Two Approaches to Truth

I have been thinking a lot lately about where I would be without practice. When our world is turned upside down, how far can scholarship take us? In times of uncertainty, it is practicing yoga that gives me a sense of stability and calm and connects me to my breath. That connection deepened on my first trip to India twenty years ago, when I began to learn Sanskrit. I fell in love with its sounds and the depths of meaning they conveyed. For me, the study of yoga philosophy has always been practical, from chanting verses to translating texts for my PhD. What inspires me is the link between ideas and a living tradition, in which I participate as a practitioner. As a scholar, I can also see the value of critical distance, but I don’t enjoy pulling things to pieces for the sake of it. Without practice, the deductive nature of scholarship can lead us to essentially miss the point of tradition by focusing on individual pieces and losing sight of the big picture.

Though Sanskrit is often called a dead language, the ideas embodied in its texts help to make sense of this in a vibrant, dynamic way. Modern scholars can get so caught up in details that we miss what happens in the natural process of transmission and invalidate the stories by which the tradition understands itself. This can drown out the deeper truths we are attempting to discuss. There is often an overemphasis on satya, which is a more particular truth, as opposed to ṛta, divine truth. The latter – which is of more interest to practitioners – transcends the fine points that scholars like to debate. 

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