Just yesterday, I was helping out someone with a few concepts for an English paper and we were exploring semantics and pragmatics. The shastras are a rich example of pragmatics at play. Much of the lyrical shlokas are simple at first glance but nuanced with layers of meaning, subjective and objective.
Svadhyaya as a niyama is placed after sauca, santosha and tapah in that order. It makes logical sense to start with a clean page, a content frame of mind to engage in a fully present practice. That allows for reflection and study. Svadhyaya for me includes reading, writing, listening and reflection. It is uncanny how coincidences crop up when exploring some thought. It is almost as though there is an internal compass which attracts attention towards related concepts.
I’d love to study the Shastras the traditional way but it doesn’t look very possible at present. Yet I can’t seem to pry myself away from delving into the ancient texts. I’ve read them earlier but that was a semantic experience, now they seem like the beginning of study. In the absence of a formal structure, it is still possible to endeavour thanks to the easy availability of good books and commentaries. The interpretations of great masters help to open the wealth of the compact utterances. It provides pointers on how to reflect on what is implicit.
‘ऊॅ शीक्षां व्याख्यास्यामः | वर्णः स्वरः।
मात्रा बलम् । साम सन्तानः । इत्युक्तः शीक्षाध्यायः ।।१।।
‘We shall now explain the science of pronunciation. It consists of the sounds, accent or the pitch, quality or measure, the effort put in articulation, uniformity and continuity in pronouncing the letters. Thus has been explained the lesson on pronunciation.’
– Taittriya Upanishad, a commentary by Swami Chinmayananda
This deft word picture paints the study of phonetics. Unlike English which has its quirks like silent letters, Sanskrit and the few Indian languages that I know are read as they are written, the pronunciation is uniform. Perhaps the oral tradition and emphasis on memorisation before delving into a study was part of the technique of teaching and studying a language. There is great importance attached to the articulation of the words during chanting. All the aspects mentioned above are taken into account while reciting shlokas. It boils down to sound, yet again. Somehow, words and sound and study all seem to be intersecting repeatedly.
Coincidence again… I don’t think so anymore.