Sanskrit and the Age of Computer

by Vyaas Houston, M.A.

The mentality of mankind and the language of mankind created each other. If we like to assume the rise of language as a given fact, then it is not going too far to say that the souls of men are the gift from language to mankind. The account of the sixth day should be written:

He gave them speech, and they became souls.

— Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought

The quote of Whitehead may have created in the readers as many different responses as there are readers. One may perceive it as a noble and inspiring truth. Another may react to the notion that a "soul" could depend on language. Still another may be completely in the dark about what Whitehead is saying.

The quote will actually take on meaning according to context. And the context is largely determined by the meanings we attribute to words, especially in this quote the word "soul". "Soul", according to Webster can mean "the immortal part of human being" or "the seat of emotional sentiment and aspiration" or simply "a human being."

In addition to or apart from these definitions, each of us may bring our own religious or philosophical beliefs or experiences into the context, "the soul is this", or "the soul is that."

The point is this: wherever we go in our interpretation of Whitehead, we use language. So the question arises "where does the soul exist other than in language?"

Suppose we were to continue to challenge Whitehead in his implication that only human beings, by having speech, became souls. We say "animals have souls." But again the question occurs, where does the animal's soul exist other than in our describing it with language? Even if we were to have a vision of the soul of an animal, still we would have to return to language to report what we saw. The soul of the animal would continue to exist for us in memory as language. Through language we could even recreate a picture of the animal's soul.

Perhaps we should recreate North's recreation of creation and say "He gave speech, and they became souls, and in turn some of them gave souls to all creatures, to all life."

All of this is not to in any way invalidate the sanctity and perfection of creation but only to point out that we have greatly underestimated the sacred power of language. When the power of language to create and discover life is recognized, language becomes sacred. In ancient times, language was held in this regard. Nowhere was this more so than in ancient India. It is evident that the ancient scientists of language were acutely aware of the function of language as a tool for exploring and understanding life, and in the process of using language with greater and greater rigor discovered Sanskrit or the "perfected" language.

This along with the example of Whitehead's quote points out what is perhaps the most important distinction we can make in the fulfillment of our lives: either language uses us or we use language. Either we think that Whitehead is right or wrong based on what our already established definition of "soul" is or we discover the relation of his use of words, to our own use of words. This opens the possibility of seeing something that lies beyond both. Only in the latter do we actually communicate, free from the domination of unconscious memory dictating meaning.

In ancient India the intention to discover truth was so consuming, that in the process, they discovered perhaps the most perfect tool for fulfilling such a search that the world has ever known — the Sanskrit language...