The present volume was unintended. It was not conceived in the form it has assumed.
There are two opposing views about language, both advanced by distinguished thinkers. One view holds that a language is external to objects and thoughts; the other view regards it as fundamental to them. Some say that in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God; others preach that words are God-eclipsing and soul-veiling; and yet some others hold that words in any role other than that of physical referents are deceptive and even the words God and Soul are a linguistic trick. In what sense or senses are these views true? Can they be reconciled?
One reason for taking up these questions was that we wanted to make for ourselves some sense out of the Vedas, the oldest Hindu scriptures and indeed the oldest extant literature of the Aryan race. We wondered if an archaic glossary concealed their obscure meanings; or if there was a code that needed decoding for their proper understanding or if there was a certain number of key- words which had to be properly understood before the Vedas yielded the meanings they held.
These and other related questions and interests led us to reflection on language itself. And hence the present study.
But though the book started as an inquiry into language, it soon passed into questions of psychology, philosophy, theology, yoga, and meditation. This turn was inevitable considering the interest with which we started. We also believe that any worthwhile inquiry into linguistics must merge into an inquiry into the nature of Reality. The roots of a language go deep into the soil of man’s being. So, we hope that readers will see that there is nothing forced about this approach; that it is a natural, beautiful and true coming together of things which are inevitably related; and that the fusion is no confusion.
How are things named and how do names acquire their larger meanings? In a sense, these questions are central to any inquiry into the phenomenon of language; but a language could also be studied in its more external though quite important and legitimate aspects: acoustic, phonetic, neural, philological, etymological, etc. These are precisely the aspects on which the present-day studies of linguistics try to concentrate with considerably happy results. These studies have yielded nothing new but they have confirmed some old insights. They have not been able to enter the citadel but their peripheral reconnoitering is not without its use and interest. The present study makes use of their labour but it also has its own approach and temper and develops the subject in its own way. It treats the subject psychologically, and even meta- psychologically, that is, in terms of deeper levels of consciousness accessible only to yogic meditation, and belonging to a different discipline and quest of life. It has followed an analytical approach in order to build up a larger synthesis.
If we keep all this in view, it should help to answer some possible objections which were in fact made by some friends. They thought that the book discussed only names when a language is more than names. It is, for example, also parts of speech, syntax, grammar. The argument is valid. But, as we have said, the book is not about language as such; nor does it study it in the spirit of present-day sciences of linguistics; on the contrary, it is about names and their meanings, particularly the higher ones. Therefore, naturally, the treatment of the subject is lexical, dealing with the vocabulary of a language as distinguished from its grammar and construction.
Another objection was that, in tracing the etymologies of various words, we have stopped short at old Sanskrit forms whereas we should have gone back to Indo-European roots. Are we suggesting that Sanskrit is the mother language and modern European languages are derived from it?
To this objection our answer is that the purpose of this study is not etymology as such; but etymology has been used to the extent it shows that words have life, vivacity, suggestions, signification, resilience, adaptation. They live, grow, symbolize, associate with each other like living things. For this purpose the old Sanskrit forms will do as well as the Indo-European roots. But the former have one advantage over the latter: they have a living tradition behind them.
Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary defines Etymology as the history of a linguistic form (as a word) shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language where it is found, by tracing its transmission from one language to another, by analyzing it into its component parts, by identifying its cognates in other languages, or by tracing it and its cognates to a common ancestral form in an ancestral language. In this book, we have conformed to this definition of etymology. We have traced a word to its ‘earliest recorded occurrence’, which in many cases happens to be Sanskrit. In doing this, there is no intention of claiming for Sanskrit the status of being the mother language; nor do we think less of the modern European languages because they are derived from their own old forms with close affinity to Sanskrit. Whatever be their past affiliations, a time came when they separated and struck independent paths and began to develop in their own specific ways, in response to their new environment. They incorporated new experiences, and expressed the psyche of their speakers under new influences, in new forms. They have now their own beauty and truth.
But even after this explanation if some people still prefer Indo- European roots, they are welcome. It will take away nothing from the central thesis of this book, nor compromise any of its argu- ments in any way. We ourselves have great respect for these roots, in spite of certain reservations into which we need not go here. A good deal of scholarship, skill and labour has gone into making them though perhaps the initial impulse was not purely scholarly. These roots were constructed at a time when Europe had to be the gracious dispenser of everything and Asiaa grateful recipient. But when Europe discovered Sanskrit, a different kind of fact stared her in the face. Sanskrit’s affinity with European languages, old or new, could not be denied; it was also the oldest of all known Aryan languages. So if there was any deriving or borrowing, it was in the other direction. But it was humiliating for European languages to own descent from an Asian source. So there was a motive in inventing something still older, preferably with a European home, from which Sanskrit as well as other allied languages could be derived. This made Sanskrit into a distant kinsman but not a direct ancestor. It was still unsatisfactory but it was the best that could be done under the circumstances.
There could be another objection. While the book aims at dealing with language as a human institution in its more universal aspect, it draws all its illustrative material from the Indo-European group of languages. This is due to the-author’s limitation, his lack of familiarity with non-Aryan languages. But if speech and mean- ings are deeply human phenomena and if they follow deeply-laid patterns of the mind and heart, then they must share certain com- mon characteristics, however differently clothed, and certain truths must hold good for them all. This the scholars of different language-groups could test for themselves.
We have also to offer another necessary clarification. Because the book deals with words and their higher meanings and even refers to yoga and meditation, it could be confused with Sabda Yoga. There is a good deal of discussion of éabda (sounds) in Indian religious literature, particularly of the tantric persuasion. But the present volume is different both in its subject-matter as well as in approach. It deals with logos, with vak, speech, the pregnant word, not with dhvani or Sabda, sound. Its approach too is not esoteric. It does not eschew the logical and the known; but it uses them in a way that they stimulate love for the supra-logical and the supra-rational; it uses the known so that it points to the unknown. The unknown and supra-logical of this book, however, is not arbitrary and does not violate man’s deeper reason and his larger sense of the truth.
As the discussion proceeds in the book, it shows how, beneath the surface meanings of a word, deeper meanings are hidden; how names of physical objects become names of concepts and qualities and how they, in turn, become names of psychic and spiritual truths, become names of Gods, become names of the truths of the Self. It also shows how these deepening meanings could be unearthed through alert and devout attention, called meditation in yogic literature.
Meditation has different meanings and different functions in different Yogas. It could be used for unfoldment and growth as well as for trance and ecstasy. It also makes use of different methods and techniques. Certain Yogas use certain sounds for concentration; other Yogas, knowing that mystic truths cannot be adequately expressed in conventional logic, propose certain illogical thoughts and puzzles, called koans, for reflection. The idea is to exhaust the mind as a preparation for a sudden jump into the great Void.
While these methods have their place and utility and are good for a certain kind of mind and for certain defined purposes, their limitations should be clearly understood and they should also not be conceived too mechanically. A baffled mind before God’s or life’s mystery is not the same thing as a mind consciously planning to get baffled with the help of a koan. Nor is a pacified and purified heart that has given up hankering the same thing as a mind lulled to a soothing inactivity by the hypnotic effect of a sound.
Meditation in this volume carries a different connotation. Meditation here means attention to sublime objects and meaning- ful and noble thoughts and words which increasingly reveal deeper, sublimer, and nobler meanings. Not the jump of a mind staggered by a koan to the paradoxes of a vast Puzzle or Pun or Jest or Conundrum, but the journey of an increasingly purified heart to the holy life and higher meanings of the Self.
According to the conclusion of this book, language is more than a mechanical tool. If we become aware of it, human speech is a great, sacred gift of God and expresses the deep, mysterious life of man’s psyche, the same as temples, cathedrals, great music and great sculpture do. If the present work inculcates a feeling of reverence and holiness about our language and a sense that we should not abuse it, then its purpose will be served. We repeat, the book is not on language in the narrow sense of the term. It is about the deeper truths of the psyche and spirit; it is about the higher life as articulated in human speech; it is about Gods and their Names, which reveal increasingly deeper meanings and also become increasingly dynamic in life, through purity and dedication. It may interest many to know that Mahatma Gandhi, at an early stage in his life, had memorized the thousand Names of God; but this performance initially mnemonic became, through great inner searching and invoking, truths of his mind and heart, became Self- revelatory. In later life, he came to concentrate more and more on one Name, God as Truth, which became reversible for him in Truth as God. While the cultivation of one truth gave him the benefit of all other truths as well, it also taught him that truth of God is ultimately the truth of one’s own secret Self.
We owe a great deal to Sir M. Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit-English Dictionary, to Rev. W.W. Skeat’s Etymological Dictionary of English Language, to Eric Partridge’s Origins, to Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, and to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. We contributed the direction, the logic, the pattern and the arguments, but these volumes provided the material for the embroidery, the necessary scholarship and authenticity; in short, the body and blood to the soul of the book.
For the English renderings of the Sanskrit texts, we have mostly used H.H. Wilson’s and R.T.H. Griffith’s translations of the Rgveda, R.E. Hume’s translation of The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, and Annie Besant and Bhagavan Das’s translation of the Bhagavadgita.
At the end, we would like to thank friends who contributed in making this book what it is. We would mention in particular the names of Shri A.B. Chatterjee, Shri H.P. Lohia, Mr. James Michaels, Dr. Raimundo Panikkar, Shri and Shrimati Gautam Dharmapal, Dr. Uno Remitz, Dr. Govind Gopal Mukhopadhyaya, Shri Som Benegal, Dr. Mukund Lath, Dr. Wolfgang Somary, Madame Vesna Krmpotic, Shri $.B. Roy, Shri Balkrishna Rao, Shri Surendra Saxena, Dr. Gita Dharampal, Shri Vasudeva Poddar, and Mrs. Irene Ray.
Some of these friends helped in ways that cannot easily be spelled out; the contribution of others was more palpable. They all read the manuscript, many of them in its first version, and gave it a generous welcome. They also found it useful. Dr. Remitz, for example, said that after reading the book, Gods for him became living and acquired a reality which they did not have before; Dr. Somary and Dr. Peter Schreiner said that the book helped them to have a better understanding of the Hindu concept of Gods. All this placed us under a moral obligation to put in necessary effort and make the manuscript ready for publication.
Dr. R. Panikkar went through the first draft carefully and made valued comments. He helped both by saying as well as not saying certain things. Other friends helped in more concrete ways. Mukund Lath and Gauri Dharmapal checked the Sanskrit texts; Mrs Irene Ray, without accepting larger editorial responsibilities for lack of time, yet suggested many editorial improvements. Vijayan and Rajan did the typing.
My friend Sita Ram Goel, scholar and publisher, was associated with the preparation of the manuscript in its various stages. In a way, the book belongs to him. He also prepared the Glossary and the Index. The Glossary gives important Sanskrit terms used in the text; the Sanskrit Names of Gods, mostly concentrated in Chapter XII, have been omitted.
The widely accepted scheme of transliteration has been used for rendering Sanskrit sounds into the Roman script. But for the sake of smooth reading popular spellings of certain words like Sanskrit, Vedic, Krishna, Vishnu and Shiva, already well- established in the English language, have been retained except when they appear in a learned context.
Krsna Janmastami, Samvat 2037 G-3, Maharani Bagh,
September 2, 1980 New Delhi 110 065