Anthropology is thought to be “the science of the nature of man”1 and etymology is considered as “an account of the formation and radical signification of a word”2. In an etymological anthropology then the nature of man is sought out through such an account. And a good way to start such a seeking is with the word ‘anthropology’ itself.
It is usually under the term of ‘anthropology’ that the nature and particularities of man, of humans are considered. This word ‘anthropology’ goes back to ancient Greece where it was written down by Aristotle as ‘anthropologos’.3 This word consists of two words, namely ‘anthropos’ and ‘logos’. The meanings of ‘logos’ are too deep fetching to be treated here, and also needs the focus here to be laid on ‘anthropos’. However to leave the word ‘logos’ not totally etymologically untouched it can be brought to the fore that it is generally translated in English as ‘word’, ‘speech’, ‘discourse’ or ‘reason’.4 ‘Anthropos’, the word in ‘anthropologos’ that has our main interest, is used to refer to humans in particular and to man in general.5 ‘Anthropos’ itself is etymologically often considered to consist of the words ‘ana’ and ‘prosopos’. With ‘ana’ meaning ‘up’6 and ‘prosopos’ meaning ‘face’7 is ‘anthropos’ thought to mean ‘faced upwards’.8 So in a true anthropology should man, should humans, be considered in their particularity of having their face turned upwards. This thought is of great importance, as we shall see later on in this contemplation.
The Greek ‘anthropos’ is in English translated as ‘man’ in general or as ‘human’ in particular. We shall first take ‘man’ under consideration, and we will focus on ‘human’ afterwards. Now this English word ‘man’ has roots that lie, at least etymologically, far from the Greek ‘anthropos’. Etymologists have not yet come to a conclusive decision, but their general thought is that ‘man’ is either rooted in the Sanskrit ‘manu’ or shares with this Sanskrit word an older Indo-European root in ‘men’ or ‘mon’.9 These latter Indo-European words are considered to refer to thinking, and are thus also considered to be the root of the English word ‘mind’.10 This thought is interesting on itself, but becomes even more interesting when the roots of the Sanskrit word ‘manu’ are dug up. For ‘manu’, itself being the name given to the archetypical forefather of humanity,11 is closely related to, if not rooted in, the Sanskrit word for mind; ‘manas’.12 So we find in ‘man’, ‘mind’, ‘manu’ and ‘manas’ a single family of words of which it is possible that the former three are the sprouts of the latter. Man then may be considered to be a minding being.
Man may be considered to be a minding being. But what does it really mean to mind? The English ‘mind’ is a word that is richly used in ordinary talk as well as in psychology. There it is used to denote memory, thought, and the mental faculty,13 with ‘mental’ having again the same etymological root as ‘mind’ and ‘man’.14 And in finding this etymological root we stumbled upon the Sanskrit ‘manas’, being probably the etymological father, but at least an older brother of ‘mind’ and ‘mental’. Not for nothing is ‘manas’ usually (but not fully adequately) directly translated in English with the word ‘mind’.15 Thus may by thematizing ‘manas’ more original meanings of mind, and from there of man, be uncovered.
Much has been written about manas by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) and by Alice Ann Bailey (1880-1949). With both of them writing in English however may manas in their works be at risk of gaining altered and non-original meanings. Thus shall manas here be thematized as it is used more originally in the Sanskrit texts of Hindu (and Buddhist) philosophies. And probably the most explicitly is manas dealt with in the Sāṁkhya philosophy in Hinduism. There it fits in a Hindu anthropology of its own. This anthropology shall not be deepened out here, but in thematizing manas, its context must be touched upon too.
So what does ‘manas’ refer to in Sāṁkhya philosophy? Basically it refers to the thinking principle in man. It is the thinking principle but not the understanding principle, as we shall see. Manas is considered to be one of the constituents forming together the antaḥkaraṇa,16 which is often translated as ‘inner organ’ or ‘inner instrument’.17 The other constituents regard ahamkāra, buddhi and chitta.18 (In Sāṁkhya is chitta thematized as one with buddhi, however in the older Upaniṣads they are thought of as distinct from each other).19 Ahamkāra is considered as the principle of individuation,20 ‘buddhi’ is usually translated as ‘intellect’21 or ‘wisdom’,22 and chitta, when thought of as distinct from buddhi, is considered as being the substance that constitutes the mind (therefore referred to in English as ‘mind-stuff’).23 There is however still another concept that should be mentioned as being part of manas’ direct context, and this is the concept of the ‘indriya’s’, translated in English by the word ‘senses’.24
By considering the above mentioned concepts in their relation to manas may the characteristics of the latter become clear. Now it can be said that manas is primarily the intermediate agent between the indriya’s and buddhi.25 Manas offers the information of perception of the jñānindreya’s (senses of knowledge or perception;26 eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin)27 to buddhi, and it also conveys the orders of buddhi to the karmendriya’s (senses of action or motion;28 hands, feet, mouth, genitals, anus)29.30 Because of its coordinating function in relation to the indriya’s is manas called ‘king of the senses’.31 However because of its subordinate position in relation to buddhi32 is this king of senses at the same time buddhi’s (or the intellect’s) servant.33 (Higher still than buddhi and transcendent to all the aforementioned is the so called ‘ātma’,34 translated in English usually as ‘soul’35 or ‘self’.36 Being beyond manas’ direct context we shall not consider ātma here further. It is enough to say that it is the transcendent principle looking upon the aforementioned principles in a similar manner as a bird watches another bird eating fruits in the same tree, while itself does not partake of these.37)
Now as the aforementioned king of the senses and as servant of the intellect is manas also considered to be a son of ahamkāra.38 For it is thought in Sāṁkhya cosmogony that manas evolved from ahamkāra.39 This then positions ahamkāra between buddhi and manas. So the streams of information between manas and buddhi go also through ahamkāra. Now this ahamkāra does not just neutrally pass the information on. Being the principle of individuation (or ‘I’ pinricple) does it infuse the information with this principle.40 It makes sense perceptions handed over by manas to be experienced as ‘my’ perceptions and it makes orders for action taken from buddhi to be experienced as ‘my’ actions. This ahamkāra and its position between manas and buddhi needed to be mentioned although generally manas is held to be the prime intermediate agent between the indriya’s and buddhi.
So what do the above reflections mean for our etymological anthropology? Since the English ‘man’ was thought to originate from the Sanskrit ‘manas’, should the nature of manas be considered to be characteristic of man. So it is to be thought characteristic of man to bring sense perceptions to understanding of the intellect and understanding to action. Differently said; it is characteristic of man to bring material perception and spiritual understanding together. We indeed do not find these characteristics in other beings. Animals do perceive, but they perceive without understanding. Equally do they react out of instinct, and not out of understanding. And spiritual beings, presumed they exist, may be rich in understanding, but lacking a physical body does their understanding not lead to direct actions in the physical world. And equally can their bodiless understanding not be related to sense perceptions.
It may be opposed that the buddhi principle, the principle of intellect and wisdom, is more characteristic to man and that the present conclusions are etymologically not valid in their meaning. However someone having attained pure understanding and wisdom, having with that gone beyond the ‘I’ principle and egotism, someone being established fully in buddhi, someone like that should not be called ‘man’ anymore but befits the name of ‘buddha’. And such a buddha is not in need of a physical body, so to speak, anymore.41
Man however may be understood as bringing physical perception to understanding and understanding to physical action. Man may be understood as bringing physicality and wisdom together.
The Greek ‘anthropos’, present in ‘anthropology’, is in English translated as ‘man’ in general or as ‘human’ in particular. Above was ‘man’ etymologically traced back to the Sanskrit ‘manas’. Here shall ‘human’ be etymologically considered.
With ‘woman’ being etymological a composed word, consisting of ‘wife’ and ‘man’,42 may it be tempting to consider ‘human’ in a similar way. Such a consideration however does not seem to be up to the mark. ‘Human’ as an adjective can directly be traced back to the Latin adjective ‘hūmānus’,43 denoting the very same thing.44 As a noun can ‘human’ be traced back to the Latin ‘homō’ (or ‘homo’),45 a Latin relative of ‘hūmānus’ that is still used to refer to humanoid species (such as for instance in ‘Homo erectus’ and ‘Homo sapience’).46
So far we have bared a bit of the etymological roots of ‘human’, however no meanings have been uncovered to bring us deeper into our contemplation. For both hūmānus’ and ‘homō’ refer to the same as does ‘human’. A deeper etymological dig however may lend us an interesting turn. For the aforementioned Latin words are thought to have sprouted from the Latin word ‘humus’,47 which refers to earth and soil.48 ‘Humus’ in turn is thought to have originated from the Greek ‘chamòs’ or ‘chǎmaí’,49 referring to the ground also.50
A human then should be thought of as an earthly being (in contrast with the immortal gods).51 This Greek-Latin thought can be understood not just against the background of their polytheistic periods,52 but also against that of their Christian periods.53 For in the Old Testament is Yhwh said to have formed the human from the dirt of the earth.54 In Greek and Latin versions of the Old Testament different words are used, but nevertheless may the prevalent idea of the human being formed from the dirt of the earth have led in these cultures to the above described etymological relations between earth and the human.
Where the Jerome’s (or Hieronymus’) ‘Vulgate’ Latin translation of the Old Testament uses the word ‘terrae’ for ‘earth’,55 and where the Greek ‘Septuagint’ translation uses the word ‘gẽs’ for the same, there does the more original Hebrew version use the word ‘h’admh’. This is a word which may be considered etymologically related to ‘h’adm’. And this latter Hebrew word is used to refer to the human that Yhwh forms from the earth, and which we know in English so well by the personalized name of ‘Adam’, being the first human. (Note that ‘h’adm’ in this verse is still used to denote the human in general and that we should understand ‘Adam’ in the present context in the same way. ‘Adam’ is primarily not the name of an individual that came first but more general and primary of the archetypical human.)
Now the sound of the words ‘h’adm’ and ‘Adam’ are very interesting to consider further. To do this it may be brought to the fore that Adam is not just formed from the earth’s dirt; he is also breathed in life by Yhwh.56 Now the English word ‘breath’ used to have an English synonym in the word ‘ethem’.57 In other Germanic languages, such as in Dutch and German, is this use to indicate breath still alive in etymologically related words like ‘adem’58 and ‘athem’59. It is clear that this Germanic family of words, being used synonymously with ‘breath’, have very similar soundings as ‘Adam’ and ‘h’adm’. Generally are these Germanic words brought back etymologically to a proto-Germanic or even to a proto-Indo-European base, where the latter is taken to be the very same root of the earlier mentioned ‘ātma’ or ‘ātman’. In Sāṁkhya philosophy would ‘ethem’ however be represented by the word ‘prāṇa’, referring to the vital air60 or vital breath.61 So although a phonetic relation between ‘ātma’ and ‘Adam’ is clearly present is a semantic relation less clear. Things are different in the relation between ‘ethem’ and ‘Adam’. These words are close both phonetically and semantically, and only a lack of chronologic coherence of appearance in time and place prevents a clear etymological relation. So ‘Adam’ is more closely related to ‘ethem’ than to ‘ātma’ due to its semantic similarity with the first and the lack of this similarity with the latter.
All in all is the word ‘Adam’ interesting because it directly refers to the archetypical human that consists of earth and life breath (as is thematized in the Old Testament), while it is at the same time also phonetically and semantically very close to old words that were used exactly to refer to the earth (‘h’adm’) and to life breath (the proto-Indo-European forerunner of ‘ethem’). The importance of the word ‘Adam’ then cannot be underestimated in an etymological anthropology.
Contemplating ‘human’ in the light of an etymological anthropology we found Adam as the archetypical human. Adam’s main characteristics were thematized as consisting of earth and of life breath. However; when a human would only consist of earth and life breath he would not differ from an animal. After all do animals consist of the same material elements as humans, while they too are gifted with a breath of life. So there must be an element in a human that an animal lacks. Indeed; because this element was found when contemplating ‘man’ anthropologically along etymological lines. Doing this we stumbled upon manas as the faculty being typical for man. Man was understood as bringing physicality and wisdom together, for that is what manas does. An animal is not gifted with manas. An animal does not bring physicality and wisdom together. It just acts out of instinct, out of the intelligence of its physicality itself. Man, a human, however brings wisdom to action and action to wise understanding. In this he is not perfect of course. Humans are not fully wise. Would a human be fully wise then he would be a buddha instead. But although man is not fully wise he does work towards this ideal. Every human struggles to bring perceptions to understanding and every human struggles to act in a wise manner. Unlike an animal does man look upward towards a to be attained wisdom. And in this statement we find the importance of the earlier found meaning of ‘anthropos’. For ‘anthropos’ was attested to mean ‘faced upwards’. This is literally the case, but definitely also figurally. Man shares his physicality and his life breath with those of animals, however he is uniquely endowed with a mind that enables him to reach upward to attain pure wisdom. He is endowed with manas that enables him to reach upward to attain buddhi.
This is the characteristic par excellence of man, of a human. Man is consciously or unconsciously striving for buddhahood. May man thus be aware of and attain its human goal.