On Indian Sanskrit literature

Early May 2020 Sangham, resp. Srijan Talks uploaded a long exposé held by Mr. Bibek Debroy(1) on the subject of itihasa and its meaning. The subtext of this Youtube-file reads: “Itihasa has connotations of a timeless history, chronologically written description of important, special and public sector events of the person, society, country, chronological analysis of facts and events. Itihasa means ‘This is indeed what happened’. Itihasa came to be applied to the Ramāyan[a], the Mahābhārata and the Puránas which are part of our culture and history.”

In this same video Mr. Debroy explains a number of technical terms and he speaks about the Pune “critical edition” of the Rāmayāna in 80.000 slokas, and the Baroda “critical edition” of the Mahābhārata, “in size about 1/3 of the Rāmayāna”.

As far as ancient texts about legislation, jurisdiction and policy goes he explains how the Manu Sánghita “tells us about the most important 17 kinds of cases which the king should try in order of priority”. He explains how the funeral rites are given in the Garuda purána (translated by Ernest Wood and S.V. Subrahmanyam, an online file), and that “the way (hindu) temples are constructed”(2) is given in the Matsu purána.

There is lots more of interesting information about the Sanskrit language, information that deserves a wider audience. For instance the word Padaga: tree (not in Monier-Williams) has the root “pi” (speak: “bhe”) for “drinking”. Therefore, he says, padaga has both “foot” (pada) and “pi”. Therefore the literal meaning of the word tree is “drinking with its feet”. Is this important? Yes, it reminds us of our duty to avert or overcome desertification.

Mr. Debroy furthermore explains how a certain Jayadeva has been the first poet, as to Western standards, rhyme-and-all, but that the Sanskrit poem is syllabical and has rhythm (beat) as its most important aspect.

Lastly we should know that Mr. Debroy has by now translated one(3) of the main eighteen puránas, and plans to translate a further two. These are, or will be, the first translations by his hand into English. The above-mentioned Garuda purána is one of the other already translated texts.

(1) Bibek Debroy is an economist and was educated in Ramakrishna Mission School, Narendrapur; Presidency College, Kolkata; Delhi School of Economics and Trinity College, Cambridge. Presently, he is Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and Member, NITI Aayog, Government of India. He has worked in Presidency College, Kolkata (1979-83), Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune (1983-87); Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, Delhi (1987-93); as the Director of a Ministry of Finance/UNDP project on legal reforms (1993-98); Department of Economic Affairs (1994-95); National Council of Applied Economic Research (1995-96); Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies (1997-2005); PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (2005-06); and Centre for Policy Research (2007- 2015).
He has authored/edited several books, papers and popular articles and has also been a Consulting/Contributing Editor with several newspapers.

(2) Just as the staff of the East India Company called the island of Phuket “Junk Ceylon” (a junk is a particular kind of vessel, and the greenery of the island remined them of Ceylon [Sri Lanka]), so they had a joking “shaking the pagoda tree” in which sentence the “pagoda” in fact was/is the southern Indian Hindu temple.

(3) In three volumes. The puránas cover a wide range of teaching, astronomical, astrological, geographic, chronological, religious mythology and ethical discussion. One of Mr. Debroys critics deplores how the author omitted “all of the lunar dynastic lists”. Perhaps the next two translations will remedy this.


Where the Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon seems to have a correct set of translations of the word sampradāya the editor of one of the wikipedia-lemmata wrongly connects the word with the western concept of “identity”.
Sampradāya means tradition, religious origin, religious system. It does not mean religious identity. Identity is rather a static concept: one’s identity is that of a ginger-haired or that of an Inuit — can’t be altered. Sampradāya on the other hand is rather fluid. One’s sampradāya may at birth be, let’s say, Zoroastrianism. Later in life however one could leave this tradition to adhere to anonther one, to another sampradāya.

Discrimination between Middle and Extremes – a Mahāyānistic manuscript – I

A number of entries in this blog are about technical terminology whereby in the first instance Greek philosophical and Christian theological technical terms were employed to translate Buddhist manuscripts. And even the words of such philosophers as Heidegger, Schopenhauer, Kant and Nietzsche were considered to be useful: Thing-in-itself (Ding an sich).
Quite a number of these earliest attempts to render Buddhist manuscripts in theological terminology have proven to be mistakes. In later years, as of the second half of the 20th Cent., they have been corrected by several authors from among the monkhood as well as by knowledgeable outsiders.

There is no need to dwell on the question why the earliest translators inserted Greek and Christian terminology into translation of Buddhist manuscripts. Suffice it to say that the early 20th Cent. T. Stcherbatsky made ample use of this theological and Greek-philosophical toolkit.

In his translation of the Mahāyāna Madhyānta-Vibhanga (Discrimination between Middle and Extremes) attributed to Vasubandhu we find ample use of concepts such as “revelation”, “salvation” and “psyche”, to name but a few.
The author Vasubandhu set himself to work after meditating on the coming Buddha Maitreya. His writings have been commented on by other Buddhist monk-philosophers such as Sthīramati.

The following four entries are about Mr. Stcherbatsky’s choices and why they are lacking, i.e. a profoundly different philosophical approach east and west.

Discrimination between Middle and Extremes – a Mahāyānistic manuscript – II


In the above-mentioned translation of the Madhyānta-Vibhanga T. Stcherbatsky chose “thing in itself” as a rendering for the mainly mahāyānistic word svabhāva , a Sanskritic word which he further understood as “suchness”.
Nāgārjuna dedicated an entire chapter to this svabhāva of which the first verse runs:
Na sambhavah svabhāvasya yuktah pratyaya-hetubbih, / hetu-pratyaya-sambhūtah svabhāvah krtako bhavet.” (Mūla Madhyamika kārikā. ch. 15)
It is not proper to speak of SELF-NATURE (SVABHĀVA) as a result of causes and conditions /
Were svabhāva a result of causes and conditions it would be something made (and svabhāva is not-made, is not destructible, it is, in the ultimate sense, not, at least not comprehensible by the senses).

Therefore we understand why Stcherbatsky chose “thing-in-itself”.

But since “thing-in-itself” is so heavily laden with 20th Cent. philosophical terminology there is the possibility of misrepresenting the meaning of the word.
Svabhāva has in the past been one of the concepts on which some later mahāyānistic traditions imputed the notion that there should be “thingness”, “somethingness”, sometimes called “seeds of existence”. Throughout the 20th Cent. these traditions nearly all disappeared, the Tibetan Jonang-tradition seems to be one of the last schools that holds on to the old interpretation. Confronted with scientific evidence which says that not matter but energy is the ultimate building block in the universe, svabhāva as “thingness”, “seed” can no longer be maintained.

Discrimination between Middle and Extremes – a Mahāyānistic manuscript – III


Stcherbatsky’s choice to translate the Sanskritic “nāma-pada-vyañjana-kāya”, occuring in his rendering of the Madhyānta-Vibhanga, with “revelation” is seriously problematic.
The early Buddhist traditions translate this composition with “When you know this thing (nāma) in your heart and mind (pada) with all the distinctive marks within this assemblage (vyañjana-kāya)” (… then you might conclude …..)
The “nāma-pada-vyañjana-kāya” addresses both the emotions (‘this person leaves a positive impression’) and the reason resp. logic (‘I find nothing lacking here’).

There is no “revelation” here. There is nothing or no-one to “reveal” whatsoever.

Discrimination between Middle and Extremes – a Mahāyānistic manuscript – IV


Mr. Stcherbatsky considered the “three yāna”, the “three vehicles” to be the means to the end the he dubbed “salvation”. However all these yāna have to be put into practice by the individual. These are not flowers that one cuts along the way, but fields that one has to cultivate oneself. To therefore say that in the end there is “salvation”, being the intervention of a helping hand from somewhere out there is in Asian Buddhist circles considered to be completely preposterous and ridiculous. The individual who strove reaps the fruit of his own endeavours. S/he liberated her-/himself.
This with respect to the translation of the Madhyānta-Vibhanga.

Discrimination between Middle and Extremes – a Mahayanistic manuscript – V


In the translation of the Madhyānta-Vibhanga Mr. Stcherbatsky employed the word psyche in translating pratyaya-vijñāna-ālaya-vijñāna or in short the ālaya-vijñāna, the “storehouse consciousess” as it has become known in the second half of the 20th Cent.
The ālaya-vijñāna is a through-and-through mahāyānistic concept. There is a lot of debate on the subject, but what all mahāyāna-tradions agree upon is that, where consciousness can be taken apart in several layers or functions, the ālaya-vijñāna is the last, some say 7th, some say 8th consciousness that serves as a storehouse where that which is experienced, learned, and remembered is, in statu nascendi – mind needs no space – kept for later use.
As this storehouse is continually updated – shifting sands — it cannot be considered to be the psyche in the Greek philosophical sense of the word: “the invisible animating entity which occupies the physical body” as one source explains it.
The ālaya-vijñāna is not an invisible “something” and it does not “occupy the body”. As said, consciousness or mind needs no space; it is beyond space and time. We will not find a translation of the word psyche in any of the dictionaries of Asian philosophy.


“Aryans vs. Dravidians” is a Myth”

Conversation between Dr. Subramanian Swamy and Abhaey Singh
The Festival of Bharat, publ. July 31, 2018

Dr. Swamy:
“The other pollution in our history is these words “Dravidian” and “Aryan”. The word Dravidian was first known to be used by (the 8th cent.) Adi Shánkara. When he started what is so typically Indian: no conquest by war but by shastra, which means debate. So Buddhists had taken over (the north) and Adi Shánkara made it a mission to revive and bring back Hinduïsm.”

(In fact Adi Shánkara created “Hinduïsm” by amalgamating many though not all dharmic schools in one and starting what is now known as advaita vedánta.)

“So he (Adi Shánkara) challenged scholars of Buddhism to debate. … The Buddhist scholar was Múndara Mishra. … plus another scholar from the Úttara Mimámsa school.” (Another atheïst school.)
One of the debater’s wife, the Buddhists or the Mimamsists presided over the debate.
“She asked Adi Shánkara: “who are you?” And he said: “I’m drávida shishu.” (shíshu means child). “But what is this word “drávida“?” He said, ‘it’s a sandhi (linking) of two words: Tr[a] and vid. Tr means 3; vid means coast.’ “So where the three coasts meet
there is Drávida. So it’s a regional term. South India is Drávida.
Unfortunately the British pounced on that and made it a racial thing. …”

“The word “Aryan” doesn’t exist in Sanskrit literature. “Arya” means “a civilised person”, an accomplished person, a gentleman or a lady, that sort of thing. It (the word) was never part of the community.

(The word “aryan” does exist in Sanskrit literature, though not in the racial sense of the word, not as the name of an ethnicity. “In later times”, says the Monier-Williams dictionary, “arya” came into use for “the first three castes” as opposed to the ‘caste’ of Shúdra, peasants, blue collar workers. Earlier the Buddhist scriptures used the word arya as in arya-púdgala (Hybr. Sanskr.) or arya-púggala (Pali): person of lofty qualities.)

“So the British created a history where they said that the whole of India was full of Dravidians; then the Aryans came from Europe through Khyber Pass and beat the hell out of the Dravidians and asserted themselves. And then they provoked the South Indians to rebel against the north under the term that “this country is really yours”. And Karnátaka didn’t accept it, and Kérala didn’t accept it, and Andhra (Pradesh) didn’t accept it, but Tamil Nadu became a victim of that. And so the Dravidian movement was started. …. .

“In fact (before the British took over) they (the Tamils) used to celebrate “Raman lila” as opposed to “Ram[a] lila” (lila, also leela), because Ram[a] was “Aryan”, a northerner (and Raman was perceived as being a southerner).
Now they’ve stopped (the conflagration of Raman and Ram) and I made a contribution (to that).”

(Although even as recent as 2019 the wikipedia editor states that the demi-god Raman is in fact the Hindu demi-god Rama, who in popular parlance is referred to as Ram.
Therefore Dr. Swamy has his work cut out; wikipedia uploaders tend to be extremely stubborn.)

Thereafter Mr. Swamy relates the rather contemporary story, i.e. dating from the colonial era, that says that Raman was killed by Rama and that therefore Ram[a] ruled supreme over the south. “But the truth is that Raman was also a northerner. … He went to Manosarovar and Lord Shiva gave him this boon” (of ruling over a swath of land).

“This (perceived) division is now being exploded by DNA studies.”

Mr Swamy goes on saying that recent DNA studies revealed that there is no racial difference between south and north. All Indians of Indian stock have the same DNA. The Dravidians are not a different race; they are merely the folks that live in the south, “between the three coasts” as Adi Shánkara explained it.

The scholar Rómila Thapar established quite a theory around the word “aryan” (not arya) that she wrongly assumes to appear in the Hindu Vedas. In section 3 of a series of 5 talks on Ms Thapar the publicist Rajiv Malhotra deals with this and other questions that can be raised listening to the otherwise distinguished Ms Thapar or reading her publications on the subject.

July 2019: mohenjodaro

The former head of the Archaeological Survey of India, B.B. Lal, shows in of his three volumes book on the Harappan Culture: “Facets of Indian Civilization –  Recent Perspectives” (Delhi 1999) how brick fragments found at both the Harappan site and that of Mohenjodaro in the Punjab show what is called the swastika. From this fact he deduces that the swastika — in the 20th Century so intrically linked with “Third Reich” Nazis and their claim to fame as descendants of Central Asian “Aryans” that swept into Western Europa as well as India to establish their culture —  is an Indian, or at least Indic symbol, and that considering this fact the “Aryan invasion-theory“, first promoted by British settlers in India, cannot hold.

At the same time we cannot overlook that the Tochars of the 5th-10th Century held the swastika as national, ethnic, or cultural symbol. Neither can we overlook the fact that we find this symbol on the glazed wall of at least one religious building in Tashkent.

While the invasion-theory seems to be lacking, or needs to be discarded, we might as well adopt a new “Aryan-theory”, or at least a “swastika-theory” and call it the “Aryan export-theory“. One has the impression that Harappan-Punjabi merchants and others who settled in western lands decorated their buildings with a sign that they considered symbolic of their ethnic or national roots: here lives a Indian.

Vasant Shinde and his team, connected with the Deccan College of Pune, published the result of a study in the DNA of skeletal remains of a group of Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC) peoples who lived at a place called Rakhigarhi in Haryana, India. This group lived before 7000 BC and is now recognised as an indigenous people. The DNA study suggests “no notable migration of people and claims to have dismantled the Aryan Invasion Theory.” S. Venkat Narayan from Sri Lanka cited this result in the newspaper The Island of September 7, 2019.
The Deccan College group goes on saying that “This breakthrough research completely sets aside the Aryan migration-invasion theory. The skeleton remains found in the upper part of the Citadel area of Mohenjo Daro (now in Pakistan’s Sindh province) belonged to those who died due to floods and were not massacred by Aryans as hypothesised by British Archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler.







Especially during the lifetime of Sri Rajneesh, a Hindu guru, the word sanyassa, resp. sanyassin frequently occured in western circles where one tried to follow one or other of the Indian dharmic systems.

In the true sense of the word, someone who sees him or herself free from wordly context, free from conventions, free from rules, is called a sanyassin. This appelation solely regards the followers of the Hindu dharma. In Buddhism this total freedom of it all merely occurs in tantric practices, and in that case the person is not a sanyassin but a tantri.



February 7, 2019

Although the Indian Government stipulated several years ago  that the word “caste” ought to be abolished, Government offices and the Indian media frequently use the word when speaking of a particular group of inhabitants.

Nevertheless the word “caste” has no exact pendant in Sanskrit. Instead we find the words “varna” and “jati”. “Varna” (colour) refers to the occupation of the person or persons: the segment of society that are potters or porters etc., and “jati” (birth) denotes a community, i.e. where one is born and the codes of conduct that are followed by this segment of society.