What language did the Buddha speak?

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.

Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby Luke » Wed Nov 24, 2010 5:05 pm

Hi Kare, I enjoyed your analyses above.

Kare wrote:If I speak with a Swede or a Dane, I understand most of his conversation without any problem. I might ask him to repeat a word or to clarify his meaning now or then. I would speak in my normal Norwegian, but maybe I would modify a word a little now or then in order to get my meaning across. And if let's say a Swede told me a good story, I might retell it to a Norwegian friend. I would naturally concentrate on telling the contents in my own dialect, not trying to reproduce the grammatical forms of Swedish. I would not really be conscious of having "translated" anything.


Is it also the case that the non-Finnish Scandanavian languages share the most vocubulary in the area of intellectual words and diverge the most in the area of practical words?

I find this to be the case with the dialects of English and Spanish. British and American English generally use completely different words for practical things like some foods, clothing, houses, the parts of a car, etc. But if I read an academic paper, I generally can't tell if the author was British or American unless he uses a word like "color" which will indicate the dialect of the author by its spelling.

If this is generally true, then Buddha's Magadhi would probably be almost exactly the same as Pali in the area of intellectual stuff (mind, consciousness, reality, etc.), which is the majority of what Buddha talked about.

I think dialects are more likely to diverge in names for household items, greetings, and slang.

"Yo, wassup K-dawg?" "Good afternoon, Kare." "Hello, Kare." "G'day, Kare."

"I'm watching the TV." "I'm watching the telly." "I'm watching the boob-tube."

So we'll probably never know how the Buddha may have said the equivalent of "Waddup, bhikku-dawg?" when he was relaxing, but we probably have a faithful representation of his religious language.
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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby Dmytro » Thu Nov 25, 2010 5:03 am

Hi Kare,

Kare wrote:Yes, I seem to remember that there is a sutta which gives just that explanation for the synonyms. I just can't remember which sutta that might have been. Anyone here who knows?


The Araṇa-vibhanga Sutta says:

M 139.12

'You should not cling to a regional language; you should not reject common usage.' So it is said. In what connection is this said?

How, monks, is there clinging to a regional language and rejection of common usage?

Here, monks, in different regions, they call a "bowl" paati, patta, vittha, seraava, dhaaropa, po.na or pisiila. So whatever they call it in such and such a region, they speak accordingly, firmly adhering (to the words) and insisting, 'Only this is right; anything else is wrong.'

This is how, monks, there is clinging to a regional language and rejection of common usage.

And how, monks, is there no clinging to a regional language and no rejection of common usage?

Here, monks, in different regions, they call a "bowl" paati, patta, vittha, seraava, dhaaropa, po.na or pisiila. So whatever they call it in such and such a region, without adhering (to the words), one speaks accordingly.

This is how, monks, there is no clinging to a regional language and no rejection of common usage.

So it is with reference to this that it is said, 'You should not cling to a regional language; you should not reject common usage.'



IMO, this confirms that Buddha used the lingua franca of the area, namely Magadhi, with minor regional peculiarities.

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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby Hanzze » Thu Nov 25, 2010 6:42 am

_/\_
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_
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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby johnnylondon » Sat Jul 16, 2011 4:49 am

Kare wrote:
smokey wrote:Some sources say Sanskrit and some Magadhi. Now I wonder is there any evidence? I apologize if the question has been asked previously on this forum.


He did not speak Sanskrit.


Of course he spoke Sanskrit. A customarily evaluation of his life and invaluable teachings will provide evidence to support that he would of spoke sanskrit, even if it was not his first language.

Firstly, its is beleived from early inscriptions and some archeological evidence that he was born in Lumbini, Nepal; was of the Shakya clan, which were Kshatriya castes, or warrior kings. Historically, it was believed from accounts and records from hindu sources that Gutama's lineage was from the warrior monks like Kripacharya, who later became kings themselves. Again, historical evidence, from literary sources in Haridrar and Rishikesh suggest, despite not proto-typical brahmins, these kings spoke Sanskrit, and had much intrinsic and intricate depths of vedic knowledge and rituals. Given the similarities in time-line and geographical locations, as compared to pali and sri lanka, this argument is far more plausible.

Secondly, whilst on the quest for an answer to the reason for suffering, he studied many esoteric vedic doctrines, sutras and paradigms, which at the time were orally recited in sanskrit only. many of his early followers like Kaundinya were brahmins, who were bewitched with the buddhas words of wisdom, and again they would of mastered Sanskrit.

Well this is my 2cents -

Buddah be praised.
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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby Dmytro » Sat Jul 16, 2011 11:10 am

Hi Johnnylondon,

Sanskrit as a language didn't exist in the Buddha's time:

viewtopic.php?f=23&t=3215

Best wishes, Dmytro
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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby johnnylondon » Sat Jul 16, 2011 2:31 pm

Evidence please?

Vedic sanskrit, as used by the Rig Veda was written word perfect over the course of Kaal (time). During the time of the Buddha, oral recitation of of doctrines and paradigms where the usual practise.

I can appreciate how one can read wikipedia and feel an expert, however in order to reject a theory or hypothesis, one must actually have an awareness (mindfully!) of what that hypothesis was.

The vedas, were not always categorised into 4 distinct components, this was not done until the time of Veda Vyas, which has been argued by Scholars to be 3rd millenia BCE. Again the vedic language or pre-classical sanskrit was later evolved to classical sanskrit later used in the puranas. This i can comprehend is what is causing you confusion.

I can appreciate that it is very easy to use the little sources out there, such as wiki as a framework to direct intellectual curiosities, however, one should also understand that the esoteric scholars at Haridar and Varansi, whom have studied the language in-depth will refute from arguing in such affairs, as to do so in an expression of ego and trapped in a web of delusion. I have read your other thread and actually find it amusing - like a scientist who practises evidence based medicine, one must be mindfully aware of where such sources have arisen, and any bias incorporated. Just because a language has evolved over time can not mean to deny the origin of the language, where the core structure has remained intact.

One must also appreciate that despite there being a grammatical difference between the early Rig vedic sanskrit, and the later upanishads - you should also be aware of even older recited sanskrit tantric verses, that have over time only been passed orally from guru to student. These verses, can not and will not be littered over wikipedia. The language and grammatical content of these are remarkably identical to the rig-vedic language you keep harping on about - i.e. sanskrit.

You observation is that since the language used in the Rig vedic sanskirt, is different grammatically to the Sanskrit used in later texts is true. However, to claim that 'Sanskrit' did not exist per se during the time of the Buddha is incorrect, and evidence points to the contrary. A proponent to my theory would be the chandi, in the markenda purana. The Rig Vedic hymn, the Ratri Suktam is a composite and integral part in the purana, however a customarily evaluation of the core sanskriti grammar used between the Vedic and puranic language supports that between this and the later added dyanams, that there is a subtle differences in the construct of the sentences. However both undeniably share a common structure, pronunciation and thus origin.

You claim the language of the Vedas were not Sanskrit - evidence please? Give me written examples and exact verses that support your theory. Please show me the difference in vocabulary and grammar between the vyas sanskriti and that of the rig vedas.

I mean do you even understand pali and Sanskrit? Or are you just echoing the opinions of others.

What i find comical is that you fail to see the most obvious: praciti and sanskriti. This again has significant esoteric levels of understanding consciousness.

I fail to find your subjective interpretations of a questionable series of wikipedia articles as actual evidence convincing - more like propaganda and dogma.

Vedic Sanskrit corpus - since you like to draw your opinions from wiki - you might want to to read this page:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedas

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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jul 16, 2011 8:08 pm

johnnylondon wrote:Vedic sanskrit, as used by the Rig Veda was written word perfect over the course of Kaal (time). During the time of the Buddha, oral recitation of of doctrines and paradigms where the usual practise.

I'm no expert so I can't comment on the technicalities, but surely the argument here is largely one of definitions. Whether or not one calls the language of the Vedas "Sanskrit", the issue is surely whether the Buddha understood that language. Since many Suttas appear to be commentary on Vedic ideas, (e.g. http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=7464) it seems likely that he was.

Similarly with "Pali". It seems obvious (again, I'm no expert!) that the Buddha didn't speak the later dialect developed by compilers of the Commentaries, since there is new(er) vocabulary there. Whether the dialect he spoke in his time was similar to the dialect of the Suttas is the only interesting question.

:anjali:
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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby Alex123 » Sat Jul 16, 2011 8:31 pm

Hello all,

It is also possible that the Buddha spoke various dialects depending on whom he talked to and in what state. It is not impossible that the Buddha knew early dialect that we call Sanskrit and spoke it to the Brahmins and Kings, while speaking Pali to those who spoke Pali. From what I've heard, the sacred Vedic stuff was taught in (early) Sanskrit only. So considering Buddha's familiarity with what Brahmins believed, it is possible that he, being an educated prince, knew the language. It may be possible that he knew as much as 7 dialects or more (because he mentioned 7 different words for bowl in MN139).
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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby Kare » Sat Jul 16, 2011 10:25 pm

It seems that the concept of mutually intelligible dialects and language variants is difficult to grasp. Please read again my posting about the mutually intelligible dialects and languages of Scandinavia. Then you will see that whatever dialect the Buddha himself spoke, he would probably have understood both "literary sanskrit/vedic" and other spoken dialects. And whatever dialect he spoke, he will probably have been understood by most of his listeners. The dialects of Northern India at the time of the Buddha were not very different, and they must have been mutually intelligible. Therefore, the question of his dialect is not a very important one. We may call it Pali, a variant of Pali, Ardha-Magadhi, early Prakrit, or whatever. Probability indicates that his language was not exactly what we know as "grammatical correct" Pali, but fairly close to it. We will know with full certainty the day we find his words written with his own hand. Until then we have to learn to live with some uncertainty. :lol:
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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby Dmytro » Sun Jul 17, 2011 5:42 am

Hi Johnnylondon,

johnnylondon wrote:Evidence please?


Vedic language and Sanskrit have very different dialectal base.

"The dialect at the basis of Rgvedic language lay to the north-west, while the classical language was formed in Madhyadesa."

Thomas Burrow, The Sanskrit Language, page 84

Please see his book:
http://books.google.com/books?id=cWDhKTj1SBYC&pg=PA84

See also:

Yelizarenkova T. Ya. Vediyskiy i sanskrit. K probleme variatsii
lingvisticheskogo tipa. ( Vedic and Sanskrit. To the problem of variations of
the linguistic type).

What i find comical is that you fail to see the most obvious: praciti and sanskriti. This again has significant esoteric levels of understanding consciousness.

I fail to find your subjective interpretations of a questionable series of wikipedia articles as actual evidence convincing - more like propaganda and dogma.


I am not going to continue the discussion with such an attitude of yours.
Unfrotunately it is all too common with Brahmanic Indian scholars.

Best wishes, Dmytro
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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby Dmytro » Sun Jul 17, 2011 6:10 am

Hi Mike,

mikenz66 wrote:I'm no expert so I can't comment on the technicalities, but surely the argument here is largely one of definitions. Whether or not one calls the language of the Vedas "Sanskrit", the issue is surely whether the Buddha understood that language. Since many Suttas appear to be commentary on Vedic ideas, (e.g. http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=7464) it seems likely that he was.


Both Buddha and Pāṇini (the key inventor of Sankrit) call the Vedic language "chandaso" (verses):

285. Tena kho pana samayena yame.lakeku.taa naama bhikkhuu dve bhaatikaa honti braahma.najaatikaa kalyaa.navaacaa kalyaa.navaakkara.naa. Te yena bhagavaa tenupasa'nkami.msu,
upasa'nkamitvaa bhagavanta.m abhivaadetvaa ekamanta.m nisiidi.msu. Ekamanta.m nisinnaa kho te bhikkhuu bhagavanta.m etadavocu.m- "etarahi, bhante, bhikkhuu naanaanaamaa naanaagottaa naanaajaccaa naanaakulaa pabbajitaa. Te sakaaya niruttiyaa buddhavacana.m duusenti. Handa maya.m, bhante, buddhavacana.m chandaso aaropemaa"ti. Vigarahi buddho bhagavaa …pe… "katha~nhi naama tumhe, moghapurisaa, eva.m vakkhatha- 'handa maya.m, bhante, buddhavacana.m chandaso aaropemaa'ti. Neta.m, moghapurisaa, appasannaana.m vaa pasaadaaya …pe… vigarahitvaa …pe… dhammi.m katha.m katvaa bhikkhuu aamantesi- "na, bhikkhave, buddhavacana.m chandaso aaropetabba.m. Yo aaropeyya, aapatti dukka.tassa. Anujaanaami, bhikkhave, sakaaya niruttiyaa buddhavacana.m pariyaapu.nitun"ti.

Culavagga V.33.1 = Vin. II.139

:anjali:

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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Jul 17, 2011 6:15 am

Dmytro wrote:Hi Mike,

mikenz66 wrote:I'm no expert so I can't comment on the technicalities, but surely the argument here is largely one of definitions. Whether or not one calls the language of the Vedas "Sanskrit", the issue is surely whether the Buddha understood that language. Since many Suttas appear to be commentary on Vedic ideas, (e.g. http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=7464) it seems likely that he was.


Both Buddha and Patanjali (the key inventor of Sankrit) call the Vedic language "chandaso" (verses):
I think maybe you mean Pāṇini, the great 4th C BCE grammarian.
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SN I, 38.

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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby Dmytro » Sun Jul 17, 2011 7:09 am

tiltbillings wrote:I think maybe you mean Pāṇini, the great 4th C BCE grammarian.


Sure, just now I have returned to correct this.
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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Jul 17, 2011 8:28 am

Thanks, Dmytro for the clarifications about the relationship between the Vedic and Sanskrit languages.

:anjali:
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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Feb 01, 2014 7:48 pm

As series of argumentative posts have been deleted. Please stay on the topic.

:anjali:
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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby Marten » Thu Mar 27, 2014 9:13 pm

I like to read here, but am always afraid to post something because I know so little. That being said, here's something I've been pondering and wondering why I can't spot the flaw:

Obviously we have a huge number of teachings preserved in Pāli. Whether there are lost teachings preserved in other languages no longer in use or whether the teachings/suttas we have have been translated into Pāli from some other language will persist as a great mystery, I'm sure; yet, it seems to me that the Buddha picked Ānanda for very complex reasons.

The suttas inform us that Ānanda had a wonderful memory; but is that all?

Did Ānanda remember the teachings in the lingua-fraca of the day (Pāli)? To me, Ānanda seems to constantly be portrayed as a kind of foil, the straight-man who doesn't get the Buddha's meaning so that the meaning can be further teased out. If Ānanda had such a great memory, then, perhaps, he didn't have much insight, hence not becoming awakened until the last minute?

Could it be possible that Ānanda was a savant?

No, I don't really mean Rain-Man, but someone who could simply recite what he heard in Pāli? is that any more mysterious than those fantastic persons who can tell you what day it was upon which a date in 1937 fell, or can do complex mathematics mentally!?!

The Buddha seems to have had tremendous admiration for Ānanda, despite having to almost dumb-down his teachings so that Ānanda could understand them.

I cannot figure out why my theoretical basis for Pāli is something others have not before spotted - although that it may be too simplistic and fantasy-based is probably a not-unreasonable thought. I'd definitely appreciate knowing what others think, because I have not been able to find any mention of Ānanda in this area of inquire: what language did the Buddha speak.

Many thanks

:anjali:

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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby cooran » Thu Mar 27, 2014 11:16 pm

Hello Marten,

The Buddha set in place a system for summarising and preserving the Teachings so they would not be forgotten or altered. Thousands of Bhikkhus memorised the teachings and used to regularly chant them together. They were called Bhanakas - e.g. The Digha Bhanakas, that Majjhima Bhanakas.

This thread may be of interest to you:

Why didn't the Buddha write his Teachings down?
viewtopic.php?f=16&t=7946

With metta,
Chris
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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby Marten » Fri Mar 28, 2014 5:14 pm

Thanks for this Cooran - I am a little familiar with the validation of an aural/oral tradition. As I recall reading somewhere, in the Buddha's time, "writing" was used for unimportant things like keeping track of business transactions. But this doesn't quite address the issue of language and how the suttas got preserved in Pāli. I have read that some of the Chinese "versions" of the suttas suggest that they came from languages other than Pāli, but that, also doesn't explain the huge body of Pāli literature or address the importance of Ānanda in the preservation of the literature, suttas, teachings.

In the Western medieval period, anything "important" was written in Latin - although it probably was not really an actual spoken language other than in the Vatican. Even in the Renaissance period, Latin remained the language of all types of academics. Perhaps in the time of the Buddha, Pāli was similarly regarded?

I also don't understand why Ānanda isn't given more consideration for preservation of the texts in Pāli. Those long rains retreats would have been ideal times for making sure the suttas were preserved in the most precise language! And Ānanda seems to have been the most regarded for the ability to remember and therefore preserve - preserve and pass on. Even today, highly technical writing does not emerge fully complete out of nothing, it goes through a very long process of review, revision, consideration and re-evaluation before it is published - and even the published version may be subject to revision so that, eventually, it becomes the standard of preservation and clarity. Why wouldn't the rains retreats have been utilized to do exactly the same with the Buddha's words in the most universal and widely understood language of the time? Or, perhaps Pāli was the language decided upon by the early saṅgha.

If one remembers Fahrenheit 451 - individuals specialized in particular books. Why wouldn't the rains retreats have been similar with Ānanda being the principle source for the "authorized" version!

When I was young, French was an almost universal language, definitely the language of diplomacy. Now, English, one of the most difficult of languages, is becoming universal. I am grateful that the suttas have been preserved in Pāli. It is about as close to the Buddha as we can get, other than practising the teachings themselves.

With thanks

:anjali:

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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby Bakmoon » Sun Mar 30, 2014 5:44 pm

Well, although the Buddhist texts are traditionally regarded as being written in the language of Magadha , the Buddha himself wasn't originally from Magadha. He was from the area around Kapilavatthu, which I think (that is to say, I'm just guessing) was far enough from Magadha to have its own distinct dialect, but close enough that it would have been understandable in Magadha without much difficulty, so I would guess that the Buddha spoke whatever dialect was spoken around Kapilavatthu (I think I heard somewhere that they spoke a form of Kosalan around Kapilavatthu but I could very well be wrong.)
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Re: What language did the Buddha speak?

Postby Kare » Sun Mar 30, 2014 6:16 pm

Bakmoon wrote:Well, although the Buddhist texts are traditionally regarded as being written in the language of Magadha , the Buddha himself wasn't originally from Magadha. He was from the area around Kapilavatthu, which I think (that is to say, I'm just guessing) was far enough from Magadha to have its own distinct dialect, but close enough that it would have been understandable in Magadha without much difficulty, so I would guess that the Buddha spoke whatever dialect was spoken around Kapilavatthu (I think I heard somewhere that they spoke a form of Kosalan around Kapilavatthu but I could very well be wrong.)


I think I have written something about this before, but never mind - here we go again.

The language of the Pali canon was called Magadhi by the commentators in Sri Lanka. According to the chronicles the canon reached Sri Lanka at the time of king Asoka. Therefore we have to ask: What was Magadha at the time of Asoka?

At the time of the Buddha Magadha was a minor, but aggressive kingdom in eastern North India. We may call this "original Magadha". The Buddha was not born in Magadha, so there is no reason to assume that he spoke the local dialect of that region. He was born further to the north east, in Kapilavatthu, which then belonged to the kingdom of Kosala. In the years after the death of the Buddha Magadha conquered its neighbors and expanded, so that at the time of Asoka the kingdom of Magadha comprised both Kosala and other areas, in fact most of northern and central India. We may call this "greater Magadha".

So where did the canon come from when it reached Sri Lanka? It came from Magadha, from "greater Magadha", and to the sinhalese "Magadha" may have had approximately the meaning of "India". To the sinhalese regional and local nuances of dialect probably mattered little. Their canon came from the mainland, from "Magadha", and it would be natural for them to say that the language of the canon was "something from Magadha", that is "Magadhi".

We can see many other examples in history of names being moved around on thee map and used for an expanded area after conquests. Rome was originally just a town. Then it became the name of an empire. You could be a Roman even without having set your foot in Rome. And even after the empire fell, Anatolia (Asia Minor) was called "Rum" by the turks, since that area once had belonged to the Roman empire. The famous poet Rumi, "the Roman" never had anything to do with Rome. He got his name not because he came from Rome (he was born in eastern Iran), but because he lived most of his life in Anatolia, in Rum.

After Asoka, after the Magadhan dynasties fell, the name Magadha again was "shrunk" into the area of "original Magadha", which developed its own dialectal peculiarities. So when this later Magadhan dialect, Prakrit Magadhi, became standardized as a Prakrit language, it caused endless rounds of confusion among scholars. Since they knew the late Prakrit Magadhi, and since the read that the commentators said the Pali canon was in Magadhi, some scholars thought that the canon originally was in some kind of Prakrit Magadhi and had been translated into Pali. This is one of the reasons behind some persistent rumors about the Pali canon being a translation.
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