Vanity thought #1668. Terminology

The very first thing when trying to explain “magic” of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam “scientifically” should probably be clarification of terms. Direct translation into modern languages is easy but in many cases it’s grossly inadequate because reality of our lives is different from theirs.

Some might object that reality doesn’t change significantly but we often don’t realize how many of our assumptions are influenced by ever changing external conditions. Nowadays, due to introduction of knives, forks, or even chopsticks, not having an overbite would be a medical condition but when people used only hands to eat their food it was the opposite and no one had an overbite at all.

Another example is bodily odor – the sweat gland responsible for it is often completely missing in certain nationalities and so when people of these different cultures meet they can have very surprising and often unpleasant discoveries about each other, most often blaming it on lack of proper hygiene while back at home some wear their odor with pride or maybe fight it with strong cologne or deodorants. In Japan, on the other hand, deodorants are hard to find because no one uses them ever.

I once read that teachers in Ireland were going on a strike because temperature in their classrooms has risen to 26 Celsius while in tropical countries people work outdoor in 40s and then set their air conditioners to 26 to cool off inside. That’s roughly 100 and 80 in Fahrenheit.

Maybe these are not very good examples overall but I just wanted to demonstrate that our perception of what is “normal” can vary greatly even now, what to speak of “normal” in previous yugas. People can grow 10 cm taller in only a couple of hundred years, imagine if they kept growing for a couple of thousand. The only conditions necessary are better food and less diseases, which depend on climate as much as on human practice of medicine. I’m not going to discuss why the skeletons of these giants are missing from our fossil record here, maybe some other time.

When “normal” reality changes so greatly we shouldn’t try to see ancient people through our prism. We just can’t see the same things anymore because they no longer exists and so we use our poor substitutes which seem real to us but would probably not be recognized by the ancients themselves.

We don’t believe in yoga siddhis, for example, because no one has them in our society. Well no one practices celibacy in our society either and that’s the primary condition for developing “supernatural” abilities. Another example is that no one can see God anymore and therefore we assume that it was true in Vedic times, too. When Vedic sages wrote about demigods appearing on certain occasions we can’t believe it either. Conditions for demigods to grace us with their presence are still the same and we use the same words but their meanings are different now.

The place needs to be pure, for example. We can clean it up, get a guy with a mop in and scrub it, and disinfect it, too, but that won’t be “pure” by Vedic standards. They probably won’t consider anything plastic as pure in principle and they would require purity from people being present, too. We can send everyone to take a shower but that won’t be enough because demigods require internal purity, ie freedom from lust, and that we can’t provide. It just doesn’t exist anymore. Anyone who has ever eaten unoffered food, let alone meat, would contaminate the place with his gluttony, too.

We can’t even imagine what a really pure assembly place would look like even though we still use the same words. They mean different things to us from what they meant in Vedic times.

For scientific discussion specifically we should highlight the difference in meaning of fire, water, air, earth etc – gross material elements. We assume that ancients used these words just like we do – because they didn’t know what water or earth was made of. For them these elements were prime building materials – take some earth, meaning clay, shape it, put it into fire, and get a pot. Primitives! We can’t even begin to think that these words meant something completely different in Vedic terminology.

Take “earth”, for example. How do we expect to differentiate it from water? By touch, of course. Earth is more or less solid, just put your hand on the substance and you’d know whether it’s “earth” or liquid. In Vedic times, however, earth was associated with smell. If it smells, it’s earth, while touch was a symptom of air. What what?

We are clearly talking about different things here, not common clay and water. We don’t grant the ancients the ability to analyze the matter differently from us. We think that the only way to understand common water, earth, etc is to find their chemical composition and this again forces us to see the world in a very restricted way without even realizing it.

We can’t imagine ancients to make scientific progress using their weird classification, we think that we have the monopoly on honest scientific inquiry while they were hopelessly corrupt and invoked gods to mask their ignorance all the time. That’s another common stereotype, probably completely without merit. We can’t even think about ancients advancing in their scientific understanding on their terms, our brains are not wired for that, there’s a societal pressure, and no one honestly tried it, even for fun. The fact that people even in India can’t pursue yoga anymore doesn’t help either. Even if there are successful yogis there they won’t be mixing with us, the modern people, and so they can’t be studied in laboratories. They’d avoid our atheistic mentality like a plague, and they should be very good at it, too – due to the same yogic powers.

What I mean is that they’d practice mind control where mind means something different from what it means to us. They would practice control of their senses where senses mean something different from what they mean to us. How can we withdraw the sense of smell, for example? Or the sense of sight? We completely lack the ability and so we don’t believe it’s possible for yogis either. That’s just projection of our own limitations and it’s unscientific but often that is all the modern science can offer on this subject.

Vanity thought #1325. History dilemma

Sometimes history is favorable to our narrative and sometimes it isn’t. Should we embrace every finding that goes our way or should we stay out of this business altogether? Or should we find some balanced approach?

Yesterday a very respected devotee included me in his e-mail blast and I got a link to an old article promoting the idea that modern history got some Bhāgavatam dates completely wrong.

I remember writing about it a while ago but here’s the recap – modern dating of Buddha refers to some particularly enlightened person and not the Lord Buddha who lived over a thousand years earlier.

This fact is not very well known even in the vaiṣṇava community and Śrīla Prabhupāda himself was apparently unaware of it. There’s a quote from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and an explanation from one of GM authorities that these two are indeed different persons and the confusion was started by Śaṅkarācāyrya himself. It wouldn’t the first one by him but we accept it as necessary to satisfy demoniac people of Kali Yuga.

This time it’s the timing of Cāṇakya Paṇḍita, who appears in SB 12.1.11, and then Candragupta and Aśoka who are explicitly mentioned in the next verse. All three are historically well known personalities and this time we are not saying they are “impostors”, as the historical “Buddha” is, but real character intersection between both Purāṇic and modern history. That’s where the danger lies.

It’s possible to calculate the date of their birth from the time of the Kurukṣetra war, adding up all the intermediate kings and durations of their reigns. This gives us about 1500 BC, 1200 years earlier than what is taught in every history book. That’s what the problem is.

This devotee explained it by blaming everything on certain William Jones, a British scholar who tried to fit Purāṇic history into Biblical timeframe and so needed to put our events as close to modernity as possible. Cāṅakya and Candragupta provided a convenient “linch pin” tying them to Alexander The Great who went to India roughly 300 BC. At around that time Greeks also sent their ambassador to India, Megastenes, who left extensive notes describing Indian kings and dynasties, among other things. This is the time from which we count everything else backwards and forwards.

If Candragupta and then Aśoka lived 1200 earlier than that then the entire history of India as it is known today goes to dogs, and it would confirm that historical Buddha was not the real Buddha, too, because Aśoka was the one who promoted Buddhism far and wide. Candragupta himself tuned Jain so that tradition and its founder, Mahāvīra, need to be moved by over a thousand years back, too.

The stakes are incredibly high. If it all goes south our credibility would be at stake, too. So far no one paid any attention to appearances of Cāṅakya, Candragupta, and Aśoka in the Bhāgavatam but if we go public with it then we’d have one big inconsistency on our hands. People can actually calculate the time of Kurukṣetra war back from Candragupta and tell us that we are totally wrong and Kṛṣṇa didn’t live 5000 years ago. What will we say then?

If we insist that Candragupta lived in 1500 BC they’d accuse of basing our faith on bad science. Nothing good will come out of it unless we can prove it beyond any doubt.

That’s where the problem lies. Megastenes was sent to the court of king “Sandrocottus”. which is as close as Greeks could be to Candragupta. Our version here is that it was a different Candragupta, not Candragupta Maurya.

It would be easy to argue this if modern history didn’t move forward from the days of William Jones but it did. Nowadays there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it was really Candragupta Maurya and not the other Candragupta that lived during the time of Alexander the Great. To make it more complicated, most of the evidence can be interpreted in different ways and so we still have a shot but at this time it looks very unlikely that we are right and they are wrong.

Aśoka wasn’t mentioned in Greek records, good, but there’s one Aśokan edict that tells the names of four contemporary kings: “param ca tena Atiyokena cature rajani Turamaye nama Antikini nama Maka nama Alikasudaro nama” (“And beyond Antiochus, four kings by the name of Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander”). This is not the same Alexander but there was a Greek king by that name who ruled until 240 BC. Maybe it wasn’t him and there was another Alexander who lived sometime around 1400 BC but the onus to prove it is on us, and I don’t think we are up to the task, and there would still be three others to repeat the procedure on – Antigonos, Magas, and “Turamaye”, for whatever reason translated as Ptolemy, who lived way after Aśoka himself.

But then there is nothing in Greek sources about Buddhism, too, and both Aśoka and Buddhism were a really big thing back then. Aśoka’s empire was even bigger than Candragupta’s. To counter this historians cite Greek knowledge of “Sramanas”, a tradition they identify as Buddhist in this case. I don’t know why, perhaps we can counter them on that.

Once, already around the time of Christ, Indians sent a party of these Śramaṇas to Athens with a message tattooed on one of the emissaries’ skin. By Greek standards they were naked, wearing only a “girdle”, which is probably how the Greeks saw kaupīnas. They also brought very strange gifts – an armless man, a long snake, a big tortoise and a partridge larger than a vulture. What was the significance of that is unknown.

What put these guys in history books is that their chief Zarmanochegas, possibly “Śramaṇācārya”, self immolated himself before Athenian public to “demonstrate the strength of his faith”. Greeks saw them as barbarians, not as renounced ascetics of the highest order as they were perceived in India. I think self-immolation was a Śramaṇa’s reaction to the scenes of the Greek life around him. Ordinarily one would have to jump into Ganges if he saw degradation like that and short of that killing yourself was probably the second best option.

Why they made this Śramaṇa a Buddhist is beyond me. Some interpret his full name, as recorded by Greeks, Zarmanochēgas indos apo Bargosēs, as that he was a disciple of Bhṛgu Muni. Śramaṇa was an old, certainly pre-Buddhist tradition of complete renunciation. The word appears quite a few times in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and once Śrīla Prabhupāda translated it simply as a vānprastha. It was prominent among Buddhists and Buddha (the historical one) was a śramaṇa himself, but that is not enough to use presence of a śramaṇa as proof of Greek familiarity with Buddhism, meaning their Candragupta wasn’t Candragupta Maurya and they really knew nothing of Aśoka who actually lived over a thousand years earlier.

Here’s a story of Alexander the Great’s encounter with a group of śramaṇas (source):

    He (Alexander) captured ten of the Gymnosophists who had done most to get Sabbas to revolt, and had made the most trouble for the Macedonians. These philosophers were reputed to be clever and concise in answering questions, and Alexander therefore put difficult questions to them, declaring that he would put to death him who first made an incorrect answer, and then the rest, in an order determined in like manner; and he commanded one of them, the oldest, to be the judge in the contest. The first one, accordingly, being asked which, in his opinion, were more numerous, the living or the dead, said that the living were, since the dead no longer existed. The second, being asked whether the earth or the sea produced larger animals, said the earth did, since the sea was but a part of the earth. The third, being asked what animal was the most cunning, said: “That which up to this time man has not discovered.” The fourth, when asked why he had induced Sabbas to revolt, replied: “Because I wished him either to live nobly or to die nobly.” The fifth, being asked which, in his opinion, was older, day or night, replied: “Day, by one day”; and he added, upon the king expressing amazement, that hard questions must have hard answers. Passing on, then, to the sixth, Alexander asked how a man could be most loved; “If,” said the philosopher, “he is most powerful, and yet does not inspire fear.” Of the three remaining, he who was asked how one might become a god instead of man, replied: “By doing something which a man cannot do”; the one who was asked which was the stronger, life or death, answered: “Life, since it supports so many ills.” And the last, asked how long it were well for a man to live, answered: “Until he does not regard death as better than life.” So, then, turning to the judge, Alexander bade him give his opinion. The judge declared that they had answered one worse than another. “Well, then,” said Alexander, “thou shalt die first for giving such a verdict.” “That cannot be, O King,” said the judge, “unless thou falsely saidst that thou wouldst put to death first him who answered worst.” These philosophers, then, he dismissed with gifts…

Isn’t this fascinating? It also proves nothing about śramaṇas being Buddhist at that time.

This is getting too long and my thoughts are scattered, time to put the subject to rest for a while.

Vanity thought #1092. Of mice and rice

It turns out that I’ve touched on some very big topics in the past couple of days and so there are some loose ends left.

Rice, for example, is a kind of mystery – when did Indians start to cultivate it? Was there a time when it wasn’t grown? What do Vedas say?

Official version by modern science is that rice was first domesticated in China long before Kṛṣṇa’s appearance, ie long before Kali Yuga started. What can we say about it? That we don’t trust this kind of “scientific” information? Okay, but then we should justify our rejection, we can’t just say that science uses imperfect methods, this argument only opens the door for the possibility of science being wrong, we need to demonstrate how exactly it could have gone wrong in each particular case.

Science might reject authority of the Vedas but when it predicts precipitation and then it rains, it apparently works, so there must be something going for it, too. Sometimes it obviously doesn’t work but usually we can easily find faulty links in the chain – not enough data, not enough processing power, limits of the currently held theory, perfectly acceptable margins of error etc.

What can we say about rice?

I can think of two-three approaches here – we don’t know how reliable samples used in genetic studies that put birth of rice in China are. Do we have enough of them? Is it possible that one random discovery can overturn this theory completely? What are the chances of discovering strains of rice grown many thousand years ago? Or rather – what are the chances of these strains being preserved when we don’t have enough evidence for much large events, like the battle of Kurukṣetra?

Another line of questioning is that rice alternatives, wheat and barley, are believed to be first cultivated much later than rice and in areas that are traditionally believed to be cradles of western civilization – between Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Generally, we argue that those ancient civilizations were offshoots of Vedic culture. We do not accept that Vedic culture started after Indus Valley civilization was overrun by Aryans. If we can defend that proposition we can dismiss wheat and barley as original “Vedic” food and claim that it has always been rice.

Koreans have done their own research in rice origins and, surprise surprise, discovered that it was their ancestors who first cultivated rice, long before the Chinese. Well, it wasn’t much of a research, they simply found very old grains of rice, genetics be damned. Scientific world reaction was predictable and these findings were dismissed and written off as nationalistic propaganda.

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the oldest rice was found in Korea, maybe Koreans were wrong. Who knows? Once there is evidence that doesn’t fit into the prevailing theory the issue becomes political, not scientific. If North Koreans find even older rice no one would even listen to them, scientific method doesn’t do well when politics are involved.

Current, genetics based dating of rice is also very very vogue – domestication happened between 8,200 and 13,500 years ago. That is a very big range, bigger than the number of years passed since Kṛṣṇa’s appearance. A lot of stuff can happen in 5,300 years, it’s enough time for our modern world to evolve practically from nothing. What were Aryans eating before then?

This goes so far back in time that we can afford to be very skeptical about any claims made by science there. They can say there were no Aryans yet, for example. We can say that there were so few of them and they were so advanced that they didn’t leave enough evidence. We just need to remember that “advanced” means different things for us and for scientists.

This goes back to the origin of civilization question I mentioned earlier. If we can deal with that, we can deal with rice.

Indian scholars also question the allegation that rice was not mentioned in the earliest Ṛg Veda. Traditionally it’s thought that Ṛg Veda only talks about barley but Sanskrit scholars challenge that view and insist that rice was the staple food then and it was used for sacrifices ahead of barley, which was in the “and other grains” category.

One such article I read argued that rice was called dhana in the Vedas. Usually, it’s translated as wealth (na dhanaṁ na janaṁ na sundarīṁ kavitāṁ) but Sanskrit is a tricky language that way – it does not just label things, it describes their purpose and function so rice could have been a word for wealth in that society just like gold has become a symbol of wealth later or money is a word for wealth now.

Anyway, the point behind this is that rice based agriculture suits varṇāśrama perfectly while growing wheat leads to development of demoniac qualities, as I argued yesterday. Today I just want to say that Vedic culture could have always been rice based. I’m not touching on importance of cows yet, that’s a whole different topic.

Another point that came up yesterday was that we might not have as personal relationships with Kṛṣṇa as we first imagine we would from our books.

Just think of it – there’s one Kṛṣṇa, there’s one Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, one Mother Yaśodā, and that’s it. Occasionally Kṛṣṇa invites other girls to join rasa dance but, generally, He doesn’t spend much time with anyone but Śrī Rādhikā. He just doesn’t have time.

Well, this argument assumes that life in the spiritual world has the same limitations as life down here, that Kṛṣṇa does things in sequence there and so if He is with someone He cannot be in at another place at the same time. However, spiritual reality, as we’ve been told, is that rasa dance is a never ending pastime, for example. One does not have to wait to engage in it, it happens as soon as Kṛṣṇa and His devotees want it.

Still, daily life in Vṛndāvana as we saw it does not allow many opportunities for everyone to have Kṛṣṇa’s attention all the time. Same is true for Lord Caitanya’s pastimes, too.

We have writings of the Six Gosvāmīs that might tell us differently but I can raise what I think a very reasonable argument here – Gosvāmīs were describing Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes from the point of view of His most confidential servants. I have no doubt that it looks exactly as they say but only in their small circle but it doesn’t mean our experience would be exactly the same.

Think of any famous person – they always look differently to those who are close to them while outsiders mostly deal with their public persona. Why should it be different with us? We aren’t Kṛṣṇa’s confidantes, we aren’t confidantes of His closest servants either. We are nameless faces in the crowd. We are mice.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, though – we do want to be servants of the servants of the servants, after all. We value this position higher than trying to get closer to Kṛṣṇa than He wants us to be. We know that our masters please Him better than us so we can increase His pleasure much more by serving others. This is our whole Gauḍīyā mentality – we prefer to be mice if that gives Kṛṣṇa more time with those who really matter to Him.

This position isn’t inferior even from the standpoint of rasa – we don’t need to be directly engaged in service to experience it. Think of some male celebrity and thousands if not millions of his female fans. Justin Bieber, perhaps? All those girls long for his association but I’m pretty sure they would loathe him if they actually get to know him up close. For their rasa, it tastes better from a distance. Why can’t it work with us and Kṛṣṇa?

I mean we ARE being prepped for serving Him from relatively far away, it’s the ideal for rūpanugas. Even if we happen to prefer some other rasas the principle still holds.

When it comes to serving Kṛṣṇa – mice is nice.

Vanity thought #326. To insanity and beyond

I have a far fetched proposition that Sanskrit and Sanskrit literature as we know it is only a material shell of the original language and is thus subject to decay, development and any other effect of being influenced by the modes of material nature.

There are probably thousands of objections to this idea because it leads to a host of unwelcome consequences like that the words of Krishna in Bhagavad Gita weren’t His words at all, it’s not what He said exactly and it came to us in a form of a hearsay. Same goes for Srimad Bhagavatam and pretty soon all Vedic injunctions will fall under the shadow of doubt, destroying faith of millions of people. Inviolability of the Vedas is our fundamental principle, after all.

After passing the initial shock, however, the proposition started growing on me. It’s not as bad as it sounds, there are ways in which the sanctity of Vedas can still be preserved, and, most importantly, it solves quite a few of obvious contradictions between what we supposed to believe in and what we observe in the world around us.

Therefore I’m willing to consider it, if only to explore the possibilities. Perhaps even if eventually discarded it would leave us with a deeper understanding of the shastra and our relationship with it. If it happens to be a deviation I’m willing to be corrected (or even get punished) and become a “good student” again.

Anyway, it all started with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s explanations that Sanskrit words have at least three meanings. One is the common understanding, another is the real meaning where every word is representation of God’s potency and is intimately connected with Him, and the third is the meaning assigned by ignorant people to further their own ends.

Examples of the ignorant interpretations are words like bhakti and seva, in Bhaktisiddhanta’s times I think it was Vivekananda who coined the phrase “seva is work”, and bhakti was used to describe any emotion expressed by promiscuous worshipers like Ramakrishna. Needless to say that without connection to Krishna these words have absolutely no meaning.

The problem is that we all can use these words in our lives and majority of the users don’t even think of connecting them to God in any way. They have become external shells devoid of any actual meaning. Eventually their usage found new context and probably new patterns and, perhaps, if linguists learn about these words only from the usage in the past century they would come to very different conclusions about their origins, meaning, and history.

Perhaps they would date any document containing these words to late 19th early 20th century at most.

What if, with advent of the Kali Yuga, the original Sanskrit language had been corrupted on a very large scale leaving no trace of its ancient form? Words might be the same but their meanings have changed and grammatically they came to be used quite differently.

People might have developed new phrases, new ways to form the sentences, new metaphors, new decorations and so on. Perhaps even the meaning of “Sanskrit” itself came to denote a different kind of sophistication, the ability to form grammatically complex sentences following sophisticated meters and rhythms. I bet the original, Vaikuntha meaning of “Sanskrit” was about full and perfect understanding of the Personality of Godhead in each and every letter, syllable and word and not the comparison to inferior “Prakrit”.

What effect this theory might have on Bhagavad Gita? Are Krishna’s words there are just shells that have been corrupted through the ages or are they exact representations of His original speech?

I would point out that the potency of His words does not depend on language at all. Even when translated into English or Russian they are able to change hearts of thousands and thousands of people all over the world. The key is to hear them from an authorized person able to convey their original meaning, like Srila Prabhupada. In addition, this original meaning is totally lost to people studying the words themselves without the guidance of a spiritual authority.

To the ordinary scientist Krishna’s words in Gita are just shells, they carry no spiritual potency and thus there’s little merit in arguing whether they have changed through time or not. Equally, there’s a little merit in arguing that for a person learning Bhagavad Gita from the spiritual master in English or Russian. They could have been changed a thousand times, for all we care, it matters nothing to the devotees as long as they contain the same spiritual potency.

There’s no additional spiritual benefit in knowing Sanskrit at all, being able to read Bhagavad Gita in devanagari won’t add anything to our spiritual experience because our progress doesn’t depend on external language but only on our faith and service to our spiritual masters.

With this in mind why should we worry if the language has changed while going through the chain of authorities. Krishna spoke to Arjuna, Sanjaya heard the conversation through his mystic power, it’s not known how exactly it reached the ears of Vyasadeva, Srila Prabhupada simply said that we don’t have intelligence to understand this process, we just have to follow acharyas.

This attitude, that we simply have to accept knowledge as it comes to us from our authorities, leaves a lot of space for changing the language, words, sentences, retelling them in different ways at different times for different audiences and so on. It shouldn’t freak us out, I don’t think it’s even our job to prove that Vyasadeva was retelling Krishna’s speech word for word. Experience shows that word-for-word transcription is not even necessary for our spiritual education.

In fact we have examples and even injunctions for acharyas to adapt and interpret the message according to the level of the audience. It’s said that Srimad Bhagavatam got a lot sweeter when it touched the lips of Shukadeva Goswami, and we know that Srila Suta Goswami, when retelling the conversation between Shukadeva and Parikshit had to keep in mind that his listeners were not all devotees of the Lord so some more intimate aspects had to be held back.

Srila Prabhupada doesn’t beat around the bush on this in the purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 1.4.1, speaking of the duties of the speakers:

He must have full confidence in the previous acarya, and at the same time he must realize the subject matter so nicely that he can present the matter for the particular circumstances in a suitable manner. The original purpose of the text must be maintained. No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it, yet it should be presented in an interesting manner for the understanding of the audience. This is called realization.

From this quote it is quite clear that there’s nothing wrong with changing the exact wording and so there’s nothing wrong if Sanskrit that we know now was not the Sanksrit of the previous epoch.

All this is applied to smriti, “as remembered”, of course, while shruti , “as heard”, is a different matter, but even there what we have now is what was chosen for us, or for people of several thousand years ago, by Srila Vyasadeva. He made sure that the mantras he gave us had the potency when we use them, it doesn’t mean they were used in exactly the same way in real Vedic times.

In fact we can see deterioration of their potency with our own eyes – no one can conduct a soma sacrifice anymore, for us, just a couple of thousand years down the road, the words do not have the same power and meaning.

What makes us think that Rig Veda language was also the language of the dawn of the universe and that’s how four Kumaras talked to each other? Nothing.

What’s important for us is to preserve the spiritual meaning of the Vedic message, not necessarily the external form. The external form can be potent or not depending on our purity and qualifications and so, I think, it can be adjusted to suit any particular level, but the spiritual meaning is transferred in an entirely different way.

This why I think my proposition is not so bad after all, this is how the sanctity of the Vedas can be preserved without sticking to the letter of the books. This is why we shouldn’t pay much attention to the development or degradation of the Vedic and classic Sanskrits, the proto-shell of Indo-European languages and how it spread around the world.

In fact this proposition allows us to say that Sanskrit as we know it now indeed developed from the language given to us by Vyasadeva five thousand years ago and is not the origin of the all the tongues in the world at all, and the much searched for PIE was just a corruption of the Sanskrit of the previous yuga. That pre Kali Yuga Sanskrit must have corrupted differently and at different rates and then started evolving under the influence of passion and ignorance again, and at different rates in different places, too.

Maybe careful study of linguistics will eventually deny this possibility but for the time being it leaves me enough room to fight back any attacks on the divine origin of Vedic legacy while at the same time conceding a lot of ground in terms of empirical evidence.

And this is not the end yet, the whole situation might get a lot more complex if we consider that even words with undisputed spiritual meaning can have four different levels of realization according to the nature of the Vedic sound itself. Perhaps that could explain the exact mechanism of corruption of meaning, perhaps not.

For now I think it’s enough speculating as this is my longest article in recent history, this topic is a lot bigger than I can process with my limited intelligence and without any knowledge of either Sanskrit or linguistics.

I’d better try to extract the higher form of sound from three words I repeat everyday without paying nearly enough attention – Hare, Krishna, and Rama.

Vanity thought #325. Sanskrit as the mother of all tongues

Is it or is it not? Status of Sanskrit is one of the most contentious issues in the debate between Western and Indian scholars.

Two hundred years ago, when Sanskrit was first introduced to Europe, it won many admirers and had no contestants for the position of the original language of the humanity. Things have changed, dramatically.

As linguistics and linguistic paleontology grew into mature sciences and as archaeologists discovered hundreds of new sites with remains of ancient civilizations Sanskrit was asked to scoot and give the first place to so called Proto-Indo-European language, PIE. The birthplace of this PIE, the Urheimat, is not agreed upon but it’s clearly not in India anymore. Turkey, Ukraine, Southern Russia, Macedonia – nowhere even close.

Western scientists believe that Sanskrit evolved from this PIE when it was brought to India by Aryans, this argument ties the whole issue to the larger Aryan Invasion Theory, AIT, vs Out of India, OIT, debate.

Indian scientists have none of it and insist on the old (by Western standards) idea that all other languages have evolved from Sanskrit and there was no other, PIE, source.

At this point I should clarify that there are plenty of Indian scholars who support Aryan Invasion Theory so it’s not a strict West vs India divide. On the other hand there are very few Westerners who give any credit to Out of India school and this fact leads me to conclusion that the entire OIT movement is motivated by nationalism rather than by search for truth.

What should be our position, as devotees, in this war? The first reaction is to support OIT, of course, but something tells me that this decision is also motivated by the mode of passion, the desire to prove ourselves right, and as such it has nothing to do with serving the Lord.

Once we give in to this desire and delve into the arguments for and against both sides we expose ourselves to the influence of maya and face the danger of being deeply entangled in imperfect, faulty, and full of errors world of empiric science.

Here are some dangers not far beneath the surface – how will we explain undisputed fact that Sanskrit has been evolving? Language of Ramayana and language of Rig Veda is not the same, language before Panini and after is not the same – it clearly changes through time, how can we call it “divine”?

The name itself, Sanskrit, means “perfect” or “complete”, and it implies that there were other, inferior languages, too. What is their place in our view of the world?

I bet answering these questions within confines of the science and linguistics and still sticking to our guns would be incredibly difficult if not impossible. Evolution of Sanskrit is accepted by both sides, sometimes it serves our own ends, too, like when someone accused Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura of forging Chaitanya Upanishad it was a Sanskrit scholar who pointed out that the language of the book puts it in the times of Atharva Veda and is very difficult to fake, especially comparing to Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s own use of Sanskrit.

Anyway, let’s see what we get if we stick to our version of history. Perhaps Sanskrit was the language of the world, and even the language of the entire universe, but was it the Sanskrit as we know it now? What if it was even called differently in those days? It is also not unthinkable that it was the language of the rituals and worship, not of everyday communications on mundane topics.

Nowadays scholars in both camps acknowledge the existence of Prakrit – vernacular dialects, not nearly as refined as Sanskrit itself. The existing evidence of various versions of Prakrit, however, make them relatively young, but then what is the evidence of the language spoken thousands of years ago? There was no written system then, you can’t discover words at the bottom of some ancient burials, they don’t leave footprints.

It is not unthinkable that Prakrit was the predominant language in the ancient times for everyday things while people had to study Sanskrit mantras that could be used to temple worship, or warfare or any of the marvelous things that existed in Vedic times. The whole idea of those mantras was that they were not available to everyone and if someone knew how to build a flying castle they would put him in Srimad Bhagavatam or other Puranas.

So we have that. Then there’s the effect of Kali Yuga that means that “Sanskrit” of the previous age became forgotten. On this point we can ask the scientists to adjust their theories for the language deterioration. They assume that languages only evolve, from primitive to sophisticated, but 5th to 3rd millennium BC should have been the opposite of that, and not only in India, Kali Yuga hit the rest of the world probably a lot harder.

In these conditions it was Sanskrit that should have been lost faster while Prakrit should have been more resistant, and, perhaps, even showed the signs of evolution, in line with the growth of modes of ignorance and passion.

We should also remember that our history goes back a lot further than 5,000 years ago, we are talking of the civilization that is millions years old. Sounds incredible by the rules of modern science but what do they know about past? They have on average one or two human skeleton remains for each thousand of years of the entire Earth’s history of humankind. If they missed that civilization, what are the chances they find the language that was used there?

That’s another warning for us not to get to close with “scientific arguments”. We are not meant to be together, at some point we either have to draw the line or start compromising our faith in the words of the guru and shastra.

I have couple of very radical, even outrageous ideas on the subject of ancient Sanskrit but they have to wait for another day.

Vanity thought #321. Buddha, Shankara, and others.

Chronology presented in Stephen Knapp’s books is giving me a headache. It’s one thing to use Puranic references to establish the date of Lord Buddha’s birth but it’s quite another to try and jam it into everything else we know about history.

There are way too many complications if we accept that Lord Buddha lived sometime around 1800 BC and I feel very skeptical about attempts to shift entire history by over a thousand years in the past and claim that there were two Emperor Asokas, for example. One who spread Buddhism all over India and lived around 1500 BC and the other, the historical Asoka who lived around 300 BC.

It sounds even more incredible when entire dynasties, Mauryas and Guptas are shifted a thousand years back, too, thus the first Asoka was Mauryan and the second was Guptan. Now it’s not just a couple of individuals, it’s the entire corpus of historical evidence that describes both Mauryas and Guptas needs to be thrown away, and while we are at it perhaps we need to move Alexander the Great by a thousand years, too.

We also need to explain how all the Buddhists documents have lost a thousand years but kept pretty much up to date since Buddha’s departure according to their timeline.

Mind boggling.

Then there’s Shankaracharya. He must have lived much much later than Buddha and not much earlier than disappearance of Buddhism. If we accept that Shankaracharya lived around 500 BC then what about phenomenal spread of Buddhism in the centuries that followed? It appears that it started growing just after it was defeated.

To solve this problem some propose that there were two Shankaracharyas, too. Actually every head of their maths accepts the title of Shankaracharya so they just declare that the Shankara as he is known to historians was not the Adi Shankara but one of the more successful of his followers.

Sri Shankaracharya personally established four maths in different parts of the country and these maths keep their own historical records. Three of them had their own problems with book keeping and so modern historians accept the Sringeri Math, the oldest one, as having the most credible records and it’s according to these records that google search for Shankaracharya’s birth gives 788 AD.

The other maths put him somewhere in 500 BC and that just adds another mystery because then he was a contemporary of Buddha unless the maths jump on the bandwagon of a lost millennium and shift Buddha’s birth by a thousand years, too.

Speaking of contemporaries – there’s Kumaril Bhatt who had a debate with Shankaracharya and he is believed to have lived in 8 century AD. Now he also needs to be shifted a thousand years back. Where will this stop?

Then there are kings and cities mentioned in Shankaracharya’s biographies that were documented independently, like by Chinese travelers. What to do about that?

I have no idea, as much as I want to believe the “puranic” version of early life of Buddha and subsequently Shankaracharya I just don’t see how it’s possible. I put puranic in quotation marks because I can’t find any evidence of this Kaliyurajavruttanta purana existence let alone authenticity.

It’s all one big mess and people pushing it up don’t even pause to address the obvious issues with their theories, they just keep on going like snake oil salesmen. They say that western scholars had an ulterior motive and wanted to discredit ancient roots of Hindu civilization but that was the politics of the 19th century, this can’t be a motivation for all the historians outside of India now.

Indian scholars, on the other hand, want to prove the superiority of their country’s heritage right now and each and every “find” is met with a round of applause and bouts of newly found nationalism.

Westerners, in their turn, can’t possibly take thousand year shifts seriously and all the patriotic brouhaha that comes with it and so two sides are drifting further and further apart. It has become a propaganda war rather than a quest for truth.

Does the “truth” really matter? On one hand it doesn’t as our spiritual progress does not depend on dates of Buddha or Shankaracharya’s lives, on the other hand we are a preaching movement and so we should make sense to the people we approach.

Taking sides in this pseudo scientific debate might turn dangerous for us but who am I do give advice to such seniors as Stephen Knapp. I hope he knows what he is doing, and even if he doesn’t, Krishna is still the ultimate controller and no book can get published without His permission.