Sanskrit Times – Episode 1

As I am learning new Sanskrit words, I sometimes feel inspired to share some of the ancient scripts. I will post them titled “Sanskrit Times” implying my quality time with Sanskrit.

Today, I read the following verse, took from the Vows being chanted during the Wedding Ceremony in India.

oṃ asato mā sadgamaya
tamaso mā jyotirgamaya
mṛtyormā amṛtaṃ gamaya
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ

The English translation by Shunori Ramanathan is as follows:

Lead me from the unreal to the real
From the darkness to the light
From death to immortality
Let there be peace, peace, peace


The Sanskrit Effect

I am a Tamil native speaker who didn’t show much interest in learning Sanskrit until recently. One way of my meditation is to play Sanskrit Mantras and give all my attention to the words (Concentrative Meditation) as I listen to them. I naturally got pulled into the beauty of this language – which seems to have certain positive effects on me psychologically. As a practice, I started learning new words and read certain verses from the ancient script Bhagavad Gita as a part of my internal journey/transformation.

I recently came across a study – that proved certain effects on the brain of the traditional Sanskrit scholars (N = 21) from India compared to non-Sanskrit scholars (N = 21) through structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In particular, it has been shown a massive grey matter density and an increase in cortical thickness in Language, Memory, and Visual Systems of the brain for the Sanskrit practitioners.

I am not quite surprised with these results as I believe that recitation/self-affirmation is a powerful method to change the way your mind works, especially when you are depressed/anxious. However, I think this effect doesn’t depend on the language itself.

For a detailed scientific read:

Cognitive Dissonance

Humans strive for a harmonious and peaceful life. But, it is not always practically easy. As an example, Tom believes that consuming meat is immoral (belief) but he finds it difficult to stop eating meat (attitude). There arises a natural internal conflict between his belief and his attitude that leads Tom with discomfort. In Social Psychology, this discomfort is termed as Cognitive Dissonance.

When we experience Cognitive Dissonance, we immediately try to alter our cognition (it could be the belief, the attitude, or the behavior) to reduce the intensity of such a discomfort. This kind of protective or defensive mechanism is called as Cognitive Dissonance Reduction. The “negative” emotions as we consciously feel act as a push to perform this reduction.

For the same example I mentioned before, Tom might use one of these possible statements to perform the Cognitive Dissonance Reduction

  1. “You know, I do eat meat once in a while. Very very rarely.” (Modification of original attitude)
  2. “You know what, I don’t think eating meat is not really immoral.” (Trivializing or suppressing the original belief)
  3. “Eating fishes is completely okay, though.” (Adding more cognition)
  4. “Animals are meant for food, they die anyway.” (Completely denying the original cognition)

There is a famous study from Yale University that showed evidences that Cognitive Dissonance Reduction may have originated both developmentally and evolutionarily. The study was conducted on both human preschoolers and monkeys using a simple free-choice methodology. Here is how it goes: The experimenter chooses your most equally favorite three kinds of objects (let’s say, chocolates) and name them A, B, and C. In phase 1 of the experiment, the experimenter will show you A and B, asking you to choose one among them. It is, certainly, a difficult choice to make since you like both of them. But, let’s say you choose B. Now, in phase 2 of the experiment, the experimenter presents you A (the rejected choice in phase 1) and C (the novel one) and asks you to choose one among them.

Guess what? You’re more likely to choose C than A. Because, you experience a cognitive dissonance when they present you the choice (you rejected previously but still it’s your favorite). To resolve this conflict, you’d prefer to reject the chocolate A once again (in order to maintain consistency in your decisions)!

A slightly modified version of the same experiment has been conducted on 6 Capuchins (Cebus Apella) and interestingly, the same Cognitive Dissonance Reduction was observed.

The researchers concluded that some of the mechanisms that drive Cognitive Dissonance Reduction processes in human adults may emerge as a result of developmentally and evolutionarily constrained systems that are consistent across
cultures, ages, and even species.

For further read on the study: