I mentioned en passant in the previous post that the Sanskrit word vira, hero, is related to the Latin vir, man, and thus to our virtue and virility. And, of course, to the Modern Hindi vir, brave. (Thank you, Susan.)
Well, that sort of thing brings out the language geek in me, and I can’t help myself. There is something beautifully mysterious in this common Indo-European heritage (pictured above just after the fall of the Western Roman Empire) of our Western languages and this Eastern Ur-language, Sanskrit. It is like visiting very distant relatives and suddenly seeing a nose, a toe, a tilt of the head or an allergic sneeze that is exactly like your own and makes you imagine the stories of the past that unite you.
So indulge me in some word play.
The easiest way to compare languages is by counting to ten in them. Look how incredibly similar most of these word roots have stayed across millenia and continents:
But the real magic starts when you compare more meaningful words, because then you see not only their etymology but the genealogy of concepts and meanings (this used to be a hot field, called philology, and is how Nietzsche arrived at his philosophy about the evolution of morals).
Since I used the word magic, let’s start there. It “comes from” the Sanskrit word maya, whence the Latin magicus, French magique, German Magie.
Of all these, the Sanskrit word is by far the most interesting and nuanced and deep. It points to a philosophical and religious concept. Maya means magic in the sense of cosmic illusion, the metaphysical head-fake that our senses play on us. We think we exist in our mortal bodies in this changing world, but if we pierce the magic (maya) by making our minds completely still, we realize that there is only pure energy (Brahman) and our soul (Atman) merges into this void.
Bonus: Compare that last word, Atman (soul) with the German atmen (breathe).
Yoga not only means, but is the root of, union. But it gets more interesting. Yoga is also related to the Latin junctio, French joindre, English join.
Its Germanic descendants resemble it even more closely: German Joch, English yoke. (English, as is its wont, gets the root twice, once via Saxon and once via Norman French.)
A yoke at first does not seem very yogic. But if you think about it, that’s a matter of technological connotation. We yoke an ox to a cart, thereby imprisoning him. But in yoga, you yoke (connect, join, unite) your breath to your mind, thence to your soul (Atman), and thence to one-ness or union (Brahman), thereby liberating yourself.
Maharaja means great king in Sanskrit. So it has two words: maha (great) and raja (king). Now recognize:
- maha → Latin magnus (great), French majeur, German macht (might), English might & major
- raja → Latin rex/regina (king/queen), French roi, German Reich/reich/reichen (empire/rich/reach), English rich, reach, regal, royal
And so it goes on and on and on…