Each 'Choose-day' we will investigate the process by which we can reassess our activity and interaction with the world of plurality and become more congruent within our personality.
The next text which will guide the Choose-day posts is "Tips for Happy Living - jIvnsUÇai[ /jiivanasuutraani", by Swami Tejomayananda (Guru-ji). Choose-days writings are here to prompt deeper thinking on the choices made on a daily basis and seek to provide prompts for raising the standard of one's thinking and living. This text composed in format of Sanskrit traditional teachings, speaks directly to this purpose. As ever, the full text may be obtained from CM Publications - or your local centre (see sidebar).
|Sanskrit class, Sandeepany Sadhanalaya.|
Aphorisms are little 'word pockets' of useful information. Aphorism is the English word for suutra. In Sanskrit, the suutra and shloka forms developed as teaching methods because the tradition is actually an oral one and if one is to learn something aurally (by listening), it is best served up in a fashion whereby one can repeat it and therefore set it to memory. In gurukulas over the whole India, from ancient times till even today, this is still the method; the aachaarya chants, the shishyas repeat and retain. Once the chanting is done, the exploration of meanings are then unpicked. Sanskrit is a language in which semantics looms large! Let us take a closer look at what exactly is a suutra.
ALpa]rms<idGx< sarvt! Ivñtae muom!,
AStae_amnv*< c sUÇ< sUÇivdae ivdu>.
Alpaaksharamasandigdham saaravat vishvato mukham,
Astobhamanavadyam cha suutram suutravido viduH.
The knower of suutras defines it as that which has minimum words, is free from ambiguity, meaningful, multifaceted, without any superfluous words and is flawless.
Now let us look at this using each word in this first suutra.
Alpaaksharam - with minimum words. For the most part, human beings are verbose. Particularly if we are talking with loved ones and friends. For the most part, such verbosity is about the minutiae of life… 'small talks'. However, if we are in a situation of having to convey important news, a sense of urgency focuses the language and a brevity of usage will enter. If we recall the days of telegrams, the messages were pared to the absolute essentials. "Father in hospital, come quickly", or "It's a boy!"… Suutras may be considered as telegrams of philosophical teaching. Deep and important meanings are there to be imparted and must be done so with a sense of urgency, but in a manner which can be digested. Too many flowery words will tend to lose the message; which is why we must have -
Asandigdham - free from ambiguity. Whilst minimum words are an essential part of conveying the message in a suutra, there ought to not be so few as to lose the message altogether, neither ought there to be any word used which may lead to a possibility of a rather different interpretation. For example, if the telegram delivered to your door read only "Father. Return" we might be left wondering if our father was returning to visit with us, rather than we are to return to the family home for any reason. Naturally, there may have been a context set up in which a greater clarity pertaining to the message will be there. In suutras, there must always be context.
Saaravat - meaningful. Each word will have been chosen well to convey full meaning. Suutras do not talk of mundane or worldly matters and neither are the words to be understood at face value; learned and wise mean have revealed a wealth of meaning in the established suutras, with thorough commentaries and treatises. Those who are writing suutras must guard against the use of words for the words sake and for their own intellectual vanity. Every word must play its part within the message and sit well with the other words around it. In modern terms, think poetry - another good equivalent is the Japanese Haiku form. Conveying maximum in the minimum without loss of meaning or disguise in excess or unnecessary usage.
Vishvato mukham - multifaceted. A suutra should be able to throw light on many aspects of the topic in hand and in such a way that we can view it from varied angles. In a sense, this means, giving options for the meaning, so that anyone from any standpoint can gain from it.
Astobham - without superfluous words. As previously stated, any words which are beyond the necessary to convey the message run a risk of causing confusion or distracting from the main. In this statement we find one of the key differences between suutra and shloka. The latter is a poetic form, requiring a metric rhythm for chanting and this means that within shlokas we can often find 'padding' words such as 'cha' or 'vai'. They are placed there so that the chanting holds its beat, (in Western terms think iambic pentameter!) In suutras, however, which are spoken sentences not requiring metre, even these are discarded for they provide no meaning of their own and cannot shed any extra light on the meaning of the words which are included. Every word in a suutra is important to the overall meaning of its message.
Anavadyam - flawless. Sanskrit is a very strong linguistic discipline with complex grammar which, by the use of one letter (akshara) differently could alter the meaning significantly. Thus, in the first instance, the grammar itself must be flawless in a suutra.
Secondly, remember that suutra means thread and thus the words must act as a thread for the principles of the topic under discussion. The Bhakti suutrani hold together the philosophical discussion of devotion; the Brahma suutrani hold together the discussion on the very nature of Truth. Topic must be consistent (philosophically flawless) throughout all the suutraani of a single suutra text.
Thirdly, suutras indicate meaning of concepts. It is up to us to contemplate on the meaning indicated by these concepts. It requires that we dive deep, seeking the lakshana - the hidden pearls - within each word and the grouping of words. Words can only ever be clues, they cannot ever be that to which they point. The clues must therefore be as pure and pertinent to the case as can be.
Finally, by their very nature, suutras are designed as "carry-out" knowledge capsules. The are the equivalent of mathematical formulae, making it easier to remember what went before and able to be used to prise open later formulae/clues. For this reason they must be as pristine as E=mc², something to carry around waiting for that moment when we need to open it out and explore the fullness of its meaning.