Today I had the thought that Tibetan Buddhist Dharma practices might be better promulgated if some of the liturgies were presented in Sanskrit, as that language, seems to me in my remaining short lifespan and current mindset, more accessible to wrap my mind around and read than Tibetan. Not that I don’t find studying the Tibetan to be highly rewarding and delightful. Its usage of terse word-stems stacked together to make new words reminds me of American Indian speech patterns, for instance, a Navajo might call a jumbo jet an “iron bird” and Tibetans call Dakinis (Sanskrit for flying semi-divine female beings) simply “Khandro” “Kha” (sky) “Dro” (being that walks) so “Sky-Walker” which tickles me pink! By age 20 I had already studied Sanskrit a bit to try to better decipher the Bhagavad Gita. Sanskrit I found approachable as the declensions and conjugations are similar in Latin to which I had been exposed in high school. So later in life I took up Tibetan Buddhism and was all excited to begin delving into Tibetan language as I knew the Tibetan alphabet was based on Devanagari used in Sanskrit. I was completely mortified, however, when I realized that the words were full of “b’s”, “s’s”, “d’s”, “g’s”, “k’s” that were not in the English alphabet version they were selling us. What do you mean it’s spelled “blama” I heard you say “LAMA” can’t you guys spell right? I mean I know we have know and all, but English is just stupid that way. Or is it? Hey, did you know that many English words that have to do with fires and the thought process that have either “KN” or “GN” ultimately derive etymologically from the Vedic God of the Fire of Mind called AGNI? Such as recognize, cognizant, knowlege, gnosis, ignite, ignition, know, diagnose, agnostic, cognition, Gnostism… wait a minute! you say, modern etymologies don’t mention no Agni – God of Fire nowhere in no dictionaries! Ignore me if you will, ignorance is bliss and consider me one big ignoramous.
Tibetan is not phonetic like Sanskrit and Spanish where every written syllable’s pronunciation is easy just by following the pronunciation guides. Tibetan syllables use a unique “graph” with possibility of multiple consonant slots surrounding the pronounced letters of the syllable. In Chinese and Japanese, and most other East-Asian languages the writing uses ideographs that give the characters meaning; there’s no “phonetics” involved at all, you just have to memorize a kajillion word characters, eazy-peazy (NOT). When the Tibetans opted to construct a writing system based on the phonetic Devanagari for their tonal language, they added a hefty set of extra tidbit letter combinations to spell out how their native language sounds could be written into syllables that they could all agree upon as representing their language nuances with some vowels being short, others long, some high, some low, some falling in pitch. We all know what a Tibetan “lama” is, but most of us don’t realize it’s spelled ‘Blama’ in Tibetan. This was all a segue to my “consider this” theme, however, let me close out this lead-in discussion with this… that in spite of the Sanskrit root words having copious cognates in English and other European languages that Westerners are familiar with, if I really in earnest set out to memorize the Sanskrit rules of Sandhi, which is a very complex system of how words get mushed together according to how the beginning and end sounds are “compatible”, I might change my mind and just stay mum about learning Tibetan, agreeing to acknowledge all the the silent “B’s” “K’s” “S’s” and whatnot, as deciphering Sanskrit’s run-on words requires the mastery of sandhi (not to mention umpteen declensions). Either language seems daunting to a simple, impatient, Western mind as my own; but maybe, the thought occurred to me, the concept of reverting some of the recital prayers and such into Sanskrit might be a worthy idea to consider. For us Indo-European speakers, well, … it’s just a thought. Tibetan language certainly needs to be preserved, nurtured and cherished as it is a remarkable scholarly and deep insightful language. Sanskrit, however, may be more approachable for the Western mind is my thought, all with the intent of skillful means. Karmapa Khyenno Karmapa Khyenno Karmapa Khyenno
I’m printing out this neat Sanskrit grammar book that I downloaded on the internet. I must say, the more I learn Sanskrit the more fascinating it seems, I was stricken when I read in it that the verb root “man” (pronounced more like a nasal “mang” as it has a anusvaara dot over the ‘n’) means “to consider“. Hmm, interesting. It’s a nuance I’m thinking about. I was already well aware of the word manas in Sanskrit. It’s a cognate we all know so well… we are hu- mans who use our minds to mentally conjure up our realities. The Manasic Plane is referred to in occult literature based on Vedic scripts, as the heavenly, 5th dimension, realm of high thought and purity. Our mental capacity is a gift of inheritance from our heavenly progenitor (Vedically speaking) Manu who although a God is still like the Adam in Vedic accounts, the one who seeded Earth’s current human population.
What struck me was the word “consider“. Such an ordinary and unassuming word was given as the translation of such a powerful Sanskrit root “man” (which even has a God named Manu backing it up); so I felt compelled to look up the etymology. CONSIDER – from 1530s as to regard in a particular light. Well, lo and behold! “Consider” is a mighty lofty word and I didn’t even realize it. Con (meaning with) + sider (meaning heavenly constellations i.e. the zodiac, the stars). Our astrologers use a sidereal ephemeris to make charts and sidereal almanacs are still used by sextant-touting ocean navigators sailing by the stars. So consider carries the connotation of careful examination by the light of the stars. I always felt like considering things was so mundane, passé, almost boring; I’m a doer… and a thinker to be sure, but I only just now considered the innate power and vastness wrapped behind such a commonly used word. I mean would YOU consider having lunch with me later? (she looks up from her desk) Well that’s very considerate of you, but I do have a considerable amount of extra work on my desk, perhaps not this time. However, if I catch up on all these diagnostic reports, I’ll consider it (winks).
*Sino-Tibetan (ST) is one of the largest language families in the world, with more first-language speakers than even Indo-European. The more than 1.1 billion speakers of Sinitic (the Chinese dialects) constitute the world's largest speech community. ST includes both the Sinitic and the Tibeto-Burman languages. Most scholars in China today take an even broader view of ST (called Hàn-Zàng in Mandarin), including not only these two branches, but Tai (= "Daic") and Hmong-Mien (= Miao-Yao) as well. Even taking ST in its narrower sense, we are dealing with a highly differentiated language family of formidable scope, complexity, and time-depth. Tibeto-Burman (TB) comprises hundreds of languages besides Tibetan and Burmese, spread over a vast geographical area (China, India, the Himalayan region, peninsular SE Asia). https://stedt.berkeley.edu/about-st.html