Why Teach or Study Sanskrit?

Deshpande, Madhav mmdesh at UMICH.EDU
Tue Jan 9 04:05:34 UTC 2007

Well said, John.  I could not said it better.
Madhav M. Deshpande


From: Indology on behalf of John C. Huntington
Sent: Thu 1/4/2007 12:59 PM
To: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
Subject: Why Teach or Study Sanskrit?

Sorry for cross posting

I cannot believe, that I am writing this after all the discussion 
that has taken place on the net.  I am neither a "Sanskritist" nor a 
"Linguist"- Just an cranky, old, art historian who has specialized in 
Buddhist Art for nearly 45 years.

As "humanists" we study those essential activities that define our 
humanity. Regardless of whether it is our inborn nature to kill each 
other, make self-realizing and defining art, interact socially, or 
discuss human goals and ideals,, we are ever so slightly different 
than other members of the animal kingdom in many respects. Language 
has long facilitated speculation about human potential. Undoubtedly 
the rich Burials  of the paleolithic era were brought about through 
the speculation about the nature of death and the potential of an 
after life. By the time recorded (regardless of whether it is written 
or remembered) language enters the world arena the entire panoply of 
religious and philosophical speculations are extant. Chinese, Greek, 
Latin, and Sanskrit carry within their gleaming traditions, the 
fundamental underlying ideas of humanity at the highest level. 
Speculation on what the human mass and what the individual human can 
and or should become are explicated by some of the most profound 
thinkers the world has ever known. Whether we speak of Confucius, 
Plato, or Shakyamuni we speak of persons who altered their world and 
changed the shape of humanity.

Sanskrit, with its surviving thousands of texts contains a totality 
of positivity regarding the human condition and the potential of 
achievement in the human state of existence. One cannot be an 
"educated humanist" without a knowledge of one or more of these key 
languages. By that I do not mean fluency but an understanding of the 
content of the language's literature and to attain that, the would 
community needs the scholars of the language who must have the 
appropriate fluency to read and interpret the content into modern 

No one questions the need for Chinese, Greek, or Latin in academia. 
What kind of preposterous Euro-American centrism suggests that the 
Sanskritic base of knowledge is not worth knowing? I truly shudder at 
the parochialism of such a view. The South Asian Indic community is 
undergoing a vast diaspora at this very moment. When I first moved to 
Columbus Ohio to join the university faculty there was virtually no 
Indic community present. Today the Indic community number 
approximately 5000 and is rapidly growing! The same is true around 
the world. What a slap in the face of our neighbors and colleagues!

Knowing the traditions of our collective "fathers" demands that we 
study the philosophical and religious speculations of our ancestors 
so that we can understand their hopes and aspirations for humanity 
itself. Indeed that historical consciousness and collective awareness 
of the human past is one of the defining features of being human.

And, for a fifth of the world's population, Sanskrit is fundamental 
to that understanding. If plato is required reading , then Nagarjuna 
should be also!


John C. Huntington, Professor
(Buddhist Art and Methodologies)
<http://huntingtonarchive.osu.edu <http://huntingtonarchive.osu.edu/> >
Department of the History of Art
The Ohio State University
Columbus, OH, U.S.A.

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