The Necessity of Sanskrit

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Confusing Claims About Sanskrit

There is much confusion regarding the importance of Sanskrit at present. Some people treat Sanskrit as the origin of many languages, especially those spoken in India. Others have talked about the key role that Sanskrit can play in Artificial Intelligence. And yet other people are talking about the precise and sophisticated system of rule-based grammar formulated by Pāṇini, quite unlike other languages where there are many inconsistencies in grammar.

Missing from all these claims are discussions about what a language is, why is it important, and the essential role that language must play in the scientific study of nature. Everyone takes the existence of a language for granted, and rarely do they delve into the philosophy of language. In this post, I will begin by discussing the philosophy of language, and why languages are so important. I will then talk about Sanskrit in light of the philosophy of language.

The Problem of Epistemology

To discuss the necessity of language, we have to note the fundamental problem of epistemology in which we have to establish a correspondence between mind, reality, and language. I am using these terms somewhat loosely, so let’s make them precise, for the purposes of this article. The words don’t mean the same in every context, and I have used these words in other ways before. So, the following characterization of these words is limited to this article, and not to be extended to everything else.

By “mind” I mean the faculties by which we know reality. These include the five senses of knowledge, which lead to the sensations of sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell. They also include the capacity to conceptualize the world, which serves three purposes—(a) as names that are used to refer to the world, (b) as classes that describe the properties of the world, and (c) as descriptions of how the world behaves. We can demarcate these three types of concepts as nouns, adjectives, and verbs. For example, sentences such as “Kṛṣṇa is blue” and “Kṛṣṇa is playing” involve nouns, adjectives, and verbs.

By “reality” I mean something distinct from the mind, and that which exists apart from the mind. When the mind knows this reality, it uses nouns, adjectives, and verbs to describe its nature, and we call that description knowledge. For knowledge to be true, the nouns, adjectives, and verbs we use must correspond precisely to reality. Any mismatch between the mind’s nouns, adjectives, and verbs and the objects, properties, and behaviors of the world would entail that the mind does not know.

By “language” I mean a system of symbols and rules by which we can semantically convey what is in the mind—and pertains to reality—as a substitute for reality and the mind. If we have a complete linguistic description of reality, then we don’t need reality because language suffices. Similarly, if I have a complete linguistic description of something seen by one mind, then I don’t need the mind because language suffices. Even if we have a complete linguistic description of a mind, about something that exists only in the mind—e.g., dreams—then we don’t need a mind because the language suffices.

This ability to substitute the mind and reality with language necessitates the power to map everything in reality and the mind into language. For instance, if the mind has the capacity for emotions and intentions, then we should be able to convey those in a language completely. Similarly, if reality has the properties of taste and smell, then we should be able to convey those in a language completely.

Thus, the fundamental problem of epistemology is to show that correspondence between mind, reality, and language is possible. If this correspondence is broken, then either the mind cannot know reality, or not express it in language. If the mind cannot know reality, then there is no value in trying to establish a method of knowledge—i.e., the process by which we can know. Likewise, if the mind cannot express reality in language, then we cannot communicate knowledge from one mind to another, one generation to another, and one society to another. Everyone would have to then figure out the nature of reality individually because we cannot learn the nature of reality from other minds via language.

Western philosophy has totally neglected the fundamental problem of epistemology. It assumes that the mind, reality, and language have a correspondence such that the mind can know reality, and some language can express this reality. This correspondence has never been justified in Western thinking. We will shortly discuss serious problems in science arising from neglecting this fundamental problem.

The Problem of Modalities

The distinction between mind, reality, and language is actually not so stark. When one mind knows another mind and describes it in language, the known-mind becomes reality while the knower-mind remains the mind. We cannot draw a stark distinction between mind and reality because one mind is external to another mind, and thus, the reality known by it. Similarly, when the mind knows a language, the language becomes reality. We cannot draw a stark distinction between reality and language because while knowing the language, the language is reality. Thus, reality has three distinct meanings—(a) what we called reality previously, (b) some mind that is known, and (c) some language that is known.

Likewise, when we formulate a sentence about another sentence, the referred sentence is reality while the referring sentence is language. We cannot draw a stark distinction between reality and language because of the ability of sentences to refer to other sentences. Similarly, the mind conceptualizes reality in some ordinary language (such as English), therefore, the thought is a sentence and the mind is—at that point of conceptualization—also a sentence. We cannot draw a stark distinction between mind and language because the mind thinks of reality in an ordinary language and it comprises sentences.

Thus, we arrive at a very problematic situation—(a) mind is also reality, (b) language is also reality, and (c) mind is also language. To remain consistent, and solve the problem of correspondence noted above, we have to make additional claims—(a) reality is also mind, (b) reality is also language, and (c) language is also mind. Note how the first triad of sentences can be asserted by everyone because we know other minds, we know some language, and we think in language. However, the latter three sentences are not asserted by everyone because we think that reality is not-mind, reality is not-language, and language is not-mind. The latter three claims are made in Vedic philosophy, making it very unique in the pantheon of philosophies. But the latter three claims arise naturally as the result of the former three claims.

Let’s declutter the latter three claims. When we say that reality is also mind, we mean that the concepts in terms of which we must think—to truthfully capture reality—must also be the nature of reality. For example, when I say that “the rose is red”, I am using concepts such as “rose” and “red”. These concepts are in the mind. But if they are to be truthful, then they must also be the nature of reality. Without correspondence between mind and reality, what the mind knows could never be truthful. Thereby, “rose” and “red” cannot merely be concepts in mind; they have to also be the nature of reality.

When we say that reality is also language, we mean that the concepts such as “rose” and “red” are encoded in reality in the same way as in a language. If we could make a sentence about the petals, sepals, stamens, stigma, and the rose, each of these words would invoke something that must exist in reality for those sentences to be true. Moreover, the relationship between these words must also exist in reality in precisely the way that they exist in a sentence. Otherwise, the sentence would not be true. Hence, the reality must be a linguistic sentence because of the correspondence between the sentence and reality. Without correspondence, the linguistic descriptions of reality would not be truthful since the words and their interrelations do not precisely correspond to reality and that entails a falsehood.

When we say that language is also mind, we mean that just as the mind conceptualizes the world, and stores a picture of reality within itself, similarly, the sentence also stores a picture of reality within itself. When we substitute the mind with a sentence, we have not lost the ability to know what the mind was thinking, because that thought is encoded in a sentence. For that thought to be truthfully the state of the mind, there must be a correspondence between the words and structure of the sentence and the thought in the mind. If a language does not capture the mind, then the linguistic description would deviate from what is in the mind, and it would not be a correct representation of the mind. Even if the mind knows reality correctly, without the ability to express what is in the mind precisely in language, the linguistic expression would misrepresent what is in the mind. Two minds would then be incapable of communication because the language in use doesn’t precisely communicate the thoughts in the mind.

Thus, the fundamental problem of epistemology combined with the need to (a) treat mind and language as reality, (b) express the mind and reality in language, and (c) the mind to know reality and language, leads to the following six assertions. The first three are widely accepted; the next three are implied.

  • Mind is also reality,
  • Language is also reality,
  • Mind is also language,
  • Reality is also mind,
  • Reality is also language,
  • Language is also mind.

We cannot solve the fundamental problem of epistemology—i.e., correspondence between mind, reality, and language—without the above six assertions. But these six assertions lead us to a new problem of modalities, in which the same thing has to be treated in three ways—mind, reality, and language—in different contexts. They are all true. But we must not assert their truth simultaneously because that assertion would imply that when the mind sees an apple, it is identical to the apple. Or that when the mind thinks about the apple linguistically and expresses the knowledge of seeing an apple in a sentence, the speech is actually the speaker. Or that when a second mind listens to that speech and knows what the first mind claims to know, then the second mind has become the first mind.

The problem of modalities arises as we try to solve the fundamental problem of epistemology. The solution to the problem of modalities—i.e., not equating everything to everything else at once—arises because without that resolution we would end up with logical contradictions such as (a) the knower is the known, (b) the speaker is the speech, and (c) the person listening is the person speaking.

The Problem of Modern Science

If you are feeling perturbed, I sympathize. It is because the fundamental problem of epistemology, which should be discussed before anything else, is not often discussed. It has certainly never been discussed in Western philosophy. Most people assume a correspondence between mind, reality, and language when they talk about knowledge. We call these assumptions axioms. Correspondence is an axiom for everyone in so far as everyone assumes that it is possible to know and communicate. That axiom is not false. But unless we examine it as shown above, it cannot be the complete truth.

For instance, the complete truth is that language must fully map the mind and reality into itself. This correspondence is falsified when we use mathematics to describe reality because mathematics doesn’t fully map the mind into itself. The complete truth is that the mind, reality, or language can also be treated as each other, but not simultaneously. This equivalence is denied when mind and body are treated as different kinds of things in mind-body dualism. The complete truth is that due to modalities, we cannot use logical inferences as they would lead to logical contradictions as the result of equating the knower and known, speaker and speech, first and second mind. This aspect of correspondence is denied when science uses Aristotelian logic in which two things that are equal to each other in one context must be equal to each other, universally and timelessly. Similarly, if two things are not equal to each other in a context, then they can never be equal to each other, universally and timelessly.

One classic example of neglecting the fundamental problem of epistemology is the mind-body problem. The mind is the knower, and the body is the known. However, can we not know the knower? If so, how can we say that it exists? If instead the knower can also be known, then the stark distinction between mind and body is false. We must accept that the mind is a knower and it can be known by other minds. As a knower, we treat it as a mind. As the known, we treat it just like we treat the body. We should not universalize this equality to claim that the mind is nothing but the body (materialism) because then we would end up with a new problem—How do we explain the mind’s capacity to describe reality?

A concept is present in many things (e.g., the concept “car” is present in many cars). A body (in the specific sense that the term “body” is used either by the materialists or by the mind-body dualists) is always in one place. A statement can refer to something other than itself (e.g., statements about the car refer to a car). A body just refers to itself. Concepts are organized in a hierarchy (e.g., “car” is a lower concept than a “vehicle”). Different bodies are not related to each other hierarchically. Let’s call these properties reference, abstraction, and hierarchy. They are properties of the mind, but not of the body. Hence, if we reduce the mind to the body, we will lose all the essential properties of the mind. If we keep them separate, then we cannot explain how the mind knows the body or how the mind knows other minds. Universal equality and universal separation will result in different kinds of problems.

Let’s call the fundamental problem of epistemology a first-order problem. If this problem is neglected, then we get the second-order mind-body problem, the inability to reduce one to the other, and the inability to treat them as totally distinct types of realities. Then instead of trying to solve the second-order problem, we can move ahead assuming a mind-body distinction. We cannot explain how the mind knows the body, but we neglect that problem for the time being. By such neglect, we get the third-order problem of indeterministic theories—i.e., theories that cannot explain and predict observations. To solve the problem of indeterminism without solving any of the previous problems, we can try adding more variables and equations, to create a fourth-order problem of excessive complexity, cost, and effort, even as the problem of indeterminism remains unsolved. To solve this fourth-order problem of growing cost, complexity, and effort, we can try to suppress the dissenting voices, citing that even an indeterministic theory can be used probabilistically, so it is not totally useless. Pragmatic successes indicate that we are on the right path, which will then create a fifth-order problem of economics—i.e., justifying the pragmatic cost of theory formation against the pragmatic benefits of such theories. When the economic justification of cost vs. benefits fails, then we can create a sixth-order problem of blaming the failure on someone other than ourselves—e.g., by calling nature random and indeterministic—which contradicts the starting assumption that reality is rational and can be described through language.

The fact that we have never heard of the fundamental problem of epistemology—because nobody wanted to ponder the fundamental problem of epistemology and kept kicking the doors down as they marched forward—is the result of assuming that a correspondence between language, reality, and mind exists, which is true, but not the whole truth. The whole truth would be known only if examined that problem. By neglecting the problem, and assuming that the answer to the question “Can we know?” is a resounding yes, and nothing more needs to be said on that topic, science spent centuries knocking down doors and rubbishing successive problems to come back to the same question: “Can we know?” The problems that we leave unresolved, always come back to bite us when we least expect it.

The Problem of Incompleteness

Indeterminism problems in science are called incompleteness problems in mathematics. Incompleteness means that we cannot answer all questions framed in numerical language. The proof of this fact is called Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. Indeterminism means that we cannot predict and explain everything using numerical language. Thus, indeterminism and incompleteness are identical problems. We cannot explain and predict everything using a theory based on numbers because the assumption that we can map reality completely into mathematics—even as we neglect the mind—is false.

If the fundamental problem of epistemology had been pondered before formulating modern science, then it would have been quickly evident that mathematics cannot be an adequate language for the body because it is an inadequate language for the mind. After all, some of the things that we would try to know through science will be minds or influenced by minds—e.g., in biology and medicine. If the language of science cannot by definition map the mind, then it also cannot map those things that are either minds or are influenced by minds. To be strictly within the purview of such a language, we have to ensure that nothing we study in science is influenced by any mind. Since there is no way to assert that claim, hence, there is no way to know if any theory that uses mathematics can fail either because it is a mind or influenced by the mind in some way. Since by practice of such mathematical theories, we now know that every theory is indeterministic, therefore, it should be clear that indeterminism is the result of neglecting the role of the mind in the study of the body—due to the false mind-body divide.

The mind describes reality in terms of qualities while mathematics describes it in terms of quantities. Since we cannot reduce qualities to quantities, although we can approximate some qualities with quantities, therefore, there is some pragmatic usefulness for mathematics, but it is not the truth. For instance, heaviness is not weight. But we can approximate heaviness by weight. If we do that, we would not be able to explain why the same thing sometimes feels heavier and at other times lighter. Every successive instance of weighing does not produce the same value. It always produces a value slightly different from the previous values. If we disregard that variation as instrument error, then the fact that such variations are occurring in everything, everywhere, all the time, means that their combined effect will accumulate rapidly to produce effects that can never be explained or predicted by theories that assume that variations don’t exist. One of the many problems of equating qualities to quantities is that qualities keep varying but quantities remain constant. If we disregard the role of the mind in nature by treating heaviness as weight, then the approximation will result in the failure of physical theories.

We can still use the weighing scale for some cases—e.g., weighing fruits and vegetables—because the variations don’t matter as much. However, that weighing cannot be extended to planets and galaxies trillions of times bigger than fruits and vegetables because the weight keeps changing. If we push forward with that extension, then we disregard the fact that the same thing appears heavier and lighter to us with the passing of time. If we neglect that variation by assuming that the property is weight rather than heaviness, then the approximation in a physical and mathematical theory will come back to bite us because (a) we cannot explain the mental experience, and (b) since the mental experience is not necessarily an illusion, the weight is factually changing, and the physical theory is factually false.

The basic problem is that reality is qualities and we try to quantify it in mathematics, neglecting small variations, that keep getting bigger and bigger, making it the wrong linguistic choice for reality. Thus, the problem of indeterminism in scientific theories is the problem of incompleteness in mathematics. The equivalence between indeterminism and incompleteness is not discussed openly because it would dramatically reduce the investment in science—university departments, research labs, expensive equipment, researchers, and professors will get rapidly defunded. Keeping the equivalence between indeterminism and incompleteness hidden is in the interest of maintaining academic careers. If this connection becomes well-known, then some philosophers will blame the problem on reality, by calling reality fundamentally indeterministic, unpredictable, random, uncertain, and probabilistic.

Since that would still not solve the problem, some curious people may ask: Where did we go wrong? Why did we spend centuries investing hard labor in formulating theories in a language incapable of expressing reality? Why did we spend centuries thinking that we can know the truth if we cannot? The answer to that question would be: We never examined the fundamental problem of epistemology. If we had done that, then we would have realized that any language that doesn’t fully map the mind also cannot fully map reality. The correspondence between mind, reality, and language is a precondition to knowledge, and if that correspondence hasn’t been proven, then we cannot know the truth.

The Problem of Language

We are now equipped to talk about language based on the topics we have discussed—(a) language cannot use numerical quantities, and (b) language must use mental qualities. Due to the fundamental problem of epistemology, we must conceive reality as language and qualities. What we mean by language here is words; what we mean by qualities here is the meanings of those words. This is how we can satisfy the twin conditions noted above: (a) reality is also mind, and (b) reality is also language. Since reality is also mind, the world cannot be meaningless. Since reality is also language, therefore, the fundamental particles of reality cannot just be things; they also have to be meaningful words.

Thus, we describe reality in three ways—(a) things, (b) words, and (c) meanings. What we mean by a “thing” is an instance of some word-meaning. If there are two apples, we can call them two things because each thing is akin to the word “apple”. Twoness of things is not a truth; it is merely an approximation. It can be contextually used in some cases when changes to the properties of one thing do not change the properties of other things. That is not universally true. Most things are entangled in a way that we cannot change the properties of seemingly different things independently. But to the extent that such changes may not always be noticeable, we can treat some things as distinct from other things.

This is just like we can change the words in one sentence while keeping other sentences intact. But if changes to one sentence require changes to other sentences, then the sentences are entangled. For instance, two entangled sentences are “The apple is red” and “This sentence is true”. If we change the first sentence to “The apple is blue” then have to change the second sentence to “This sentence is false”. We cannot change the sentences independently because they are entangled by a reference. Since the mind is a reference for reality, and language is a reference for reality and mind, hence, they are entangled. Thus, the common case is entanglement. The rare case is independence, which arises we assume the separation of mind, reality, and language. Many peculiar properties of reality emerge naturally as we try to shift from object thinking to semantic—or word-meaning—thinking.

If we can treat everything in three ways—i.e., things, words, and meanings—although not simultaneously, then we can talk about how modalities operate. The basic principle is contextuality: The same thing can be seen in one of the three modes alternately. Whatever mode it is seen in is dominant while the other two modes are subordinate. If meaning-modality is dominant, we call that “mind”. If word-modality is dominant, we call that “language”. If thing-modality is dominant, we call that “reality”. Reality, mind, and language are not fundamentally different categories; they are modes of the same thing.

We can look at a table in the reality-mode, and say: It is an object. We can shift to mind-mode, and say: It is a table. We can shift to language-mode, and say: It is the symbol of the table concept. Thus, the sentences “A is a table” and “B is a table” don’t universally and timelessly mean “A is B”. Instead, A and B are identical in the language-mode and mind-mode, but they are not identical in the reality-mode. If we talk about the three modes as three spaces—mind, reality, and language—then A and B have the same position in the language-mode-space and mind-mode-space but not in the reality-mode-space. To combine these claims succinctly, we have to employ the term Bhedābheda—two things are identical and different. The two tables are conceptually identical but objectively different. Bhedābheda is the result of modalities.

Now we have solved the fundamental problem of epistemology, by establishing a correspondence between mind, reality, and language. Likewise, we have solved the fundamental problem of modalities in which we had to make six claims: (a) the mind is also reality, (b) language is also reality, (c) the mind is also language, (d) reality is also mind, (e) reality is also language, and (f) language is also mind. We have escaped the trap of quantities that result in the problem of incompleteness. And we have rejected the trap of binary logic to assert that two things identical in one mode can be different in other modes.

Now we can talk about mind and body. They are not fundamentally different kinds of things. They are just different sentences. The mind is a semantically summarized sentence—like a verse. The body is a semantically elaborated sentence—like a purport. The purport expands out of the verse; hence, the body expands out of the mind. If we change the verse, then we definitely have to change the purport. But if the verse is unchanged, we can explain the same verse using different purports. Hence, a fundamental change in mind entails a drastic change in the body. But the same mind can be expanded into many bodies—such as the childhood body, youth body, and old age body—of the mind.

Even the body exists in three modalities. In the reality-mode, we can say it is an object. In the language-mode, we can say it is a symbol of humanness. And in the mind-mode, we can say that it is a human. Similarly, the mind exists in three modalities. In the reality-mode, we can say that it is a knowable thing. In the language-mode, we can say that it is linguistic sentences. And in the mind-mode, we can say that it is thoughts. Thereby, we can know both the body and mind due to reality-mode. The body and mind are a language communicating a meaning that may transcend a specific body and mind. But because those meaning are also the body and mind, hence, the transcendent is also immanently present.

With the solution to the problem of epistemology, the problem of modalities, and the problem of mind-body duality, all successive problems—e.g., the problem of indeterminism in science—dissolve. Now we can understand why thought is also linguistic, language is also thought, and that thought is also reality. They are basically the same thing, being talked of in three different modalities. Our minds are not fundamentally different kinds of things than bodies. Instead, both mind and body are words with meanings. A plurality of words means that there can be different minds and bodies. And yet, the same meaning can exist in many minds just as two bodies can have the same height and weight.

The Problem of Natural Language

When we reject mathematics as the language of reality and prescribe a semantic language for that purpose, we cannot ignore the fact that mathematics is very precise and concise. The semantic language replacement must also be precise and concise. That is not true for all languages. For instance, a formula such as F = ma describes Newton’s second law precisely and concisely. However, if we try to describe this formula in English, we might have to use two dozen words, such as—”the time rate of change of the momentum of an inertial body is equal in both magnitude and direction to the force imposed on it“. Even if you read this, it is highly unlikely that you will understand what this truly means. This is why students of physics have to solve many practical problems to fully assimilate the meaning of the formula.

Mathematics is a language of modern science not just because science uses quantities but also because mathematics is precise and concise. Precise means that we can use it to describe something consistently and completely. Concise means that the consistent and complete description must also be the shortest. We can say a lot in a succinct formula. It takes a lot of English words to say that same thing. When we move to a semantic language, we don’t want to lose the succinctness. We like the precise and concise nature of language because it reminds us of the fact that nature is optimal and efficient. Hence, a truthful consistent and complete semantic description of reality must also be a concise description. While there can be many semantic languages, which can describe reality consistently and completely (the condition of precision), only one of these languages would give the most concise description.

This is how we can demarcate many semantic languages from a natural language. The distinction is that every other semantic language needs many words but a natural language will require the least number of words. A natural language is the most efficient and parsimonious without sacrificing precision or completeness. This refers to the global optimization of descriptions because it is possible that we can shrink the description of one thing even as we magnify the descriptions of other things. Thus, when we talk about a concise language, we are also talking about the universally most concise language.

The Problem of Semantics

We have thus far established—(a) why we reject mathematics, (b) why we need a semantic language, (c) why that semantic language must be the most concise conceivable language, and (d) the most concise semantic language is a natural language. The Vedic texts assert that Sanskrit is that natural language.

The evidence of Sanskrit being the most concise semantic language is given in Vedic textual verses. Any correct translation of these verses into another language—such as English—is necessarily longer than the verse itself. For instance, we translate the Sanskrit word prakṛti as “modes of nature” because prakṛti has three meanings—(a) that which was created, (b) that which is artificial, and (c) that which is bondage. The correct literal English translation of prakṛti would be “artificially created bondage”. The world is real because it is bondage. The world is temporary because it was created. The world is unreal because it is artificial. We can contrast prakṛti to spiritual reality by inverting the above three words into “genuine eternal freedom”. The three modes of prakṛti are the three meanings of prakṛti. But when we translate it as “nature”, we don’t get the meaning that nature is artificially created bondage. To explain what prakṛti means, we have to use many terms—(a) nature, (b) modalities, (c) artificial, (d) created, and (e) bondage. At the minimum, we need five words. The conciseness of Sanskrit is evidenced by the fact that all these five meanings are collectively packed into a single word. To discover all these meanings, we have to look at the word from multiple perspectives—which are its modalities.

Language is called śabda-brahman in Vedic texts because brahman denotes personhood defined as sat-chit-ānanda. We can also expand these three into six attributes: self, intention, emotion, cognition, conation, and relation. Thus, each word is an individual entity—the self. There is a purpose underlying each word—the intention. Each word evokes a certain feeling—the emotion. Each word denotes a concept—the cognition. Each word has an effect—the conation. Each word connotes something in relation to other words—the relation. A word is not an object. It is a person. We can explain prakṛti in terms of elaborations of artificial, created, bondage. In this, bondage is the relation. Cognition and conation are the creation. Artificial is the self, intention, and emotion. Thus, both pleasure and pain—different kinds of emotions—are considered artificial. Cheating the person to rectify them is the intention. And this cheating, rectifying, binding, changing, observable reality is collectively prakṛti.

Western linguistics treats a word as an object. But Vedic philosophy treats a word as a person. Then, because each person has six aspects, hence, we must look at a word from five perspectives, given that we know the word to be a distinct individual entity. In simple words, prakṛti is speech. The world is just text. But this speech or text is not genuine eternal freedom. It is instead artificial temporary bondage.

Thus, there is no contradiction in the following statements—(a) matter is brahman, (b) matter is sound, (c) matter is living, (d) matter is meaning, (e) matter is delusionary, (f) matter is bondage, (g) matter is force, (h) matter is real, (i) matter is divine, (j) matter is person, (k) matter is rectifying, (l) matter is changing, (m) matter is eternal, (n) matter is known, (o) matter is active, (p) matter is purposeful, (q) matter is pleasing, (r) matter is painful, (s) matter is inert, etc. We need many books to explain matter. But all those books are packed in the word prakṛti. Different books talk about prakṛti in different ways. Those are not contradictions. They are simply aspects of the same thing. Each person sees one or more aspects. Accordingly, they explain prakṛti in different ways because it is many things at once. Many things at once doesn’t mean everything at once. There are many meanings, but not all meanings.

The Problem of Phonosemantics

The 50 alphabets of Sanskrit constitute are complete set of phonemes. We can easily show that every single utterable sound—in every other possible language—can be reduced to these phonemes. Thus, the sounds of all languages can be encoded in Sanskrit, and that encoding will also be the most concise because every possible phoneme is identified and represented as a single alphabet. For instance, there is a single alphabet in Sanskrit for sounds like “ta”, “tha”, “da”, “dha”, etc. which require two or three alphabets in English. There are sounds in Sanskrit that can never be written in English. For example, the last phoneme in what we write as Tamil is a Sanskrit vowel (लृ) that we can never express in English. Due to this problem, many people write Tamil as Tamizh which is also not phonetically equivalent.

Thus, we have evidence for phonetic and semantic conciseness. Every single sound can be phonetically expressed in the least number of alphabets in Sanskrit and whatever is written in Sanskrit requires many alphabets when translated into another language. Through this bidirectional test for conciseness, we know that there isn’t a more concise language among all the available languages. Hence, if we search for a natural semantic language within the available semantic languages, Sanskrit will stand out.

Equivalence of Sanskrit and reality is given in Tantra scriptures which make a one-to-one mapping between 50 natural elements (24 of which come from Sāñkhya) and 50 Sanskrit alphabets. All these elements are constructed from the three guna of prakṛti. As we have discussed, a linguistic symbol is not separate from an element of reality which is not separate from how the mind conceptualizes it. Hence, the element can be equated to an alphabet of Sanskrit, and that alphabet can be mapped to a mental meaning. We have already established the necessity of establishing such mappings for science.

This equivalence of phonetics and semantics is called phonosemantics. Sanskrit is a phonosemantic language in the sense that its sounds have precise semantic counterparts. Phonosemantics is found to some extent in other languages. The sound str means that which expands in Sanskrit. A similar meaning is found in English words such as street, strap, strip, straight, string, straw, stream, strait, and stretch—which denote something thin and long. But this phenomenon is not universal in other languages, as it is in Sanskrit. Words like stroke, strong, structure, and strange don’t carry long and thin meanings.

If we know the meanings of Sanskrit phonemes, then we know the meaning of the words. Since Sanskrit is both phonetically and semantically the most concise, therefore, it is also phonosemantically the most concise. This is the theoretical argument for Sanskrit being a natural language: it is provably the most concise semantic language phonetically, semantically, and phonosemantically. The last attribute makes the conciseness argument stronger, although the phonetic and semantic arguments aren’t weak.

The empirical proof that Sanskrit is a natural language is given through the use of mantras. Even if we don’t know what a mantra means, its chanting and hearing will change reality and the mind. We cannot say that about other languages—even if those languages are semantic. For instance, I cannot utter English words and expect them to change my life without knowing the English dictionary. But everyone can derive the benefit of a mantra without knowing what it means. Mantras are the empirical evidence of Sanskrit being a natural language, above and beyond the theoretical argument of conciseness.

The Problem of Dualisms

Modal thinking is the generic answer to the problem of dualisms in Western philosophy, such as form vs. substance, body vs. mind, spirit vs. matter, competition vs. cooperation, structure vs. function, socialism vs. capitalism, empiricism vs. rationalism, and so on. Dualisms create logical contradictions because two opposite-natured things exist simultaneously and hence logic requires us to reject one side of the dualism to be logically consistent. This is the origin of Gödel’s Incompleteness. By rejecting one side of the dualism, we obtain consistency by sacrificing completeness. If want completeness, then we will have to induct both sides of the dualism. However, we will then end up with a logical contradiction.

Since dualisms are pervasive in philosophy, a conflict between science and philosophy is created: The latter uses ordinary language, and the former uses mathematics. Everyone working in science hates philosophy because (a) it uses ordinary language, (b) that language is riddled with dualisms, (c) philosophers spend their life fighting dualisms, (d) scientists have no dualisms because they use logic, (e) however they have incompleteness in lieu of dualism, (f) they don’t know that dualism and incompleteness are merely two sides of the same coin, (g) they just blame and scorn philosophy (h) although they cannot solve the problems of incompleteness without inducting dualism, which philosophers are fighting to solve.

Therefore, the first thing we need to do is reject the logic that leads to dualisms. That alternative logic is modal logic in which everything has seemingly contradictory aspects, but they are factually not contradictory. For instance, we can say that matter is eternal and temporary; that sounds like a contradiction without modalities. However, it is not contradictory if we say that the world is “eternal spiritual possibility” and “temporary material reality”. Possibility vs. reality is one dualism; temporariness vs. eternity is another dualism; spiritual vs. material is the third dualism. But the combination of these three dualisms is not contradictory. This is how we get both consistency and completeness because by combining modalities we resolve the contradictions of dualism.

A genuine contradiction is “eternal material possibility”. For instance, when people create probabilistic theories in science—akin to tossing coins—they are talking about “eternal material possibility”. Head and tail are possibilities; the coin is material; and the coin is tossed eternally. This is a serious problem because it entails that we can never predict and explain the outcomes. Thus, even those who make such a theory, keep struggling with it to resolve its problems. In contrast, we can easily say that consciousness is an “eternal spiritual possibility” because: (a) experiences are possible, (b) they can be created by consciousness, and (c) they can be created eternally. For instance, quantum mechanics is a problematic theory if we think of it as a coin toss. But it is not problematic if we think of matter as also a consciousness in which successive events pop out of the consciousness and merge back into the consciousness, just like during imagination or dreaming.

Thus, “eternal material possibility” is a very problematic idea while “eternal spiritual possibility” is totally unproblematic. Both falsehoods and truisms are produced in the same language through different alphabet combinations. Thereby, matter is also śabda-brahman—the eternal alphabet. But we can make false statements by combining those alphabets, just as we can make truthful statements from the alphabet. Consistent and complete truth can exist in this world because truth and falsehoods are simply different sentences. The alphabets of language are true, but some sentences produced from it are true while others are false. The false sentences are self-contradictory whereas the truthful sentences are self-consistent. Thus, sometimes Vedic texts are also called śabda-brahman because they are truthful statements.

In Vedic philosophy, the self-consistent group of statements is called non-duality while the self-contradictory group of statements is called duality. Duality is also an illusion. It exists, but it is not true. Falsity is a judgment on the meaning, rather than the existence because the world is constructed as sentences. Both true and false sentences exist. Hence, illusion and duality pertain to falsity. The illusion also exists; however, it is not true. By calling the world an “illusion” we are simply saying that it is not what it seems to be. There is a difference between phenomena and reality in the sense that the phenomena that we observe are misleading us about the nature of reality.

We can understand this idea through the process of interrogating a suspect before charging him with a crime. A criminal makes many false statements and his falsehoods are detected through inconsistencies in his claims. This is why interrogators question a suspect over and over on the same topics. They are trying to find inconsistencies. An honest person tells the way things are, and that truth is determined by the consistency between the claims. Thus truth is verified by self-consistency and falsity is falsified by self-contradiction.

Falsity is self-correcting and the truth is self-reinforcing. Opposites can exist as possibilities in anything, but they are not duality if they are combined consistently with other combinations. For instance, a person can have the potential for love and cruelty, reward and punishment, reforming and reinforcing. But there are many ways to combine these opposites. If he delivers a “cruel reforming punishment” against “cruel reinforcing punishment”, he reforms cruelty instead of reinforcing it. If he delivers a “loving reinforcing reward” against a “loving reinforcing reward”, he reinforces love instead of reforming it. It is entirely possible that one could deliver “cruel reforming punishment” against “loving reinforcing reward”. Such an action would reform love into cruelty. Since nobody can live perpetually with one who reciprocates their cruelty but everyone can live eternally with one who reciprocates their love, therefore, cruelty in a person is a self-contradiction—when it is reciprocated, it is reformed. Truth is thus automatically discovered by everyone just by knowing themselves. Falsity is not just an external contradiction. It is also an internal or self-contradiction. But that falsehood can be corrected through reciprocation.

There is a difference between Western dualisms and Vedic duality. Dualisms are never resolved and dualities are resolved eventually, even if they are temporarily unresolved. The resolution pertains to combinations. It does not dissolve the existence of opposites. Spirit and matter involve the same language, but spirit is self-reinforcing statements and matter is self-correcting statements. The self-correcting statements are not evil, but not as good as self-reinforcing statements.

The Problem of Reasoning

A self-correcting system must allow the possibility of both truth and falsities to exist within the logical system. Then it must self-refute falsities and self-affirm truths. Self-refutation requires a contradiction. The problem with Western logic is that the moment you get a contradiction in a logical system, the logic will derive many more mutually contradictory true and false claims, rather than correct false claims to attain greater internal consistency. Over time, the number of contradictions will increase rather than decrease. Nothing will ever get corrected. With continuously increasing true and false claims, the ability to decide the truth will continuously decrease.

People have been talking about self-defending, self-correcting, self-healing, and self-improving systems for ages. But no such system has ever been created. It cannot be created because correction, defense, healing, and improvement require a contradiction between two claims, such that the truth is stronger than the falsity. But we cannot assign that strength of truth and falsity to claims in Western logic. Statements in Western logic are simply true or false. They are not greater truth, higher truth, or better truth. Hence, the moment a contradiction is created in a logical system, the result is an increase in contradictions.

The philosophy of śabda-brahman says that each person is the full capacity of language, with greater and lesser emphasis on some aspects of language that constitute the person’s personality. That capacity for language combines with itself to become different sentences. It interacts with other sentences and is either reinforced or corrected. Thus, there is a realm of self-reinforcing sentences called spirit, and there is a realm of self-correcting sentences called matter. The process of correction involves a cycle of assertion and negation while the process of reinforcement grows continuously. Matter is also spirit because the full capacity of language exists. However, the combinations produced from that capacity are not eternal. Those combinations change over time because time creates a cycle of falsehoods and their falsification.

The expression of this philosophy in a formal system—based on a non-binary modal logic—is a pending project I talk about. Modern science describes the world as interacting particles. Vedic science describes the world as interacting sentences. In modern science, particles collide and change. In Vedic science, sentences interact and change. In modern science, collisions increase disorder. In Vedic science, interactions increase order. Modern science is incomplete whereas Vedic science is complete. Modern science is based on binary logic and quantities. Vedic science is based on non-binary logic and qualities. Falsehoods are self-corrected in Vedic science but falsehoods increase in modern science. Through the process of self-healing, self-improvement, self-defense, and self-correction, the universe becomes a single organism (comprising a very large number of organisms) in Vedic science. But because these things don’t happen in modern science, the universe remains innumerable fragmented particles.

Thus we see a fundamental difference between organismic and reductionist ideologies. An organism has a purpose; a material particle does not. The central idea here is that we can never reduce organisms to their components. There is always holistic behavior, exhibited through self-defense, self-correction, and self-propagation property. We don’t need an external force to drive a modal-logic system because it is self-propagating. We always need an external energy source to drive a binary logical system because it is not self-propagating.

The Problem of Relevance

Language is not just a medium of communication in Vedic philosophy. Rather, language is reality. With material particles and binary logic, we can never construct language. However, with language, we can construct something that looks like material particles, although it doesn’t behave like those particles.

Something that looks like a car but doesn’t work like a car is not a car. However, people are tempted to think that something that looks like a car must be a car. They try to model it as a car and their models are partially verified—they get the benefit of sitting in the car but it doesn’t take them anywhere.

That deviation from material particle behavior is the indeterminism of science. It is the incompleteness of mathematics where no system of numbers can ever be both consistent and complete. The reason it can never be complete is that reality is semantics rather than physics. Physics can never produce semantics. However, semantics can produce something that looks like physics although it is not.

The key relevance of Sanskrit is that reality is semantic. It is based on the philosophy of śabda-brahman in which the world is constructed out of Sanskrit alphabets. Each of these alphabets is brahman—i.e., persons—with six aspects. Hence, śabda is also divine and spiritual. And yet, it can be combined to produce something temporary. The śabda-brahman philosophy seems contradictory to the brahman philosophy in which everything is mind. Then it seems contradictory to prakṛti philosophy in which everything is reality. This is because we don’t know that śabda is brahman is prakṛti. This equivalence is necessary to solve the fundamental problem of epistemology and establish the correspondence between language, mind, and reality. If we cannot solve this problem, then there is no knowledge.

If we do not cast the necessity of Sanskrit in light of the fundamental problem of epistemology and its solution to talk about Sanskrit as a natural language, then we are missing the point of that language. If we limit our descriptions of Sanskrit as the best Indian language, or the origin of many Indian languages, or the language of gods and cultured people, then we are missing the point of that language.

We have to liberate Sanskrit from the confines of a country, culture, and community to see its true scientific value. Language is not a human invention. Language is not confined to a country, society, or civilization. Rather, nature is itself a language that transcends societies, countries, and planets. That transcendence is established by the necessity of a language that solves the fundamental problem of epistemology. It is indicated in Tantra scriptures and proven by mantra chanting. It is indirectly seen through phonetic and semantic conciseness when we try to translate Sanskrit into any other language. If we can grasp all these indicators, beginning with the necessity for a natural language for any kind of knowledge to be possible, then we can appreciate the true importance and value of Sanskrit.

Based on this, we can talk about the present-day claims about Sanskrit. It is true that Sanskrit is the origin of many Indian languages. Since it is the most complete set of phonemes, hence it is complete in a different sense that every other written language can be phonetically translated into Sanskrit.

As regards the role of Sanskrit in AI, all computers operate on mathematics, which is incomplete. Whatever we write in a semantic language will lose its modal properties when it is converted into mathematics. That conversion happens when human-readable code is compiled into machine-readable code. Hence, even if we were to write a program in Sanskrit, following all the 4000 rules of Pāṇini grammar, the moment we compile that program, it will lose its modal properties and become mathematics. That mathematics is incomplete. Due to mathematics, we get indeterminism. Hence, the problem of indeterminism will arise in AI, and we can never model reality completely in AI.

The difference between real and artificial intelligence is that between mathematics and semantics. They use different kinds of languages. The former is rooted in binary logic, the latter in modal logic. Modal logic breaks binary logical principles because it is contextual rather than universalist logic. Computers use context-free grammar. Semantics relies on context-dependent grammar. If we convert semantics into mathematics, we would be transforming modal logic reality into binary logic reality. That will wipe out all the real intelligence in the program and convert it into an artificial intelligence program. That program—rooted in mathematics and binary logic—is also incomplete and indeterministic, which are merely two formulations of the same problem. Since mathematics is non-semantic, hence AI will always be non-semantic. Since natural theories are incomplete, hence AI will also be incomplete.

Anyone who doesn’t get these problems probably doesn’t understand the fundamental problems of epistemology, modalities, indeterminism, incompleteness, and linguistics. A rocket being transported on a bicycle is not going to go at rocket speed. It will go at the speed of a bicycle. We have to decouple the bicycle from the rocket, and let the rocket run on its own. That means stop trying to model reality using mathematics (the bicycle) and start thinking about reality semantically (the rocket). That is when we can appreciate the true value of Sanskrit as a natural language, not just as an Indian language.

The Problem of Necessity

Some people might read the title of this post and assume that by “Necessity of Sanskrit” I mean that everyone must learn Sanskrit. That is not the intent. The word “necessity” can have three implications—(a) epistemological necessity, (b) moral necessity, and (c) emotional necessity.  I would like to reject all three kinds of necessities. There is no moral duty to learn Sanskrit. English will also suffice. There is no emotional necessity to like or love Sanskrit. English will still suffice. Sanskrit is not necessary to know the truth. English will also suffice.

The necessity pertains only to the most precise and concise description of reality. We can still communicate in another language like English which will not be the most concise, although it can be precise. We can substitute the most concise description with a less concise description. One who wants to know will have to use many more words in English than they have to in Sanskrit. If they wanted to memorize what they have learned, the expression of the truth would be easier to memorize (because it is the shortest) in Sanskrit than in English.

The fact is that nobody memorizes Newton’s second law as a long sentence. Everyone remembers it as F = ma. In English, four letters become two dozen words. And even those two dozen words are not easy to understand, so we have to solve many physics problems to explicate the meaning of F = ma. Once this formula has been memorized, then if someone asks us to describe Newton’s second law, we recall the formula and convert it into an English sentence (or sentences). The term “necessity” therefore has just one meaning—the most concise description of reality is how reality itself is.  This should not be equated to the moral, emotional, or epistemological necessity of learning Sanskrit.

It is well-known today that Sanskrit texts were passed down from generation to generation orally. People memorized entire books. To memorize, one has to find the shortest description of reality because the shortest description is the easiest to memorize. That was the pragmatic need for the most concise language, and it diminishes in importance when we have printed books. It still retains importance in the sense that we need to recall and use the understanding of reality even while leading an ordinary life. Sanskrit verses help there.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "The Necessity of Sanskrit," in Shabda Journal, January 10, 2023,