Sanskrit for Yoga


Acharya A person who knows and lives according to the achara 'Vedic rules of conduct' and is qualified to give initiation to one who is prepared to study Vedic knowledge. An acharya leads others on a path of wisdom toward their ultimate liberation both by precept and as a living example of what they teach. An acharya would usually be an accomplished person in a Vedic sampradaya 'lineage' to whom other teachers defer.
Achintya See chinta
Achit See chit
Adharma See dharma
Agni The element of fire or the deva associated with it. He is present in our belly when we eat, when we cook, or in the fireplace when we heat our home. Agni is the force of sunlight in its active forms as fuel on Earth. The Vedic culture explains that we can also use agni as a means to send our gratitude to all the divines in a ritual called the agnihotra yajna. The smoke rising skyward from a piece of food placed in the fire (the mouth of Agni) sends smoke upward into Nature, offering our love and appreciation skyward to thank the devas and the Supreme Being for the gifts we have received.
Ahamkara The most subtle material energy. Its function is to cause the atma to erroneously define itself as matter. Aham 'I am' and kara 'matter'. Bewildered by ahamkara, the immortal atma, whose actual nature is Brahman, identifies with matter as self and will remain in that delusion forever until it once again asserts aham brahmasmi 'I am Brahman in nature' and behaves as if that is true. This is the process of all forms of yoga. Ahamkara is removed and replaced with the assertion of self as the immortal atma.
Ahimsa See himsa
Ajnana See jnana
Amrita See mrityu
Ananda Transcendental joy or bliss. This word describes the highest state of ecstatic pleasure and enjoyment, far beyond the mundane pleasures available within matter. The root is nand ‘to rejoice’ plus the prefix an ‘without end.’ The Vedas say that the atma has three qualities called tattva traya. Those qualities are sat ‘immortal’, chit ‘always conscious’, and ananda ‘ecstatically and permanently joyful’ in nature.
Aryan One who sees their as Brahman in nature, who sees all beings as atmas, and who wishes to live in harmony in every life situation. Its root is ṛi ‘to rise upward by co-operation with the laws of Nature’. An aryan sees that everyone is on a gradual journey of divine evolution. They have respect for all, and they wish to progress in a balanced, respectful way. This word was distorted through its use by the Nazi movement. Aryan does not support caste or racism, nor does it claim superiority over others.
Asana This is the third limb of ashtanga yoga. Asanas are yogic postures for correctly channeling the life force, healing, and bringing the body to a state of stillness and balance for the purpose of meditation. The physical body functions correctly when all the gateways and channels are opened and interconnected. Asanas unlock the blocked channels allowing the prana ‘life force’ to circulate and flow abundantly throughout the body. In the later stages of this style of yoga, the senses are withdrawn, and the body must sit without moving in deep meditation for long periods of time.
Asat See sat
Asura The negative prefix a ‘not’ and sura ‘light.’ The asuras are atmas who have aligned their identity with the dark, unconscious, and temporary nature of matter. They are against the light of divine will and wisdom. Asuras are opposed to the regulating influence of light and the laws of nature and become destabilizing agents of chaos and destruction. Chapter 16 has a comprehensive description of the qualities of asuras. The opposite is sura.
Atma The invisible, indivisible individual. Though smaller in magnitude, the atma is the same in quality as Paramatma, the Supreme Being who pervades and sustains all matter. Atma is not a synonym for “soul”. Soul is an Abrahamic term used to refer to a ‘one-lifetime-then-consequences’ paradigm. In contrast, the atma is immortal, with no beginning and no end. The atma is a facet of the Brahman reality and is described as sat ‘immortal’, chit ‘conscious’, and ananda ‘joyful by nature’. By expressing the desire to experience the realm of matter, the atma begins its journey of samsara ‘repeated births and deaths’. The atma can incarnate as any or all of the species of life. Like a student in a grand ‘universe-ity’, when the atma has perfected its yoga and is ready to graduate, they conclude aham brahmasmi—I am the same as Brahman. Only then is the atma eligible to return to Brahman and resume the long-forgotten relationship with Bhagavan. Another term for the incarnated atma is jiva atma ‘air-breathing atma’, which refers to the atma existing in material form. The term jiva bhuta refers to ‘the countless jiva atmas’.
Aum This sound vibration is described in the Vedas as the original vibration from which all material existence emanated. Om, spelled aum, is composed of the first, an intermediate, and the last letter in the Sanskrit alphabet. The idea is that the universe was spoken into existence by the Supreme Being. The Sanskrit alphabet is the pure and direct manifestation of Brahman as sound vibration. The phrase ‘in the beginning was the word’ comes directly from the Vedas. Aum is also the carrier signal for the immortal truths of Brahman to reach us.
Avatar The roots of this word are ava ‘to descend’ and tara ‘to heal and restore.’ Avatar is the purposeful descent of a divine or of the Supreme Divine Being to the human plane of existence in order to restore balance and transmit wisdom, knowledge, or other necessary information to human beings for their enlightenment and evolutionary well-being. Avatars are either partial or full manifestations of either devas or a personal descent from the Brahman realm. Both Shri Ram and Bhagavan Shri Krishna are considered full and therefore ultimate avatars. Full avatars descend to Earth to restore the dharma of society and to reveal the beauty of the Brahman realm and invite the atmas to return.


Bhagavan That person or being who possesses the six bhagas to an unlimited degree. The root van ‘one who possesses’ and bhagas ‘the six most attractive and desirable qualities’. Only one who possesses all these qualities to an unlimited degree can be called Bhagavan. Therefore, “God” or any other name of a facet of the divine is not a synonym for Bhagavan and should not be used as such. The Vishnu Purana gives the precise definition of these six bhagas or ultimate qualities, which Bhagavan possesses to an unlimited degree: aishvaryasya—beauty, elegance, and charisma; dharmasya—strength, uprightness, heroism, and valor; yasya samagrasya—fame, popularity, and recognition; yasasas shriyah—opulence, wealth, prosperity, and valuables; jnana—knowledge, awareness, and understanding; and vairagyayas—non-attachment, detachment, renunciation, and generosity.
Bhakti From the root bhaj ‘to honor, serve and adore’. The path of yogic connection characterized by intense emotion, complete devotion, loving service, and surrender to the Supreme Persons. Someone who practices bhakti yoga is known as a bhakta.
Brahman The unlimited, unified, and ever-expanding field of transcendental existence. Brahman is from the root bri—the always shining and conscious energy and realm of existence upon which everything rests and from which everything has emerged. According to the Rig Veda, the dark realm of prakriti is one-quarter of existence and the unseen realm of Brahman from which all beings originally emanated is the other three-quarters. The ultimate guru of Vedic civilization is named Brihaspati ‘the spout of Brahman’. All the Vedas affirm the truth, so all perfected yogis in a single voice say ‘aham brahmasmi—I am Brahman’.
Brahmin The first level of meaning is one who knows, lives, and can transmit the knowledge of Brahman. The secondary meaning of a brahmin is one who serves society by using their intellect, as a professor of some subject. As it turns out, not all brahmins are teachers of Brahman. In the original Vedic culture, almost all brahmins would have known Sanskrit, but as a varna, brahmins are skilled as teachers and behave with the values appropriate to that profession. See varna
Buddhi The primary meaning of buddhi is discernment, the ability to distinguish one thing from another. It is the basis of science. The Vedas describe all humans as having a five-element body and an antakarana or subtle body composed of manas, buddhi, and ahamkara. The depiction of a third eye in the forehead of the enlightened represents the full awakening of their discernment. In sankhya yoga, that discernment of buddhi studies the categories of matter to excel in science. It identifies what the atma is or is not. The enlightened final conclusion of buddhi is ‘none of this matter is me or mine’.


Chinta / achintya Chinta means ‘the thinking faculty of manas applied to enquiry, thought, discussion, and understanding of principles within matter’. Chinta is ‘cognition of that which is knowable within matter’. Its opposite achintya is defined by words like unthinkable, inconceivable, etc. This word is most often used to refer to concepts that defy the laws of Nature within prakriti. Brahman, the atma, Bhagavan, and all such non-material realities are considered achintya—beyond material law, logic, and experience.
Chit / achit Permanently conscious. The atma has three essential qualities—sat ‘immortal’, ananda ‘always joyful’, and chit ‘permanently conscious’. The essence of yoga is actions that retrieve the chit faculty of awareness from its misidentification with matter. That consciousness is distributed throughout the body via the thinking, feeling, willing, and memory faculties of manas. The opposite is achit ‘unconscious’.


Dana To give, grant, bestow, offer, yield, impart, circulate, or distribute resources into the social body of human beings. Words like dana are actions which are inevitably modified by the guna of the person distributing the resources. Sattvic dana is the appropriate circulation of resources to where they are needed in such a way that the result is sustainable, healthy, dignified, integrated, and harmonious with no ulterior motive. Rajasic dana is given with selfish motives, with a desire to be recognized and is distorted by personal desires. Tamasic dana is given to the wrong recipients, in a harmful way, and produces a negative or harmful outcome. Dana is also the last stage of the agnihotra yajna.
Darshan The root of darshan is drishti ‘to see or be seen’ in a progression of seeing and knowing that leads the atma out of the darkness caused by association with matter and into an enlightened state of awareness where all that was lost, hidden, or obscured is finally visible. This seeing is not with the two eyes of everyday living. It results from hearing the truths of the Sanskrit Vedic vidya, the wisdom passed down by Vedic rishis, which opens the ‘third eye’. One may give darshan by speaking Vedic wisdom to those in darkness, or one may receive darshan by listening to the words of an acharya or guru who has seen the ultimate realities and can pass that vision on. Sanskrit mantras from the lips of one who can see the Supreme reality is also darshan. It penetrates through the ears and awakens the sleeping atma with divine visions. Darshan of Vedic mantras also opens the third eye of the listener. Darshan also refers to a perspective or way of looking at the body of Vedic knowledge. The six darshans are: sankhya—the analytical study of the categories of matter; nyaya—the rules of logical thinking; vaisheshika—pattern recognition and nuclear physics; yoga—removing the misconceptions that cover our awareness of who we are; purva mimamsa—understanding our relationship with the devas and the laws of Nature; and uttara mimamsa or vedanta—which is understanding the ultimate truths of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going.
Deva Divine intelligences who sustain matter and conduct the laws of Nature on behalf of Vishnu and Lakshmi. They are atmas just like we humans, but they have attained posts in the cosmic administration. They can range from the fairies and sprites in our gardens to the highest management positions in the cosmos. Deva gives us the English word ‘divine’ because they live in a bright realm. Enlightened humans may become devas in their next life. To become a deva one must temporarily give up their free will to serve as the laws of Nature. After having the deva experience, they return to Earth as humans born into a good family and become yogis. They resume their yoga and exercise free will to attain final moksha. It is not correct to call them “gods” nor are they in competition with the Supreme Being. These misunderstandings arose during the colonial period and are incorrect.
Dharma / adharma From the root dhri—the essential nature of anything, which, if you take it away, that thing is no longer itself. For example, the dharma of water is to be liquid. Dharma is the basis of the English ‘truth’. Dharma also means to stand for what is true. Once someone knows their dharma, their duty is to live that truth. The next level of dharma is called one’s svadharma, which is the correct use of the talents, abilities, and structure of one’s body/mind complex. This culminates in an occupation and working within the rules associated with it. Another form of dharma is kula dharma, the family responsibilities that arise from birth in a clan or extended family. The widest use of dharma is santana dharma, truths that are always true under any circumstance. These form the structure of the Vedic sanatana dharma culture or civilization, the culture that tries to cooperate with all the laws of Nature as its guiding principle. I propose that the correct definition of Vedic civilization is that it actually is a dharmocracy, where everyone first learns the truths of their ‘self’ and then does their best to optimize their lives and those around them based on their best qualities.
Dharma Kshetra This word has several levels of meaning, just as the conflict that precipitated Bhagavan speaking the Bhagavad Gita is a metaphor for human life in general. It is the alternative name for the location Kurukshetra, where the battle took place between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. On the cosmic level, it represents the unified field of matter on which all humans determine their future by the use of free will in the realm of prakriti where all actions are governed by the laws of Nature. In that sense, Dharma Kshetra is the place of struggle where the atmas are continually being tested on their grasp of dharma, or what is always true.
Dosha The conversational use of dosha is ‘faults, defects, or imperfections’. The wider use of dosha is within Ayurvedic medicine. The five elements that constitute organic life, and especially human bodies, combine together into three doshas known as vata (air and space), pitta (fire), and kapha (water and earth). All bodies are made of some kind of balance of the three doshas, and because the doshas in bodies can be destabilized, they are also called faulty.


Guna, trigunas In the Vedas, two realms of existence are described—the luminous realm of Brahman, and the dark, unconscious realm of prakriti. We, the many atmas, are from Brahman and we are here visiting matter to experience this realm. Matter is called the gu, a dark, inert, and unconscious substance which passes through three dynamic states of manifestation known as the trigunas. The first is rajas, the creative stage where energy is infused into matter, giving it a temporary form. The second stage is sattva, the maintaining and sustaining stage where something exists for a certain period of time. The third is tamas, the deconstructive stage where objects are destroyed or recycled. As humans we experience this as beginning, growth, duration, producing byproducts, withering, and dying. All matter and beings within matter are influenced by the gunas at all times—invisible realities are filtered by our guna. Each guna comes with a diet, lifestyle, and very specific behaviors. The goal for yogis is to go from tamas to rajas and then to live in sattva guna as much as possible, avoiding tamasic destructive behavior, rajasic selfish behaviors, and practicing universally beneficial sattvic behaviors. This ancient Vedic scientific explanation of the transformative stages of matter was articulated by modern science as the two laws of thermodynamics: (1) Matter is neither created nor destroyed—it merely changes form, and (2) All manifest matter is infused with energy and is gradually moving from a higher state of energy to a lower state, and in the process gives off heat and waste. That process of deconstruction and decomposition is called entropy.
Guru Literally means ‘heavy’. The implication is that one who is filled with knowledge of the supreme eternal truth becomes heavy. The students are laghu ‘less weighty objects’. A guru is one who removes the mistaken notion that consciousness arises from matter and guides the student to remember their immortal nature as the atma. Therefore, the Vedic guru is a gu ‘matter’ ru ‘remover’, one who helps the student remove their material illusions. Gurus are honored not only because they are carriers of the truths of Brahman and Bhagavan, but because they are exemplars in the way they live their lives.


Himsa / ahimsa Ahimsa is usually translated as ‘non-violence’ or doing no harm at all, however ahimsa means ‘the appropriate use of violence according to the dharma of the actor and the situation’. A policeman protecting the innocent by use of violence is still ahimsa, since it is their svadharma—their occupational responsibility—to use appropriate force. The general rule of ahimsa followed by all Vedic yogis is governed by a simple rule: Create the least amount of harm while performing one’s svadharma and one’s sanatana dharma. There is not just one rule of ahimsa, but the principle is to always do the least harm while doing what one must do. The opposite is himsa ‘causing harm’.


Indriyas The bodily senses. The human body is constructed out of the gu of matter by various combinations of the five elements—earth, water, fire, air, and space. Each of these elements is connected to the five jnana indriyas ‘perceptive senses’: smelling (earth), tasting (water), seeing (fire), touching (air), and hearing (space). There are also five karma indriyas ‘active senses’: evacuating (earth), sex (water), locomotion (fire), grasping (air), and speaking (space). Together, these are called the dasha indriyas ‘ten bodily senses’. If our body is a vehicle, then the ten senses are its equipment or its structural characteristics. All of this knowledge of matter is called jnana ‘knowing’ and it is part of sankhya yoga—the analytical study of what we are and are not. We are not the body, but by studying it carefully we become detached from it and realize that we are the atma.
Isha, ishta, ishvara An isha or ishvara is a being acting as controller over some department of Nature. Just as a government has functionaries in charge of departments, so the Vedas explain that the realm of matter has departments supervised by purposeful beings. Those ishas (also known as devas and devis) are controllers of particular material domains. Though all of them work for the Parama Ishvara, the Supreme controller, they still have departmental control over certain areas of Nature and the humans who live there. In a similar way—as above so below—each atma is the isha of their own body and so are called purushas, from which we derive the English word ‘person’. See deva


Jagat Usually defined as ‘material universe’. The English word universe means ‘one turning’, and the Sanskrit jagat is even more specific. Ja means janma ‘repeated birth and death’, and gat ‘to move and go forward’. The Vedic principle is that we are immortal atmas visiting matter, thus it is samsara ‘reincarnation’ that turns the wheel of repeated birth and death. That is the cycle that creates all other cycles, and this turning creates all the circular and cyclical forces that govern existence within matter. The entire universe is called Jagat Purusha ‘the material body of Paramatma’. Just as each human body is animated by an atma dwelling within, so each one of the countless jagats have a Paramatma dwelling within it. All of the atmas and Paramatmas are extensions of Bhagavan.
Jati Part of the varna system of organizing the functions of society. At the beginning of their Vedic education, children are observed to identify their natural abilities and qualifications for certain occupations. Eventually they are divided into four varnas or groups for advanced training: brahmin ‘professor’, kshatriya ‘protector’, vaishya ‘producer’, and shudra ‘provider’. Within these four groups, there are many professional sub-groups that are specialists in a particular skill or subject. These are the jatis. Each jati has a self-regulating hierarchy of skill and experience which is called the shreni ‘career ladder’. This Vedic social system was not based on birth or influence; it was based on ability. Jati is not to be confused with the word ‘caste’ which is the Portuguese word casta. The colonizers of India purposely used that word to discredit and disparage the Vedic social system. Caste or a caste system is not Vedic, but is globally present wherever property, wealth, or power is passed on to children just because they are family but with no regard for their qualification.
Jnana / ajnana The cultivation of knowledge, culminating in the ability to distinguish between matter and the conscious self. The root of this word is jna ‘to know’. The essence of jnana is to become a ‘diagnostician’, meaning to analyze every subject and object. Before European culture even existed, what to speak of modern science, the method of meticulously studying every detail of the realm of prakriti was called sankhya or jnana yoga, the analytical study of the categories of matter. The opposite is ajnana ‘ignorance or lack of knowing’.


Kala Modern scientists use the term ‘space/time continuum’ to discuss our world. That same paradox is explained in chapter 11 of the Bhagavad Gita, where Arjuna asks Bhagavan to demonstrate how He pervades the universe. This, again, is the space/time question from another perspective. Krishna gives Arjuna special vision to see the entire universe. Terrified, Arjuna watches all beings rush into a massive mouth that is eating everyone. Trembling with fear, Arjuna asks, “Who are You and what is Your purpose?” To this, Krishna replies, “Kalo asmi…I am time, here to destroy everything; but you, Arjuna, will not be consumed.” Time, then, will consume anything made of parts, everything made of matter. The message of the Gita is that time cannot eat the atma, our immortal self, but will eat everything else. The space/time continuum will be eaten, but the atma, personified by Arjuna, is immortal and will return to the realm of Brahman, where time and space do not exist.
Kama Often translated as desires for and pursuit of pleasure. It is one of the four purusharthas (kama, artha, dharma, moksha) or the four universal activities of human life. All four of these pursuits are conducted from a guna, either sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic. Sattvic kama would manifest as artistic, tasteful, and harmonious pleasures. Rajasic kama would be focused on selfish pleasures, sexually oriented, and more likely to be disruptive or cause harm. Tamasic kama would be dark, destructive, painful, dangerous, or degrading. All forms of kama are driven by pleasure-seeking activities, and it is fair to say that rajasic and tamasic kama are most common. Yogis restrict themselves to sattvic kama and avoid the rest.
Karma / akarma Derived from kri ‘to do’. Karma is actions of any kind and the reactions generated by the atma’s use of free will. The consequence of action is residual cause and effect from life to life. Within matter, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In the Vedic system of reincarnation, immortal atmas keep reincarnating on the wheel of samsara ‘repeated birth and death’ according to their actions in previous lives, until they cease to accrue karma. The Bhagavad Gita explains all the methods for doing this, and it is one of the main subjects of sankhya yoga. Both Ayurvedic medicine and Jyotish study karma intensively. Karma is summarized in Ch. 18 v. 61 #684. The opposite is akarma ‘inaction’.
Krishna Bhagavan Shri Krishna is known in the Vedic culture to have appeared on Earth a little over 7000 years ago as the ninth avatar of Shri Vishnu, the maintainers of all beings. Krishna’s descent was the most personable and intimate of any of the divine manifestations who preceded him. Krishna means ‘that being who attracts all beings by displaying the most irresistible qualities toward which all are helplessly drawn’. As Bhagavan Shri Krishna, he performed a myriad of lilas, ways of loving, playful intimacy in order to draw all beings toward his realm within Brahman. Although the Supreme Being, He entered this world as an avatar of Vishnu. He acted for dharma in the dilemma of the Pandavas. With the gopis of Vrindavan and all his lila friends, He left behind the most delicious and beautiful theological legacy in history, and He left the Bhagavad Gita as the summary of all the wisdom we jiva atmas need to return to His immortal abode.
Kshatriya ‘To hurt and protect’; those who serve and protect with their strength, as well as those who lead and administer society. This is one of the groups in the four varna classification system. Some characteristics of a kshatriya are fearlessness in the face of confrontation, a sense of fair play, and an ability to withstand pain. This kshatriya temperament is visible in the more aggressive careers such as sports, police, military, fire, and ambulance. As with all the varnas, they are not occupations inherited by birth but are tendencies inherent to them that were trained and perfected. Kshatriya is a svadharma: there are benefits as well as constraints, and well-defined responsibilities that are expected of each varna.See varna
Kshetra The field of activity within nature. Also used to refer to the material body as our ‘field of activities’, in which the seeds of karma ‘cause and effect’ are planted through our actions.
Kula One’s extended family group or a special interest group with which one has important principles in common. The Sanskrit kula became English ‘clan’, ‘cult’, and it is easy to hear the English word ‘school’ as a direct derivative. In agricultural communities, people often spend more time together and have a deeper sense of kinship. Krishna spent his childhood living in a cow-herding community called go (cow) kula. Finally, the English word ‘cultivate’ is from the same source.


Loka English ‘location’ is from the Sanskrit loka. In Vedic cosmology, a loka is one of the 14 levels of existence or dimensions within a jagat ‘material universe’. Humans live on level 8—Bhumi Loka; devas live on level 10—Svarga Loka; and the creators Brahma and Saraswati live on Satya Loka—level 14. Our antakarana ‘dream body’ can interact with the higher or lower lokas. The devas on the higher lokas can see us, but they are invisible to us. Some advanced yogis are able to visit the higher lokas in their subtle body and have conscious interactions with higher beings. Some artists and monastics experience this as a source of divine inspiration.


Maharaja Great ruler or king. The female equivalent is Maharani. Since the guna of rajas is predominant in the kshatriya varna, such warriors would also be called rajas. If they were in the upper echelon of the warrior groups, they would be called maharajas or maharanis. These honorific terms are used for rulers, kings, and even high-ranking military officers.
Manas, manushya Manas is often mistranslated as only ‘mind’; however it is much more. Manas is the uniquely human faculties of thinking, feeling, willing, and memory. Because of manas, we are called manushya or ‘mind-kind’. In English, it has been incorrectly translated as mankind (meaning male). However, both human males and females are manushya ‘mind-kind’. Wherever we focus our manas at the moment of the death of the body will take us either to Brahman or to our next birth. Thus, yogis say that manas is the best friend or the worst enemy.
Mantra Mantras are like thunder. They are divine sound vibrations that attune us to the divine reality of greater beings, Brahman, and the Supreme Being. Mantras are a specific arrangement of Sanskrit letters and words which, when vibrated while holding the correct image and intention, form a link or connection with an invisible divine reality. When chanting a mantra, one attains specific states of direct perception and realization which impart knowledge and lead to the perfection of the self in predictable ways.
Maya That which appears to be whole but is made of parts; appears permanent but is temporary. From the root ma, ‘to create an appearance using separate parts’ and miti ‘to measure’. The root ma gives us the English words mathematics, magic ‘the art of illusion’, and mage ‘one who sees beyond illusion’. Modern science is based upon the premise that the study of matter is the ultimate knowledge, whereas, in the Vedas, matter is studied because it is real, but it is also seen to be a temporary manifestation and a reflection of a higher transcendental reality. Like a mirage, an object is not what or where it appears to be. Because we are immortal beings, the temporary aspect of maya keeps us in bondage to matter.
Moksha, mukta, mukti The Sanskrit word moksha, also called mukti, means liberation, ultimate freedom, release, going beyond all material limitations. The final goal of all yoga practice is the release of the atma, who is originally Brahman in nature, from the bondage of repeated birth and death, to return to Brahman and Bhagavan.
Mrityu / amarita Mrityu means death and mortality; its opposite, amrita, means immortal and undying. Amrita the ‘nectar of immortality’ was fed to the devas so they could perform their various jobs of maintaining the universe. Amrita also refers to anything that counteracts the influence of death or disease due to violating the laws of material Nature. It is also used metaphorically to describe a teacher or speaker pouring the nectar of truth, amrita, into someone’s ears. Because we are all immortal atmas, we need the nectar of immortality. It is also said to be the food of the devas as they protect and nourish the world.


Nirvana, Brahman nirvana Nir ‘without’ and van ‘ownership’ simply means ‘none of this matter is mine’. Defined differently by the Buddhists, they say it means nir ‘not’ van ‘air’ or ‘to extinguish the self (atma) like blowing out a candle’. Since yoga does not wish to remove the atma, the Bhagavad Gita uses Brahman nirvana as a paired term meaning the positive assertion ‘I am Brahman by nature, so none of this matter is mine’. Since this word has been used to represent the conclusion of Buddhist teaching as extinction of the self, its Sanskrit meaning has sometimes been overlooked.


Papa, punya Punya creates future merit; papa creates future demerits. All karmas ‘actions within matter’ create a response that will at some future time return to the performer of the action. Actions aligned with the ritam ‘laws of Nature’ create punya. Actions opposed to the laws of Nature create papa. You could say that all humans are collecting green or red marbles, which at some future date will be redeemed as pleasure or pain. This is the result of human free will which inevitably creates a future of some kind or another. Papa and punya are merely the score card in the game of life within matter.
Prakriti This important Sanskrit word has three roots: pra—to move forward or produce; kri—by applying cause and effect; and iti—to do the same thing over and over again. Prakriti is Mother Nature. It is the dark realm of unconscious matter. Its opposite is Brahman where everything is self-luminous and immortal. All atmas are originally from Brahman and are only visiting prakriti. Once the atma is within prakriti, it is covered with earth, water, fire, air, and space and lives in a body subject to birth, death, old age, and disease. When a yogi leaves prakriti and returns to Brahman—that is called moksha.
Punya See papa
Purusha The word purusha has two roots—pura ‘city’ and isha ‘ruler, leader, or controller’. The metaphor here is that our body is like a metropolis, and our immortal atma is the mayor, the ruler of the body. The Sanskrit purusha gave us the English word ‘person’. We as the atma are the person in charge of our body. According to this view, our entire universe is also a pura, and Paramatma is the Supreme Person in charge of the universe. Our atma is a purusha and Paramatma is also a purusha. One is the person controlling the body, and the other is the person controlling the universe. Both, though, are purushas, divine persons. Yoga is reconnecting the atma with Paramatma in a loving relationship, living person-to-person with the Supreme Being.


Raja See maharaja
Raja guna The creative guna, the active state of the material energy of prakriti, the symptom of which is intense desire or passion. Also rajas, rajasic. See guna
Rishi A rishi is a perfected yogi who has developed or been granted the ability to see realities that are usually invisible. Throughout history, rishis have been the means by which divine wisdom is downloaded to the human plane of existence. A rishi has opened the third eye of seeing beyond matter. The Sanskrit language has made it possible for sacred mantras and knowledge to be clearly received and passed down over long periods of history. This special seeing is called drishti and it enables the rishi to be a seer of what is sacred and always true. Rishi also means ‘they heard the mantras’, referring to the ancient sages who revealed the divine Vedic wisdom, first by perceiving it in deep states of yogic meditation and then through passing it on as an oral tradition that was eventually written down.
Ritam The underlying patterns or laws of Nature, the regulating structural and moral principles that underlie and sustain the universe. The words rita, ritam, rishi, and drishti all share the root ri ‘to rise upward through correct action’. The rita is the foundational structural relationship and truth which acts as the substratum of reality. The ritam is all the laws of Nature that govern prakriti. A rishi is a human being who has evolved to the point that they have attained drishti ‘direct sight’ of all these principles of the ritam and are therefore known as seers. In its next stage of manifestation, the rita creates the dhri, the root of dharma ‘the correct use of everything based upon its essential nature’. The kri then emerges into karma ‘the strings of cause and effect that unite everything’. And finally, the ritus ‘seasons’, in which everything has an appropriate time, forms the basis for the rituals that create a sacred life.
Rupa / arupa ‘Form/formless’. These words are necessary vocabulary for describing two aspects of ultimate reality. Because we live within the temporarily manifest forms of matter, it is easy for us to conclude that all forms are material. It is equally the case that the Veda discusses many formless realities. Some Vedantic lineages promote an arupa ‘formless’ state as the final goal, while others use Vedic evidence to show that there are invisible and immortal forms that are not material and never decay. Some schools of thought reconcile both perspectives as mutually and inconceivably true. What is certain is that both views are true and Vedic. Formless Brahman is a fact, just as the form of Bhagavan is timeless and not made of matter. Try to understand both before jumping to a conclusion. Also svarupa: the original form of one’s atma or true identity.


Samadhi A state of complete absorption in the object of one’s meditation, especially on the transcendental reality. The roots are sam ‘together’ and dha ‘to focus or to hold’. Samadhi is the eighth step in the eight-limbed ashtanga yoga system of Patanjali. It is preceded by some kind of meditation on a specific isha ‘divine being’. That focused meditation is called dharana. In any deep meditation, the goal is to connect so completely with the object of focus that one achieves samadhi and becomes ‘the same as’. If we meditate upon an object, we grasp its essence. If we meditate upon Brahman, our original nature as Brahman is restored. If we meditate on Bhagavan, in the mood of bhakti, instead of just becoming the same as, we also develop a loving relationship with the Source of all¬¬—which is the ultimate stage of samadhi. All of these are forms of samadhi.
Sankhya The yoga of discernment. Sankhya is an empirical and mathematically based tool for investigating matter, its use, and its functions. In the Vedic library of ultimate truths, there are six different schools or ways of looking at ultimate reality. They are called shad darshan, six ways of seeing. Sankhya is the origin of what we now call ‘science’. Beyond its empirical basis, sankhya is a negative process of finding the atma by eliminating what we are not from the conversation of who we are. Sankhya’s method is neti neti—I am not this, I am not that; because they are categories of matter. As a yoga practice, at the end of eliminating what we are not, we could realize aham brahmasmi—I am not matter or from matter. I am Brahman and I am from Brahman.
Sanatana Always true and everlasting. See dharma
Sat / asat Eternal. One of the characteristics of the atma. The opposite is asat ‘temporary’.
Sattva guna The harmonizing and maintaining energetic state within the material nature. Also sattva, sattvic. See guna
Shastra Knowledge originally revealed through the descent of sound vibration from the transcendental realm. The root of this word is shas—to teach, give rules, and to instruct by referring to a particular part of the Vedic library of knowledge, all of which is called shastra. Each branch of Vedic learning has a name and contains specific texts, all written primarily in Sanskrit. One branch of this curriculum is shruti ‘that which was heard’. Another is called smriti ‘that which was remembered’. There are two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, known as itihasa ‘remembered history’. There are 18 Puranas ‘old but always fresh in meaning’. There are 108 Upanishads, which are intensely philosophical in nature. There are many more departments of Veda, and a proper guru knows how, when, and to whom to teach each branch of shastra. See veda
Shraddha The insight or degree of inner sight that is the result of previous lifetimes of experience. This creates a sense of certainty in our perception. Thus, shraddha is the trust, confidence, belief, or intention that a person invests or gives to a particular state of reality. Shraddha is trust in what one is seeing within. The three gunas act as a filter, coloring shraddha and causing the person to see what is visible in their own heart according to their stage of awakening and evolution. The degree of enlightenment governing shraddha depends upon the guna of the perceiver and the extent of their listening to the Vedic shastras. In this way, the experience of shraddha creates a sense of certainty which is either blatantly wrong (tamasic), tinged with self-motivated desires (rajasic), or enlightened direct perception (sattvic). Shraddha is not ‘faith’, as that implies belief without reason or blind faith.
Shri and Vishnu The source of radiance, grace, splendor, beauty, wealth, affluence, and prosperity—Shri Lakshmi. Vishnu and his exquisite and sublime female counterpart, Lakshmi Devi or Shri, are the resting place of all existence. They are health and well-being personified. They reveal in their natures profound patience and unlimited caring for every living being. Among the luminous devas, they are the ultimate regents, the mother and father of all. All races, species, and persuasions are loved by them and rescued, revived, and restored by their unlimited love and abundant grace. From them all the great avatars descend into prakriti to lead the lost and endarkened atmas back to their joyful and loving original nature. Jai Shri Vishnu.
Shudra Shudras are the most numerous workers in the Vedic varna system. Just as in any enterprise, there are a few thought leaders, a group of protectors, a team of business specialists, and a large group of skilled workers, the shudras. Shudras are the ‘providers’ of all the skills necessary to make any enterprise successful. They include the working and laboring class; those who serve and support others; artisans, musicians, and craftsmen. This varna system is based on the organization of workers by their ability and chosen profession. It is not a caste system. All these workers enjoy their jobs because they use the skills they have chosen to cultivate. See varna


Tama guna The deconstructive stage of material matter where objects are destroyed or recycled. Also tamas, tamasic. See guna
Tapas, tapasya In ashtanga yoga, asanas—postures; pranayama—control of the breath; yama and niyama—internal and external lifestyle; dhyana—meditation; and mantra practice are all tapasyas that eventually lead to self-perfection. Just as athletes say, ‘practice makes perfect,’ so in the science of reawakening our atma, we must consistently repeat tapasyas to burn off our material illusions.


Vaishya The entrepreneurs of society. Imagine you own a large business providing healthy foods to the world. As the owner and director of your enterprise, you would need to know agriculture, money management, and all the rest of the skills that go with such a position. In the Vedic culture, your varna would be vaishya ‘producer’. Your parents or birth would not matter at all, just your skills in business.See varna
Varna The word varna means a cover or covering. The word varnish ‘a covering on the outside’ is from varna. Our varna is our covering and skill set, but an enlightened yogi sees all beings as the atma on the inside. A person’s varna is also called their svabhava—state of embodiment. The other term is svadharma—the function within society that a person is best suited to perform. The primary occupational categories are: brahmin—professor or scholar; kshatriya—protector or warrior; vaishya—producer or farmer/merchant; and shudra—provider or skilled worker. These are neither class nor caste; they are not from birth or by appointment. One has inherent ability in one of these varnas, then is trained, tested, and qualified. Varna means the role one plays in the social body. Scholars are the head, warriors the arms, producers the belly, and providers the legs. These are the real brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra. See brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra
Veda, vedic The Vedas are an ancient library of knowledge which was transmitted orally in Sanskrit for thousands of years. During the time Shri Krishna was on the planet, the Vedas were written down to secure their future existence. Those many texts provide scientific knowledge for working with matter and a complete knowledge of our ultimate nature as atmas, our final destination in Brahman, and our personal relationship with the Source of all. The primary Vedic texts include the Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas; 108 Upanishads; 18 Puranas; and the two itihasas—the Ramayana and the Mahabharata which contains the Bhagavad Gita. The Vedic texts also include the Vedanta Sutras of Vyasadeva and hundreds of other texts on a wide variety of scientific subjects. See shastra
Vedanta, Vedanta Sutras The word sutra means ‘thread of meaning’, and the text called the Vedanta Sutras or the Brahma Sutras literally stitches together the various strands of Vedic meaning into a single, logical, and self-consistent text. Those sutras, being very terse, are often interpreted with the aid of various commentaries written and handed down by the main schools of Vedantic thought. The author of the Bhagavad Gita was Vyasadeva, also known as Badarayana. There are six darshans ‘ways of seeing Vedic philosophy’; Vedanta is the sixth and is considered the most advanced. ‘Vedanta’ is a compound of veda ‘the knowledge in the Vedic library’ and anta ‘the end or conclusion’. Thus, the Vedantic darshan is concerned with the ultimate conclusion and aim of the Vedas and discusses in detail the precise nature of the final transcendental goal.
Vidya That which gives the recipient the ability to see what was otherwise obscure. Root vid—to reason upon, to know, to acquire understanding. The various forms of knowledge, practices, and the entire ancient legacy of wisdom in the Vedic library are all known as vidya. The word ‘video’, which allows one to see, is taken directly from the Sanskrit. Ultimate and absolute truth does not lose value over time. Vidya is timeless truths that were divinely given or seen by great rishi seers over many thousands of years. The Vedic vidya is a legacy of immortal wisdom and enlightenment, carried forward by the perfected and unvarying Sanskrit language carried through time by ancient lineages of seers who held themselves accountable to preserve the Vedic vidya for the benefit of all beings. The human condition is blinded by the darkness of matter, and Vedic vidya is the carrier for the timeless light and truth of Brahman, Bhagavan, and all that is true.
Vritti The twists in matter; specifically, the twisted and confusing results of karmas. Just as our double-helix DNA suggests, everything within matter is orbiting, cyclic, and twisted together. Our immortal atma, however, is from the realm of Brahman, where nothing is temporary, opposite, or twisted. The second verse of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras tells us the purpose of yoga: yogas chit vritti nirodha. Yoga is removing the twisted vrittis from the consciousness of the atma. The Bhagavad Gita is also a yoga manual teaching us the methods of extracting our atma from matter and returning to Brahman and our relationship with Bhagavan.


Yajna A process of reciprocation between humans with free will and devas who personify the laws of Nature. They provide the substances we need to live well, and yajna is a ceremony reminding us to show gratitude and to recycle. Metaphorically, the fire eats our offerings, carrying our appreciation to the divines as the smoke. After the yajna, the mineral rich ashes are mixed with the soil in the garden as fertilizer for the next planting cycle. Though it appears that the yajna is thanking only the devas, it is well known in Vedic culture that the devas work for the Supreme Being, Bhagavan.
Yoga, yogi, yogic The root of yoga is yuj ‘to connect, unite, join with’, and yoga is all processes that facilitate forming a union between an atma and some form of the Supreme and Ultimate Being. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, pada II verse 1, says: the three activities of yoga are tapasya—correct practices; svadhyaya—self-examination and realization of our true nature as the atma; and ishvara pranidhana—meditation upon all ishas (divine beings) until the Supreme and Ultimate Isha is attained. These three principles of ashtanga yoga apply to all styles and methods of yoga. What they all have in common is that they are all methods of reconnecting lost and deluded humans with their own atma, with the devas, with Brahman, and with Bhagavan Shri Krishna, the Parameshvara (Parama Ishvara), the ultimate destination and source of all, and uniting in an ecstatic and devoted immortal relationship. Some methods of yoga are ashtanga, bhakti, buddhi, jnana, karma and sankhya yoga.
Yuga Most cultures on Earth conceive of historical time in thousands of years, whereas ancient India is the home of a scientific theory called yugas that describes the age of our planet and solar system in billions of years, which now has the agreement of modern science. Vedic culture says that like our annual seasons, planetary seasons are called yugas, in which a cosmic year is 4,320,000 Earth years. The four yugas are Satya—1,728,000 years; Treta—1,296,000 years; Dvapara—864,000 years; and Kali—432,000 years; just like spring, summer, fall, and winter for planetary systems. Shri Krishna’s historical appearance just before the beginning of Kali Yuga and the speaking of the Bhagavad Gita are considered a divine tonic to keep us safe in the winter age of Kali Yuga.

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