Sanskrit, the Language of Meditation

by Vyaas Houston, M.A.

Among the many marvelous gifts of the Sanskrit language is a rich spectrum of terminology that defines with impeccable precision a world of vision and clarity that opens through yoga and meditation. Without this, the already difficult journey to self-knowledge could be much like a trip to a mountain retreat without the benefit of a high speed vehicle traveling on roads with names.

The chanting of Sanskrit as preparation to meditation is the vehicle. It tunes the body, mind and senses to a finer frequency and then provides the road map, ancient truths concisely stated in exacting terms that glide through the mind with a minimum of effort. The trip goes especially smoothly when absorbed in the beautiful elegance of sound, chanted aloud or whispered silently within, giving birth to meaning that points the way. Sanskrit, like anything else can turn into a commuter's monotony, where in spite of beautiful scenery, the driver has his mind on other things. If it becomes mechanical, one can forget to look, or listen.

The definition of yoga that appears at the beginning of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is a perfect example of terminology that is as technical with regard to the process of yoga meditation as the mathematical equations that define the behavior of atoms in the field of physics. For example: Yoga = citta-vrtti-nirodhah is as fundamental to yoga as e = mc2 is to physics.

Without understanding the word "citta", the equation can't be grasped. There are no English equivalents for citta. To substitute an English word like "mind" or "mindstuff" makes a genuine understanding of yoga virtually inaccessible. To leave the word citta as it is and make an enquiry into its meaning by contemplating its use throughout the Yoga Sutra text leads to meaning as rich in dimension as life itself.

Citta is the individual life field, normally defined by, but not limited to the parameters of the physical body. It consists of the purest and subtlest form of matter/energy (sattva guna). Although any form of recording, from film and tape to micro chips offers a metaphor for citta's capacity to record the infinitely complex multidimensional experience of life, they are crude by comparison. On the one hand, it's strange that we should be so compelled to have the finest and the fastest means of recording impressions of life through digital technology, when each of us already possesses an existing system that no advancement in technology will ever be able to duplicate. On the other hand, it's likely that our obsession or passion for clarity and speed of reproduction is based upon our great need — to experience and utilize our own citta's capacity in its pristine state to sense and record the finest and subtlest experience that life has to offer. This use of citta is precisely what yoga is all about from beginning to end...