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Context matters

There are a number of issues relating to the practice of attributing western ‘meanings’ to Sanskrit terms.

Firstly, Sanskrit words, particularly philosophical and religious terms, have multiple meanings, many of which have changed over time – for example, the usage of the term Maya in the Rg Veda is quite different from its later usage in Advaita Vedanta. Moreover, interpretation of a term will depend on just who is doing the interpreting – be prepared for terms to be interpreted differently depending on whether the author is a Tantrika, Jain, Buddhist or Vedantin. Knowing the context in which a term appears is also important:

For any concept to have meaning one must know the context or, to put it differently, in order to have a concept one must have a whole world of concepts. No dictionary can free us from the effort of discovering a context which gives meaning.
A.T. de Nicolas, Professor Emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York

Secondly, there is the issue of Vedic Science. From the nineteenth century onwards, there has been a trend of attempting to place South Asian philosophical & religious concepts on the same footing as western science. The identification of the chakra system described in the Satcakranirupana Tantra with nerve pleaxuses or glands as given by Arthur Avalon would be one example of this, but the so-called “Vedic Science Movement” was also championed by many western-influenced Hindu scholars, notably Swami Vivekananda. Reading the Vedas as “science”, exponents of this trend attempt to find analogies between scientific principles and concepts, and Hindu religious concepts. Further examples of this trend would be the equivalence of the three gunas with positive, negative, and neutrally-charged particles, or the idea that via their spiritual practices, yogis came to exactly the same conclusions as modern physicists as to the nature of the Universe.

Critics of this approach, such as Rajiv Malhotra, argue that the (mis)translation of Hindu religious ideas into terms familiar to Western science represent a form of neo-colonialism, whereby the original, complex of contextual meanings are lost, and instead replaced by a simplistic, fixed Eurocentric meaning.