Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sanskrit aṅga अङ्ग not a "limb"

Monier-Williams' dictionary, p.7
 In most of our dictionaries, we find that the Sanskrit word aṅga अङ्ग means "limb, member."  "A limb of the body" says MW, following his teacher Wilson.
As a result, when we have expressions like aṣṭāṅgayoga अष्टाङ्गयोग or aṣṭāṅgavidyā अष्टाङ्गविद्या, we commonly get translations like, "yoga of eight limbs" or "the science with eight limbs (medicine)."
If you open the bonnet (US hood) of your car, you see an engine with ... what?  Limbs?  I don't think so.  I think you see components, or parts.  A textbook is divided into, what, limbs?  No, sections, or parts. 

H. H. Wilson's dictionary, p.9

I'd love to see translators of the word aṅga  अङ्ग try harder, and offer some inner resistance to the dead hand of our nineteenth-century dictionaries.  It's as if a mass of [dictionary] words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details (with sincerest apologies to Orwell.)
Next time you see aṣṭāṅgayoga अष्टाङ्गयोग, allow yourself to think instead, "the yoga with eight components." Or when you see aṣṭāṅgavidyā अष्टाङ्गविद्या, think, perhaps, "the science with eight parts."  If you see vedāṅga  वेदाङ्ग translated as "limb of the Veda," you can be sure that the translator isn't seeing the metaphors s/he's using.  What on earth would a "limb of the Veda" possibly be?  All the original author is saying is that the Veda has components or adjunct parts.  And don't let yourself use "ancilliary" either.  When did you last see that in a contemporary English novel?  In my dictionary, it's flagged as "very rare."
Too often, we indologists write and translate in mental companionship with our predecessors from the nineteenth century, and we write for colleagues who too often do the same. 
If you find yourself writing "limb" for aṅga अङ्ग, snap out of it.
Here I am, with Orwell, jeering loudly at worn-out and useless dictionary-bound translations.


For an argument in favour of "auxiliary" or "subsidiary" see S. Vasudeva (2004) The Yoga of the Mālinīvijayottaratantra (Pondicherry), p. 367, n. 1: