The Benefits & Drawbacks of Pali

An open and inclusive investigation into Buddhism and spiritual cultivation

Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby Alex123 » Sat Apr 13, 2013 11:46 am

tiltbillings wrote:Is not learning part of practice?


If you can do that, great. Some people might not.
I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care."
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Apr 13, 2013 12:52 pm

Alex123 wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Is not learning part of practice?


If you can do that, great. Some people might not.
And you are one of the "might nots?"
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby Alex123 » Sat Apr 13, 2013 1:05 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
Alex123 wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Is not learning part of practice?


If you can do that, great. Some people might not.
And you are one of the "might nots?"


I am not perfect. It would be difficult for me to seriously study pali and practice at the same time. If you can do it, Tilt, I am happy for you. Not everybody has time, energy, skill, etc.


I do know a bunch of key words, and can sometimes get the gist of paragraph in pali. I also have translation programs to check when I need to.
But as for serious study...
I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care."
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby SamKR » Sat Apr 13, 2013 7:05 pm

Pali should not be hard for me to learn because my first language is close to Sanskrit and Pali. But currently I do not find enough motivation, as a layman, to master Pali except just knowing a few key words relevant to practice. When necessity arises I can depend on Pali scholars, thanks to them. I plan to learn more in the the future though.
If someone finds learning Pali useful and enjoyable, that's very good, not just OK and definitely not a waste of effort.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby danieLion » Sat Jun 15, 2013 4:41 am

In which sutta(s) does the Buddha instruct us to learn Pali?
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Jun 15, 2013 4:50 am

danieLion wrote:In which sutta(s) does the Buddha instruct us to learn Pali?
if you do not want to learn Pali, then don't. Do keep in mind, however, that someone had to learn Pali in order for you to read the suttas, and in that you are captive to their skill and understanding.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Jun 15, 2013 4:58 am

Alex123 wrote:

I do know a bunch of key words, and can sometimes get the gist of paragraph in pali. I also have translation programs to check when I need to.
But as for serious study...
Pali is a highly inflected and idiomatic language, and simply "know[ing] a bunch of key words" without the accompanying grammar will not really give you much, if any, insight into what is being said by a "bunch of words."

Simply, you people who do not want to learn the language, then don't. Use the translations of those who have put in the effort to get at what the texts say.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby binocular » Sat Jun 15, 2013 6:08 am

danieLion wrote:A little Pali can be useful, but knowing Pali well is not necessary to practice dhamma or mindfulness and is usually a waste of effort. It's generally better to use that energy on examining direct experience.

I think the topic of this thread essentially has to do with an issue that has already surfaced with some other religions, notably in Christianity, when Protestantism split from Catholicism and established translations of the Bible in the various native languages and teaching it in those languages as well (and then later in Catholicism itself, when teaching in the people's native language became the norm). Namely, should there be an official language of the religion, or not. In some religions, such an official language is well-established: in Judaism, it's Hebrew; in Islam, it's Arabic; in Catholicism, it used to be Latin (and Greek). Ideally, the members of those religions are expected to be at least familiar with that official language of the religion, regardless of what their secular language may be.

I'd say the OP's perspective is typical for a native speaker of English, in relation to the fact that a vast amount of Dhamma resources are in English.

Yet for someone whose native language is not English, but who is perusing resources in English, it may be quite normal and seen as necessary to learn Pali (along with an amount of abstract knowledge about grammar as such, depending on how different one's native language is to Pali).
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby binocular » Sat Jun 15, 2013 6:12 am

danieLion wrote:and as Wittgenstein taught us, "The meaning of a word is its use in the language" (the language being the one the current speakers are using).


That goes only for ideal native speakers of a language; and, to some extent, for those foreigners who are relatively fluent in it.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby Sekha » Sat Jun 15, 2013 6:28 am

tiltbillings wrote:if you do not want to learn Pali, then don't. Do keep in mind, however, that someone had to learn Pali in order for you to read the suttas, and in that you are captive to their skill and understanding.

yeah. But we are never captive of anyone's skills and understanding when it comes to actual practice - once we have understood what the practice is, that is. Some people would righteously consider that they should better be "captive" of the understanding of someone they trust in order to progress faster in practice, rather than spending their time studying Pali language and making very slow progress in Dhamma. In the end, it all depends on what one values the most: intellectual understanding of Pali texts or understanding of the reality as it is by direct experience: :smile:
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby danieLion » Sat Jun 15, 2013 7:57 am

tiltbillings wrote:
danieLion wrote:In which sutta(s) does the Buddha instruct us to learn Pali?
if you do not want to learn Pali, then don't. Do keep in mind, however, that someone had to learn Pali in order for you to read the suttas, and in that you are captive to their skill and understanding.
I never said I didn't want to learn Pali. I'm learning Pali (yes, even the grammar). I'm grateful to the translators and use them to help me learn Pali. That doesn't make it any less of a problem.

Plus, this doesn't answer my question. In which sutta(s) does the Buddha instruct us to learn Pali?
Kindly,
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jun 15, 2013 8:00 am

binocular wrote:I'd say the OP's perspective is typical for a native speaker of English, in relation to the fact that a vast amount of Dhamma resources are in English.

I agree that it's an English-language-centric view, but I doubt whether those resources are really "vast" compared with the resources available in Thai, Burmese, Sinhalese, etc...

Thai readers, for example, can read the entire Tipitika (Sutta, Vinaya, Abhidhamma) here: http://www.bhodhiyana.org/tipitaka_library.html, not to mention the teachings of modern Thai teachers, of which we only have bits and pieces in English... The same would apply in Burma and Sri Lanka.
binocular wrote:Yet for someone whose native language is not English, but who is perusing resources in English, it may be quite normal and seen as necessary to learn Pali (along with an amount of abstract knowledge about grammar as such, depending on how different one's native language is to Pali).

This is an excellent point. Obviously for someone whose native language is quite close to Pali (such as the Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan monks that I know) this is a no-brainer. But I imagine that a number of European people would find it more profitable to wrestle with Pali structure and idiom than with the sheer randomness of English.

An enormous hole that non-pali readers have is access to the Theravada Commentaries. A few complete Sutta commentaries are available, but mostly it is just the particular excerpts selected by translators.

:anjali:
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Jun 15, 2013 8:10 am

danieLion wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
danieLion wrote:In which sutta(s) does the Buddha instruct us to learn Pali?
if you do not want to learn Pali, then don't. Do keep in mind, however, that someone had to learn Pali in order for you to read the suttas, and in that you are captive to their skill and understanding.
I never said I didn't want to learn Pali. I'm learning Pali (yes, even the grammar). I'm grateful to the translators and use them to help me learn Pali. That doesn't make it any less of a problem.

Plus, this doesn't answer my question. In which sutta(s) does the Buddha instruct us to learn Pali?
Kindly,
dL
You know the answer to that question.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby danieLion » Sat Jun 15, 2013 8:22 am

dL wrote:Plus, this doesn't answer my question. In which sutta(s) does the Buddha instruct us to learn Pali?
Kindly,
dL
tiltbillings wrote:You know the answer to that question.

Which goes to the problematic aspect.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby PadmaPhala » Sat Jun 15, 2013 10:22 am

...is that it is no buddhist hybrid samskrita.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby binocular » Sat Jun 15, 2013 1:41 pm

mikenz66 wrote:I agree that it's an English-language-centric view, but I doubt whether those resources are really "vast" compared with the resources available in Thai, Burmese, Sinhalese, etc...

English resources are certainly vast in comparison to those in most other languages of the world. Just take the amount of Dhamma resources in French or German or Italian, what to speak of the less spoken languages. Add to this that there may be few or no teachers from countries of those less spoken languages.
English is currently the lingua franca of Buddhism, so it's convenient, and sometimes necessary, to learn English, as there may be very few in one's native language.


But I imagine that a number of European people would find it more profitable to wrestle with Pali structure and idiom than with the sheer randomness of English.

Sure.

Moreover, already listening to different teachers from different lineages of Theravada in English is enough to make one consider learning the Pali oneself. They translate some key terms differently, and if all one would go by would be the English translations, one could end up quite confused as to what they're talking about or what the culture and practice is that they promote, and what exactly it was that the Buddha actually taught. A textbook example of such words is "metta", sometimes translated as "goodwill," other times as "loving-kindness," then there's "love," "friendliness" and probably a few more.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby binocular » Sat Jun 15, 2013 1:45 pm

Kare wrote:I find this thread rather strange and unreal. But maybe it's only me, being baffled by seeing someone working so hard to defend and justify ignorance.

;)
It's the pride of the monolingual native speaker of English. It's predictable and understandable, even if a bit annoying.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby Kare » Sat Jun 15, 2013 3:08 pm

binocular wrote:
Moreover, already listening to different teachers from different lineages of Theravada in English is enough to make one consider learning the Pali oneself. They translate some key terms differently, and if all one would go by would be the English translations, one could end up quite confused as to what they're talking about or what the culture and practice is that they promote, and what exactly it was that the Buddha actually taught. A textbook example of such words is "metta", sometimes translated as "goodwill," other times as "loving-kindness," then there's "love," "friendliness" and probably a few more.


That's right. The perfect translation does not exist. Those of us who actually are translators, are probably more painfully aware of this fact than most of those who only read the translations. The words of the source language often has connotations that are difficult to transfer fully into the second language, the available words in the second language have connotations different from the thought universe of the source language, the syntax is different and needs reshaping, etc. The translators themselves have different understanding and linguistical preferences, etc. "The perfect translation" is a fata morgana for which the translators strive, but seldom or never fully reach.

What prompted me to learn Pali, was in fact two very different translations (in Swedish) of some verses in the Dhammapada. They were so different that I was really wondering what the original text might say. After learning Pali, I could go back to those two different versions and see that none of them was wrong. Although one of them contained some rather personal interpretations, they both conveyed an understanding of the original text - something that I hardly would have guessed the first time I read them.

It is not possible for one person to study all the languages in the world that may convey interesting literature. So we need translations. But if we get deeply interested in one subject, as for instance Buddhism, it is highly rewarding to study the language of the original texts. It opens for a fuller and deeper understanding of the sources and of the subject matter itself.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Jun 15, 2013 3:11 pm

danieLion wrote:
dL wrote:Plus, this doesn't answer my question. In which sutta(s) does the Buddha instruct us to learn Pali?
Kindly,
dL
tiltbillings wrote:You know the answer to that question.

Which goes to the problematic aspect.
Why?
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jun 15, 2013 9:34 pm

binocular wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:I agree that it's an English-language-centric view, but I doubt whether those resources are really "vast" compared with the resources available in Thai, Burmese, Sinhalese, etc...

English resources are certainly vast in comparison to those in most other languages of the world.

... but they are minuscule in comparison to what is available in the languages spoken in Theravada countries.
binocular wrote:Just take the amount of Dhamma resources in French or German or Italian, what to speak of the less spoken languages. Add to this that there may be few or no teachers from countries of those less spoken languages.
English is currently the lingua franca of Buddhism, so it's convenient, and sometimes necessary, to learn English, as there may be very few in one's native language.

It's true that English gives you more access to resources than other European languages, but don't forget that there are vast resources in Thai, Burmese, or Sinhalese, that are simply not available in English.

In fact, among Asian monastics, Pali is (or at least was until very recently) the lingua franca of Dhamma. Mahasi Sayadaw translated his 1944 book "The Progress of Insight" into Pali in 1950. The version we have in English was translated in 1965 by a native German-speaking monk living in Sri Lanka:
http://aimwell.org/Books/Mahasi/Progress/progress.html

Even with my elementary knowledge of Pali, I quite often find myself using Pali terms to clarify discussions with Thai monks. [English isn't a strong point for many Thais.] Serious Asian monks will, typically, have had several years of Pali study.

[A peripheral point, but perhaps relevant to our English-centric community here: I think it would be a mistake assume that commentators who happen to write (or have work translated) into English have superior interpretations to those who don't. The Dhamma we see outside Asia is, to a large extent, derived from what some particular foreigners picked up on in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Burma. ]

:anjali:
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