Tag Archives: translation

Sanskrit Non-Translatables—The Rationale Behind the Book

The  new publication “Sanskrit Non-Translatables” is a ground-breaking and audacious attempt at Sanskritizing the English language and enriching it with powerful Sanskrit words. While it is commonly observed that Sanskrit terms have been inadequately translated into English and thus lost some of their original connotations and crucial nuances, with this book the authors attempt to reverse the process. It is a reference guide to protecting key Sanskrit terms and philosophical concepts from being distorted, plagiarized, or trivialized to the point of obsolescence.

Babaji has co-authored this book with author and researcher Rajiv Malhotra, the founder-director of the “Infinity Foundation.” The Foundation’s books have the common approach of presenting an analysis of distorted theories about ancient Indian religious culture and of exposing the falsity and Eurocentric assumptions of such theories. The book is now available here through this website

In the following Babaji explains the rationale behind the book:

As human beings we have the ability to think and formulate ideas in our minds. We also have the ability to communicate our ideas, knowledge, and experiences to others through the medium of language. Language is composed of words, which themselves have meanings. According to Sanskrit Vyakaranam, translated as “grammar,” there are four categories of word meanings: substances, qualities, actions, and names. Substances are those things which have both qualities and action inherent in them. For example, a table is a substance because it has qualities such as color, form, weight, etc. A quality is that which inheres in a substance and cannot exist without that substance. Qualities may be taste, colors, weight, shape, size, and so on. An action is that which also inheres in a substance and has a beginning and an end. It denotes a change in matter. The fourth category of meaning is that of the names which we give to objects, such as “cell phone.” Names are given as per our preferences.

Sanskrit words are derived from basic units of language, called dhatus or roots, and are formed by applying suffixes to these dhatus. Therefore, Sanskrit words often have some derivational meaning due to the variety of ways of combining dhatus with suffixes. For example, the word “pachaka” or a “cook,” derived from the root “pach,” meaning “to cook,” is formed by applying a “nak” suffix to express a sense of agency. Because of this characteristic of Sanskrit words, it may not be always possible to translate them adequately into English. The reason for this is that English nouns may not convey the same derivational sense that was conveyed by the original Sanskrit word. For example, the Sanskrit word “atma” is commonly translated as “soul” in English. But if we compare the sense of the word “atma” to that of “soul,” then we find that it is an incorrect translation. The word “atma” is derived from the root “at,” which means “to move,” and thereby signifies continuity or eternality. According to Bhagavad Gita (2.20), atma is neither created nor destroyed. However, “soul” does not have that connotation at all. Therefore, once we translate the word “atma” as “soul,” it loses its original sense. And those who understand what a soul truly is would misunderstand what atma is. Atma and soul have different and even opposing characteristics. According to Christian theology, animals and plant life do not have a soul. But according to Vedic scriptures, there is an atma in every living being, including plants and creepers. Generally, the word atma refers to the innermost conscious being beyond body and mind. However, it also can mean “mind, body, intelligence, supreme being, and object of love.” None of these meanings are conveyed by the word “soul.”

Furthermore, because Sanskrit nouns have a derivational sense, one word can have various meanings. For example, the Sanskrit word “go,” commonly used for “cow,” is derived from the root, “gam,” which means, “to go.” Thus, originally, the word “go” signified anything that moved. Although it is primarily used for “cow,” that is not the only meaning of this word. The word “go,” as per Apte’s Sanskrit dictionary, also means, “earth, ray of light, a star, sky, thunderbolt of Indra, a cattle, a diamond, heaven, an arrow, speech, Sarasvati, mother, water, the eye, a bull, the hair of the body, a sense organ, the sign Taurus of the zodiac, the sun, the number 9, the moon, a singer, a billion, a cow sacrifice, a house, a cow’s hoof, a mule, a snake, a kind of deer, and a pestle.” But if you translate the word “go” as “cow” or any of these other meanings, then it becomes fixed in that meaning only. However, if the word “go” is kept as it is, then it can be given any of those meanings according to the context. That is why a Sanskrit sentence or sloka would have different meanings as per the context and the intent of the speaker. After all, language is used by the speaker to convey some meaning, and the meaning depends upon the intention of the speaker.

Besides this, there are certain words in Sanskrit that have no equivalent in English. Many words contain a specific idea, which cannot be translated into just one word. Therefore, it is prudent to refrain from translating such Sanskrit words into English only for the sake of convenience. The unintended consequence of convenient translation is that the Sanskrit word loses its original sense and thus the very purpose of the speaker is lost.

The intention behind our book, Sanskrit Non-Translatables, is to preserve the deep and rich meanings of some important Sanskrit words. Our hope is to educate modern Indians as well as Western English speakers who may have the tendency to loosely translate Sanskrit words into English without paying attention to the deep meaning contained in the word. By translating these words, one acquires an improper understanding. Unfortunately, this may lead to misconceptions, biased thinking, and wrong actions. Therefore, it is wiser to use the original Sanskrit words when writing or speaking in the English language. We have many words in our local Indian languages that are borrowed from English, for example, “telephone,” “computer,” and “train station.” Thus there is no harm in reversing the process for the sake of maintaining and disseminating the legitimate knowledge and wisdom of our sages.

More in this topic in the media: Babaji’s article about Sanskrit Non-Translatables.

Mahamantra and Diksha Mantras

Question: As practicing Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, we chant the Hare Krishna mahāmantra. Did Śrī Caitanya and His associates chant the Hare Krishna mantra? In Caitanya-caritāmṛta or other biographies of Śrī Caitanya, the mahāmantra is not mentioned as the mantra that was chanted. The mahāmantra is itself a legitimate mantra as per Kali-saṇṭāraṇa Upaniṣad, so I have no question about its validity. But how are the Gauḍīya sampradayas linked to the mahāmantra?

Answer: The simple proof that I can give are the following references from the works of our ācāryas where it is mentioned that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu was chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra: 

1. hare-kṛṣṇetyucchaiḥ sphurita-rasno nāma-gaṇanā-kṛta

(Caitanyāṣṭakam 5 by Rūpa Gosvāmī)

2. hare-kṛṣṇetyevaṁ gaṇana-vidhinā kīrtayataḥ bho

(Śrī-śacīsūnvaṣṭakam 5 by Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī)

3. srī-caitannya-mukhodgirṇā hare-krsnetivarṇakāḥ
majjayanto jagat-premaṇṇi viajyantāṁ tadāhvahayāḥ

(Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛtam 1.4)

4. aṇū-brahmāṇḍayor madhye caitnyen samāhṛtām
hare-kṛṣṇa-rāma-nāma-mālāṁ bhakti-pradāyinīm

(Śrī Caintanya-śatakam 79)

5. hare-kṛṣṇa-rāma-nāma-gāna-dāna-kāriṇiṁ

(Śrī Caintanya-śatakam 23)

There are many other stotras and aṣṭakas which refer to Śrī Caitanya’s chanting but they do not use the exact words “Hare Kṛṣṇa.” They mention harināma, kṛṣṇa-nāma or just nāma. Besides this, we know from tradition. In all the parivāras of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, one thing that is commonly accepted is japa and kīrtan of the mahāmantra. The only exception that I know is that of  the followers of Rāmadāsa Bābājī. They do not perform kīrtan of the mahāmantra, although they also do mahāmantra japa.


Mantras in which Ear?

Question: A friend of mine had a question about this verse/BBT purport in Bhāgavata Purāṇa 4.25.51. Could you please help me understand?

devahūr nāma puryā dvā
uttareṇa purañjanaḥ
rāṣṭram uttara-pañcālaṁ
yāti śrutadharānvitaḥ

“On the northern side was the gate named Devahū. Through that gate, King Purañjana used to go with his friend Śrutadhara to the place known as Uttara-pañcāla.”

It seems Śrīdhāra Swamī says in his Bhasya that karma-kāṇḍa  is traditionally heard using the right ear (results in heaven) and jñāna-kāṇḍa is heard using left ear (results in mokṣa). It looks like the mantras received through the right ear are meant for heavenly planets and those from left ear are meant for mokṣa/Vaikuṇṭha.

If this is true, why are dīkṣā mantras given in the right ear in Vaiṣṇava lineages?

Answer: Yes, Śrīdhara Swamī says that karma-kāṇḍa is to be heard through the right ear and jñāna-kāṇḍa through the left ear. However, he is not talking about mantras but about śāstra. So his commentary refers to the study of śāstra related to karma-kāṇḍa and jñāna-kāṇḍa. Mantras related to any kāṇḍa are received through the right ear.

This whole story from the 25th Chapter is allegorical and not to be taken literally. This verse signifies that karma-kāṇḍa is heard first and then jñāna-kāṇḍa. Therefore, they are also called pūrva (“earlier”)-mīmāṁsā and uttara (“later”)-mīmāṁsā, respectively. Traditionally one first studies pūrva-mīmāṁsā and then one studies uttara-mīmāṁsā, or Vedānta. That is how the word atha in athāto brahma jijñāsa (Vedānta Sūtra 1.1.1) is explained by most commentators.