This has been a very good year for the Jiva Tirtha Sanskrit course and things are progressing quite nicely, though in the usually bumbling way.
This is the second year we have been doing this course at Jiva and it is still a work in progress. One student Stuart Trusty pushed to have the manual published in a small number after the first year was over. This year we have been able to build on that work and at the end of this year we should have a second edition.
Even so, I think it will take one more year before it will finally be publishable, as what I have learned this year will need to be better assimilated to the overall method.
By an interesting coincidence, one of my students this year is Vinode Vani Dasi. She was in Dallas in 1973, the first full year that the original ISKCON Gurukula was in operation. Like many things in ISKCON, the early days were the headiest, filled with the most enthusiasm. We had a rather good reminiscence about it in yesterday's class. The Gita memorization contest and the Krishna Book quiz games were two of the things that remained as very positive memories.
Many of the things I still do in the classroom come from the experience of trying to teach those children Sanskrit -- first Western kids in English, and then later at the Mayapur Gurukula in Bengali. Things like group chanting declensions before class, for instance. Memorizing verses.
And I did have a bit of experience also teaching at the university level, but not so much. Then teaching in Rishikesh. Each one of these experiences presented certain challenges that have led to an somewhat idiosyncratic approach to teaching Sanskrit, based really on speed -- getting the easy stuff first, try to understand the Sanskrit way of thinking.
Language is an operating system for the brain. If you follow George Lakoff you will understand how even a single language has different "programs". Prabhupada instilled in me a faith that Sanskrit represents a superior programming system because it inevitably leads to contemplation of the Absolute Truth. It orients the brain in frames (to use Lakoff's term) towards God. All knowledge and perception is reframed into a God-oriented narrative. For the yogi sadhaka, this is almost a compulsory prerequisite.
The desired goal is to be able to think in Sanskrit. If you start learning Sanskrit according to the model of thinking in Latin or French, you will never get very far.
Over the years, of course, DOING Sanskrit has always been more important (it seemed) than teaching it. But by Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji Maharaj's grace, an opportunity has been provided where serious students can apply themselves and it is my great good fortune that these students are tolerating my untidy teaching style and being persistent.
I am calling them my guinea pigs, but quite honestly, they are participating wholeheartedly and thereby helping the development of this course immensely. "Teach what you want to learn" is a truism. Really, it is great because it helps to get us to a place where more advanced concepts can be taught. And believe me that is a great relief!! It is a relief to be able to envision getting to the good stuff!!
Swami Veda told me back in the day when he first engaged me at Rishikesh that he knew it as university policy that one always hires the seniormost lecturer to teach the beginners. He may just have been trying to butter me up, but I think what he was getting at is that the person who has the most love for a subject will instill that love in his students.
So in a way it is not the Sanskrit language that the best teacher will instill in his student, but a love for Sanskrit.
It is very gratifying to feel that love being mirrored this year.
And, I will add, it will make this course really good next year. So I am already sending out a warning to all prospective students that next year may be the last year I do it. So take advantage if you can.
In a kind of coincidence, a friend of mine simultaneously posted a black and white video of Prabhupada speaking. This is where I first heard Sanskrit, in his quoted verses.