Tips on interpretation

Anand V. Hudli anandhudli at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 4 17:27:33 CDT 1999

Since there has been some discussion of copyright laws which
 has been followed by discussion on translation and interpret-
 ation of Sanskrit terms, I though I would share a "tip" with
 those interested in such work.

 While translating/interpreting Sanskrit terms, one needs to
 be aware of the fact that there may be more than one way to
 interpret a particular term. For example, as was pointed
 out, "aparNA" may be interpreted as, among other things,
 "one who gets rid of the debts (of devotees)" or "one
 who does not eat even leaves." Both are valid interpretations
 and _both_ interpretations must be mentioned in the
 translation/interpretation since _both_ are of significance in
 describing devI-pArvatI. It was perhaps the intention of the
 author that both these interpretations be applied!

 It is not necessary that a text be interpreted in exactly one
 way when dealing with Sanskrit texts. Cases where the author of a
 text actually wants a text to be interpreted in more than one
 significant way is quite common in Sanskrit works. A classic example
 is found in Shankara's interpretation of the Brahma sUtra "shastra-
 yonitvAt.h." This may be interpreted as "That which is the source of
 the shAstras or shruti" or as "That which has shAstras/shruti for
 Its source since the shruti instructs about Brahman." Both interpretations
 are not only correct but the two interpretations _taken_together_ give the
 full import of the sUtra (shAstra-yonitvAt.h). Brahman is _both_ the
 source of shAstras such as the Vedas _and_ Brahman is known through
 such shAstras. And this certainly must have been the intention of
 the author of the sUtras, bAdarAyaNa.

 So we have the rule:

  When there are two or more interpretations of a term or piece of text,
  where those interpretations do not mutually exclude each other then
  all such interpretations must be taken together.

 However, sometimes it so happens that two or more interpretations
 of a text do contradict each other in some way. In such a case,
 the interpretation(s) that is/are consistent with the overall
 subject-matter has/have to be chosen, and not those that disagree
 with the overall subject-matter. Also, sometimes a literal meaning
 may not make much sense. In this case, an "inner" or more symbolic
 meaning is to be given.

 For example, consider the name "mAdhVIpAnalasA" of the lalitA-sahasra-
 nAma. which can be interpreted as 1) "one who sports in drinking a
 sweet drink", 2) "one who sports in drinking intoxicating liquor",
 or 3) "one who sports in the enjoyment of Brahman-Bliss."

 Of these, even though 2) is literally plausible, it cannot be
 admitted because it involves ideas that are contradictory to
 the sAttvika worship of the devI where no objectionable practices
 can find a place. 2) would imply that the devI is fond of
 liquor so that we should offer such liquor to Her. Clearly, this
 is against the sAttvika mode of worship and should therefore be

 Even though 1) is admissible, it is 3) that is more plausible and
 appropriate, and should be used here.


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