Volume 21, 25 Jun 2013

“Then followed that beautiful season… Summer…
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sanskrit: Understanding the Sound Impulses of Language

We have heard that Sanskrit means “polished” and can thereby infer that there is something subtle and perfect about this ancient language. One of the ways that this perfection manifests is in the linguistic implications of where a particular sound is produced in the vocal apparatus.

Starting with the throat, we can classify all sounds as being guttural (generated in the throat), palatal (generated in the soft palate back towards the throat), cerebral (the roof of the mouth or hard palate), dental (with the tongue against the teeth) and labial (involving the lips). Note that these five articulation points move from the most interior location of sound production and project outward.

Magically, this organization of sound production reflects in the very meaning of words mirroring the progression of inner to outer. These units of articulation become linguistic predictors of the very sense of a word.

An example will hopefully clarify this concept. As in English, Sanskrit uses all kinds of ways of locating something. For example, the adverb “atra” indicates “here”. The initial sound “a” is produced in the throat (guttural). The adverb “tatra” indicates there. The “t” of tatra is articulated in the dental varga which is much more exterior. The dichotomy between the more interior and exterior articulation reflects in the meaning of these two words.

If Sanskrit is, as scholars have indicated, a prototype for the whole Indo-European family of languages, might it be that even in English there is this same kind of linguistic connection? Consider the contrast between “I” and “you”. The former is articulated in the palatal area way back towards the throat and the latter is labial. Therefore, the same interior/exterior relationship holds between the person him or herself and the one who is the “other”. In Sanskrit, these two pronouns are some form of “asmad” and “yushmad” respectively. Again, the parallel between interior and exterior is striking.

This is just one tiny piece of a much more profound and extended network of sound units that are can be used to grasp core meanings. I have enjoyed playing with this idea and hope you will too. If any of you would like to look more deeply into this fascinating subject, please email me an I will give you some references.

Some Thoughts About Gocara

Watching the heavenly bodies dance through the zodiac is endlessly fascinating. The complete description of the the motion of the grahas is known in Jyotisha as gocara. Unlike Western astrology where transits of planets are heavily emphasized even without referencing a natal chart, in Jyotisha, we go for the “peanut butter sandwich”. One slice of bread could be thought of as the natal blueprint. The peanut butter is the planet (graha) that is active on the center of the stage for a particular period of time in life (the mahadasha lord) and the second slice of bread is the real time position of the transiting planets. All three are necessary for a satisfying sandwich and by analogy, an accurate prediction.

Sometimes people become unnecessarily alarmed about broad stroke dire pronouncements about Saturn or unrealistically giddy ones regarding Jupiter. Unless there is a connection between current planetary configurations and your own destiny pattern, you might not notice any result at all.

In the practice of Jyotisha, gocara is beautifully utilized in the limb of Jyotisha known as Prashna (newsletters #18 and 19) Prashna is the art of answering a specific question by analyzing the patterns indicated by the positions of the grahas at the time the questions is addressed by the Jyotishi. In another limb of Jyotisha called Muhurta (newsletter # 20), an auspicious cosmic pattern is selected to support a specific activity in life such as a marriage or the opening of a business. Again, knowledge of the upcoming planetary positions is critically important for a successful outcome.

Tracking the planets yourself is a delightful and educational practice. It helps you make connections between the current positions of the planets and your own chart. Not only can this result in navigating through life in a more fluid way and successful way, it also gives you the opportunity to understand and appreciate the majesty of the celestial architecture.

The Limbs of Jyotisha - Nimitta

We have talked about the first five limbs of Jyotisha in previous newsletters. The sixth and final limb is called nimitta. Nimitta can be translated as “omen”. It is the subtlest and most difficult limb of Jyotisha to teach or even explain because the very potency of an omen rests with how a particular sensory event (something seen, heard etc.) interacts with the consciousness of the experiencer of that event in a way that generates a sense of certainty as to an outcome that somehow connects with that input.

By way of an example, picture a couple who had been unable to conceive a child going to a Jyotishi for advice on this problem. At the very moment that they ask whether they would ever be able to have a child, the cry of a baby is heard by the Jyotishi who instantly pronounces that yes, they will have a child. The response of the Jyotishi is spontaneous and certain and if that Jyotishi is truly an adept at the vidya of Jyotishi, it will be so.

In studying Jyotisha with my teacher Hart deFouw, there were many occasions in which I witnessed the power and drama of nimitta first hand. Unfortunately, authentic nimitta has a way of descending into superstition. Imagine the person who first saw a black cat crossing someone’s path and upon seeing that, had a spontaneous cognition that there would be an untoward event linked to that observation. Then, it turned out that the cognition actually was a predictor of an undesirable event. From then on, the poor black cats of the world became feared as harbingers of undesirable events. The first instance was nimitta and what followed became old wive’s tales.

In a way, all methods of divining the future are based ultimately on nimitta. The cosmic kaleidoscope itself is an omen. It is a pattern observed by someone whose cultivated intuition spontaneously connects the dots of the patterns and is able to accurately predict an outcome or even a past event that is otherwise unknowable. Utterly captivating. Utterly amazing.

Media Corner:  Adi Shankaracharaya

This is a remarkable film all in Sanskrit (English subtitle) about Adi Shankaracharaya. It has won many awards. Enjoy.