Sanskrit and the Advaitic View of Truth

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Sanskrit and the Advaitic View of Truth
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In the last century, Western philosophers have treated the subject of language and truth on the basis that either truth is uncertain and language is incapable of expressing it, or that the philosopher's task is simply to show how language can express meaning clearly and unequivocally.

This book takes a radically different approach, based on the view of truth expressed in Advaita philosophy, a philosophy which is increasing of interest in the West because it answers many of the questions not answered by Western philosophy.

Language and truth are intimately connected in Advaita. One reason for this is the Sanskrit language because the sound and structure of the language itself appear to reflect and convey that truth.

The author also explores these connections in other languages, and in the meaning of meaning. The book is written in a way that can be understood by the general reader.

About the Author(s)

Paul Douglas has had an enduring interest in Advaita philosophy and the Sanskrit language for much of his life, having taken up the practice of Advaita in the 1960s and the study of Sanskrit in the 1970s. He has taught both subjects for many years at the School of Economic Science in London and has written a three-year course for the School's students of Sanskrit both in the UK and abroad.

His special interest has been the comprehensive grammar of Sanskrit as described by the famous grammarian Panini over 2000 years ago.


The aim of this book is to explore what relationship there may be between language and truth. That deceptively simple word, 'truth, can be understood in various ways, but for the purpose of this book, it is taken as understood in the philosophy of Advaita (Non-dualism). More particularly, a good part of the book discusses ways in which one language, Sanskrit, can be seen as embodying the principles of Advaita.

I took up the study of Sanskrit some thirty years ago, having been led to this by the Advaitic teaching of Sri Santananda Sarasvati, Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math from 1961 - 85. This teaching was given in conversations* with Leon MacLaren, founder and former leader of the School of Economic Science in London. In particular, I was struck by one statement: 'The grammatical rules of Sanskrit are also the rules of the creation.' This has been an enduring interest while studying the language, but it took some time to realise the obvious fact that the statement can only really begin to be critically examined and understood when there is a thorough knowledge of Sanskrit grammar. That has necessitated the penetration of the master Sanskrit grammarian, Panini, whose classic work, the Agadhydyi, with nearly 4000 sutras or succinct statements of law, was composed in the 5th century BCE. That study has proceeded slowly but steadily in the company of fellow students in the School, and much has been appreciated along the way. It may therefore be worthwhile setting down what has been discovered to provide a staging post on the way to a full understanding of the statement and its practical application.

We have been guided in these studies by the words of Sri Antananda Sarasvati, who has made a number of mind-provoking statements about the Sanskrit language. For example:

`Sanskrit has all its words full of spiritual significance.'

`The truth was originally declared through the Sanskrit language, and it still holds the truth in its original form.'

`Sanskrit is refined and truly natural for it contains original laws and original sounds and their combinations.'

I would like to thank Annick Hardaker, Helen Harper, Brian Hodgkinson, and Reverend Dr Stephen Thompson for providing me with very helpful comments on drafts of the book, and for their encouragement. I must also thank S M Jaiswal for the inspiring lead he has given over the years in investigating the philosophy of the Sanskrit language, and acknowledge that the vision and teaching of Leon MacLaren in my initial years of Sanskrit study have provided a firm foundation and direction for all later studies.

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