Shabd – Culture Specific Words, part two

Shabd – Culture Specific Words, part two

July 6, 2015 | Author: Dr. Jyoti Bachani, Associate Professor at Saint Mary’s College of California

Second in a series of short posts on Hindi words and the lack of their English equivalents. The premise is that language embodies culture. If we don’t have words for it in a language, then it is not an important concept.

Sanyam (perhaps transliterate better than I can):

The human quality of Sanyam is considered a virtue in Indian culture. If asked to guess, I would have described this as the quality of self-discipline or the ability to maintain calm in difficult and trying situations. The various English translations for it offered words such as: Restraint, Moderation, Temperance, Abstinence, Sobriety, Inhibition, Continence and Control. Each of these English words may contain a hint of what Sanyam may mean in some particular context, but none of these words comes close to the describing the quality of sanyam. Restraint and control imply the presence of an external element that might control the behavior of the individual but while the individual may be reacting to an external situation, in the case of sanyam, it is very much a volunteered response to the external situation. The voluntary notions implied by abstinence or temperance and continence hint at giving up something by abstaining or being restrained or temperate in use, but in sanyam, there is no need to be giving up on anything. A person displaying the quality of Sanyam is coming from a place of strength in not being tempted at all, knowing better than to even want something from the situation. Sanyam implies that the person has a better understanding than what the un-wise might see in the same context. Sanyam comes from self-discipline born of wisdom or knowledge rather than the self-discipline of restraint. Sanyam is a quality expected of the wise. Children are not expected to possess it simply because they are children. A person who has sanyam commands respect in society, so it is a quality worth cultivating for enhancing personal power.