I am often asked why we study Sanskrit at St James. In the sequence of my articles from last half of term this is perhaps a really good time to address this.
There are of course many reasons why we study this ancient language and I know Dr Handa has written about this many times before. He is a great example to the pupils at St James as he never stops searching and learning. One such reason is that Sanskrit gives you access to some of the most deeply profound ancient literature from the eastern tradition. Any civilised person should have a knowledge of the Greeks, the Romans and the Vedic tradition. These three have certainly nourished me.
The Vedic tradition also gives a person access to a system of metaphysical understanding (and vocabulary) that is deeply profound and also introduces spiritual practices like meditation. Although, in truth, these appear in all religions.
Five weeks ago I mentioned the possibility of uniting with a spiritual reality. This can perhaps we explained more satisfactorily by examining Vedic metaphysics.
When the experiencing psyche and the things it perceives, subject and object melt and are absorbed into one another and what takes place maybe called a ‘metaphysical experience.’ In Sanskrit this would be called asampajna Samadhi. This term is made up of a string of words, with each of them adding a touch to the meaning.
The term Samadhi denotes the meditative process wherein one ingathers the mind which then becomes detached from the roving eye, the eager ear, the savouring tongue, the thrilled skin. This is sometimes likened to a turtle withdrawing its appendages under its shell. The mind without content and colour becomes absorbed in its self-existent identity and sameness. The English word ‘same’ comes from the same stem as the Sanskrit word Samadhi. In Samadhi the unified self can say ‘I am’, but no longer ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that.’ In this sense ‘I am’ is prior to and more vast than, ‘I am this or that.’
In this state ‘being’ is uncoerced potential, uncommitted and unconfined by verbalisation. The usual demarcation between selfhood and being is ignored and disappears. Sensations are there as always, but the mind is there as never before, unimpressed by them, not attending to them, allowing them to arise and vanish unspoilt by its exertion’s and judgements, undisturbed by all involvement and worry, unsullied by mental chatter and commentary. The mind maybe bent on tackling events but it does so with complete lucidity and promptness but Being remains untouched, unfragmented and unidentified with results. There is no attachment.
Samadhi is hard to describe because nothing of it need transpire externally. It lacks identification marks. An inward reality, it is a total attitude that defies all violent, oppositional and binary formulations. It is the self-awareness of the self, but also absolute impersonality. It is ‘I am’ but also equally; ‘what is.’
The reverse of Samadhi is what old fashioned psychiatry called neurasthenia, a deliberate dwelling on events, the clinging to sensations, a harking back on them. With neurasthenia every perception is sifted out, every roaming image is indulged in and narrowed down finally to be dragged into self-conscious focus.
The study of Sanskrit allows us to understand such inner states and provides a meaningful vocabulary for discussion.