Panini is a very well-known Sanskrit grammarian that literally changed the way that language functioned until the 20th century and helped to pave the way for many aspects of modern language as we know it.

No one really knows when Panini was born or how he was raised, but most scholars place his birth around 400 – 600 BCE, some as far back as 1500 BCE. Panini marks the turn from the Vedic period to the Classical period because of his set of nearly 4,000 Sanskrit rules of morphology in his text called the Astadhyayi, one of the first texts on Sanskrit grammar and the first formal system of linguistics in the world.

Panini’s first formal system used many concepts that weren’t well understood until the computational linguistics of the 20th century starting to come around. He heavily influenced many modern scientists with his use of auxiliary symbols.

His work, the Astadhyayi was later analyzed by a Patanjali which is called the Mahabhasya and elaborates on Panini’s grammar. The man kept linguistic experts studying his rules for a thousand years and it took another thousand and a few hundred more years for his rules to be modernized and built on. His accomplishments are truly legendary.

The Astadhyayi marked the changed in period from Vedic to classical Sanskrit  and provided a linguistic foundation for the users of his language until it was used in modern technology. Panini is a man who you might never heard about, but he almost certainly influenced the way that you use language.

the Buddha teaches the Lotus Sutra

Upaya | उपाय

Upaya is a term that is used in Mahayana Buddhism as a reference to a method of teaching liberation through conscious and voluntary action without reasoning the direction. In other words, they are short cuts that are created for students to expedite them along the path to enlightenment. It is essentially adaptations of certain teachings to bring the practitioner closer to the goal of enlightenment, even though the teachings may be untrue. The use of skill is extremely important here because one needs to adapt teaching to the audience that is receiving the message and teachings.

The concept was revolutionary for Buddhism and has some powerful implications. It essentially allows for skillful teachers to show the student half-truths to reach further into the path of awareness and enlightenment. In Buddhist tradition, it was later understood that the Buddha had given his followers various upayas, rather than whole truths, because they were not ready for the ultimate truth. This allowed for many of the prior doctrines of buddhism to be disregarded in favor of higher ones.

This allowed buddhist practitioners to build a kinda of step system from the elementary teachings of Buddhism into the most advanced and profound. The most important aspects of teaching this way are through skillful means guided by compassion and wisdom. This means treating each person as a different potential, because of their different capacities and ability to comprehend the lessons.

This is used to explain some of the crazy wisdom that buddhist monks and practitioners use when teaching, including an example where a monk slammed a door shut on a disciples leg and in the process gave him a deep insight. There are two primary examples or metaphors that are used to explain the concept in Buddhism: an empty fist and a burning house. In the example of the burning house, a man uses white lies to get his sons out of a building that is on fire and to get them to safety, because he knows that they will not pay attention if he tells them the truth. The empty fist is used as a metaphor to grab the attention of children, but really it is a teaching to allow the student to understand the emptiness and to focus on the essence of mind rather than the distractions of it. Both teachings are understandably adapted to each situation and each student. The teachings are quite powerful and you can read about them in Lotus Sutra, a Chinese buddhist text from around 300CE.

These teachings are powerful for the modern world, showing teachers to meet students where they are and to teach with compassion in a system that is optimal for the aspirant. Modern yoga does a very good job of doing this.


Moksha | मोक्ष

Moksha is the concept of emancipation, liberation, and release from the cycle of Samsara or repeated rebirth. Mukti, vimosha, and vimukti are all interchangeable words that mean emancipation, freedom, self-knowledge, and self-realization. In the Upanishads, it refers to this release with the same word used to release horses from their carriage, but each school of yoga describes a different origin of Moksha and method for achieving it.

Moksha is a word that is similar to Nirvana, but Nirvana tends to be a buddhist concept while Moksha is Hindu; Nirvana means “blown-out” or perfect stillness of the mind. However, in both religions, this is a release from the endless cycles of samsara or the infinite cycles of rebirth. Samsara is seen as a cycle of suffering, pain, injury, death, and bondage, so release from this is the ultimate goal of an individual’s life, in combination with the four other purusarthas, or objective human pursuits. There are two different schools of thought as to how Moksha is obtained: on earth (Jiva Mukti), as an ultimate destiny, or only through concrete, ethical actions in the world. Moksha is a transformation of knowledge that allows an individual to see beyond the fog of ignorance.

The state itself is described as a oneness with Brahman, or the universal god energy that fuels the universe bringing absolute peace, bliss, and a state of knowledge. One of the written ways of achieving this is through meditating on Brahman, or universal “god” at the core of the being that is liberated. In essence, Moksha is liberation into the core essence of the energy of the universe, while relinquishing the sufferings of consciousness.

Jivan muktis, or self-realized humans are said to have the following attributes in the Upanishads (keep in mind these are guidelines and in the tradition, there have been many jivan muktis):

  • not bothered by disrespect and endures cruel words, treats others with respect regardless of how others treat him;
  • when confronted by an angry person does not return anger, instead replies with soft and kind words;
  • even if tortured, speaks and trusts the truth;
  • does not crave for blessings or expect praise from others;
  • never injures or harms any life or being (ahimsa), is intent in the welfare of all beings;[87]
  • is as comfortable being alone as in the presence of others;
  • is as comfortable with a bowl, at the foot of a tree in tattered robe without help, as when in a mithuna (union of mendicants), grama (village) and nagara (city);
  • doesn’t care about or wear sikha (tuft of hair on the back of head for religious reasons), nor the holy thread across the body. To the Jivan Mukti knowledge is sikha, knowledge is the holy thread, knowledge alone is supreme. Outer appearances and rituals do not matter, only knowledge matters;
  • there is no invocation nor dismissal of deities, no mantra nor non-mantra, no prostrations nor worship of gods, goddess or ancestors, nothing other than knowledge of Self;
  • humble, high-spirited, of clear and steady mind, straightforward, compassionate, patient, indifferent, courageous, speaks firmly and with sweet words.

So you can see that there is an idea of what a Jivan Mukti is supposed to be: a teacher, a sage, a mentor, a guide on the path of Dharma.The Jivan Mukti is not only a friend for everyone, the Mukti strives for the liberation of all beings. The Mukti no longer lives for their self, but for others.



ब्रह्मन्/Brahman, God, and Death

Brahman is a Hindu concept describing the energy force behind the universe, the unchanging truth of why the universe is, and the source behind it. This is very different from the god Brahma, who is known as the creation aspect of the divine pantheon and is a part of the Trimurti with Shiva and Vishnu. He is not regarded in quite the same way as the great cosmic spirit, which is everlasting and greater even than the Hindu deities as the source behind creation and sustenance of the cosmos.

Jiva-muktis or liberated beings are human beings that have realized Brahman and thus their become aware of their true self; described as consciousness bliss and the highest achievable reality. However, this type of self-actualization does not accord with the Buddhist ideals of enlightenment, nirvana, which denote an awareness of the nothingness inside and with this awareness great peace and release from suffering.

Brahman in modern-day Hinduism denotes absolute reality, unchanging, the source and return of all things. Within the Hindu religion, this is an argued point and even Buddhism denotes Brahman’s as divine forms having attained Nirvana. Certain Buddhist and Hindu schools seem to collide here, though it happens later in the Buddhist tradition when scholars begin to identify Nirvana with Brahman. But the Buddha seems to have rejected the idea, saying that the desire from Brahman leads to suffering. He could find no evidence of the personal, or cosmic soul. Jains completely reject the idea of a creator god, because the universe has always been.

Brahman denotes the cosmic god that many people of the modern west refer to as “the universe”. It is the idea of cosmic divine energy that is representing when saying Namaste and recognizing the divine in another. In this way, Brahman is inherently Hindu because of their belief in the divine unison of all things.

Atman is a Sanskrit word that means inner-self or inner soul. To obtain liberation, a human must acquire self-knowledge to realize that one’s true self is identical with that of the transcendent Brahman. This refers to the Hindu idea of breaking down the body to get to the divine soul within. This is the Hindu path to enlightenment, through one of the schools of yoga. It is through realization of the Brahman within that on attains enlightenment, according to the Hindu traditions.


Aparigraha – the 5th Yama and 1st Limb of Yoga

Aparigraha | non-desire

Aparigraha is the concept of non-greed, or non-possessiveness from Jainism and the Raja/Ashtanga yoga traditions. This means limiting possessions to what is necessary or important to live. The five yamas are shared with Jainism in their sacred vows and Sadhus traditionally have very few, if any possessions.

The word literally means non-grasping and greedlessness. ‘A’ creates a contradiction or antonym in sanskrit, so parigraha means reaching out to take for one’s self. The idea behind the concept is to take no more than what is necessary. This includes refusing gifts.

Aparigraha creates detachment from material and worldly things. Strict Jains will completely renounce all property and social relations. But these extreme examples might be considered out of natural balance. Human contact and relations are healthy and necessary parts of life.

Renouncing material possessions is impossible in a consumer based society. So we have to work outside of the ideal, in the realities we face as a modern world. But understanding that excess can easily create suffering is an important concept. Acceptance of what you have been given is the most important lesson here.

The key is the amount of energy one expends on the taking, or accumulating possessions. Great examples of this are shoe collections, expensive super cars, and 13,000 square foot houses. The excess literally creates inconvenience, not to mention the attachment to a material and fleeting object. One can understand that these things likely do not contribute to happiness, but can easily take away from contentment; the addiction to needing more is an easy trap to fall into. Detachment from material possessions creates freedom. If you have seen ‘Fight Club’, you can understand how material possessions can slowly begin to take over your life. Take what you need, but understand that the idea of ‘more’ can be toxic.

Social interaction are also important to detach from, another main concept of aparigraha. It allows you to appreciate the intricacies of the interactions and to see the true nature of the relationship. The idea is to live in harmony with the people you are interacting with. Not attaching to particular conversations can be necessary in complex relationships. Being able to separate from others to see the truth in situations is extremely important to friendships, marriages, parenting, etc.

I will conclude that like all other things, aparigraha requires balance and should not be taken on with a full head of steam to lose all possessions and completely detach from the world forever. Instead, work the idea of having less into your life, maybe getting rid of a third car, or not being worried about the size of your television (although, big TVs are pretty awesome!). So take this concept, like all others, in moderation, especially at first.

It can be easier to detach from the world, rather than be accepting of it. This is the final piece of the puzzle, to be accepting of what you truly do need! This will vary from individual to individual, so comparing yourself to others is quite irrelevant for positivity of the concept to have an effect on you.



Satya | सत्य

Satya is the Hindu concept of absolute truth and ultimate reality. In the Matrix, the real world covered in clouds and barren from war would be considered the reality, or Satya of that plane of existence. Satya is a deep underlying concept that spans across the Indian religions and has influenced the cultural practices of the East tremendously.

Satya is a complex sanskrit word, derived from the root word “sat” which is equivalent to the english verb “to be”. This is the most fundamental western verb (based in latin) and at least in French, it is used more than 50% of the time. Sat literally means ideal, pure, and true and refers to Brahman, the universal spirit of the Hindu religion. Satya has several translation because of its complexity:

  • unchangable
  • undistortable
  • beyond distinctions of the space-time continuum
  • pervades the universe in all of its consistency
  • absolute truth
  • reality

Oftentimes, Satya will be compounded with another sanskrit word to mean ultimate, ultra, highest, purest, truest, or highest. Satyaloka means the highest heaven. Satya is a gateway to acknowledgement of the illusion of Moksha, and the enlightened one, or Bodhi, becomes aware of the true nature of Satya. Satya also has a connotation of benevolence, giving it another meaning of love and goodness. As an example, the body is not considered Satya, because it changes with time. Patanjali said that “when one is established in speaking truth, the fruits of karma become available to them”. Samadhi is the gateway to Satya, and is the realization of what is truly immutable in this world through oneness with the divine.

Satya is love and absolute truth compounded to form the reality that we live in. It is the immutable, absolute, and unchanging. The Jain idea of an eternal universe becomes very useful for understanding how the Hindus view Satya; the universe has truths that transcend the space-time continuum. Many people consider god and the universe to be interchangeable words, but almost every religion in the world recognizes god as love. So these concepts come together in the archetype of Satya, one that doesn’t exist as prominently in the western world.

From here, there is one more point to clarify about truth; is it subjective or objective. I believe that there is objective truth, but that humans can only experience it subjectively because of our consciousness. This means that for us humans, objective truth is not a part of reality, because everything is relative to our own consciousness. It is very hard to know that something will be true in 5,000 years, but this is the essential quality of Satya; it is unchanging.

I would love to hear about what you think of truth, I’m working on a short story now on the topic of truth, check back tomorrow and it will hopefully be finished! (I’m about halfway done now :))


Sutra | सूत्र

A sutra is an aphorism, or collection of aphorisms in a manual or script from Buddhism, Hinduism, or Jainism. Siv means thread or line holding things together, which likely literally referred to the palm leaves used to write the manuscripts. This separates them from the Vedas which were passed down orally until recently. This form of literature was designed for concision, or using the least amount of words necessary to convey an idea, and were meant to be memorized and learned via scientific self-study, also known as Svadhyaya.

A sutra is a bit different in Jainism compared to Buddhism and Hinduism. In Jainism, Sutra refers to the canonized sermons of Mahavira contained in the Jain Agamas, and to some later (post-canonical) normative texts. The Jain Agamas are known as the canon of Jainism and explain the religion. 

In Buddhism, a sutra refers mostly to the canon the Gautama Buddha. Some think that the Buddhist usage of sutra was actually a mis-translation of sutta which the Buddha used to describe his first teachings. This is supported by the early Buddhist sutras; they do not present the aphoristic, nearly cryptic nature of the Hindu sutras, even though they were also designed for oral memorization. They share characteristics of “good news” of the Jain sutras.

An Aphorism is a greek word, meaning definition or distinction. Hypocrates was the first Greek to coin the term and the first sentence of his work using them was the following: ‘Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience deceptive, judgment difficult.’ In Hinduism, the terms is used for descriptions of phyiscal, metaphysical, moral, philosophical, or a concise statement containing a subjective truth or astute observation. Patanjali’s 196 yoga sutras are the basis for Ashtanga yoga, where Patanjali aggregated previous works on yoga to formulate and create the 8 limbs of yoga.

It seems like every teacher is trying to find new aphorisms to deliver to their classes, insights about cultural life in America and other aspects of life in the 21st century. Its just an observation, but it seems to be a basis for how the human mind functions, that we repeat memorized snippets that resonate with our intellect, our feelings, or whatever. The yoga sutras are extremely complex and cryptic, especially considering the diverse knowledge surrounding their creation, origin, and evolution over the hundreds of years that they have existed.

What sayings speak to you? Brian Kest has a quote that I can’t forget, “try to find a sweet spot that’s between too much and not enough, then try to stay there.” Sharing is caring…. 🙂


Detachment | वैराग्य

Learning detachment has been a very interesting journey. During my education I had lots of teachers who taught me the concept without knowing what exactly they were teaching me. It wasn’t until I learned meditation and yoga that I started to understand what detachment truly meant. Here is my definition: the ability to perceive the world fully, without hindrances, preconceived judgements, or expectations. It is essentially a cultivation of awareness that extends until Moksha, or liberation from Samsara.

Freedom is the ultimate goal of detachment. Freedom from suffering and pain, loss and sorrow. Freedom from the highs and lows of this existence into a pure bliss that will persist through any challenge or difficulty. This is the goal of the yogi.

I have concluded that in this life, attachment is necessary. We need things like family, friends, and siblings to support us in life, to ground us in reality and true importance. But at the same time that we draw strength and love from those around us, we must acknowledge that these people will someday expire. Their life will not last forever. This makes each moment more significant and beautiful, every detail of interaction becomes so utterly important. It is impossible to imagine living without love, without connection to family and friends; I do not believe that becoming a hermit and disconnecting with the world will create the bliss of enlightenment for anyone.

So let me clarify; attachment is necessary, but in order to truly appreciate our attachments, we must find ways to detach from them. This means we obtain the ability to truly appreciate the world around us and the people who comprise that world. Perspective, it seems, becomes the cornerstone for this appreciation. It also creates the space necessary to detach from our necessary attachments, when it becomes necessary.

Detachment from the material world, things, money, cars, planes, vacations is an required and absolute skill for the yogi. It allows for freedom within the mind from sorrow due to loss. But people even animals are much more complex. Attachment to living beings then becomes a systematic process in itself. Detachment and space become a necessary aspect of any relationship, because the individual grounds and roots in their own self, rather than those around them. With this space and freedom they are able to experience the joy of the world around them and the present moment.

I will give you an example. My favorite yoga teacher has left the studio where I work to pursue his dreams and his own prosperity. He will likely never teach at the studio again, which is sad for me because I love his teachings so much. They resonate with my soul. Being detached from this individual allows me to view the situation holistically; instead of being sad at my loss of his teaching I am happy that he is pursuing his own path of success, I am happy for the opportunity of growth that the situation will offer both of us. This is the benefit of detachment, to see opportunities in challenge, good in change, and love in everything. Perspective is everything.

I will offer that detachment is far more about perspective than hiding away in the Himalayas to wait for celestial light to drop upon your head. Leaving your culture, your family, your friends to explore the world will give you the ability to detach, as well as the perspective that comes with it. It is like a muscle that you need to flex occasionally, a skill that you hone with time and practice. Give yourself the room and it will grow 🙂

How do you detach in your own life? Do you find that it’s all about perspective or do other skills come to mind? Let me know what you think!

Sanskrit depiction

Sanskrit संस्कृतम्

Sanskrit is a topic that I am particularly passionate about. I love languages and learning about them, because each language is simultaneously a cultural phenomenon and a historical map into the past. I am bi-lingual in French and English and really can appreciate what learning a second language has given me. Now I understand more about the interplay of how language affects a culture’s evolution and how languages are influenced by the evolution of the society that uses it. Learning French as an American was hard because French is a particularly exacting language and the nuances of speaking were evasive (particularly Parisien dialects), but learning French is one of the most rewarding things I have ever accomplished. Sanskrit is one of the coolest languages I have learned about because of its origins and function and because of its highly descriptive nature.

Sanskrit is the language that teacher’s use for the names of yoga poses. For instance, Eka Pada Utkatasana is single legged chair pose, but more literally means: “one part seated posture”. Sanskrit is an extremely old language the sages known as Patanjali, who also invented the Hatha yoga system and Ayurvedic medecine, invented and popularized it. Sanskrit is very similar to Latin in Europe, but for Greater India (India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal). Sanskrit’s ancestor, Vedic Sanskrit, is one of the oldest known languages and is how the Vedic epics were written. That makes the origins of the language about 3700 years old.

Much of Sanskrit theory comes back to Panini, who was a 4th Century scholar that defined classical Sanskrit. He worked to define nearly 4,000 Sanskrit rules and it is said that his analysis of language was as advanced as any western scientist until the mid 20th century. He is the defining line between Vedic Sanskrit, and Classical Sanskrit; Classical Sanskrit includes everything after his work. It appears that even in ancient times, Sankskrit was a language of refinement and was often used by multilingual speakers. This makes Sanskrit a mark of nobility and wealth in Ancient India and almost directly parallels the development of Latin in the West. Some consider Sanskrit to be a “dead” language, but in reality it is spoken, written, and used popularly today. This idea comes from a lack of innovation in the language and the inability to express modern ideas precisely in the language, as it is a language of administrative and liturgical precision and is especially linked to religious tradition.

Sanskrit is truly an oral-only language as it never developed into its own writing form. However, virtually every writing system in Southeast Asia has been used to write it and since the late 19th century Devanagari has been the writing system used for Sanskrit. It is very interesting that Sanskrit was almost never written in ancient times. It was almost always used for scientific, liturgical, or administrative texts and the sacred texts were only written with hesitation at relatively late times as they were passed down orally for centuries.

Sanskrit has four verb tense systems, compared to 17 tenses in French and 12 in English. Both English and French have hundreds of classes of verbs whereas Sanskrit has about 10. It also has 3 verb genders, whereas French has 2 and English has only 1. It also has a dual noun form which does not exist in English. Sanskrit also has free word order due to the complex declension system (declension defines number, case, and gender of the noun) which is something that is simplified in English. Basically, all of this means that Sanskrit is extraordinarily descriptive for a language and that it has many peculiarities. You could even describe it as an artificial language, because it would be a second language learned after a basic speaking and familiar language and would not have been easily used in familiar life (daily tasks, family meals, etc). Usually you will see subject-object-verb word order in the language, but this isn’t necessary.

Sanskrit has 36 unique phonemes (equivalent to a letter in English, is a basic sound) to create words. It also has an extraordinarily large vocabulary and has huge amounts of synonyms and even synonym constructions. Sanskrit is also considered potentially useful for machine learning, as it has powerful knowledge representations and could be useful for natural language processing. The language is highly evolved, highly descriptive, and used mostly in the educated population.  This is much more than just a “yoga” language and has implications for knowledge transfer than extend back into ancient history.

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