Theosophy Northwest View

The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
February 2000 Vol. 2 Issue 12

Common Sanskrit Terms

Sanskrit, developed by sages long ago, is rich in words that describe the "profound and mystic god-teaching" that is theosophy. Below are a few of the Sanskrit terms commonly found in theosophical literature, adapted from Sanskrit Keys to the Wisdom-Religion by Judith Tyberg.

Tat: A pronoun meaning "that." The Boundless, the All, or that infinite unutterable principle from which all in the kosmos sprang.

Brahman: From the verb-root brih, "to expand." The loftiest hierarch or Divinity of our kosmos; the self, summit, or Absolute of this galactic universe. Brahman is to the universe what âtman or the "divine self" is to man.

Âtman: Possibly from the verb-root meaning "to breathe." The Divinity or highest principle within man; pure consciousness. It is that universal Self which is the same in every living being and which links each and all with the Self of the universe.

Buddhi: From the verb-root budh, "to know, to enlighten." The spiritual soul of man; the channel through which âtman may send its divine inspirations to the human ego.

Manas: From the verb-root man, "to think." The thinker or human thinking principle, which gives us egoic conscious-ness. Manas is dual: higher manas is the heavenly aspiring mind; lower manas is the human thinking faculty guided by terrestrial and animal desires and passions.

Prâna: From the verb-root an, "to breathe" and the pre-positional prefix pra "forth." Prâna is the life-principle in man, corresponding to jîva, the life-force in the universe.

Avatâra: From the preposition ava "down," and the verb-root trî "to pass." A being from the divine spheres descend-ed into our human world. A god in human form, it is a temporary combination of three separate elements: an inspiring divinity, a highly evolved human soul loaned by a buddha or bodhisattva, and a pure physical body.

Âkâsa: "The shining substance"; from the verb-root kâs "to shine." The fifth kosmic element, above or within the other elements of earth, water, air, and fire. It is primordial spatial substance of a subtle spiritual nature, pervading all things. It is the vehicle of divine thought and the medium of the higher thoughts of men, by which they can communicate with the gods.

Karma: "Action"; from verbal root kri "to do, to act." The doctrine of karma teaches that every act affects all nature, inner and outer; and that nature, whose very essence is harmony and justice, reacts sooner or later, returning to the original actor the consequence of his own deeds whether good or evil.

Svabhâva: From sva "self," and bhâva "becoming." The "essential characteristic" of any being or thing, that which makes each human being different from every other is his svabhâva. Everything becomes what it is in the heart of its being, unfolding its own inherent powers; hence, evolution is self-directed.

For more terms, see the Collation of Theosophical Glossaries and the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary.


Expressions used in different parts of the earth are a mirror reflecting the quality of thought that was behind them when they were created. Every language has words that possess no exact synonyms in other tongues, because each people coins its own to suit concepts that are often peculiar to those who voice them. There is a word in Swedish which frequently recurs and which is quite untranslatable outside the Scandinavian (and Germanic) languages; it holds a whole philosophy. Livsbejakelse: liv – "life" – that part is easy; bejakelse- – saying "yes." Bejaka is a very active verb and its implications are numerous. It contains enthusiastic, optimistic, joyful agreement and, when applied to life, it signifies far more than just agreeing to live. Within this one word we sense a greeting – a welcome to all the vicissitudes life may bring and an understanding acceptance of people and things as they are. – B. Hagelin

Monthly Discussion Group

"What Can the Ancient Wisdom Teach Us?" is our subject. We will be discussing the ideas and ideals underlying the world's great religious, philosophical, and scientific systems. What are the ancient teachings, where did they originate, and how were they preserved? How can we discern timeless wisdom from fallacy and fantasy? How does it relate to us today? Come and share your ideas!

Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge.

Upcoming Topics
March 16 – Do the Stars affect Us?
April 6 – Magic and Miracles: Do They Exist?
May – Evolution: Unfolding Inner Potentials
June – Do We Need a Spiritual Teacher?
July – What Is the Essence of Man?

The Development of Language

By Marilyn O'Day

 The development of human language, the means of communicating our thoughts to others, parallels mankind's spiritual, physical, and intellectual development. In man's most primitive times, he did not need language, and in man's more evolved future, he once again won't need it. Language is thus a transitory tool used during this most material period of our development.

As mankind has evolved from unself-conscious, primitive human beings to the reasoning beings of today, language also evolved. Theosophy divides human development on earth into seven main divisions or cycles, called root-races. Four of these root-races have already lived on this earth, and we are currently in the fifth root-race, with two more to come.

According to theosophy, the first root-race, which was very ethereal, had no language because, mentally speaking, it was like a new-born child and was in a daze or dream.

The second root-race is said to have had a language consisting of chant-like sounds composed of vowels alone. They made musical sounds, squeaks, and grunts, at first more or less subconsciously. Finally, through common usage, these different sounds began to mean something specific to those who heard them. For example, certain noises came to mean danger, pleasure, etc., as is the case with animals today.

During the first part of the third root-race, these noises became more organized and precise. Additionally, the humans of this time communicated through a type of thought transference or direct instinctual perception. Later in the third root-race, divine beings brought the light of mind to mankind, which then on the whole was only half-conscious and half-awakened. At this point humanity in the mass began to become truly self-conscious and capable of deep reasoning, and it was only then that language as we know it developed.

The first language is said to have been monosyllabic. It was also onomatopoetic, which means that words sounded like the things in nature that they described. "Splash" and "swish" are two examples of onomatopoetic words in English. The descendants of those who used this type of language still inhabit some areas of the South Pacific.

When monosyllabic language was developed, it was the universal language spoken by all humans, including very highly evolved sages who served as teachers to the common populace. In fact, one reason language was needed at that point in human evolution was so that these teachers could pass on spiritual and scientific concepts to primitive humanity once it lost the ability to perceive truth directly and intuitively.

In the fourth root-race, monosyllabic language evolved into agglutinative language. In these languages ideas are expressed about an object by combining separate units or stems of distinct meaning into a single word. Examples of this language structure include many Chinese dialects, Assyrian, and several American Indian languages. During the development of this language type, humanity reached its most material stage physically. The single language understood by all in the third root-race began to differentiate. Some people continued to speak monosyllabic languages, while others spoke the newly developing agglutinated languages.

The last part of the fourth root-race and the start of the fifth marked the beginnings of highly developed inflected languages, which indicate the grammatical relationships of words by changing the shape of the word or by varying its affixes. For example, in a highly inflected language such as Russian, the word "dog" has one ending if it is the subject of the sentence, and different endings if it is the object of the noun, the indirect object, etc.

The first highly inflected language, a precursor to Sanskrit, was developed with the help of the sages of that time in order to preserve and express the spiritual concepts of the esoteric teachings. From this original language are derived all Indo-European languages, such as French, English, Russian, Iranian, and Hindi; the Arabic or Semitic languages also probably shared this common ancestor with the Indo-European tongues. The Indo-European is just one of many language families found on earth today. Many non-Indo-European languages are remnants of languages developed in the third and fourth root-races.

Like all things in the universe, languages evolve, having a beginning, maturation, and end. In the future, the tendency will be for languages to become more alike and some theosophical writers have stated that Sanskrit will once again become the universal language. Once we enter the seventh or final root-race, the need for verbal language will disappear completely and mankind will once again communicate by a form of thought transference and direct intuitive perception.

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