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September 3, 2012


Karan Kamble

You make an excellent case. I wish you have a great time learning Sanskrit.

You kindle my own interests in revisiting Sanskrit in language and thought. I learnt Sanskrit for five years in school, but didn't take it any further. With very few people speaking Sanskrit in Indian cities, it got tougher to hold on to whatever Sanskrit I had learned, and now feel like I'm have lost my grip over whatever little Sanskrit I know.

But I must get back to it, soon.

Karan Kamble

*I have lost grip....Sanskrit I knew.

Jay chetram

An excellent article that expressed the same concerns that Professional Indian Philosophers, and some of the great Western Sanskrit Scholars have concerning the naive prejudices professional Western Philosophers have on Indian philosophy. I hope your engagement with Classical Indian philosophy as a Western philosopher will contribute in dismantling the ignorance that is so pervasive amongst colleagues in the philosophy departments. How can anyone deny India philosophy with her great Navaya Nyaya tradition and her long history of linguistic and philosophy of language traditions?


i was taught sanskrit in india till grade 7th and then for some weird schooling system never got to continue. sanskrit is like maths they said..u could score full marks just like solving a mathematical problem.
i am now trying to relearn sanskrit with a goal to get the true meaning of indian scriptures and my roots..your essay is to say the very least an INSPIRATION!!!


"for the most part [Chinese philosophy] is concerned with ethics, statecraft, political philosophy, and rather less with the metaphysics and epistemology"

"for the most part" is right, but there's plenty of metaphysics and epistemology in Zhuangzi, Chinese Buddhism (Huayan, Tiantai, Chan) and Neoconfucianism. You might be interested in the work of Mou Zongsan.


Have you read Thomas C. Mcevilley's Shape of Ancient Thought?


Good luck with your studies!

"I have heard Western students of Sanskrit rapturously declaring that this language is 'the mother of all languages'"

I think there is some poetic justice in this after all. There are many Westerners (and im just saying it to quote you, because there are many such Indians as well), who have done enough damage to Sanskrit. I can quote a few, because they cant form one sentence in Sanskrit, yet write commentary on Rg Veda, Puranas and Nyayas, utterly disregarding the traditions.

Afa "devabhasha" and it is out of tune with modern acceptability -- who cares? And what "outside of history" you are referring to? Is it European view of history? Or Communist Indian view of history? Or Regional views of history? What modern society thinks today is not what it thought 10 years ago. Otoh, Sanskrit has been "devabhasha" for several centuries, so let it be and so will it be, regardless of "modern society" thinks.

The problem arises when trying to judge centuries old practices in isolation out of tradition or culture.

But again, good luck with your Sanskrit studies!

elisa freschi

"Western philosophy, to the extent that it refuses to take an interest in these texts, will remain, as I've said before (paraphrasing Nietzsche), nothing more than a catalogue of its own prejudices."

Thanks for this line, that ---if you don't mind--- I will reuse while trying to explain how, without knowing anything of Sanskrit philosophy, one cannot be a "genuine" philosopher, but rather someone who is avoiding dangerous questions (i.e., the very core of the philosophical enterprise).

If one were to object that one cannot be an expert on everything, and that one consequently neglects Indian philosophy because of lack of time, the appropriate answer would be, in my opinion: team work. One cannot be an expert on everything, but one ought to know that one is not and one ought to seek advice and help.

elisa freschi

I added a post connected with this one:


Wow, you were able to say all that in Sanskrit after just a one month course? And you were one of the weakest students there? Amazing!
You are clearly way brighter, way more diligent, way more scrupulous than me- but, when it comes to Philosophy- surely at best what ethologists call a 'displacement activity'on the part of bright, diligent, scrupulous people deadlocked in pursuit of something truly alethic- then, is being bright, diligent and scrupulous necessarily a good thing?

Take this extract- 'Yet although philosophy is in fact the property of all humanity, still, every culture invents its own method and its own system of reasoning. Consequently, whenever two philosophers from two different cultures meet, mutual recognition is not certain. They must also speak a common language. Thus, if a Western philosopher does not know Sanskrit will not be able to recognize his own counterpart in India. Whoever does not speak a language will not be able to understand the (full) meaning of philosophical terms in that language. For instance, let us consider the term rupa. This term is untranslatable, for it has no equivalent in Western languages. As a matter of fact, sometimes translators render this term as 'matter', and sometimes as 'form'. But in Western philosophy 'matter' and 'form' are two opposite concepts, for the former is the substratum (or underlier) of the latter. Thus, if the translator wishes to conserve the meaning, he must not translate the term rupa.'
The problem here is that we are not talking of logical atomism's 'terms' but collocational availability cascades. this means there are no direct echoes- e.g. Arabic does not echo Greek, it can't, because even if there is a proper one to one equivalence for a term, the collactional availability cascade will be different. Thus there can be evolutionary convergence at best, not echoes or genealogical relationships. In practice, of course, no such one to one equivalence existed. For convenience I might say insha= deontic, khabar=alethic but I can't take that very far. I have to go back to the Arabic collocational availability cascades. But, in doing so, I realize that even something I believe I grasp and consider to be seminal and important- e.g. Ibn Arabi's barzakh concept- is not well defined at all. It does not point forward to current Philosophy but backwards towards Revelation. The same point may be made with reference to Indian philosophy. A term like 'rupam' points backward to living language Revelation and the collocational availability cascade it engenders which at some point gets a canonical Sanskrit expression. But, here is the important point, the point which people like Pollock don't get- Classical Scholarship enjoyed a vogue precisely because it solved the problem of keeping Commentary separate from Revelation in doxology. Thus Classical Sanskrit doesn't really unify anything- it does not create a new domain such that 'distinctions without differences' can flourish- on the contrary, it points to the Snatak or Shravak student's continued or increased dependence on his Upadhyay, Acharya or Guru. They are the masters of the genealogy of the collocational availability cascade and it is they who make it a stepping stone to true 'darshan'. I suppose Paul Hacker's eccentric critique of neo-Hindu 'inclusionism'- if it has any meaning at all- points to the suppression of collocation in favour of a principle of compositionality which, back in the Sixties, still appeared to a tractable Research Project because people believed absurd things about the power of Computers and A.I's and so on. But 2001 has come and gone and we don't got no HALs.
One other point, Right Wing and Nationalist nutjobs may pay lip service to Sanskrit but it is the Left which turns a profit on it. Whether it was Dayanand Sarasvati or Shyamji Krishna Verma or Pandita Ramabai or the eventual trajectory of the Ramakrishna schools, or the more recent 'liberation theology' of Agnivesh- Sanskrit provided social mobility to precisely the sort of people who thirsted radical change.
At any teertha, at least this was true in the previous Century, you will find that the young Panda with the Sanskritized diction is also the Radical dude. This also makes him the least trustworthy interlocutor precisely because he doesn't realize his ignorance of the relevant collocational genealogy of his Sect.
My own feeling is that the notion that epistemology and metaphysics underlies Western philosophy has already been thoroughly refuted by the way that German and French- as academic languages- have been thoroughly eclipsed by English. To say 'epistemology and metaphysics underpins English intellectual discourse' would, surely, be to utter an absurdity.
Now it is true that current Indology- backward swamp that it is- is cluttered up with irrelevant genuflections to Gadamer or some other such God but surely this is because of the low intellectual caliber of its practitioners. My own field of Academic Specialization- Health & Hygiene studies- similarly valorizes the work of Karl Jaspers. I have often pointed out to the patrons of the Toilet in which I work that failure to wash their hands thoroughly can lead to evolutionary regression- they will turn into monkeys slinging their faeces at each other rather than properly combating Environmental degradation, Gender Inequality and Rampant Consumerist Communalism through a salutary commitment to Jasperian praxis.

Dr No

You might be interested in Kenan Malik's blog, which is called "Pandemonium"


Some of the nationalistic factions shouting from the roof about Samskrutam is not out of chauvinism. They are genuinely concerned about the dying traditions. Samskrutam is spoken language. As more and more people stop talking in the language, the quicker it is approaching extinction. Secular Indian Government is the single biggest killer of these traditions by taking over temples and diverting their revenue for politicians' pet projects, thrusting school syllabus from the top on states and not supporting Samskrutam enough.

In my view, given the short time period, you gave an excellent speech. Inner satisfaction is important than a prize offered by some panel who may not share the ideals. August 20 is the International day for Samskrutam. Please continue the talk in Samskrutam.


I am in VIth standard and Sanskrit is a subject for me. First it seemed to be tough. But now, i am adjusted with it.

Shankha Chakraborty

Loved the passion in the work mate..awesome..Keep at it... im in india and leaning German. I wish to go to Germany to specialize in Advanced German, possibly a degree.

dr. vijay srivastava

a lot of congratulations


Wow, Justin, Thanks for such a beautiful narrative, you added fuel to the fire, had just enrolled my self into a basic learner course for Sanskrut, and was searching why should one study this divine language and came across your article, so brilliantly depicted, thanks.kindled my faith to stay and learn more.

Jayant Barve

Justin, you did great job with your speech. And I do not share the idea you did so with an eye on prize. I am a very bad "reader", else I would have impacted one area of knowledge. At 63 however, I am still left some thirst and ability to learn a language, Indian Classical Music (as shining form of art as Sanskrit is) I love.

The commendable part of your speech and subsequent analytical observations was clean and easy flow of simple language - Sanskrit as well as English. Besides "down-to-the-ground" and un-ornomented views !

It would be my privilege to meet you ever in life-time ! Best wishes for success in your endeavor.

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