Why learn Pali?

Explore the ancient language of the Tipitaka and Theravāda commentaries

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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby tiltbillings » Mon May 17, 2010 8:05 am

Dmytro wrote:Hi Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:Actually K.R. Norman does a decent job at looking a Pali, putting is a bit later than the Buddha.


IMHO, the arguments of K.R. Norman are well summarized and dealt with in the article:

The Buddha Spoke Pāli
Stefan Karpik

http://www.insightmeditation.org/dharme ... il2006.doc
Considering the extent of Norman's article, not very well.
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: Why learn Pali?

Postby Dmytro » Mon May 17, 2010 8:29 am

Hi Anicca,

Dmytro wrote:The few Western people I know who get far along the Path are studying at least the essential Pali terms.

Could you point to a good list of the essentials?


Rupert Gethin describes in detail the key terms in his excellent book "The Buddhist Path to Awakening: A Study of the Bodhi-Pakkhiya Dhamma".

One can start from the elemnts of Conditioned Arising http://dhamma.ru/lib/paticcas.htm and use the Nyanatiloka's dictionary http://www.palikanon.com/english/wtb/dic_idx.html

"The Path to Freedom" does a good job, with Pali terms in parentheses: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/index.html .

Metta, Dmytro
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby PeterB » Mon May 17, 2010 8:35 am

If everyone who used the forum knew the Pali for the key concepts there would be less traffic on Dhamma Wheel. Whether that is a good or bad thing I leave to others.
:smile:

One of my teachers used to say " most of the time the answer lies in helping the questioner properly frame the question, then it more or less answers itself"..
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby Dmytro » Mon May 17, 2010 8:50 am

tiltbillings wrote:
Dmytro wrote:Hi Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:Actually K.R. Norman does a decent job at looking a Pali, putting is a bit later than the Buddha.


IMHO, the arguments of K.R. Norman are well summarized and dealt with in the article:

The Buddha Spoke Pāli
Stefan Karpik

http://www.insightmeditation.org/dharme ... il2006.doc
Considering the extent of Norman's article, not very well.


Well, to add an extent, I'll just formulate clearly my opinion: the Pali of Sutta and Vinaya is mostly obviously stylized according to the needs or oral transmission, but the early verse texts, like Suttanipata, preserve the language which Buddha spoke.

The detailed arguments (affinity to the language of the Jain Canon, Ardha-Magadhi, etc.) are well formulated by the Wilhelm Geiger
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Pali/message/5761

Dhammapada verse 103:

103. Yo sahassaṃ sahassena, saṅgāme mānuse jine;
Ekañca jeyyamattānaṃ, sa ve saṅgāmajuttamo.

Greater in battle than the man who would conquer a thousand-thousand men,
is he who would conquer just one — himself.

Jain Samana sutta 125:

Jo sahassam sahassanam, samgame dujjae jine.
Egam jinejja appanam, esa se paramo jao. (125)

One may conquer thousands and thousands of enemies in an invincible battle;
but the supreme victory consists in conquest over one's self.

http://www.jainworld.com/scriptures/samansuttam10.asp
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby tiltbillings » Mon May 17, 2010 9:09 am

Dmytro wrote:. . .
That's fine. Still, given the carefully spelled out detail in Norman's article, it is just not going to brushed aside by a few paragraphs. The question I have is do I want to get into this: is it important enough to eat up the time required? Probably not. Though I'd be more than happy to see a sustained argument countering Norman by someone on his level. It is enough to acknowledge that there are differing opinions.

If the Buddha did not speak what we call Pali, which likely he did not, there is no doubt, given the nature of the prakrits at that time, he would have easily understood it. Pali certainly is not an artificial languange; it was certainly a spoken language carrying the markers of differing dialects as well as Vedic Sanskrit.
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: Why learn Pali?

Postby PeterB » Mon May 17, 2010 9:15 am

Also, like Sanskrit, Pali is a meta- language that constructs and deconstructs its own self while in use.

See Lings Martin. " Ancient Belief And Modern Superstition ".
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby Kare » Mon May 17, 2010 10:26 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Thomas,

I like to understand key individual terms, because some of them are quite deep in their meaning and are translated differently by different translators (e.g. sankhara, dukkha, jati, bhava, namarupa) so my interest is in trying to understand the words. The sentence construction, grammar and so on isn't of so much interest to me yet, in terms of return for effort.


The sentence construction and the grammar are just as important as the individual terms. Let's say you find a sentence containing the words "man", "eat" and "tiger". The grammar tells us who eats whom, a small detail which in fact is rather important for the meaning of the sentence.

Learning only individual terms puts you on level with a speaker of Pidgin English. You can convey and understand some words, but all the finer details escape you.
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby Kare » Mon May 17, 2010 10:30 am

David N. Snyder wrote:
Pannapetar wrote:Life is short and learning Pali takes long. Looking at the cost/benefit analysis, I can think of very few (actually none) arguments that speak in favour of it. So, why learn Pali? I wish to understand the motives. What brought you to learn it? Looking forward to your replies.


Hi Thomas,

A good source for supporting your argument may be here:

I allow you, O Bhikkhus, to learn the word of the Buddhas each in his own dialect.” Cullavaga, Vinaya



This is a sentence and an argument that should be used with greatest care. The Pali in fact says something like this: "I allow you to learn the word of the Buddna in 'own-language' ..."

And it is open to interpretation if he meant "The Buddha's own language" (Pali. The commentary goes for this interpretation.) or "each one's own language" (most modern people go for this interpretation).

So this saying is not clear. If you are able to read it in Pali, you will not so easily be caught by the one or the other transalation.
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby Kare » Mon May 17, 2010 10:33 am

David N. Snyder wrote:
Anicca wrote:
Dmytro wrote:Buddha himself said:
"I ordain the words of Buddha to be learnt in _his_ own language (i.e.Magadhi, the language used by Buddha himself)."

<i.e.Magadhi - the "holy" language>
:juggling:
Momma told me there would be days like this.


:shrug: Magadhi is not spoken or used today. It is Pali that is studied because that is what the ancient texts are in. The oldest teachings of the Buddha are in the Pali Canon and they are in, well, Pali. So I still see no holy language, but I do see a language worthy of study to get to the original meanings.


Magadhi is the old name for the Pali language. It should not be confused with the later Prakrit that also is called Magadhi.
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby PeterB » Mon May 17, 2010 11:09 am

Thank you Kare for your characteristically thoughtful and helpful response.
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby Pannapetar » Mon May 17, 2010 12:38 pm

I thought I already replied, but perhaps that message was lost in transmission (rather than in translation). I wanted to thank you all for your input. It definitely opened up new perspectives on the question.

Of course, things do get lost in translation. In view of the cost benefit analysis: if one is in doubt about a particular part/aspect of the canon, would it not be easier to read different available translations, perhaps in different languages that one has already learned?

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon May 17, 2010 1:24 pm

Pannapetar wrote: In view of the cost benefit analysis: if one is in doubt about a particular part/aspect of the canon, would it not be easier to read different available translations, perhaps in different languages that one has already learned?


That would be a good way to study the texts, but it won't give you a better idea of the original meanings. You will mostly be left with differing versions of the translations for which some or all could be wrong.

But in general, certainly some translators are very trustworthy, such as Bhikkhu Bodhi.
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon May 17, 2010 1:26 pm

Regarding the origin of Pali,
From Bhikkhu Bodhi:

Scholars regard this language as a hybrid showing features of several Prakrit dialects used around the third century BCE, subjected to a partial process of Sanskritization. While the language is not identical with any the Buddha himself would have spoken, it belongs to the same broad linguistic family as those he might have used and originates from the same conceptual matrix. This language thus reflects the thought-world that the Buddha inherited from the wider Indian culture into which he was born, so that its words capture the subtle nuances of that thought-world.

Bhikkhu Bodhi, In the Buddha's Words. Wisdom Publications, 2005, page 10.
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby Anicca » Mon May 17, 2010 1:29 pm

Dmytro wrote:Rupert Gethin describes in detail the key terms in his excellent book "The Buddhist Path to Awakening: A Study of the Bodhi-Pakkhiya Dhamma".
One can start from the elemnts of Conditioned Arising http://dhamma.ru/lib/paticcas.htm and use the Nyanatiloka's dictionary http://www.palikanon.com/english/wtb/dic_idx.html
"The Path to Freedom" does a good job, with Pali terms in parentheses: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/index.html .

Thanks Dmytro!
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby tiltbillings » Mon May 17, 2010 1:30 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:Regarding the origin of Pali,
From Bhikkhu Bodhi:

Scholars regard this language as a hybrid showing features of several Prakrit dialects used around the third century BCE, subjected to a partial process of Sanskritization. While the language is not identical with any the Buddha himself would have spoken, it belongs to the same broad linguistic family as those he might have used and originates from the same conceptual matrix. This language thus reflects the thought-world that the Buddha inherited from the wider Indian culture into which he was born, so that its words capture the subtle nuances of that thought-world.

Bhikkhu Bodhi, In the Buddha's Words. Wisdom Publications, 2005, page 10.

And that is a reasonable assessment of the state of art scholarship on the subject. There is no point going all literal and fundamentalist on this 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: Why learn Pali?

Postby Pannapetar » Mon May 17, 2010 1:48 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:You will mostly be left with differing versions of the translations for which some or all could be wrong.


Yes, in the worst case that might happen, but is it justified to be that pessimistic?

From what I have seen, Pali is a language with complex grammar and it is morphologically and lexically quite clearly defined. These characteristics should make relatively precise renderings in contemporary languages at least possible. The main problems appears to be how to deal with homonyms and style and such... no comparison to say pictographic scripts or even ancient Chinese, like the language the Tao Te Ching was written in. Or am I completely off the mark?

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby Reductor » Mon May 17, 2010 1:52 pm

Pannapetar wrote:... perhaps in different languages that one has already learned?


Since I only speak English at this time, it would seem that Pali is a fine first language. I don't think most of the world is bilingual.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon May 17, 2010 2:28 pm

Pannapetar wrote:
David N. Snyder wrote:You will mostly be left with differing versions of the translations for which some or all could be wrong.

Yes, in the worst case that might happen, but is it justified to be that pessimistic?
From what I have seen, Pali is a language with complex grammar and it is morphologically and lexically quite clearly defined. These characteristics should make relatively precise renderings in contemporary languages at least possible. The main problems appears to be how to deal with homonyms and style and such... no comparison to say pictographic scripts or even ancient Chinese, like the language the Tao Te Ching was written in. Or am I completely off the mark?


Yes, many translations appear to be very good and trustworthy, as I said, such as Bhikkhu Bodhi. Others clearly are not. And an understanding of certain key terms can not be understated. Some of these have no proper English translation, such as nibbana, kamma, etc.
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby Cittasanto » Mon May 17, 2010 2:55 pm

thereductor wrote:
Pannapetar wrote:... perhaps in different languages that one has already learned?


Since I only speak English at this time, it would seem that Pali is a fine first language. I don't think most of the world is bilingual.


for your assumption to be valid universally, everyone would need to be at least bilingual, I personally am not, so learning pali words and grammar is the desirable option as there is a desire to understand what the actual source says, comparing translations tells no one anything about what the source says it only tells us how it has been interpreted.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
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Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Why learn Pali?

Postby Richard » Mon May 17, 2010 4:24 pm

I can only give personal reasons for why I study Pali, as I have doing on my own for the last 6 years or so. I once studied a good deal of Latin, and now enjoy learning a language that has a very similar grammatical structure. I think the best reason to learn any language is to be able to read the great literature which every language has; and for me no literature is more important than the teachings of the Buddha in the most ancient version available. It is good for a Christian to learn New Testament Greek, even though we know that Jesus did not use that language. In the Buddha's case, we can be confident that Pali most likely contains many of the same words that he used in his teaching.
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