Verbs alone are the lifeline of language; this is the opinion of Indian grammarians. But for our logicians (i.e. the proponents of the Nyāya [epistemology] and Vaiśeṣika [ontology] schools of philosophy), the subject indicated by the nominative case (prathamā vibhakti) alone is the lifeline of a language – i.e. the doer alone is the soul of language. The reason for this difference is crystal clear. Grammarians are śabdādvaitis (i.e. non-dualists in the world of language) – they accept only vivarta-vāda (the theory of manifestation; according to this, everything is brahman but it appears in myriad ways because of the distinction of nāma and rūpa.) Logicians accept only ārambha-vāda (the theory of causation; according to this, the universe was constructed and that there was a starting point for creation.) In other words, they are pragmatists and are not idealists like the grammarians.
To describe this in the language of Modern Physics, the vivarta-vāda of grammarians can be likened to the Quantum Theory while the ārambha-vāda of logicians can be likened to the Particle Theory. Taking this analogy further, among the three modes of expression, abhidhā-vṛtti (the designated meaning) can be likened to Particle Theory, lakṣaṇā-vṛtti (the implied meaning) to Field Theory, and vyañjanā-vṛtti (the suggested meaning) to Quantum Theory.
That is why – as is universally recognized – language is not only a means for external communication but also a vehicle for internal awareness. Logicians are primarily those who have set out to increase their awareness of the world. And so, even if they develop a certain amount of interest in concepts such as jīva (life, individual) or īśvara (god, the Supreme), they see it purely as worldly constructs. Their focus is naturally external (parāk-dṛṣṭi). This is the way of sciences like Physics that are logic-based; whereas language is primarily a sensation, a perception. That is why grammarians, who delve deep into language, have no alternative but to be internally focused (pratyak-dṛṣṭi). This is the reason why the mystics show special love for the beauty and wonder in language. Their words become mantras. Language, instead of becoming a material tool, becomes a way to draw together several visionary constructs. This is why the words of the mystics appear as riddles to worldly people. The works that belong to this category are – the Vedas, Vacana literature, Kabir’s couplets, several of the compositions of Haridāsas, Sufi songs, Zen koans, a few portions of the Āgamas, some compositions of the Āḻvārs and Nāyanmars, and the philosophical literature of various countries. In fact, this aspect is unavoidable even in the world of poetry. The best of the best poetry, instead of being from the material world, is from the spiritual world; it is in the realm of experience, not in the realm of belief.
Interestingly, mystics who are attracted to the ways of the logicians have a tendency to turn to alchemy (rasa-vidyā). When we accept the dimension of alchemy, it becomes an attempt at achieving the ingredients of the elixir of immortality. In the Eastern and Western worlds there are several instances of these developments. In the history of our ancient sciences (Chemistry, Ayurveda, Pharmacology, Metallurgy, etc.) itself, such attempts have greatly benefited the world.
The mystic attracted by grammar takes to aesthetics (rasa-tattva) in the form of music, literature, etc., thus making it a medium of expression and research; the mystic attracted by logic takes to alchemy and chemistry, and progresses in that field – this is interesting! But our tradition warns us: the ‘logic’-based rasa-vidyā (alchemy, quest for elixir, etc.) induces greed in those devoid of yoga and the merely form-based rasa-tattva (music, literature, etc.) arouses lust in the fallen people. (In the former, the logic is not pure logic that is based on reason, instead it is dry logic that is based on the Utopian idea of causation; rather, it is pseudo-logic.)
Many have conjectured, lamented, and blamed in many ways the fact that Physical Sciences and Technology did not flourish in the knowledge tradition of our country. There are many reasons why we did not have progress in this domain. Some factors relevant to the present situation can be described. As we saw earlier, logicians, who are proponents of the physical and the material cogitated primarily on Space. In the early days, the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika schools of philosophy progressed well in this path. In the beginning, the focus of Nyāya on pramāṇas (sources of knowledge) and the focus of Vaiśeṣika on prameyas (that which is to be ascertained, concepts) were rooted in the world of matter. In this stage itself, offshoots and derivative branches like Ayurveda, Metallurgy, and Chemistry progressed a lot. When logicians began dabbling in language and cogitating about Time, the descent started. My sense is that such a situation was created with the emergence of Navīna-nyāya (neo-logical school) around 14-15th century CE. Manipulative politics and sectarian clashes worsened during this time. Ultimately, the logicians fell madly in love with the refinement of imaginary pramāṇas over the refinement of experimental prameyas. They established their superiority in the process of thought but miserably failed in the areas of innovation and discovery. Further, they tried using natural language for something that can be easily achieved by an artificial language like mathematics – having only the abhidhā (designated) form of expression and lacking the holism of the lakṣaṇā (implied) and vyañjanā (suggested) modes and also lacking in natural usages; this complicated their expression. The anticipated results also were not achieved. Anyone could have predicted such a failure! The disinclination to think objectively and entering into personal clashes brought more setbacks. It’s true that for research in computing, like today’s Natural Language Processing, the thought process of our logicians have proven to be quite useful. However, the achievements in this domain of research are far off, and success is doubtful. The summary of all these debates is just this: when a śāstra abandons its raison d’être, its fundamental concepts, and logical framework, and embarks upon a topic outside its scope— not even caring to tune to the natural frequency of the subject under discussion—either advocating or fighting over an aspect of the topic, then such ironies arise. In essence, the Space-based science of objects (matter) emphasizes the physical aspect, while the Time-based applied sciences emphasize the intellectual aspect. Since both these are inter-related, there is mutual give-and-take, leading to discussion, debates, and agreements between the two. However, since the fundamental conceptions itself are different, a certain amount of śāstra-maryāda (aspects specific to the branch of learning) must be preserved. The science of comprehensively examining both these subjects, viz., Logic and Grammar, and analyzing them impartially is called Mīmāṃsā. Here again, the syntax-oriented Pūrva-mīmāṃsā (or Karma-mīmāṃsā) and the philosophy-oriented Uttara-mīmāṃsā (or Brahma-mīmāṃsā) came together under the latter, also called Vedānta, which by its holistic vision scaled the peaks of universal experience.
Researchers and thinkers studying Language have to necessarily pay attention to all these aspects. All this has been achieved by the Indian consciousness in unparalleled ways. Therefore, the various treatises and thoughts about language in Sanskrit (books, commentaries, etc.) are useful to all the languages of the world; these treatises or thought processes are not restricted to one language alone. Keeping aside blind faith, we must realize this soon; the sooner, the better.
Translated from the original Kannada essay of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh titled ‘ತರ್ಕ-ವ್ಯಾಕರಣಗಳ ಲೋಕದಲ್ಲಿ’ from his anthology Bhashabhrungada Benneri. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.