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Vedanta and Sanskrit

Sometimes people get the wrong impression that in order to learn Vedanta well, you need to learn Sanskrit. In fact, you only need to learn a handful of words. As an author writing about Vedanta for a western audience, I try to use Sanskrit sparingly. Nevertheless, certain Sanskrit words are necessary to describe concepts not easily translated into English. Like any subject, Vedanta has its own jargon to help express technical concepts in precise terminology. Using specific Sanskrit words also helps to put cumbersome definitions into shorthand, because Sanskrit terms can be quite nuanced with multiple meanings depending on the context. For more on Vedanta’s usage of basic Sanskrit terms, I recommend reading Tattva Bodha by the 8th century expounder of Vedanta, Shankaracharya.

That said, as a student of Vedanta, sooner or later Sanskrit will stop intimidating you and you might even grow curious about it. Having a good Sanskrit dictionary is useful. For that, I recommend "A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy" by John Grimes. Or if you want just a glossary, take a look at:

Most westerners do a poor job at pronouncing Sanskrit words, partly because many writers of Vedanta don't bother to include any of the diacritics used in Romanized Sanskrit, and partly because readers have no idea how to use them! It doesn't take much effort to learn the basic pronunciation rules of Sanskrit. However, good resources can be difficult to locate as most Sanskrit courses launch right into learning Devanagari or other topics unrelated to pronunciation. If, like me, you just want to know how to pronounce Romanized Sanskrit, I recommend an online course taught by Nityānanda Dāsa. For $70 you can learn to pronounce Sanskrit perfectly. As part of the course, Nityānanda will even critique your pronunciation for you. For some time, I've been learning Sanskrit pronunciation, grabbing insights from here and there, but this course answered any and all questions that still remained. Below is a link to his course:

Lastly, if you want to know what it sounds like to have an angel chant verses of the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit, check out "Gaiea Sanskrit" on YouTube. She is a westerner based in London, but I think even the Indians have grown to love her.

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