Should yogis learn words from Sanskrit? The answer is a resounding yes – and the reasons why are multiple.
Firstly, language is a window into culture.
The original Yoga texts, such as Patanjali’s Sutras were written in Sanskrit, and learning the nuances of this ancient language fosters the deep, cross-cultural communication that is necessary to appreciate the history and meaning behind our yoga practices.
Second, Sanskrit is overflowing with beautiful words and wise meanings, which can teach non-speakers new perspectives on the world and transform our understanding of the self as practitioners of yoga.
Finally, the sounds and structure of words from Sanskrit are more effective for our practice. It is believed that the sound quality, vibrations, and harmonies of Sanskrit words have a certain physical and spiritual resonance that deepens our practice.
We’ve already written an article on the 132 Sanskrit yoga terms that every yogi should know. In this article, we’re giving you 48 words from Sanskrit with beautiful meanings to foster new perspectives.
48 Beautiful Words From Sanskrit Explained
Coming from the Sanskrit verb agam, meaning “to return,” “to attain” or “impending future.”
Agami is one of the three types of karma as laid out in the Vedas. It describes the power we hold in the present to bring about positive or negative future outcomes for ourselves, through the decisions or actions we take in each current moment.
In this sense, Agami karma is understood as “future karma” in that it reminds us that our future path is largely the result of our current actions, decisions and dedications.
Aham Prema (ah-ham preh-MAH)
Coming from the Sanskrit, aham, meaning “I” or “self;” and prema, meaning “affection” or “universal love”.
A widely celebrated mantra commonly translated as “I am divine love,” aham prema reminds us that our true nature is love, kindness and peacefulness. It describes the divine power to love unconditionally that exists within each of us.
The mantra is believed to foster uncorrupted love that not only brings one closer to others but also supports yogis on their path to enlightenment – i.e. union with the Divine, the higher, true Self.
Repeated silently in thought or aloud, the sound vibrations of aham prema are thought to promote positive prana (our vital energy) in the body, foster self-love, love for others, and boost our powers for effective manifestation.
Derived from the Sanskrit himsa, meaning “to cause suffering,” and the negating prefix, a, meaning “un” or “not,” ahimsa can be translated as non-harm or non-violence.
This is one of the five yamas (“ethical principles”), which form the first limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path (see Ashtanga) as described in the Yoga Sutras. Living by the principle of ahimsa is believed a prerequisite to cultivating the equanimous mind, and reaching internal peace.
Mahatma Gandhi often used the phrase “ahimsa paramo dharma” meaning “the greatest duty of each of us is to reduce harm,” popularizing the concept of ahimsa in the West.
Coming from vidya, meaning “to understand”, “to know” or “to see clearly” and the negating prefix, a, meaning “un” or “not,” avidya can be translated as “ignorance”, “misunderstanding” or “delusion”.
A concept central to both Buddhist and Hindu texts, avidya captures something beyond the conventional, shallow understanding of ignorance. Instead, avidya describes the state of ‘unwisdom’ – the lack of experiential understanding of things as they truly are.
This concept of spiritual ignorance, fundamental misperceptions of the meaning of things, the world and our place in it, encourages us to work towards viewing things with equanimity, without allowing ego to delude our ability to see things clearly.
Coming from the sanskrit ayur, meaning “life” or “daily living”, and veda meaning “wisdom” or “knowledge”, Ayurveda can be translated as “wisdom for daily living”.
Originating in India over 2000 years ago, Ayurveda is an ancient medical tradition based on the Doshas.
Whilst scientific evidence of the effectiveness of ayurvedic techniques is mixed, many people find the central message of Ayurveda – to live according to balance and knowing your body and mind – to be immensely valuable.
Deriving from the sanskrit word bhava meaning “becoming”, “cultivating” or “development”, bhavana describes a meditative technique used to arouse certain qualities or states in the body.
Bhavana uses thought, visualization and imagination to manifest a particular internal state, often being used to set a tone for an individual or group meditation practice.
The word usually appears in compound phrases, used with another word that further describes the quality that is being cultivated – for example, metta-bhavana (metta meaning loving kindness). Standing alone, bhavana describes the general activity of ‘spiritual cultivation.’
Coming from the Sanskrit cit, meaning “to perceive”, citta holds slightly different meanings in Buddhist vs Hindu texts, however is used in both traditions to relate to the activity of the mind, perception, and thought.
In Buddhist texts, citta primarily represents one’s mindset – the quality and purity of one’s mental processes. In Hinduism, the concept of citta is similar, understood as the mental activities which dictate how the external world is perceived.
Overall, the concept of citta reminds us that the habit patterns of the mind and the internal environment they foster can change our perception of the outside world – peaceful thought processes make for more peaceful external conditions.
A Sanskrit term with many translations and uses, lila is most commonly understood to mean “play”, “amusement” and “spontaneity”.
This is not just any play, but “divine play”. The concept of lila is used to describe the creation of the universe by the gods, who did so in a spirit of spontaneity and play, sport rather than necessity or self-conscious goals.
With this, lila encourages us to see all aspects of the universe with lightheartedness – just as the world was created as a stage for lila, so it remains a space for spontaneity, creativity and playfulness.
In Sanskrit, mandala means “disc” or “circle” and describes not only the shape itself but also the quality of the shape, such as “wholeness, completeness, balance and symmetry“.
Mandalas are today primarily understood as the various geometric designs used in Hindu, Buddhist, and other religious ceremonies to symbolize the universe.
Mandala designs are usually highly intricate, featuring various shapes, forms, and colors, each symbolizing something particular. The intricacy of these designs is used to cultivate concentration during meditation, focusing on the small details acting to calm the mind and encourage present contemplation.
Namaste derives from the Sanskrit word namas meaning “bow” or “salute”, and the informal, second person Sanskrit pronoun, te, meaning “you”.
Today, Namaste is used by Hindi and non-Hindi speakers alike as a simple greeting, however, the etymology and traditional usage of the word reveal the deeper, spiritual reverence behind the phrase.
In Vedic literature, ‘namas’ it used to describe not the act of bowing itself, but rather what the act symbolizes. For example, Namas-kara is used to describe adoration, homage, worship, and salutation.
With this, Namaste is now widely understood to mean ‘I see and bow to the divine in you’. It’s a reminder to see the divine light and the dark in others without judgement, with acceptance and love.
Coming from the Sanskrit word sat, which means ‘being’, satya is commonly translated as meaning “truth” or ‘truthfullness”. The term stems from the notion of ‘being’ that nothing ‘is’ or exists in reality other than Truth.
Satya describes the virtue of being truthful and honest, not just in speech but also in actions and thought. One of the five Yamas (foundational ethical principles) in yogic philosophy, satya encourages honesty not only outwardly towards others, but also inwardly.
So, to live by satya is to hold true understanding of the world and situations internally. Rather than allowing emotions, ego, desire or aversions to mislead you, satya encourages you to use mindfully discernment to be honest with yourself, too.
Upeksha in Sanskrit or Upekkha in Pali, has various overlapping translations, including “even-mindedness”, “non-attachment” and “equanimity”.
A crucial spiritual virtue to living well consistently, to achieve upeksha is to maintain mental and emotional stability amid all the fluctuations of worldly fortune.
Sometimes wrongly translated as indifference, upeksha is far more profound than a simple lack of interest or concern. Rather, upeksha describes an unshakeable steadiness of mind and freedom of perception.
It is believed that to dwell in upeksha, is to not be able to help but to have acceptance of situations, to feel unconditional love and compassion for others.
Coming from the Sanskrit root word vich, meaning “to sift”, “separate”, “discern, or judge”, viveka can be translated to the faculty of discernment.
Considered one of the first requirements on the path to spiritual enlightenment, viveka describes the ability to distinguish between truths and untruths, the eternal and temporary, the real and unreal, the indulgence and bliss.
As a spiritual practice of realizing truth, pursuing viveka is to pursue the ability to see things clearly without the cloudiness of ego, desire or aversion.
From Words From Sanskrit to The Yoga Sutras . . .
Now that you’ve got some beautiful words from Sanskrit under your belt, ready to learn more about the philosophies coming from this ancient language?