The Benefits & Drawbacks of Pali

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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby chownah » Sun Jun 16, 2013 4:01 am

The problem with Pali is that there is no Rosetta Stone...and there is no body of literature about enough diverse topics to clearly establish typical word usage. Couple these two and also considering that many of the concepts that Buddhists want to extract from the Pali are difficult to discuss even between two people highly educated in the same language....then I think that the "problem with Pali" becomes apparent.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Jun 16, 2013 4:13 am

chownah wrote:The problem with Pali is that there is no Rosetta Stone...and there is no body of literature about enough diverse topics to clearly establish typical word usage.
That is why Sanskrit is a useful language in conjunction with Pali.
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.

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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby binocular » Sun Jun 16, 2013 6:44 am

mikenz66 wrote:... but they are minuscule in comparison to what is available in the languages spoken in Theravada countries.
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.

Sure. But to some people, Thai, Burmese, Sinhalese etc. are even more foreign or less available than Pali itself.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby Kare » Sun Jun 16, 2013 9:07 am

chownah wrote:The problem with Pali is that there is no Rosetta Stone...and there is no body of literature about enough diverse topics to clearly establish typical word usage.


Have you read the Pali commentaries? Have you studied the detailed definitions and explanations that they give?
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby chownah » Sun Jun 16, 2013 3:28 pm

Kare wrote:
chownah wrote:The problem with Pali is that there is no Rosetta Stone...and there is no body of literature about enough diverse topics to clearly establish typical word usage.


Have you read the Pali commentaries? Have you studied the detailed definitions and explanations that they give?

If you think I am wrong then please answer with something which directly relates to what I have said instead of with rhetorical questions.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Jun 16, 2013 3:40 pm

chownah wrote:
Kare wrote:
chownah wrote:The problem with Pali is that there is no Rosetta Stone...and there is no body of literature about enough diverse topics to clearly establish typical word usage.


Have you read the Pali commentaries? Have you studied the detailed definitions and explanations that they give?

If you think I am wrong then please answer with something which directly relates to what I have said instead of with rhetorical questions.
chownah
It looked like a rather straightforward response to me.
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 BlackBird » Mon Jun 17, 2013 1:37 am

danieLion wrote:In which sutta(s) does the Buddha instruct us to learn Pali?



Why would someone instruct his audience to learn the language (more or less) that they ALREADY speak.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby chownah » Mon Jun 17, 2013 3:39 am

tiltbillings wrote:
chownah wrote:
Kare wrote:
Have you read the Pali commentaries? Have you studied the detailed definitions and explanations that they give?

If you think I am wrong then please answer with something which directly relates to what I have said instead of with rhetorical questions.
chownah
It looked like a rather straightforward response to me.

No surprise in that.

Also, rhetorical questions are a good way to dilute a discussion as well as a way to persuade the careless thinker and are often used as a way to move the focus off of an uncomfortable fact when there is no apparent way to respond to dispute. Follow up comments which really do nothing to advance the discussion are often used in the same way.....things like "seems reasonable to me!".
chownah
P.S. Please everyone don't get sidetracked by the attempts to dismiss my comments.....if you have nothing to say about my post then that is fine.....if you do please try to actually address what I have said concerning Pali and forgo needless and pointless postings like above. Thanks....I'm trying to have a discussion and not a posting competition.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby Dmytro » Mon Jun 17, 2013 5:43 am

Hi Kare,

Kare wrote:Have you read the Pali commentaries? Have you studied the detailed definitions and explanations that they give?


Seems like the problem with Pali has to do with the peculiarities of the modern techno-"democracy"-oriented culture. In this culture, everyone seems to be entitled to voice publicly his opinion on any subject, regardless of his knowledge and competence.
On the other hand, some subjects, like Pali, require knowledge and competence.
So there's a cultural pressure to replace Pali with English, to make way for post-Protestant-like "religion for everybody", which would require no authorities.
And everyone would happily read English texts and interpret them freely as he likes :soap:
In this depersonalized culture, any meanings must be relative, and have no sure ground.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby Kare » Mon Jun 17, 2013 9:46 am

chownah wrote:
Kare wrote:
chownah wrote:The problem with Pali is that there is no Rosetta Stone...and there is no body of literature about enough diverse topics to clearly establish typical word usage.


Have you read the Pali commentaries? Have you studied the detailed definitions and explanations that they give?

If you think I am wrong then please answer with something which directly relates to what I have said instead of with rhetorical questions.
chownah


My question related directly to what you said. The Pali Canon and the Pali commentaries is just such a body of literature that you deny the existence of. Therefore I will repeat my question: Have you read the Pali commentaries? And have you read the Pali Canon? In Pali? If you have read this body of literature in Pali, we may discuss further whatever problematic points you find in it (I willingly admit there are some). If you have not read it ... please start reading. Then, in a couple of years, we may talk again.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby chownah » Mon Jun 17, 2013 1:12 pm

I think that it is possible to discuss the adequacy of the body of Pali literature without reading all of it in Pali....or in fact of reading any of it. A rich literary heritage comes from a literature created by people with diverse backgrounds and diverse philosophies reflecting a variety of often conflicting views. For example look at English literature and the incredible variety of people who have contributed to it....then look at Pali literature and see how virtually every author was a Buddhist monk and not just any Buddhist monk but a Buddhist monk from a very restricted region when compared to the much wider dispersion of Buddhism in general......or am I wrong about this?
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby binocular » Mon Jun 17, 2013 1:36 pm

chownah wrote:I think that it is possible to discuss the adequacy of the body of Pali literature without reading all of it in Pali....or in fact of reading any of it. A rich literary heritage comes from a literature created by people with diverse backgrounds and diverse philosophies reflecting a variety of often conflicting views. For example look at English literature and the incredible variety of people who have contributed to it....then look at Pali literature and see how virtually every author was a Buddhist monk and not just any Buddhist monk but a Buddhist monk from a very restricted region when compared to the much wider dispersion of Buddhism in general......or am I wrong about this?

If I am understanding you correctly, then your concern with Pali literature (the Canon and the Commentaries) is that it comes from what is essentially a hermetic culture, a culture closed off from the rest of society; and that if there would also exist a secular literature in Pali, then we'd have more reference points for understanding the texts. But that since such secular literature in Pali doesn't seem to exist or is negligible, we are left with that hermetic culture which we are not likely to comprehend correctly, because it is hermetic.

Is this in roundabout what you mean?
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby Kare » Mon Jun 17, 2013 2:57 pm

binocular wrote:
chownah wrote:I think that it is possible to discuss the adequacy of the body of Pali literature without reading all of it in Pali....or in fact of reading any of it. A rich literary heritage comes from a literature created by people with diverse backgrounds and diverse philosophies reflecting a variety of often conflicting views. For example look at English literature and the incredible variety of people who have contributed to it....then look at Pali literature and see how virtually every author was a Buddhist monk and not just any Buddhist monk but a Buddhist monk from a very restricted region when compared to the much wider dispersion of Buddhism in general......or am I wrong about this?

If I am understanding you correctly, then your concern with Pali literature (the Canon and the Commentaries) is that it comes from what is essentially a hermetic culture, a culture closed off from the rest of society; and that if there would also exist a secular literature in Pali, then we'd have more reference points for understanding the texts. But that since such secular literature in Pali doesn't seem to exist or is negligible, we are left with that hermetic culture which we are not likely to comprehend correctly, because it is hermetic.

Is this in roundabout what you mean?


I agree that this may be seen as a drawback. But it is also possible to take the opposite view. In the introduction to his translation of the Visuddhimagga, Bhikkhu Nyanamoli writes (page xxxiii):

"The Pali Language (the 'text language' which the commentators call Magadhan) holds a special position, with no European parallell, being reserved to one field namely, the Buddha's teaching. So there are no alien echoes. In the Suttas the sanskrit is silent, and it is heavily muted in the later literature. This fact, coupled with the richness and integrity of the subject itself, gives it a singular limpidness and depth in its early form, as in a string quartet or the clear ocean, which attains in the style of the Suttas to an exquisite and unrivalled beauty unreflectable by any rendering."
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby chownah » Mon Jun 17, 2013 3:06 pm

binocular,
You're assessment is correct to a degree. The comment I made is one way to indicate a likely shortcoming in Pali which can be discussed without being a Pali scholar as opposed to not being able to discuss it at all unless one is well read across the entire body of Pali literature which seems to be Kare's view....and my concerns are not specifically what you describe but what you describe might be considered to be a specific case of a more general idea....to me there seems to be a very narrow body of Pali literature for many reasons (including what you have mentioned) and one of these is the narrowness of authorship. Another concern is whether one person or a small number of people exerted too much influence on the language or it's transmission...Buddhagossa comes to mind. If memory serves me correctly it seems that some king long ago wanted to sponsor a translation of the Pali into some more modern language and he found Buddhagossa and asked him to translate one text to see how it went......the king liked what Buddhagossa did so he gave him the job of translating it all. Seems to me that we are at the whim of Buddhagossa to a great extent and of course who knows whether Buddhagossa had to make politically correct adjustments to please the king. I'm no scholar on this area but this does raise questions about undo influence on the part of two historic figures.

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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby Nyana » Mon Jun 17, 2013 3:26 pm

mikenz66 wrote: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.

If one has studied to the point where they need to go to non-translated commentaries in order to further differentiate this or that point of commentarial interpretation, then I would suggest that they've probably gone far enough down that particular rabbit hole and more study likely won't do much to further their actual realization of the paths and fruits.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby Nyana » Mon Jun 17, 2013 3:27 pm

Dmytro wrote:Seems like the problem with Pali has to do with the peculiarities of the modern techno-"democracy"-oriented culture. In this culture, everyone seems to be entitled to voice publicly his opinion on any subject, regardless of his knowledge and competence.
On the other hand, some subjects, like Pali, require knowledge and competence.
So there's a cultural pressure to replace Pali with English, to make way for post-Protestant-like "religion for everybody", which would require no authorities.
And everyone would happily read English texts and interpret them freely as he likes :soap:
In this depersonalized culture, any meanings must be relative, and have no sure ground.

Well, the Protestant Reformation and European Enlightenment have already happened, so that ship has sailed.

But in principle, the translation of the Pāli corpus into English and other European languages is no different than the translation of the Pāli corpus and other Indic language Buddhist texts into other Asian languages -- a process that goes back 2000+ years, and which occurred independent of European history. And it's also worth keeping in mind that even within ancient India various interpretations of the sutta literature evolved.

That said, I completely agree that it's a misguided and probably quite modern phenomenon where a person reads a few suttas (in whatever language) and thereby thinks they are in a position to disregard all traditions of exegesis, and are somehow on par with the likes of Buddhaghosa and Vasubandhu.
Last edited by Nyana on Mon Jun 17, 2013 4:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby Nyana » Mon Jun 17, 2013 3:33 pm

chownah wrote:For example look at English literature and the incredible variety of people who have contributed to it....then look at Pali literature and see how virtually every author was a Buddhist monk and not just any Buddhist monk but a Buddhist monk from a very restricted region when compared to the much wider dispersion of Buddhism in general......or am I wrong about this?

Well, the Pāli Abhidhamma and commentaries and treatises were compiled over many centuries, and although it's difficult to verify the exact geographical region where any particular named commentator came from, they are generally South Asian. But even within South Asia (i.e. the Indian Subcontinent), there were other informative and valuable commentarial traditions. One of the more prominent is the Sarvāstivāda (and the Sautrāntikas which evolved from them). To try to understand early Buddhism and the scholastic period without understanding something of the Sarvāstivāda and Sautrāntika texts can lead to source biases. Therefore, it would be good if more of the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma and their post-canonical treatises were to be studied and translated.

chownah wrote:If memory serves me correctly it seems that some king long ago wanted to sponsor a translation of the Pali into some more modern language and he found Buddhagossa and asked him to translate one text to see how it went......the king liked what Buddhagossa did so he gave him the job of translating it all. Seems to me that we are at the whim of Buddhagossa to a great extent and of course who knows whether Buddhagossa had to make politically correct adjustments to please the king. I'm no scholar on this area but this does raise questions about undo influence on the part of two historic figures.

To clarify: Buddhaghosa translated the Mahāvihāra commentaries back into Pāli.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby binocular » Mon Jun 17, 2013 7:19 pm

chownah wrote:You're assessment is correct to a degree. The comment I made is one way to indicate a likely shortcoming in Pali which can be discussed without being a Pali scholar as opposed to not being able to discuss it at all unless one is well read across the entire body of Pali literature which seems to be Kare's view....and my concerns are not specifically what you describe but what you describe might be considered to be a specific case of a more general idea....to me there seems to be a very narrow body of Pali literature for many reasons (including what you have mentioned) and one of these is the narrowness of authorship. Another concern is whether one person or a small number of people exerted too much influence on the language or it's transmission...Buddhagossa comes to mind. If memory serves me correctly it seems that some king long ago wanted to sponsor a translation of the Pali into some more modern language and he found Buddhagossa and asked him to translate one text to see how it went......the king liked what Buddhagossa did so he gave him the job of translating it all. Seems to me that we are at the whim of Buddhagossa to a great extent and of course who knows whether Buddhagossa had to make politically correct adjustments to please the king. I'm no scholar on this area but this does raise questions about undo influence on the part of two historic figures.

Then it seems to me that an issue here is about what a religion (or school of practice or however one might call it) as such is, what it means to be a member of a particular religion, how conversion and membership come about, and related topics.

I think that one central point is the relationship between a teacher and a student, and what role and importance it has. For the sake of convenience, I'll talk about the "Eastern model" and the "Western model."
In general, in the Eastern model, one takes to following a particular teacher, not a particular religion. This is quite different than the way we in the West are used to thinking about religion as such, membership in a religion, and conversion. In the Western model, it seems one is expected to first pick a religion, and then a school within it, and then, perhaps, a particular teacher. While in the Eastern model, one, generally starts off with apprenticeship to a teacher, and then via the teacher, formally subscribes to a religion (although this step is not necessarily always present; it can all be limited simply to the relationship between the teacher and the student).

On principle, in the Eastern model, prospective students are interested primarily in what they can learn from a particular teacher and how this can help them in their personal spiritual quest.
The Western model, evidently influenced by fire-and-brimstone Christianity, is essentially all about picking "the right religion" and then "sticking to it," without much emphasis on developing a close, personal student-teacher relationship (and, arguably, without much emphasis on learning and developing one's mind or personal qualities).

In this way, in the Eastern model, an ordinary person would not concern themselves much with whether this or that text is authentic or properly translated or properly interpreted etc. or not. While in the Western model, these concerns are in the foreground.
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby chownah » Wed Jun 19, 2013 4:52 am

Nyana wrote:
chownah wrote:For example look at English literature and the incredible variety of people who have contributed to it....then look at Pali literature and see how virtually every author was a Buddhist monk and not just any Buddhist monk but a Buddhist monk from a very restricted region when compared to the much wider dispersion of Buddhism in general......or am I wrong about this?

Well, the Pāli Abhidhamma and commentaries and treatises were compiled over many centuries, and although it's difficult to verify the exact geographical region where any particular named commentator came from, they are generally South Asian. But even within South Asia (i.e. the Indian Subcontinent), there were other informative and valuable commentarial traditions. One of the more prominent is the Sarvāstivāda (and the Sautrāntikas which evolved from them). To try to understand early Buddhism and the scholastic period without understanding something of the Sarvāstivāda and Sautrāntika texts can lead to source biases. Therefore, it would be good if more of the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma and their post-canonical treatises were to be studied and translated.

chownah wrote:If memory serves me correctly it seems that some king long ago wanted to sponsor a translation of the Pali into some more modern language and he found Buddhagossa and asked him to translate one text to see how it went......the king liked what Buddhagossa did so he gave him the job of translating it all. Seems to me that we are at the whim of Buddhagossa to a great extent and of course who knows whether Buddhagossa had to make politically correct adjustments to please the king. I'm no scholar on this area but this does raise questions about undo influence on the part of two historic figures.

To clarify: Buddhaghosa translated the Mahāvihāra commentaries back into Pāli.

Nyana,
Thank you so much for the clarification. My memory did not serve me well and my post is wrong on many points. Rather than for me to try to clarify further I would direct those interested to the Wikipedia page on Buddhaghosa.

Sorry for such a bad post,
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Jun 19, 2013 1:08 pm

chownah wrote:
Also, rhetorical questions are a good way to dilute a discussion as well as a way to persuade the careless thinker and are often used as a way to move the focus off of an uncomfortable fact when there is no apparent way to respond to dispute.
The problem with your attempt to dismiss Kare's response is your failure to see that it was not a "rhetorical 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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