This book is the first draft of a Sanskrit text book that was used in the 2016-2017 academic year at the Jiva Institute in Vrindavan. It is still in need of revision and refinement, which will be undertaken during the next academic year of the Jiva Tirtha course while being used for a second group of students. It will also be expanded as the first year students continue in their studies.
Exercises and vocabulary are an important element in such a course and I have integrated many verses and texts that I prepared in an earlier publication, Sādhaka pāṭhyam, which was done on behalf of the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama in Rishikesh.
The Jiva Institute under the direction of Mahant Satya Narayan Das Babaji started the Jiva Tirtha program in the autumn of 2016 with 25 students from Europe and America. The Sanskrit course started with a couple of trial and error efforts using different texts, including Hari-nāmāmṛta-vyākaraṇam, the grammar text composed by Srila Jiva Goswami himself. Since he is the patron saint of the Jiva Institute, this seemed natural. However, as a method for beginners learning Sanskrit it is a little ambitious. The idea now is to get students started with this course and afterwards they will be able to fine tune their grammatical knowledge with Hari-nāmāmṛta.
Even so, the advantage of this trial and error beginning was that the students were familiar with both the alphabet and the basics of most of the sandhi rules by the time I started developing this course with them about six weeks after the beginning. This is reflected in this text, as there is no teaching of the alphabet in it. The second edition will likely have to include it. The sandhi rules have been given in an appendix. And in actual fact, in the approach I am using, sandhi is taught on an ad hoc basis through encountering and recognition.
I have also succumbed to the temptation to develop a methodology of my own devising, Though I am not enough of a student of Sanskrit pedagogy in the West to be able to know whether it is original, I was nevertheless inspired to try something that seemed fairly different from most other methods I have seen.
Most Western texts for learning classical languages like Greek or Latin served as the model for Sanskrit pedagogy, and this leads to a "dead language" mentality, which is absolutely what we need to avoid. Students must feel that they are learning to live in that language through becoming enchanted by it.
The course is thus designed to minimize the amount of memorization that needs to be done in the beginning and to be more reflective of what will be encountered in the texts of the Vrindavan Goswamis. This means trying to get a feel for the way Sanskrit would actually be spoken.
The course is thus (as of now) designed around the cases (kārakas) but keeping to the singular. At the same time, we do spend time at the beginning of each class to chant the declensions just for fun and familiarization. As an important part of this scheme, we are learning passive constructions including passive participles before learning all the complete conjugations. Even so, a lot is crammed into these first ten lessons, and in fact most of the basics of the language should be mastered after completing them, after which reading texts with a competent teacher will be the principal teaching method.
The speaking or conversational part of the course will hopefully develop out of the readings. Classical languages are their literature, and though attempts to revive spoken Sanskrit are welcomed, it must be remembered that the very meaning of the word saṁskṛta is that it is, by design, a spiritual nobility's refined language and medium of thought.
That is why the word "sanskritization" is appropriate in the context of Brahminical civilization. And it also makes clear the meaning of saṁskāras, at least in their positive sense as a purificatory or refining ritual which are meant to give a sāttvika tenor to the developing consciousness of the human being as he passes through the different stages of life.
The word saṁskāra in its broader sense as imprints on the unconscious and the resultant unconscious effects thereof always sounds to me like French sang (blood) and "scar," which are also appropriate, no doubt. The Sanskrit language is, however, to be integrated into the process of transforming the consciousness and training the mind to move naturally in a spiritual direction. The purpose of learning Sanskrit, in the Jiva Institute at least, is to enter the "mind-field" of the Vaishnava gurus like Shri Jiva, Rupa, Sanatan, Raghunath Das and the other scholars and poets of the tradition.
It may be impossible to return to a golden past – nowadays everyone looks to the future and humankind's millions of years of evolution up until the modern age ignored as primitive – but for us it seems that the riches of spiritual discovery that are hidden in the vast Sanskrit literature are still worth pursuing and implementing, even as the globalized civilization continues to rush towards environmental and social destruction without them.
It may be an impossible dream, but I imagine living in a linguistic medium where the words of the Veṇugīta are understood as naturally as a popular song on the radio and the limitless dhvanis of a verse send off a fireworks display of bhakti rasa in the mind of the devotee. Let us at least try to create a small alternative to the global cultural wasteland.
Many thanks are due to Mahanta Sri Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji Maharaj for the vision that is taking form in the Jiva Institute and Ashram, to Stuart Trusty, who has undertaken the publication of this first edition and to Malatimanjari Dasi, who helped with proofreading and in other ways. And thanks also to Radheya Mansel, Maria Christanell and other students who offered their help.
There are no doubt many errors and flaws in this very limited first edition, which has been prepared in a bit of a rush primarily for the students who followed the course this year and those who will come next year. I humbly ask all those using it to forgive its deficiencies. If they get some benefit and make progress in learning this wonderful and important language, I will consider the effort worthwhile.
Jai Sri Radhe.