Sanskrit (संस्कृतम् or saṃskṛtam or saṃskṛtā) is an Indo-Aryan language that dates from somewhere between 1500–600 B.C. (for Vedic Sanskrit). It is also the language in which the Hindu and Buddhist Sutra and Shastra scriptures and all of the major classical texts of Ayurvedic medicine were written. More recently, the Jain scriptures have been written in Sanskrit.
Although it is no longer spoken in daily life except among Ayurvedic physicians and scholars in India, it is still used for religious purposes by Hindus and Buddhists who either recite certain scriptures and mantras in Sanskrit even if they do not know the meanings since they are taught that such recitation induces meditative states called samadhi.
Buddhism and Sanskrit
Despite many people thinking that Sanskrit is only associated with Hinduism, all of the Dharmic religions use Sanskrit. To this day, there are many Buddhist scholars, professors and linguists who have formally learned Sanskrit at places such as University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University and Harvard and have translated into English several hundred Buddhist Sutras and Shastras from the classic Buddhist masters such as Nagarjuna, Shantideva, Atisha and Vasubandhu. These Sutras and Shastras use a special form of Sanskrit referred to by Sanskritists as "BHS" or Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit.
During the Tang dynasty in China there were vast Emperor-sponsored facilities dedicated to the massive project of translating thousands of volumes of Buddhist texts from Devanagari and Siddham-based Sanskrit to Hanzi traditional characters. These Hanzi characters are the Chinese script used continuously since the Han dynasty (hence Han-zi) until Chairman Mao forced China to switch to simplified characters so they could only read Communist works. During the Tang, Kumarajiva was one of the most famous translators. When Kumarajiva's Sanskrit translations made from Chinese, Korean and Japanese into modern English are compared with the more recently made translations direct from Sanskrit to Engish, there is a high degree of similarity.
Ayurvedic Medicine and Sanskrit
According to renowned Ayurvedic physician and author, Dr. Vasant Lad, since the 8th century A.D. until the present day in India, Ayurvedic medicine doctors have to memorize via Devanagari script thousands of verses of the Charaka Samhita, the Sushruta Samhita and the Astanga Hridayam and be able to recite them out loud in order to pass their Ayurvedic medical degree oral examinations.
Even in America, where Ayurveda has only been popularized since 1978 when Dr. Lad helped introduce it to American medical practitioners who formally studied with him at the Ayurvedic Institute in New Mexico, most beginning Ayurvedic practitioners learned at least 150 to 200 words of Ayurvedic Sanskrit. More experienced Ayurvedic practitioners in the USA know up to 300 words of medical Sanskrit.
- Goldman, Robert P., Devavāṇīpraveśikā: An Introduction to the Sanskrit Language. Centre for South Asia Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 1999.
- Kale, M. R. (Moreshwar Ramchandra). A Higher Sanskrit Grammar. Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 1988, 1894.
- Monier-Williams, Monier, A Practical Grammar Of The Sanskrit Language Arranged With Reference To The Classical Languages Of Europe For The Use Of English Students. W. H. Allen & co., 1846. Google Books
- Bachman, Nicolai, MA, MS, 108 Sanskrit Flash Cards. Albuquerque, New Mexico: Ayurvedic Institute, Ayurvedic Press, 2012.
- Dsbcproject.org Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon at University of the West
- Sanskrit texts at Sacred Text Archive
- A Practical Sanskrit Introductory by Charles Wikner