The Benefits & Drawbacks of Pali

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
User avatar
Alex123
Posts: 3476
Joined: Wed Mar 10, 2010 11:32 pm

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by Alex123 » Fri Apr 05, 2013 12:51 pm

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.
You are right. Did Buddha spoke Pali? Did he always use pali when speaking to anyone from any republic? Did everyone always speak Pali to Buddha?
Considering the diversity of languages and dialect in territory that we call India... I think the answer is obvious.

Also, how do we know that translations of certain keywords (such as anatta) into English is correct? Please check my post.

Also, even though the translation can technically be correct, how do we know the exact sense that Buddha used the word that he did? He lived in ancient India 5th Century BC. Their culture was very different from today. Words may have had alternative or other meanings for the culture that He lived in.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

Buckwheat
Posts: 960
Joined: Thu Nov 24, 2011 12:39 am
Location: California USA

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by Buckwheat » Fri Apr 05, 2013 2:53 pm

nem wrote:Thanissaro Bhikkhu translates āsavas as "fermentations", which is totally confusing to me, in my understanding of the word fermentation. Are we making beer in the mind, or ruminating about something or? :tongue: These are the contexts where the word fermentation is used in American English, where I live. Fermenting beer, fermenting or brewing troubles in the mind. But āsava means none of that. Just look at wikipedia and how many words in English someone took to explain āsava there. Several hundred English words. Now, if I was just reading suttas, I'd pass over fermentations and ignore it, not having any idea what is being spoken of for lack of cultural context that matches up.
Dictionary wrote: fer·men·ta·tion (fûrmn-tshn, -mn-) n.
1.a. The anaerobic conversion of sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol by yeast.
b. Any of a group of chemical reactions induced by living or nonliving ferments that split complex organic compounds into relatively simple substances.
2. Unrest; agitation.
Definition #2 seems to be what Ven Thanissaro is referencing. I disagree with you that "fermentation" is a poor choice. However, I agree with you that asava does not have a single English equivalent. I believe Ven Thanissaro chose fermentation because, as he is process oriented, he is emphasizing that this is an agitation, whereas "taints" sounds more like inherent flaws of character in my mind (self). However, his choice, without further research by the reader, does leaves us ignorant to the fact that this agitation keeps one bound to samsara (so does taints). Translation is indeed a difficult thing, compounded by the fact that many of us only know half the real meanings even of very familiar English words. It seems most words I look up in the dictionary I find a little bit more to the word than I originally thought.

The upshot of this, is no matter if the discussion revolves around Pali or English, when discussing something subtle, like the dhamma, there will always be a detailed discussion of words and meanings.
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.

danieLion
Posts: 1947
Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 4:49 am

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 4:32 am

manas wrote:Although only a beginner in the study of Pali, I can vouch for it's usefulness in coming to a clearer understanding of the meaning and intent of the suttas.
The suttas don't have meanings or intentions.

danieLion
Posts: 1947
Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 4:49 am

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 4:36 am

LonesomeYogurt wrote:
danieLion wrote:Pali itself is a translation of the Buddhavacana; 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).
More accurately, as Wittgenstein theorized.
Straw splitting. He taught us theory of language that hasn't yet been bettered.

danieLion
Posts: 1947
Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 4:49 am

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 4:43 am

polarbuddha101 wrote:I would agree that learning a bunch of Pali is unnecessary to progress down the path but I wouldn't call it a waste of effort.
I said "usually."
polarbuddha101 wrote:Knowing Pali well gives you a more well rounded perspective on what the buddha taught...



Compared to what? Do you know "fluent" Pali? Have you read all the translations? You're just repeating an idea you heard without knowing for yourself.
polarbuddha101 wrote:...whereas when reading translations you're inevitably going to miss some of the meaning.
The meaining? Are you saying the texts, Pali or otherwise, have their very own meaning?

danieLion
Posts: 1947
Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 4:49 am

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 4:46 am

polarbuddha101 wrote:
danieLion wrote:
polarbuddha101 wrote:Knowing Pali well gives you a more well rounded perspective on what the buddha taught whereas when reading translations you're inevitably going to miss some of the meaning.
Pali itself is a translation of the Buddhavacana; 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).
polarbuddha101 wrote:1) It isn't accurate to say that Pali is a translation of the Buddhavacana.
If the Buddha didn't speak Pali, translation took place at some point.

danieLion
Posts: 1947
Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 4:49 am

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 4:47 am

tiltbillings wrote:...it is worth using multiple translations of a text when available.
Yes, there's much value in this. IMO, more than learning Pali.

danieLion
Posts: 1947
Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 4:49 am

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 4:50 am

Ñāṇa wrote:Without learning the foundational principles of the teachings and the path structure of how to apply the teachings, examining direct experience can lead in any number of directions which may be quite fruitless.
And for some, even adtger they've learned the foundations, produce no fruit.
Ñāṇa wrote:But now that we have full translations of almost the entire Tipiṭaka and a number of large post-canonical treatises, there's no pressing need to understand Pāli in order to learn the foundational principles and the path structure of how to apply the teachings. And in addition to this, we also have access to a fairly large number of modern studies, commentaries, dhamma talks, etc., primarily in English or English translation.
Exactly.

danieLion
Posts: 1947
Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 4:49 am

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 4:52 am

Mr Man wrote:Hi danieLion
Do you speak any foreign languages? Concepts can unfold in very different ways in different languages . Language conditions certain ways of thinking. I'm sure new levels of meaning can be found in understanding pali within its now limited context. I would't see pali as a necessity but it would be nice to read sutta in pali.
I took two years of Spanish as an undergrad. If I had time master other languages now, it would be Latin, then Pali.

danieLion
Posts: 1947
Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 4:49 am

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 4:53 am

reflection wrote:It's also funny how people with a lot of knowledge about pali still come up with very different interpretations. So knowing pali is not a guaranteed way of coming to a better understanding of what the Buddha taught, which is beyond words.
Well said. Yes, it's hilarious.

danieLion
Posts: 1947
Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 4:49 am

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 4:56 am

Alex123 wrote:
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.
You are right. Did Buddha spoke Pali? Did he always use pali when speaking to anyone from any republic? Did everyone always speak Pali to Buddha?
Considering the diversity of languages and dialect in territory that we call India... I think the answer is obvious.

Also, how do we know that translations of certain keywords (such as anatta) into English is correct? Please check my post.

Also, even though the translation can technically be correct, how do we know the exact sense that Buddha used the word that he did? He lived in ancient India 5th Century BC. Their culture was very different from today. Words may have had alternative or other meanings for the culture that He lived in.
:goodpost:

User avatar
Polar Bear
Posts: 1204
Joined: Mon Apr 16, 2012 7:39 am
Location: Bear Republic

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by Polar Bear » Sat Apr 06, 2013 5:00 am

danieLion wrote:
polarbuddha101 wrote:Knowing Pali well gives you a more well rounded perspective on what the buddha taught...



Compared to what? Do you know "fluent" Pali? Have you read all the translations? You're just repeating an idea you heard without knowing for yourself.
polarbuddha101 wrote:...whereas when reading translations you're inevitably going to miss some of the meaning.
The meaining? Are you saying the texts, Pali or otherwise, have their very own meaning?
The suttas have an intended meaning. The words in the suttas had a certain meaning 2,500 years ago and learning the Pali and understanding Indian history and culture at that time can help us understand the intended meaning and what specific words meant at that time. The fact is that the meaning that I or anyone else read into the suttas could differ from the intended meaning of the Buddha when he actually gave a specific discourse and so learning Pali could, to some extent, help a person come closer to understanding the intended meaning.

I only know a few words of Pali. I'm just repeating what my own musing in the philosophy of language tells me which of course happens to not have arisen out of a vacuum, just as you are stating an opinion that did not arise out of a vacuum. I've read alot of Ven Bodhi's and Ven Thanissaro's translations and translations of some suttas from various other authors as well and I think that learning Pali would still give me a more well rounded perspective than just reading english translations.

You seem to have avoided my main points about the conceptual frameworks that languages are based upon and my example of a german to dutch versus a german to navajo translation. If you understand those points then I don't think we'll be in any disagreement. Also, I'm not saying learning Pali is necessary to understand what the Buddha taught or to realize his teachings for oneself, I'm just saying it could be helpful.

:anjali:
"I don't envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, leads to such great benefit as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, leads to great benefit."

"I don't envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress."

danieLion
Posts: 1947
Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 4:49 am

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 5:05 am

So, are the (Chinese) Agamas inferior to the Pali manuscripts because the latter are "closer" to the language(s) the Buddha spoke?

Didn't the Buddha tell his followers that when they encountered other cultures to teach the dhamma in their language?

Do we have any records of the Buddha making any rules about which language his teachings should be preserved in?

User avatar
Polar Bear
Posts: 1204
Joined: Mon Apr 16, 2012 7:39 am
Location: Bear Republic

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by Polar Bear » Sat Apr 06, 2013 5:23 am

danieLion wrote:So, are the (Chinese) Agamas inferior to the Pali manuscripts because the latter are "closer" to the language(s) the Buddha spoke?

Didn't the Buddha tell his followers that when they encountered other cultures to teach the dhamma in their language?

Do we have any records of the Buddha making any rules about which language his teachings should be preserved in?
1) I think the Chinese Agamas are very useful for sutta comparisons, gauging the authenticity of certain suttas, learning about early buddhism, but I do think more of the intended meaning of the discourses of the Buddha will be preserved in the Pali than in Chinese in virtue of the fact that Chinese is built upon a conceptual framework further removed from the one that the Buddha was working with when he taught dhamma.

2) Yes he did and I think that's very important, I certainly wouldn't know anything about the dhamma otherwise.

3) Not that I know of, and I think having english (or whatever language one speaks) translations is very important but that doesn't mean I think we should get rid of the Pali, because I think the Pali language can help inform us as to what the Buddha actually meant.

Once again, I'm not saying knowing Pali is necessary just that it could be helpful at times to understood the meaning of certain Pali words that have no english equivalent and that would require multiple words or paragraphs to explain in english due to the differences in the conceptual frameworks that the languages are based upon. For example, sankhara is a term that doing some research on can be helpful instead of just looking at the word fabrications and thinking that you know exactly what the Buddha meant when he used the word.

Further, one reason Pali can be helpful is because it provides umbrella terms that one can understand in relationship to multiple english words so that, for example, my use of the word sankhara will encompass the words fabrication, formation, construction, determination, arisen phenomena, impermanent, putting together, making, activities, conditions, conditioned things/phenomena, volitional formations, etc. So this is another reason that knowing Pali can be helpful.

I think I need to emphasize to you though that I am not saying that learning Pali is necessary at all to understand what the Buddha taught enough so that one could become a noble disciple. I'm just saying it can be helpful in gaining a deeper understanding than just reading english translations. Just as reading two english translations can be more helpful than reading one, reading the Pali translation on top of the two english translations can be more helpful than reading just the two english translations.

:anjali:
"I don't envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, leads to such great benefit as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, leads to great benefit."

"I don't envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress."

Nyana
Posts: 2233
Joined: Tue Apr 27, 2010 11:56 am

Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by Nyana » Sat Apr 06, 2013 6:16 am

danieLion wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:Without learning the foundational principles of the teachings and the path structure of how to apply the teachings, examining direct experience can lead in any number of directions which may be quite fruitless.
And for some, even adtger they've learned the foundations, produce no fruit.
Yes. Understanding something conceptually is one thing, applying that understanding is quite another.
danieLion wrote:So, are the (Chinese) Agamas inferior to the Pali manuscripts because the latter are "closer" to the language(s) the Buddha spoke?
They're not inferior. Of course, it would be interesting to have complete sutta collections from various textual traditions -- no matter what language they're preserved in.
danieLion wrote:Didn't the Buddha tell his followers that when they encountered other cultures to teach the dhamma in their language?

Do we have any records of the Buddha making any rules about which language his teachings should be preserved in?
There's the statement from Cv 5.33 (Vin ii, 139):
  • I allow you, monks, to learn the speech of the Awakened One according to his own dialect.
This subject has been somewhat controversial. For elaboration see Ven. Ñāṇananda's Concept & Reality in Early Buddhist Thought, pp. 45-47. But more generally, the discourses are composed of conventional expressions and designations, and there's no reason why they can't adequately be translated into any modern language, dependent, of course, on the skill of the translator (and the capacity of the reader). A good translation of a given passage is generally no more vague than the Pāli passage, and the translation is sometimes made more specific than the Pāli due, in part, to the translator's interpretation.

SN 1.25:
  • Though the wise one has transcended the conceived,
    He still might say, 'I speak,'
    He might say too, 'They speak to me.'
    Skilful, knowing the world's parlance,
    He uses such terms as mere expressions.
DN 9:
  • Thus, Citta, there are these worldly expressions, worldly terms, worldly conventions, worldly concepts, which the Tathāgata uses without grasping them.
Compare with your man Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 120:
  • When I talk about language (words, sentences, etc.) I must speak the language of every day. Is this language somehow too coarse and material for what we want to say? Then how is another one to be constructed?—And how strange that we should be able to do anything at all with the one we have!

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: auto and 55 guests