Language, with its intricate nuances, serves as a bridge to convey the myriad of emotions that color our human experience. Just as indigenous Alaskans have a rich vocabulary to distinguish between various types of snow, Sanskrit offers a profound lexicon to explore and express the multifaceted world of emotions.
Imagine standing amidst the pristine Alaskan wilderness, surrounded by snow in all its forms—powdery, crystalline, slushy, and more. To the native Alaskans, each variety of snow has a distinct name and significance, vital for their survival in a harsh environment. Similarly, in the intricate tapestry of human emotions, Sanskrit provides us with an array of terms, each representing a unique facet of our inner world.
On October 13th, I was invited to give a TED-style talk in Denver as part of TALTalks conference for social entrepreneurs. In that talk titled ‘igniting your inner presence’ I attempted to illuminate the significance of paying attention to our emotions. Understanding and harnessing these emotions, I argued, allows us to shape our thoughts, actions, and ultimately, connect us to our inner presence and help us lead more fulfilling lives. I introduced the idea that beyond the five primary emotions depicted in Pixar’s “Inside Out,” there exists a comprehensive array of nine emotions according to Sage Bharata who wrote a definitive text on science of classical dance. These emotions, deeply intertwined with our cognition and behavior, often find their eloquence in Sanskrit, each revealing its distinct shade of meaning.
The Multifaceted World of Emotions
In a world as complex as ours, emotions are the hues that paint the canvas of our experiences. We’ve all met Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust, the five primary emotions that guide Pixar’s “Inside Out.” However, it’s fascinating to note that according to Indic wisdom, these five emotions represent only a fraction (5 out of 9)—about 56%—of the emotions identified in the Indian tradition.
As we venture into this exploration of emotions, it’s essential to acknowledge that emotions are not just abstract states of being but powerful drivers of human behavior. They shape our decisions, interactions, and perceptions, often with profound consequences. In this context, the significance of delving into the full spectrum of emotions becomes evident.
Beyond Joy and Sadness: The Sanskrit Emotions
The emotions that I shared in my talk transcend the familiar terrain of joy, fear, sadness, anger, and disgust. These emotions, inspired by Indian Classical Dances and refined with the wisdom of friends like Raghu Ananthanarayanan and Ajay Viswanath, PCC, unveil a gateway to comprehending the depth of human experience. Sanskrit words for these missing emotions are more appropriate to use than their translations because there are nuances in these Sanskrit terms that become important in different contexts and those get lost if I use only English words.
- Veeryam: Courage to Act
Imagine standing at the edge of an uncertain path, facing daunting challenges, and yet, finding the inner strength to move forward. This is “Veeryam,” the courage to act, a quality not just admirable but crucial in navigating the complexities of life. In another article, I will attempt to dig deeper into how Veeryam is the right emotion to take on any project that is important in our life and it prepares us to be the best ‘actor’ that we can be!
- Adbhutam: Wonderment
Have you ever gazed upon a natural wonder, like the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights, and felt an overwhelming sense of awe and wonderment? This is “Adbhutam,” a feeling that transcends ordinary experiences, connecting us to the extraordinary marvels of the universe. Our ability to experience wonder becomes progressively lost as we get older and become jaded by life experiences. Consciously exposing ourselves to natural wonders as well as deeply experiencing the joy and actions of young kids through eyes of wonder allow us to retune our emotions to become sharper and experience more joy in our lives.
- Sringaram: Love or Affection
Love or affection is a thread that weaves the tapestry of human relationships. “Sringaram” captures this beautifully, not merely as romantic love but as the warmth and tenderness that flow through our connections with family, friends, and even strangers. Experiencing ‘Sringaram’ is essential for rejuvenating and recharging our emotional and spiritual connection with the world around us. This is another emotion that I will write an entire article at another time.
- Santham: Equanimity
Amidst the cacophony of life, there exists a serene sanctuary within, where the mind remains undisturbed by the turbulence of external events. This state of inner balance and mindfulness is “Santham,” an equanimity that brings clarity and peace. Especially after Covid and the traumas generated by multiple wars, political and economic instabilities, it is extremely important for us to learn how to create a ritual or meditation practice that would allow us to center ourselves and experience Santham and brings us to a state of open and curious state.
Using Sanskrit Words in English Communication
However, a crucial question arose during the talk and subsequent discussions: Should we incorporate Sanskrit words into our English communication, especially when conveying emotional nuances? The answer is not a straightforward yes or no. While these words offer depth and precision, their overuse can indeed confuse audiences. The key lies in striking a balance. Use Sanskrit or other languages sparingly to convey subtleties that English may lack, thereby enriching your message without overwhelming your listeners.
Diving Deeper: An Exploration of Happiness
To delve further into this notion, let’s explore the word “happiness.” In English, it’s a broad term encompassing a wide range of emotional states. However, in the Taitriya Upanishad of Hindu lineage, we encounter a fascinating hierarchy of happiness.
The Lexicon of Happiness in Indic Wisdom
Happiness in India is akin to the diverse types of snow in Alaska or sheep to a shepherd. Just as the Alaskans have 25 words to describe snow and ice, Sanskrit offers an extensive vocabulary to describe the many shades of happiness. Here are a dozen ways to experience joy according to Indic wisdom.
- Prasadam: Peace of Mind achieved by Divine Grace
Prasadam is the happiness that comes from experiencing the divine grace. It’s that moment when you feel touched by a higher power, a transcendent joy that can’t be replicated by any worldly experience. That is why, when you go to Hindu or Buddhist or Jain temples, you get ‘prasad’ to eat or share. In Sikh temples, you eat ‘Langar’ which is simple and sumptuous meal at the end of your visit and it is always wholesome and joyful to partake.
- Harsham: Sudden Joy
Think of the unexpected moments of delight that catch you by surprise, like witnessing a breathtaking sunrise. “Harsham” encapsulates that sudden burst of joy that fills your heart.
- Sukham: Physical and Mental Well-Being
Sukham is the happiness derived from physical and mental well-being. It’s the comfort of a cozy cabin on a chilly winter day, a sense of contentment that arises from a healthy body and mind. “Sukham” is the emotion connected with our motivation to act or relax or procrastinate.
- Ullasam: Exuberant Joy
Imagine standing beneath the dancing auroras in the Alaskan sky, overwhelmed by their grandeur. “Ullasam” captures the exuberant joy of witnessing something truly spectacular.
- Hasyam: Laughter and Humor
Laughter, the universal language of joy, is celebrated in “Hasyam.” It’s the happiness found in moments of shared humor, the hearty laughter that connects people across cultures.
- Saukhyam: Contentment and Ease
Think of a shepherd tending to a flock of sheep, finding contentment in the simplicity of the task. “Saukhyam” represents that sense of ease and contentment that arises from a harmonious connection with the world around us.
- Ramaneeyam: Delight in Beauty
Beauty has the power to evoke profound joy. “Ramaneeyam” signifies the delight found in aesthetics, whether it’s the beauty of art, nature, or human creativity.
- Anandam: Joy in Celebrations
The joy of coming together in celebrations, akin to the laughter of a shepherd among his sheep, is “Anandam.” It’s the happiness that accompanies gatherings, festivities, and shared moments of mirth.
- Modam: Delight from Specific Moments
“Modam” represents delight or happiness experienced when something specific brings joy. It’s a more transient and situational form of happiness.
- Pramodam: Heightened State of Joy
“Pramodam” signifies extreme joy or exhilaration. It’s a heightened state of happiness, often associated with great excitement or profound satisfaction.
- Priyam: Beloved Happiness
“Priyam” encapsulates the happiness derived from beloved or cherished relationships and experiences. It represents the joy that arises from the deep affection and fondness we hold for people, places, or memories that are dear to our hearts.
- Samridhi: Prosperity and Abundance
“Samridhi” embodies the happiness that arises from prosperity and abundance. It’s the joy of experiencing material well-being, financial security, and the fulfillment of material desires.
- Preeti: Affection and Fondness
“Preeti” is the happiness found in affection and fondness for others. It’s the warmth and tenderness that bind families, friends, and communities together, creating bonds of love and care.
- Abhiramam: Delight and Pleasure
“Abhiramam” represents the happiness derived from pure delight and pleasure. It’s the joy experienced when engaging in activities, experiences, or art forms that bring unadulterated joy and satisfaction.
- Brahmanandam: Spiritual Bliss
At the pinnacle of our exploration lies “Brahmanandam.” This term refers to the highest level of spiritual bliss or divine happiness. It is often linked with the realization of one’s connection to the ultimate reality or Brahman in Hindu philosophy, transcending worldly happiness to embrace the profound joy of spiritual awakening.
Learning the Subtleties of Happiness
Much like the Alaskans who need to distinguish between snow types for survival, understanding the subtleties of happiness is essential for leading a joyful life. It enables us to navigate our emotional landscapes with greater clarity and depth, ultimately enriching our experiences.
Embracing Sanskrit and Indian Wisdom in Our Language
In a world where Japanese words like “Ikebana,” “Ikigai,” and “Kaizen” have found their place in our vocabulary, it’s time we embrace Sanskrit and other Indian words. By doing so, we open ourselves to the beauty, distinction, and subtlety they bring to our language and our lives.
The Five Sheaths of Ananda Conversation
However, our journey into the realms of happiness doesn’t end here. Indian philosophy (Taitriya Upanishad) introduces us to the concept of the “Five Sheaths of Ananda,” each unveiling a deeper layer of happiness.
- Annamaya Kosha: Happiness from the Physical World
The first sheath, Annamaya Kosham, represents happiness derived from the physical world. It’s the joy we experience through sensory pleasures, nourishing food, and physical well-being.
- Pranamaya Kosha: Happiness from Vital Energy
Moving inward, Pranamaya Kosha reveals a happiness connected to vital energy. It’s the vitality and life force that infuse us with a sense of aliveness and vigor.
- Manomaya Kosha: Happiness from the Mind
The third sheath, Manomaya Kosha, takes us into the realm of mental happiness. It’s the joy that arises from harmonious thoughts, clarity of mind, and emotional well-being.
- Vijnanamaya Kosha: Happiness from Wisdom
Vijnanamaya Kosha brings us to the realm of wisdom. It’s the happiness born from understanding, knowledge, and the pursuit of higher truths.
- Anandamaya Kosha: Ultimate Bliss
At the core lies Anandamaya Kosha, the sheath of ultimate bliss. It’s the profound happiness experienced when we transcend the boundaries of the individual self and connect with the universal consciousness.
As we expand our emotional palette with the Sanskrit Rasa of Happiness, we not only deepen our understanding of ourselves but also enhance our ability to communicate the full spectrum of human emotions. Let us embrace this linguistic and emotional journey, for just as the Alaskan snow and the shepherd’s sheep have their unique distinctions, so too do the emotions that color our lives.
(Note: This article has already been published on LinkedIn. We have reproduced it upon the author’s permission.)
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