The merit of learning Pali?

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The merit of learning Pali?

Postby texastheravadin » Sun Sep 12, 2010 8:44 pm

Hi there :anjali:

So I have a question regarding the merit of learning Pali, and no I don't mean merit as in puñña, I mean merit as in whether or not it would be worthwhile in my situation. Basically I have been studying Buddhism for almost a year. I try to study the Pali Canon as much as possible, and I have a keen interest and knack for learning other languages. So of course, on an intellectual level learning Pali is something that I think would be very interesting.

However, I have a couple of reservations. First of all, will it really enrich my study of the Suttas? I'm sure that, just as Shakespeare is much more profound in it's original Klingon, the Buddha's teachings are probably much more significant in his own vernacular (or at least a language that is somewhat close to whatever he spoke). I mean I am really not a scholar at all, so how deep do I really need to go? There seem to be some great English translations of the Suttas, both on websites like Access to Insight, and in print with books like In The Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses From the Pali Canon. Also, I attend a Thai Buddhist temple, so shouldn't I devote my attention to learning Thai first? As far as I can tell, nobody really speaks Pali (except for chanting, and even this is mainly done in Thai), and I'd love to know what the hell the bhikkus are talking about!

So any suggestions? Is learning Pali really better put off until later? And does anyone know any good resources for learning Thai?
"Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy and rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge & conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine & human beings, awakened, blessed." — AN 11.12
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Re: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby Reductor » Sun Sep 12, 2010 9:07 pm

I've read a very large part of the sutta pitaka in english, and I've noticed that even very good translators will render a single pali word in more than one way. This obscures to a degree the doctrinal interconnections which would have been crystal clear in the original language.

Also, there is often a necessity for the translator to appeal to the commentary and their own opinion in choosing words. This means that the reader gets a healthy dose of doctrine which may or may not have been intended in the original sutta. So while this method is necessary for translation, it does have a cost which is not easily overcome by the reader.

In terms of learning Thai verses Pali, I think pali would be more useful in the absolute. Thai will enable you to converse with monks who may or may not be worth conversing with. Pali will allow you to converse with the suttas, material very much worth your attention.
Michael

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

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Re: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Sep 12, 2010 11:43 pm

For learning Thai there is always:

http://www.rosettastone.com/offer/ggbt10c/tha

Unfortunately, no Pali version yet. :tongue:

I find some Pali knowledge to be helpful, but mastering it fluently may not be necessary unless you want to get into translating texts. It could always wait until the time was right or when you have more interest, because as you say, there is most of the Tipitaka in English already.
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Re: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Sep 12, 2010 11:55 pm

texastheravadin wrote:
As far as I can tell, nobody really speaks Pali (except for chanting, and even this is mainly done in Thai), and I'd love to know what the hell the bhikkus are talking about!


Are you sure they are chanting in Thai? One of the nice things about Theravada monasteries is that usually all chanting is done in one common language -- Pali. This is the case (as far as I know) across all nationalities and ethnicities.
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Re: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby Cittasanto » Mon Sep 13, 2010 12:18 am

learning the basics - common and important words and phrases - won't hurt, and would be of benefit as you can develop understanding of them more fully, and have your own personal lexicon for when a translator uses a particular word as a translation, it can only aid in your understanding of what is meant in the texts.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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Re: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Sep 13, 2010 12:52 am

David N. Snyder wrote:
texastheravadin wrote:
As far as I can tell, nobody really speaks Pali (except for chanting, and even this is mainly done in Thai), and I'd love to know what the hell the bhikkus are talking about!


Are you sure they are chanting in Thai? One of the nice things about Theravada monasteries is that usually all chanting is done in one common language -- Pali. This is the case (as far as I know) across all nationalities and ethnicities.

In my Wat most of the normal chanting by the monks (morning/evening, etc) is in Pali. For offerings to the monks we chant both Pali and a Thai translation (which I don't understand, I just repeat it after the lead lay person...).

There is also some chanting involving the lay people in the afternoons and evenings of Uposatha days and on Sunday afternoons where typically the Pali is chanted, then the Thai translation. I don't generally attend those, since it's a little tedious to go through each line twice, and slowly. It takes over half an hour to go through the evening chant that takes about 10 minutes at normal speed in Pali...

LIke texastheravadin, it would be really useful for me to have a better grasp of Thai (mine is rudimentary), so I could understand announcements. Sometimes the Abbot will talk about someone who has died, or moved, or some other news, and I have to quiz a Thai speaker later about what was being said. Whereas I have the Pali chants with English translation (as long as I can figure out which one it is...).

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Re: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Sep 13, 2010 12:58 am

Greetings,

Manapa wrote:learning the basics - common and important words and phrases - won't hurt, and would be of benefit as you can develop understanding of them more fully, and have your own personal lexicon for when a translator uses a particular word as a translation, it can only aid in your understanding of what is meant in the texts.

What Manapa defines here is my approach too.

The analogy I've heard of is that of a scientist, who still uses English as their primary language, but incorporates within that framework terms of a technical nature.

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Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Sep 13, 2010 1:09 am

mikenz66 wrote:In my Wat most of the normal chanting by the monks (morning/evening, etc) is in Pali. For offerings to the monks we chant both Pali and a Thai translation (which I don't understand, I just repeat it after the lead lay person...).


Okay, thanks, so apparently some temples use the ethnic language in addition. It's good to see that the Pali is still done.
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Re: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Sep 13, 2010 3:01 am

David N. Snyder wrote:Okay, thanks, so apparently some temples use the ethnic language in addition. It's good to see that the Pali is still done.

The Western Ajahn Chah group also use their ethnic :quote: language in some chants, either instead of or in addition to Pali: http://www.abhayagiri.org/main/media/#chanting

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Re: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby Ben » Mon Sep 13, 2010 3:49 am

Hi texastheravadin

Learning pali has been an aspiration of mine that I thought I would have the time to do something about when a change to my living situation eventuated about eight weeks ago.
Unfortunately, I found myself to have less free time than more, and so my aspiration has been put back on the back-burner for a little while.
Having said that, Bhikkhu Bodhi's online pali language course looks good and it was one that I was intending to do. Google "Bodhi Monastery" and you should be able to find it.
You'll also find a couple of Pali-english dictionaries in the scribd booklist I put together, the link is in my signature. You might find them of value.
kind regards

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Re: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby Goofaholix » Mon Sep 13, 2010 5:28 am

For Pali I think it's important to understand the correct definitions of key terms, but unless you are planning to be a teacher I don't think you need go beyond that, here is a good resource to look up words http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/pali/

There are truckloads of resources out there to learn Thai, though I wouldn't bother unless you are planning to spend a bit of time there, Thaivisa language forum would be a good place to get advice http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/forum/43-thai-language/
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Re: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby Kare » Mon Sep 13, 2010 8:51 am

Learning Pali is a pure joy, so why put it off?

Learning some key words can be useful, as has been said. But grammar is the glue that really gives a sentence meaning - so key words is not enough.

There is a whole lot of beautiful literature waiting for you in Pali, so my advice is: Begin today.
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Re: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby Cittasanto » Mon Sep 13, 2010 10:26 am

mikenz66 wrote:
David N. Snyder wrote:Okay, thanks, so apparently some temples use the ethnic language in addition. It's good to see that the Pali is still done.

The Western Ajahn Chah group also use their ethnic :quote: language in some chants, either instead of or in addition to Pali: http://www.abhayagiri.org/main/media/#chanting

Mike


the Amaravati chanting book is Identical to the Abhayagiri one, except without the suttas! http://www.abhayagiri.org/pdf/books/ChantingBook.pdf

I recently saw a samatha trust chanting book http://www.samatha.org/images/stories/s ... ngbook.pdf which looked like the chants were identical, and had them all included (from the quick skim through) which looked like a better option, if looking for a Chanting book!

the advantage of having the pali and english as a reference to eachother is that you can find the meanings of specific words used
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby texastheravadin » Tue Sep 14, 2010 2:35 pm

Thanks everyone for your answers. I feel so blessed to have found this forum at this stage of my Dhamma practice. I think one of you summed it up best when you said that by learning Thai, I might be able to converse with monks who may or may not be worth talking to, but by learning Pali I could converse with the suttas. Since my limited money really has to be saved for my college textbooks, I downloaded a copy of da Silva's Pali Primer. I am going to work through it diligently, and when I feel I have mastered it I will reward myself by buying a copy of Warder's Introduction to Pali.

Some of you who posted questioned whether or not I was certain that it was Thai being spoken during the chanting at the wat. I am no linguist, but having chanted Pali at home for a few months now and having attended this Wat for a few months I know the difference between the two languages. Usually on Sundays we have a one hour sitting at the wat. Both before we begin meditating and afterwards, Ajahn always leads us in some "light" chanting (compared to what I do at home). When we pay homage, it's in Pali...(you know, namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammasambuddhassa ). However, when the sitting period is over, everyone starts chanting Metta Bhavana and I'm certain they are chanting Pali (sabbe satta....) followed by a much longer-sounding spiel in Thai. Maybe it's just a translation of the Pali, I dunno. What I do know is when I first approached Ven. Ajahn Ken about attending his meditation classes, he was so kind that he let me have a copy of the wat's chanting book. It's basically a binder with morning and evening chanting. They have a few of them at the wat, the one I have is English and Pali, and there's also Thai and Pali versions in the Tipitaka case. Like I said, it's all Pali with the English translations. However, the small manual they give the kids at Sunday school is Thai with English translations. Have any of you ever seen this? It looks like this:

Arahang sammasambuddho Bhagava
Pra puu mii Pra Phaakajao bpen pra arahan dap plerng kilet plerng tuk sin cherng tratsaruu choop dai duai pra ong eng

I know absolutely zero about Thai culture, maybe it's customary to chant in Pali and then in the vernacular language, I dunno.

Well, thanks again for everyone's gracious comments!

Metta

Josh
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Re: The merit of learning Pali?

Postby Kare » Tue Sep 14, 2010 3:06 pm

texastheravadin wrote:Thanks everyone for your answers. I feel so blessed to have found this forum at this stage of my Dhamma practice. I think one of you summed it up best when you said that by learning Thai, I might be able to converse with monks who may or may not be worth talking to, but by learning Pali I could converse with the suttas. Since my limited money really has to be saved for my college textbooks, I downloaded a copy of da Silva's Pali Primer. I am going to work through it diligently, and when I feel I have mastered it I will reward myself by buying a copy of Warder's Introduction to Pali.



Good choice. Remember to allow yourself time to absorb the language. Do not feel frustrated if after a while of studying you find that you have forgotten some words or some grammar. That is quite natural. Just go back and do some patient repetitions of the stuff. Repetitions and diligent work is the secret behind all learning, and if you at times may feel that you understand nothing and remember nothing at all (this happens to most of us!) - remember to show yourself some metta! :twothumbsup:

Good luck with your studies ... and have fun! :reading:
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