Words and their meaning


In an invocation poem the famous poet Kalidasa (from 4th Century India) describes Lord Siva and his wife Goddess Parvathi as inseparable as the word and its meaning. Proficiency in the understanding of the word and its proper meaning and their interconnectedness enhances the knowledge and skill of any one and in any language. More importantly such understanding enhances our application or use in our daily life of the purpose behind these words and what they stand for.

It appears we need the above perspective when we study many words commonly used. Despite their many possibilities, only specific meaning gets attached to some words. Then through frequent repetition, that meaning alone becomes commonly accepted in use. While this may be OK in general there could be greater benefit to explore the in depth meaning of words. Here are a few examples:

Philosophy: Webster’s Dictionary describes Philosophy as:

  • pursuit of wisdom
  • a search for a general understanding
  • an analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamentals

.Philosophy is an analytical and logical – cause and effect – approach to understand any subject matter in depth. This meaning is consistent with the fact that the highest academic degree in any field is Ph. D. (Doctor of Philosophy) such as Ph.D. in Chemistry, Physics, Mechanical Engineering, etc.

Yet we use this word – Philosophy – to represent an in depth study of “What is life and how it should be lived?” Also the expression “he is a philosopher” is generally used to refer to someone who is theoretical, reflective and a recluse with an in-depth knowledge and study of sacred writings of any religion (scriptures).

The principles of Objectivity and Unattached active engagement, the role of the three connectors (Guna) learned through “philosophy” can be applied to every activity and for any aspect of our life or studies. They are not limited to spiritual topics alone. Such broader use of philosophy must be explored actively in every form of our life and its activities.

Yoga:    Union with the self. It is a conscious and deliberate exploration of the self with anything external (perceived through body, mind and intellect).

Exploring the union or connection with body and its functions through a series of postures and breathing exercises – Hatha Yoga – has now come to be generalized and regarded as the “Yoga”- much like any machine that copies documents is now called Xerox machine

Exploring all our experiences as the union or connection with mind and its functions — Thri Guna Vibhaga Yoga  – is the study and observation of the three Gunas (Connectors) which leads to “Objectivity” and hence a separation from all our preferences (duality) like love / hate, friend / foe, happiness/sorrow, etc.

Chapter 14 of Bhagawath Geetha provides a very good frame work for this Yoga -conscious and regulated union with the mind and its three connectors. All chapters of BG use this frame work and identify specific examples of the use of such frame work.

I will teach you this secret knowledge (on how to explore our experiences objectively). On learning this saints have reached a higher plane (a life of enlightened living with minimum of perturbations caused by daily events and the experiences resulting from them).   B.G. 14.1.

Exploring the union or connection with mind (as the center for our intellect or thoughts) and its functions – Gnana Yoga – which has now come to be generalized and regarded as the “Vedantha” or Philosophy.

Gnana Yoga leads us to a place where experiences are seen as an unavoidable part of living – influenced by three Gunas. One who goes past these three Gunas – treats all three connectors as of equal merit leading to “objectivity” (Sagunathvanam) and transcends to Nirgunathvanam (looking beyond the Gunas). In this frame of mind we see ourselves and everything else as part of the Universe  – Thath Thwam Asi  (You and the Universe are integral in each other). Everyone and everything exists as part of nature (Brahman), influenced by the Laws of Nature (Brahman) and as evidences of nature and its laws (Brahman)! Through Gnana Yoga life becomes a process of exploring the laws of nature at work in any and all activities (from the beginning of life till the end).

Karma: Activity

Google search for Karma gives the following meaning: “the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences;  destiny or fate, following as effect from cause.”

The correct word phrase for the above Google meaning would be Sanchita Karma (accumulated effect of actions) or Prarabdha Karma (Effect of actions accumulated over many life times)!

Other phrases with Karma are: Nitya Karma (daily activities; also associated with daily rituals), Naimitya Karma( activities leading to a desired end goal – like studying for an exam), Kamya Karma (activity to meet one’s desires), Nishkama Karma (Selfless act), etc.

Dharma can be seen as activity (Karma) to be carried out for the right reasons by the right person and at the right time! It is this activity (Karma) that is implied in the famous BG quote “Karmaniyeva Adhikarasthe’ “(you have the obligation to carry out your duty).

Bhakthi: Loyalty, surrender, faithfulness, attachment and devotion.

Above adjectives being the generalized meaning, Bhakthi can be seen as a combination of all of the above. Over time Bhakthi has been assumed to stand for devotion or fully absorbed in the contemplation and surrender to the almighty.

Worship of God or Bhakthi is described to take on the following relationships with God:

  • in awe
  • as a servant
  • as a friend
  • as a parent
  • In the mood of romantic attachment

But what does the word Bhakthi have relevance as it applies to our daily life? It is our awe to the greatest feat of others that inspires us to greater heights. Our awe of the laws of nature inspires us to explore further. Servitude for elders and the needy are not seen as a burden but as a calling, as an expression of Bhakthi. Our relationship with a friend, children and youngsters is not one of preference or ordained commitment but a pure expression of devotion to a larger cause. Finally the love and affection between the husband and wife is not a relationship of need and convenience but instead expression of Bhakthi (Loyalty, surrender, faithfulness, attachment and devotion).

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