A Verbal Advantage

Hanuman reading the Ramayana “He has certainly studied well the entire range of Sanskrit grammar, for though he has addressed Me with many words, he has not used a single one out of place.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana about Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.29)

To others, a person’s speaking ability conveys their level of intelligence. There is a famous saying relating to the fact that no one can correctly identify a fool until they actually start speaking. Therefore the unintelligent are advised to keep their mouths shut as often as possible. On the reverse side, the wise can show off their acumen by carefully crafting words together. Words are so powerful that they can even mask a person’s unintelligence. Simply by speaking a few eloquent words, one can give the impression that they are learned. Yet the more the pretender is forced to speak, the more their true nature eventually shows. Therefore, only the truly wise can speak on and on without missing a beat, using only the most proper words and not stuttering in the process. This was the case with one very famous devotee thousands of years ago.

Dictionary In the late 1980s, a company called Verbal Advantage started selling self-help tapes aimed at improving one’s vocabulary. The concept was similar to the word-a-day calendars that people often receive as gifts. The sales pitch for such a product is quite straightforward. “Listen to these tapes in your free time, and you will gradually improve your vocabulary. An improved vocabulary can help you communicate more effectively, even possibly landing you a better job.” One of the common requirements listed for potential job applicants is the need for “good communication skills”. This makes sense because most jobs require interpersonal communications. One who can accurately convey their thoughts and expressions to others will be easier to work with and also more productive. Using fancy words by tapping into the reservoir of an expanded vocabulary can give off the impression of intelligence, even when a high level of understanding is lacking.

Usually you can tell when someone is trying to improve their vocabulary. They will use a brand new word, something that is not commonly invoked, in a conversation or in a statement. Immediately the person on the receiving end will ask, “What does that word mean? Did someone give you a word-a-day calendar for Christmas or something?” Just the fact that someone else has to ask what a particular word means immediately puts the speaker in the driver’s seat. If a complicated word is used that no one else understands, the person using the word automatically becomes more intelligent, at least in the specific situation. Often times others won’t want to admit that they don’t know what a particular word means in fear that they will appear to be less intelligent.

Joey Tribbiani The television sitcom Friends had a humorous episode which touched on this issue. One of the characters on the show, Joey Tribbiani, was known for being a male bimbo, someone who was only interested in sex and whose level of academic intelligence was not very high. In one particular episode, an encyclopedia salesmen visit’s Joey’s apartment and tries to sell him an entire set of encyclopedias. Joey immediately flashes back to all the times when he was in the midst of conversations with his friends and they brought up concepts and terms that he was unaware of. In order to fit in, Joey would just smile and nod along, pretending to know what they were talking about. Returning to the present, Joey became interested in buying the encyclopedias, but the cost was too steep. He did have enough to purchase one volume, so he chose the book that dealt with things starting with the letter V. After reading the volume, he tried striking up conversations with his friends about things like Mount Vesuvius and the vas deferens. When the conversation shifted to other topics, however, Joey was again the odd man out.

In no arena is the importance of vocabulary and speech highlighted more than in politics. If a politician cannot speak effectively, or if he stutters and stammers all the time, others will take him to be unintelligent. This is true irrespective of the person’s policies or their behavior behind the scenes. As they say, politics is showbiz for the ugly, so the real strength of a politician is his or her ability to speak. Senators of the United States are famous for their unending speeches which serve as filibusters to stop legislation. If a politician can speak well, people will take him to be intelligent. This is irrespective of whether the politician is telling the truth or not. In fact, since most politicians are lawyers by trade, it stands to reason that the best speakers are also the best at lying. A good lawyer is one who can bend and shape the text of the law to fit his case. While this sort of cheating pays off in the courtroom, when applied to government it can have disastrous results. Yet people still clamor for political leaders who speak well, even if the words they utter are empty or if they rely heavily on electronic devices to feed them their words.

Lord Rama If those who use big words and carefully crafted statements are really masking their intelligence, how do we tell who is smart and who isn’t? A truly learned man is one who can speak well for a long period of time without any notes or reference tools. Not only is their speech perfect, but so is the subject matter they are discussing. In reality, words only exist for one reason: to praise the Supreme Lord. Otherwise, words aren’t really necessary. A person can just go about eating, sleeping, mating, and defending without uttering a single word. A person can even sustain their livelihood without talking. They can just farm all day, cook food at night, and sit at home and relax afterwards. The constitutional position of the living entity is that of part and parcel of God. As a derivative of this disposition, words, which are nothing more than sound vibrations, came into being as a way of kindly addressing the Supreme Person. Therefore, we can conclude that the truly wise are those who can use their excellent speaking ability to praise the Supreme Lord. This was the case with Shri Hanuman, the great devotee of Lord Rama.

During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, the original Divine Being appeared on earth in human form. The “Divine” is an abstract term for God. Some religious faiths don’t believe in a God, or they take an energy to be the supreme guiding force. Therefore “Divine” is a less controversial term that anyone can use. The Vedas, the oldest scriptures in existence, tell us that this Divine Being has an original form and name: Krishna. Lord Shri Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the fountainhead of all forms of God. Whether someone worships an energy, a representation of the Divine, God, or some celestial being, Krishna is the origin of them all. Since He is the origin, He is also the supreme object of worship and pleasure.

Shrila Prabhupada In the Vedic tradition, prayers are offered to God in the Sanskrit language. Sanskrit uses a script called Devanagari, which means the city of the demigods. The material heavenly planets are inhabited with celestial beings. While this realm is still part of the perishable material world, the people who live there have an advanced lifestyle. They enjoy great opulence and live for an extended period of time. One can think of it as an exclusive club, sort of like the local wine club or fine arts club. To add to their elegant lifestyle, the inhabitants speak in the highest class language: Sanskrit. Sanskrit is today considered a dead language, but this is not entirely true. While it is uncertain whether the language has ever really been the main conversational language on this planet, for even Lord Krishna and the inhabitants of Vrindavana spoke Braja Bhasha, Sanskrit is still recited, written, and sung by many. While today many of the great Vedic texts have been translated into English for the benefit of the people of the world, all important prayers and religious functions are performed using the Sanskrit verses found in the original books. This shows the power of sound vibration. It is not easy to compose a prayer in Sanskrit, for the grammar of the language is very difficult to learn. The words are also complex, with each part of every word having a specific meaning. Words aren’t just thrown around in random combinations; everything is carefully crafted so as to fit the proper meter of the poem, allowing the prayer to be sung. Sanskrit is so complicated that students go through years of training just to understand it.

“Anyone serious about studying the Sanskrit language should first learn grammar. It is said that simply to finish studying Sanskrit grammar takes at least twelve years, but once one learns the grammatical rules and regulations very nicely, all other scriptures or subject matters in Sanskrit are extremely easy to understand, for Sanskrit grammar is the gateway to education.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 15.5 Purport)

The Sanskrit prayers of the Vedas praise Lord Krishna or one of His personal expansions like Lord Vishnu, Lord Narasimha, Rama, etc. One of those expansions, Lord Rama, appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. Since He took birth in a very famous dynasty of kings, He was trained to be an expert bow warrior from childhood. On one occasion, He and His younger brother Lakshmana happened to make their way to the Kishkindha forest. Rama’s wife Sita Devi had just been kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon, so the Lord was trying to find her whereabouts. He was told to make friends with a monkey-king named Sugriva who lived in the Kishkindha forest. Ironically, Sugriva saw Rama and Lakshmana approaching first, so he sent his chief warrior, Hanuman, to greet the two princes and see what they wanted.

Hanuman meeting Rama Hanuman assumed the guise of a mendicant and humbly presented himself before Rama and Lakshmana. Even though he was deputed with finding out their intentions, Hanuman couldn’t help but praise both Rama and Lakshmana. Hanuman was a great devotee of Rama, or God, from birth. Yet it wasn’t until he met Rama face to face that his love was reawakened fully. Upon seeing Rama, Hanuman went into glorious praise of the Lord, using only the highest class language. Hanuman praised Rama for so long that he eventually gave up his guise and revealed his true form. He then told Rama who he was and how Sugriva had sent him.

In the above referenced statement, we see Rama’s reaction to Hanuman’s praise. Rama told Lakshmana to kindly welcome Hanuman, for the emissary gave every indication of being a pious soul. Rama explained to Lakshmana that Hanuman surely was a noble character, for his command of the Sanskrit language was perfect. Rama mentioned that Hanuman used so many words in praise, but that none of these words were used improperly. Not one of Hanuman’s sentences was composed incorrectly. In this way, we see that Hanuman is an expert poet, a person who pleases the Lord with his words.

Hanuman worshiping Rama This isn’t surprising. The great Vaishnava saints have carefully studied the qualities of a devotee. They have concluded that, among other things, devotees are expert poets; they know how to praise the Lord with their words. In this day and age, not all of us have the good fortune of studying Sanskrit for fourteen years, or even understanding the language at all. Fear not, however, as we can still praise the Lord perfectly using one simple Sanskrit phrase: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The key is to utter this sequence of words with as much sincerity and love as possible. If we chant this mantra over and over again, the Lord will similarly remark that we have addressed Him with so many words, with none of them being used improperly. If the original Divine Being is pleased with our words, He will surely grant us unending devotion to His lotus feet, a reward which can’t be matched.

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