – Sadananda Das
As you can read at the website of the university language institute of Leipzig, the Sanskrit Summer School with Dr. Sadananda Das this year will take place online – it is a pity, that students of all parts of the world can’t meet together personally in the nice Leipzig town, but at the other hand, I am glad that the Summer School will take place after the break in 2020. Here you can read an interview, which has taken place at the last Summer School in 2019. Because of pressure of work the interview hasn’t been revised by Mr. Sadananda Das:
Interview during the Summer School in Spoken Sanskrit at Leipzig/Germany, 22/08/2019.
dhyāna: How many of this summer classes have you already done?
Sadananda Das: I started teaching Summer Schools in India. But there were short courses, every day two hours for ten days only. Such courses, I have taught maybe more than 20 within India. But since 1996, when I came to Europe the first time, I have been teaching this Summer Schools, which have been extended up to four weeks and the whole day teaching, this is very intensive. Such courses I have taught in the universities of Austria/Vienna, Germany/Tübingen, Heidelberg and Leipzig, in Switzerland/Bern and Lausanne, in Italy/Florence and Rom, in London in the Indian cultural institution Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, in Ukraine (Kiev and Kharkiv). Then I have taught three such courses in Australia. And I have taught advanced courses in Indi/Varanasi and Goa, also in Spain/Barcelona. so all these beginners and advanced courses, there will be around 35-40 Summer Schools.
dhyāna: That’s a lot. Today you are well known as an excellent speaker and an experienced teacher in Spoken Sanskrit, so maybe you can tell me, what makes the difference. Why should somebody, who studies Indian philosophy and Sanskrit, learn to speak this ancient language?
Why should one learn Spoken Sanskrit?
Sadananda Das: This is a very interesting question which I should ask you. Why should one learn Spoken Sanskrit, you mean?
dhyāna: I am here for two weeks now and I just made the experience that I got deeper into the language. I made fast progress also to do translations. I’m getting familiar with the language. – You told me also in another conversation, that people feel a kind of help, when they turn back after the Summer School, they feel a benefit, but which kind of benefit did they tell you, even if they won’t communicate any more in Sanskrit?
Sadananda Das: Sanskrit is an ancient language and it is not spoken in every day life these days and that creates a great difficulty. When a language is spoken, then one can learn it quickly, like any other language. But now, People feel that it is an ancient language, it is a difficult language, one cannot speak in this language and somebody even goes to extend and says, that it is a dead language. To make it clear, it is not a dead language, for me it is a living language, like me for many people in India and also for many scholars outside India, in Europe, America. It is as living as any other language. The thing is, since it ceased to be a spoken language in the course of time, now we don’t know the vocabulary for our daily life in Sanskrit. Therefore this is an attempt to converse the students of Sanskrit, of Indology, of religious science, of linguistics, those who want to study and to use this language.
When I am teaching this spoken aspect of the language, then we have certain approaches, easy methods, that can help the student to learn the spoken Sanskrit. What does it teach? It removes you the fear, that I can’t speak this language. It makes you confident in the language. It makes you welcome the difficulties of use of the grammar, that you have learned in the classrooms. Usually, people learn the grammar only to translate passages or stories or to write their exams. But we put the grammar into practise, so that you become confident to use this grammar points in your day-to-day conversation. Weather you speak it or not in your day-to-day life, but these are the benefits, a student gets after joining the Summer School in Spoken Sanskrit.
Besides this, students of Sanskrit in Europe or America don’t have experience of reciting Sanskrit ślokas, Sanskrit verses. This is another course point of attending the Summer School, that we recite a lot of subhāṣitas , a lot of verses in different meters, we sing songs in Sanskrit, so this gives you a beautiful aspect of the language, which is also entertaining. The reciting, singing part is missing in the normal university lessons. Here we are doing it. You see, that people recite happily. All that make you feel more confident in the language. People before have even said, that it helps them also afterwards, it helps them learning, translating other Sanskrit texts easily and those who study Buddhist texts, they also say that it helps them understanding Buddhist hybrid Sanskrit in a better way. Nevertheless, it helps the student to demystify his or her ideas, that Sanskrit was a dead language or Sanskrit is a difficult language or Sanskrit cannot be spoken.
dhyāna: In the preface of your subhāṣita book you talk about the moral education, that nowadays often has been lost. How do you think, that Spoken Sanskrit can contribute to the moral education? Did you made some experiences when you have taught young students in India?
Sadananda Das: I have taught such courses in High Schools, but not at Primary schools or Middle schools.
dhyāna: And this idea of education, is it more for children, like to say, we should teach Sanskrit in every Indian school?
Children also should learn to speak Sanskrit
Sadananda Das: There is an idea, also a movement to introduce Sanskrit from the very beginning in the Primary, Middle and High schools. Now Sanskrit is taught in the High Schools, maybe starting from 9th or 8th standard, then in the colleges, in the universities, but what about with the children? If we want to make Sanskrit a spoken language, then the children also should learn to speak it. There are scholars who are engaged in preparing Sanskrit books which would be suitable for children to learn this language.
dhyāna: And do you have the idea that this could contribute to the moral education of the children?
Sadananda Das: Yes, it has a lot of reasons, for what Sanskrit can contribute for moral teachings. As you see, every day in the Summer School we begin the class with a prayer and we also end the class with a prayer, with śānti mantra. And this has some effect on the mind of the learners. What does the prayer teach? The prayer teaches harmony between the students and the teacher. Unless there is harmony between the students and the teacher, one cannot learn anything. If you have not a good feeling with your teacher, you can’t learn from that teacher. So therefore we pray, that we should not hate each other, we should love each other, we should cooperate with each other. This is the meaning of the prayer. And then, to start with the prayer makes your mind concentrated. Otherwise, when we begin the class without any concentration, then our minds are moving in different directions. There are a lot of examples for moral education. You have seen in the subhāṣita book, there are a lot of verses which also teach moral.
dhyāna: Often there is a deeper sense in these subhāṣitas. – In the yoga practice we use some mantra like OM, Soham. And what do you say, what is the difference, is there a difference between a subhāṣita and a mantra or can any subhāṣita be a mantra?
Sadananda Das: Well, any subhāṣita can be a mantra, if you take it in that sense. We have a subhāṣita, we might learn it in the coming days. It says:
अमन्त्रमक्षरं नास्ति नास्ति मूलमनौषधम्
अयोग्यः पुरुषो नास्ति योजकस्तत्र दुर्लभः
amantramakṣaraṁ nāsti nāsti mūlamanauṣadham
ayogyaḥ puruṣo nāsti yojakastatra durlabhaḥ
Which means: amantram akṣaraṁ nāsti – there is no syllable which has no mantric power, nāsti mūlam anauṣadham – there is no root of any plant which doesn’t have a medicinal effect. Ayogyaḥ puruṣo nāsti – there is no person, there is no human being, who would be unfit ore useless, but a coordinator has to be found, who can coordinate between them. Every syllable has a mantric power, but we need to realize it, we need to understand it. When you use mantras, you are using syllables, that we also are using in the classroom, a, u, ma, ka, namaḥ śivāya, sa, ya, va, all these syllables. So if you take a subhāṣita like a mantra, it would be helpful as a mantra. Subhāṣita means “word, well spoken”, it can be also a mantra, why not?
dhyāna: There is the practice of Japa Yoga, where one repeats very often a mantra. This method emphasizes the connection from sound and meaning, in Sanskrit called vak and artha, which can be found in the Sanskrit language more than in other languages. I wanted to ask you, if I have to do a subhāṣita or a mantra in a way of meditation to feel this deep connection from sound and meaning or is it possible also to experience in your daily Sanskrit speaking practice?
Sadananda Das: Sound and meaning or sound and syllables?
dhyāna: In the sense of vak and artha.
Sadananda Das: Vak and artha. Speech and sound, and its meaning, they are all connected. We don’t see syllables or speech separated from it’s meaning. That’s why we have this subhāṣita, that comes from Raghuvamsa, one of the famous authors of Sanskrit literature: vāgarthāviva saṁpṛktau, vak and artha, they are always together. When you utter some word, the meaning is there, the meaning is not separated. And in Sanskrit there is an aikya, there is a unit between the sound and the syllable.
dhyāna: And do you experience this unit, when you are speaking Sanskrit?
Sadananda Das: Certainly you experience it in many cases. It is difficult to explain how you experience, but definitely one experience in many occasions in the day-to-day conversation. Perhaps there will be some particular occasion, where one can show it, here is the experience, how it is united, but at the moment, I don’t have an example for you to say it.
“Sanskrit is the mathematics of Yoga”
dhyāna: The German Yoga master Heinz Grill says that Sanskrit is like the mathematics of Yoga. And the American indologist Vyaas Houston says, like the modern technologies wouldn’t be possible without mathematics, in the same way spiritual researchers cannot find the Higher Self without the knowledge of Sanskrit.
Sadananda Das: Absolutely right. Without the knowledge of Sanskrit, spirituality would be incomplete, because all the śāstras, all the original texts, they have been written in Sanskrit language. Take an example of the Yoga Sutras, the books on yoga, they are available in Sanskrit. Unless we have the knowledge of Sanskrit, how can we proceed in learning yoga? If we do not have the knowledge of sound and pronunciation, then we cannot speak, we cannot take the names of āsanas correctly. We must know short and long, light and heavy syllables, we must know the different sounds of pronunciation, we must know the different places of pronunciation like guttural, velar, dental, palatal, labial, retroflex, all these places of pronunciation inside the mouth. Unless we know them, we cannot pronounce the names of āsanas correctly. Halāsana, if it is halasana, halasana or halasana, for example.
dhyāna: And what do you say, if we don’t pronounce correctly, we can’t understand the meaning?
Sadananda Das: We cannot understand the meaning correctly. For example, maṇḍūkāsana, the frog posture. – If we don’t know what is maṇḍūka, we don’t understand, how it is. Or uṣṭrāsana, we do it like the posture of an uṣṭra (camel). Or sarpāsana (serpent pose), shirshāsana (headstand), whatever it is. So we must understand, what does maṇḍūka mean, what does āsana mean, what is the meaning of the root, how is this word formed. This all helps a lot in understanding certain postures and the importance of those postures also. Therefore I think, it is important for any spiritual knowledge, particularly for yoga.
dhyāna: To take part at the Sanskrit Summer School is only possible for persons, who did already two years of university studies of the Sanskrit language. What do you recommend to these thousands and millions of people who practice yoga all over the world, how can they get familiar with the Sanskrit language as a philosophical base of their practice?
Sadananda Das: That’s a very good question. Theoretically to learn Sanskrit, one does not need any prior knowledge of grammar, theoretically. Because one learns a language naturally like a baby learns.
dhyāna: By speaking.
Sadananda Das: One can also learn Sanskrit in that way. But since we are adults, our mind always moves in the direction of grammar. The moment, that we hear some words or sentences, our mind immediately tries to analyse, what is the suffix, what is the root, what is the prefix, what case is there, why is this not like this. Therefore it is put in that way, that basic understanding of grammar must be there, two years, four semesters, in European or American universities are prescribed to finish the basically grammar of Sanskrit language. Before coming to this place, you already know, what is gacchati, gacchāmi, what is gramaḥ, gramaṁ or grameṇa, all the cases, vibhaktis, all these grammatical forms you already know. So we apply this in our speaking. Therefore, understanding of grammar is prescribed. Otherwise, theoretically one doesn’t need grammar. But that would be a completely different approach, like learning a language like a baby. You listen, you speak, how a baby does. He doesn’t already understand a lot of grammar, so he doesn’t ask you, weather you are telling accusative or instrumental or present tense or past tense.
dhyāna: Maybe this could be a way for the yoga classes, to have some subhāṣitas, some mantras, some yoga terms and to learn the pronunciation, to learn the meaning. It could be a first step of getting familiar with the language.
Listening, speaking, reading, writing
Sadananda Das: Yes, definitely. You could hear in this class: listening, speaking, reading, writing. All the methods are applied. But I give first preference to listen and to speak. I don’t give much importance to reading and to writing. You can speak properly, when you listen properly. Therefore, śravaṇam (listening) first step, saṁbhāṣanam (speaking), second step. Third and fourth are paṭhanam (reading) and lekhanam (writing). I think, you have never heard before so much Sanskrit speaking. When we don’t listen to the sound of the Sanskrit language spoken outside, our ears are not used to grasp the sound. And here, every day from 9.00 to 17.00, we listen each other, we listen, listen, so much listening in Sanskrit was never practised. It is important, to listen carefully, then you try to speak the same sentences, the same words, you are learning like that.
And the good thing, what I want to tell you, I have been teaching this Spoken Sanskrit in so many places and many of yoga practitioners have been coming to my Summer Schools. Maybe you know, that there is a great yoga federation in the Ukraine, there are 50-60 people, who are teaching yoga, practising yoga, they are also doing research in yoga. They have invited me twice and in one of the Summer Schools there have been 40-50 Yoga teachers. In the evenings they had their yoga classes and from the morning to the evening, throughout the whole day, they were in the class to learn Spoken Sanskrit. And they were interested.
In Australia, I had three Summer Schools and in every class there were two, three, four yoga teachers. So they find it interesting, they find it useful. That’s why I think, every yoga learner must have some knowledge of Sanskrit, recitation, pronunciation, and some knowledge of grammar also. Speaking helps a lot, when you are speaking in a language, it shows that you are good in using the grammar. You put the subject or the object at the right place, the adjectives or adverbs, you know using these kinds of words. When we speak the language, then the grammar, that we have learned in the classrooms, becomes useful.
dhyāna: Yes, it comes to life.
Sadananda Das: It is not passive, it is active. In the universities we have learned Sanskrit in a passive way. You sit down, write down, take notes and the professor goes on speaking. You have no chance of speaking. But here there are both ways. If the teacher speaks, you also speak. All the participants are actively participating. Speaking, thinking, composing sentences, making sentences understanding, the use of different types of grammatical forms.
dhyāna: Maybe this is a kind of your message, that by speaking you take part with your whole person. – So it will have an impact on yourself, meanwhile, if you have only the intellectual university way of working, it may not touch your person, you can study everything, but with your person you can remain in another place. So by speaking the Sanskrit language, you have to unify your person with the language.
By speaking Sanskrit, we are influenced by the thoughts of the great sages.
Sadananda Das: That’s absolutely true. When you speak English, you also understand the behaviour, the thinking of English people, their culture, their way of speaking and when you speak Sanskrit, you also understand the way of thinking, the impact of the sound and the language on the person. And certainly when you speak any language, you are influenced by the culture, by the śāstras, by the tradition of that language. Therefore when you speak Sanskrit, I am sure, we are influenced by the thoughts of the great sages, seers of the language. That is important.
dhyāna: Sanskrit is a spiritual tradition, Indian culture was always a spiritual, a religious culture, so the language may have this impact on the speaking person.
Sadananda Das: Yes. And in India we never considered the Sanskrit language just as a medium for communication. It is much more than that. There are even ślokas, where we say, vande saṁskṛta mātaram. Sanskrit is called a mother. And also the alphabet of Sanskrit, the letters are called matṛkas, like little mothers. As a mother plays an important role in the life of a child, in the same way, these letters play a very important role in our life, in our person.
dhyāna: Because it is the word, that creates the object.
Sadananda Das: Exactly. In a Sanskrit grammar class we learn certain aspects of grammar from grammatical point of view. But the same vocabularies have a higher sense, if we think of the philosophical point of view. In Kashmir Shivaism, these letters are called matṛkas. And this word visarga: in the grammar class, there are only two dots, nothing else. But the word visarga is a very highly philosophical word. Visarga means this creation, sarga means creation, it is derived from the root src, to create, to emit. Sarga means creation, visarga is this very creation.
dhyāna: So this vowel “ḥ” is the vowel of creation.
Sadananda Das: Visarga or bindu, these are very important words in philosophical texts. In Kashmir Shivaism, soham, are aham, and saḥ, which you learn in the grammar class, is a third person pronoun, meaning “he”. But saḥ-aham, soham, means I am He, I am That. When you are sitting in a philosophical class, then you are learning the philosophical meaning of this words. When you are reciting a mantra, soham, soham, soham, aham saḥ, aham saḥ, I am That. When you are reading it from the opposite, then it is hamsaḥ, ham-saḥ, aham saḥ, it is called hamsaḥ mantra, it is called aśabda gāyatrī, which means, one does not recite it knowingly. When you recite a mantra, you know, that you are reciting a mantra. But this mantra you recite without knowing. It is automatic. It is recited every minute, every moment.
dhyāna: By breathing.
Sadananda Das: There is a very interesting mantra in Vijñānabhairava :
sakāreṇa bahiryāti hakāreṇa viṣet punaḥ |
haṁsahaṁsetyamuṁ mantraṁ jīvo japati nityaśaḥ
A jīva, a living being, recites this mantra nityaśaḥ, constantly, always, haṁsaḥ haṁsaḥ iti amum mantram, it is sounding haṁsaḥ, and how it is: hakāreṇa viṣet yati, (breathing), when the breath goes out, it produces the sound “ha”, when you inhale, it produces the sound “sa”, (breathing), so this is haṁsaḥ mantra. And nobody is aware. When you are breathing, you are not aware. This is very interesting, haṁsaḥ, haṁsaḥ, which is also soham, soham, I am He, that means, you are Shiva.
dhyāna: And we say it with every breathing.
Sadananda Das: We express this with every breathing, but we are not aware. If we do this with full awareness, we will become Shiva. The problem is, we are not aware.
dhyāna: And for this, we can study the Sanskrit language?
Sadananda Das: And to realize this, we need to study the Sanskrit language and to go more deeper in it, to speak this language. And language means, it has to be spoken. So if Sanskrit is a language, it is not an ordinary language, it is a very beautiful language, very significant language, so by evidence it has to be spoken. When we speak in this language, we understand it’s importance, we understand the sounds, the vocabulary, so it is very useful for us.
dhyāna: What are you looking forward? Next year there will be to beginners classes, one in Leipzig and one in Australia and from time to time there is organized an advanced class also. And you do this effort of the monthly classes in addition to your regularly university teaching. So what is your motivation to do this effort or what is your wish for you and for your students?
Sadananda Das: Well, I love teaching. That’s my passion. That’s why I teach my regular classes at the university and besides this are also the Spoken Sanskrit Summer Schools, so wherever there is a possibility, wherever there is interest among people, they invite me and I do it. Teaching is my passion. Second thing: I want to promote Sanskrit for those, who want to learn this language. I see, there is a need of learning Sanskrit in many countries of the world. That’s why people are interested in learning Spoken Sanskrit. So I teach this Spoken Sanskrit to let everybody learn this beautiful language, let everybody be benefited by this beautiful language. I am happy, if people are interested in learning Sanskrit and in whichever I can help them in learning, I am doing it with my capacity as a Sanskrit teacher, as a Sanskrit lecturer.
dhyāna: You spread Sanskrit all over the world?
Sadananda Das: I spread Sanskrit all over the world. I am a medium, Sanskrit spreads by itself.
dhyāna: Thank you very much for the interesting interview and I hope, we well meet in the next advanced Sanskrit class.
Sadananda Das: You are welcome.
Sanskrit Summer School: https://www.spracheninstitut-leipzig.de/kurse/sanskrit/1316-sanskrit-summer-school-1316
Online Sanskrit-English dictionary: http://spokensanskrit.org/index.php?mode=3&script=hk&tran_input=saras&direct=au
Bildquellennachweis (21-02-17): Spracheninstitut Schillerstraße Leipzig-Bild von Christian Hüller auf www.spracheninstitut-leipzig.de