The Mahābhārata is written in Sanskrit. For millennium, Hindus have claimed that Sanskrit is a unique, sacred, and magically powerful language. I heard this claim over and over again in India and in Ashrams in this country. But is Sanskrit really unique, so special, and so precious? After all, it is a dead language.
Most cultures view their languages this way. I recently heard an NPR show about the Hopi language and how the Hopi have a prophecy that when their language is no longer spoken, the world will end. But, and I know this is not politically correct, I think the Hopi language will die just like Sanskrit did and the world will continue. Languages are not sacred !
Indo-European Language Tree
I have personally seen this “my-language-is-special-and-unique” attitude among speakers of Japanese, Arabic, Chinese, and Hebrew. Human arrogance about what is special to them is universal.
That which is dear to us is sacred. By sacred, I mean it is not open to negotiation and thus guarded with all the unconscious intellectual vigor our brains can muster. For many, these guarded sacred items include our nation, our tribe, our religion and our language.
We often see that naive mono-linguists think their language is unique in its ability to express deep thoughts. Well of course they do — they have never mastered another language. A good way to cure this parochial blindness is to do comparative studies. Using comparative linguistics researchers have learned more about the very nature of language than by studying any one language in depth.
Likewise, we started learning much more biology when we started doing comparative biology. Likewise, studying comparative government can open the eyes of a person about the nature of government more than by just studying all the historical details of their own government.
I feel that religious folks who have never thoroughly understood another religion are handicapped in a similar way to mono-linguists. And no matter how deep they dive into their religion, no matter how thoroughly they know their religious history, their scriptures original language(s) or the intricacies of their religion’s theologies, it will be the rare person who will see the deep patterns of all human religious thought. It is by comparative religious studies that people can see how much their religion shares with other religions. Doing comparative studies helps people to see the nature of human hearts which generates their faiths.
So instead of trying to argue the inconsistencies of the Bible, the inaccuracies of the archeology and history, the bigotry of many doctrines and the subtle philosophical arguments, why not encourage comparative studies of religion. Through this people can see what they share with others. This will set up a cognitive dissonance between that insight and their religious teaching that their religion is unique, special and superior. This may tip the scale for that person becoming more inclusive in their religious thinking. And moving toward inclusivness is a huge step.
Do you have experiences where comparative studies opened your eyes?
1) The Mahabharata Series : posts on the famous Hindu epic
2) The Original Source Mystique: on the misuse of the Bible’s original languages