Sanskrit is an ancient language.  Sanskrit is said as the language of the Veda.  Sanskrit language is a high vibration language.  When mantras are chanted in Sanskrit language they link us to the transcendental state.  Mantras must be chanted with right tone, pronunciation and accent.  Only then the right vibration is set and it will help us to link to the higher level. 

In the ancient period the Vedas were not codified.  The students studied the Vedic verses by oral rendition.  Later the Vedas were codified by Sage Veda Vyasa.  In the modern time, the translation and transliteration of the Vedas are available in print form and in electronic form.  Sanskrit is the language which is traditionally used by Vedantic teachers and Guru’s to explain Brahman or Atma.  Now, the question is can language explain Brahman or Atma.  Language explains the experiences of the material world.  In that sense, language explains only the dualities.  Language cannot explain the non-dual Brahman.  Language can explain objects; how can language explain the subject, Brahman?  Language can explain the existing Universe but not the Existence itself.  Brahman is no-thing, meaning it is the subject.  Words and thoughts cannot penetrate Brahman.  Language can explain what it is and what it is not.  Sri Adi Sankaracharya, in the explanation given for the Mandukya Upanisad explains the reason why Brahman cannot be explained by any language.  If any object need to be explained by language then the object must need the five basic identities.  They are

  • Jati (characteristics) – A particular characteristic that is common for a class.  For example, all the animals that have horn belong to one jati or class of animals.  Brahman has no characteristics and so it cannot be explained by language.
  • Guna (quality) – all the beings in the world have a guna.  Even the non-sentient objects have guna and language can explain those objects.  Brahman is nirguna.  Brahman has no qualities and so it cannot be explained by language. 
  • Kriya (action or function) – all the beings in this world perform an action and language can explain its action.  However, Brahman is actionless (nishkriya) and so language cannot explain Brahman.
  • Sambandha (relationship) – every being is related to one being or other and language can explain it; however, Brahman is asanga (non-attached).  Relationships exist only in duality.  Brahman is non-dual and it is not related or attached to anyone.  Therefore language cannot explain a non-dual reality.
  • Ruri (convention) – ruri is the name given for a form for the identification of that form mostly based on their behaviour.  Every form in this world has a name and language can explain it.  However, Brahman has no name and it cannot be pointed out and identified with a form.  Brahman has no identification.  Language cannot explain something which cannot be pointed out and identified.

Therefore, language needs jati, guna, kriya, sambandha, and ruri to explain an object.  Brahman does not have any one of these and so it cannot be explained by language.  These are the limitations of the language. Even though these are the limitations of the language, the scriptures and the teachers of Veda use language to explain Brahman.

 Brahman is understood only by silence.  That is why the Jagad guru Sri Dakshinamurthy is portrayed as a silent guru.  In front of the Jagad guru the doubts are dissolved, not resolved.  However, he is beyond the reach of a layman.  Therefore, the teachers as well as the scriptures use language as a medium to explain Brahman to a certain level.  Language can explain that Brahman is the Self.  However, one has to realize the Self.  Vedanta teachers or guru cannot explain Brahman beyond a limit.  After that limit one has to realize Brahman by one self.  Based on this Sri Adi Sankaracharya says in Atma shadagam,  there is no Veda, no guru or sishya, no mantra or thirtha to realize the Self.  After a certain limit, one has to travel in the path of Self realization in solitude, with the Atma lighting up the path.

Language is a very good pointer, nothing more can be expected from language.  As a pointer, language uses three traditional methods to make us understand about Brahman.

Neti-neti method of the Upanishads – neti means ‘not this’.  The first neti indicates, that ‘it does not mean that Brahman does not exist’.  Brahman exists.  The second neti indicates that Brahman is not an object.  It is a subject.  Thus by negating the objects, the subject can be realized.  Brahman is the existence of all begins. 

The second method is the lakshana (characteristics).  Lakshanas are like pointers.  Lakshana uses the material world as a pointer to indicate the truth.  Language superimposes the non-real world to indicate the substratum, Brahman.  It says, ‘Brahman is that on which the non-real world is superimposed’.  When you remove the world from your mind then what appears in Brahman.

 The mahavakyas from the upanisads also use the technique of lakshana to indicate Brahman.  The famous mahavakya, “Tat Tvam Asi”, indicate that “You are That, Brahman”.  When this statement is analyzed, the attributes of a person are not taken for comparison.  The Universal   Consciousness is compared with the individual Consciousness.  Lakshana uses a pointer to indicate the Reality.

The third method is the method of using paradoxical statements to explain Brahman.  Language of paradox clears doubt about Brahman.  Some of the paradoxical statements used in the scriptures are,

  1. Seeing action in inaction – this statement clarifies the doubt between the Atma and anatma.  It says that Atma is actionless and anatma is performing action.
  2. Unchanging Consciousness appears to be changing – this statement also clears the doubt about the action of Atma.  Atma is actionless. Anatma changes.
  3. Brahman is different from the known and different from the unknown – which implies that Brahman is different from whatever we know and different from whatever we do not know.  Brahman is not an object.
  4. Those who say I know Brahman do not know Brahman and those who say I do not know Brahman knows Brahman – which implies that Brahman is not an object to be known.  It is beyond the grasp of the mind.
  5. Brahman is smaller than the smallest and bigger than the biggest – which implies that Brahman is infinite and whatever is smaller or bigger, are included in it.

These are some of the paradoxical statements about Brahman taken at random from the scriptures.  Language of paradox helps to understand the infinite nature of Brahman and removes the misunderstanding about the nature of Brahman.  Finite and mortal world is superimposed on the infinite Brahman; due to this the unchanging Consciousness appears to be changing.  This is the cause of samsara.  This superimposition must be first understood and then it must be removed. 

Language explains the subject, in the way it explains the object.  As said earlier, language has a limit.  Language helps us to climb on the ladder of spirituality up to that limit.  After that we have to realize the inexpressible of our selves.  Brahman is realized by deep contemplation in silence.

Advaitam and Science