Dear Fig Tree,
Let me clarify my position - those who are willing to learn Pali to translate and understand better, I encourage with all my heart
. But many who are not, get scared on an internet Forum when they see hair splitting dissection of a Pali word / sentence.
I myself was scared whether Theravada was for me when I saw it. But I pushed past it and thought - Pali Canon is 6 feet long and has 43 large sized volume. Even if I learn 10 % of it that is 1,000 Suttas. At one Sutta per week it will take me 20 years and by that time better translations will have been churned out by scholars and monks who are scholars.
Assuming that a normal practitioner has 3 hours a day to spare - he shall use 1.5 hours for meditation and 1.5 hours for Sutta study in English [ hopefully he does not read it at speed of reading the morning paper ]. If he also
gets involved in the task of translating for himself sometimes then he is entering a web of confusion.
I carried the question to two Bhikkhus - one whom I meet with in real life and one on internet - they both said " Concentrate on study and meditation in whatever language you want. Forget about translating Pali; even we do not know Pali "
A few hours back I watched an interview of a monk from West living in Thailand for 30 years. He was describing various concepts like anatta, Kamma, Self when he uttered a Pali word and then said it means " ............. " in English and then followed up by saying " I hope it means that " with a smile.
In 1989 when I learned PC DOS copying files meant C> copy c:smile.exe a: and my mother could not learn it [ I was 19 and she 52 ]. When Windows came along she learned just fine Copy Paste. That does not mean I have stopped tinkering with command line or using Linux.
Most Theravada practitioners who want to join the tradition do not want a black window with white letters C:\>netsh interface ip show config - they want to type in name and password and go to Google and find what they want to know.
However I do not wish to enter a controversy. I wanted to write the post so that should a person who is interested in being a Theravadin chances upon this post he / she knows there is no need to be daunted. It can be learned just fine in English,