Viharati sma (part two)

“He dwelt.”

--By Bhiksuni Heng Hsien

Every Buddhist sutra indicates the place where the Buddha spoke it, and the verb used is generally Viharatisma, "he dwelt." One of the meanings of "Sanskrit" is "put together," and a Sanskrit word like Viharati may be analyzed as put together from various sub-parts. These are not independent words, but meaning elements, formative elements, and function markers. These sound like forbidding technical terms, but actually a meaning element is just a part of a word, which suggests an idea, thereby filling out that word's meaning. A formative element fills out the form of the word, forming various stems, to which are added function markers. Function markers show how the word is used in its sentence in relation to the other words.

The central meaning element of a word is called its root, which in Sanskrit is called dhatu, more precisely translated as "realm." A root is really just a convenient way to describe what words, for example Viharati, vihara, and viharin (he dwells, dwelling and dweller) have in common. In English we would say the root is "dwell," but in Sanskrit it is not even a full word that ever occurs by itself. The root of these three words is the syllable hr, which is transformed into whole words, perhaps by expanding to either har or har, and by gathering in other parts of words such as vi-, -a-, -ti, -a, or –in.

The root hr acts as a seed syllable, suggesting a fundamental idea of "take," or "carry." Vi- is a meaning element, but not a root. It is prefixed before the root and adds the notion of division, distribution or expansion to the meaning "take" of hr. Vi- - hr together mean, "distribute." The words that come from these elements however often stretch this sense in common speech: to distribute oneself through space is to "wander," "travel," "roam," while to distribute oneself through time is to "pass time" and hence to "dwell."  Here opposite meanings come from the same basic elements, for we don't ordinarily think "to go" is like "to stay." This involves two factors, the original meanings of basic elements, and the customary use made of whole words. In English this is also true, but we are not as consciously aware of the parts of which our words are made, as were the Sanskrit speaking Indians.

To form Viharati, hr expands to har; -a- is a formative element making up the present stem, -ti is a function marker which contains the subject “he,” “she”, or “it” as needed. The word  sma after Viharti was discussed before. It takes the whole situation set forth in the present tense and shifts it to the past.

This lesson has introduced the concept of a root. Remember it is nothing that exists alone, but merely a notion of useful in analysis, empty of substance with no independent existence.


Dhatur adhatur tasmad dhatur ucyate.

“A root is no root so it is called “root.”

to be continued

Try to analyze the following verbs:

  1.  pasyati, ‘he sees.’

  2.  muncati, ‘he frees.’

  3.  vyavalokayati, ‘he contemplates at ease.’