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.

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…. 🙂

Sanskrit संस्कृतम्

Sanskrit depiction

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.

Karma (कर्म)


Karma is one of those ancient ideas that is very obscured and manipulated by popular culture. Karma means action, and refers to causality and how actions affect and shape the future. The idea is that there are two things involved with any action: intent and the result of the action. Of these two things, in Karma, the intent is more important, determining the state of future happiness. The result is caused by the intent, though is often contradicting of the intention. When the result contradicts the intent, past-Karma would likely be the cause. Therefore, Karma is mostly about intention and the current state of your karma can be determined as the end result.

This definition gets a little confusing. We can more precisely define Karma by talking about Kriya, which refers to the amount of effort exerted, or the steps to completion of the work. These two are often used to help individuals determine their current state of Karma. It is also important to understand Samsara in this context and how past lives, and old energies can affect your current state of Karma.

With that said, I have a modern interpretation of the concept that seems to work pretty well in my life. Karma is something that is collective, cultures, countries, societies, families, and individuals seem to share Karmic states. For instance, due to the decision of our American forefathers, America currently has the best economy in the world. This could be said to be a result of the heroism of America in WWII. Another example is the wealth of the Walton family, who through their father’s ingenuity, hard work, and business acumen has led his family to become the richest in the world. Now here’s the clincher, even though these actions have led to prosperity, they haven’t necessarily led to optimal happiness.

So this is where the original definition comes into play, the intention of the action determines the end-state happiness. Even though Sam Walton made more money as a result of his actions, it is likely true (I can’t verify, Sam died in 1992) that the founder’s intention was not for happiness, but for prosperity. But regardless of the intention, one wouldn’t hesitate to say that the children born into the Walton family would have an enormous amount of Karma built up in their past-lives. Intention of the action leads to the resulting happiness after the action and the Kriya of the action, combined with the past Karma of the individual determines the end-result of the actions.

I don’t personally believe in past-lives, but Karma hints at an idea that I would like to dive deeper into; that life seems to be a thing of momentum. Opportunities are the result of past decisions, even if they were not our own. It seems that there are certain limitations or advantages that our past, history, or circumstances create for our present states. And our present state also seems to allow for the potential future state. So when considering the results of your actions, the circumstances and past surroundings will likely indicate the future.

Energy recycles and present states potentiate future states. Be mindful of your actions as they will undoubtedly determine opportunity and future states. But detach from results, focus on the intention behind the actions and you will find happiness regardless of the outcome.