The Benefits & Drawbacks of Pali

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
danieLion
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 6:37 am

Ñāṇa wrote:
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!
:goodpost:
Thanks Nana.

danieLion
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 6:39 am

polarbuddha101 wrote:
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:
:goodpost:
Thanks PB101.

manas
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by manas » Sat Apr 06, 2013 8:49 am

How did Venerables Thanissaro, Bodhi, and others come up with all those wonderful translations, that we can compare with each other? They studied pali thoroughly and deeply, that's how. I admit I have relied on translations also for the vast majority of my practicing life, and still do. But I do intend to change that, although progress is very slow, myself being a householder with kids and all, but still I think we gain much from reading the texts in the original pali, hearing the word placements and the syntax, and learning gradually how to think in pali rather than just in English. I admit it's a long-term task, and that I've made some progress in the Dhamma (I hope) even knowing very little pali. Yes, that's true. But even so, I see it as a useful thing to study for all practitioners to whatever extent they are able, who wish to get a little bit closer to how the Buddha's words might have sounded. Closer...

As for the words pointing to concepts beyond words - well yes that's true, but we shouldn't let go of the raft until we've made it safely across to the other side. So in the meantime, words and their accuracy still matter.

:anjali:

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Mr Man
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by Mr Man » Sat Apr 06, 2013 11:36 am

danieLion wrote:
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.
So is that a yes?

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Kare
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by Kare » Sat Apr 06, 2013 1:48 pm

Whenever I see someone try to convince themselves and others of the unimportance of studying Pali, I can't help thinking of one of Aesops fables:

One hot summer's day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. "Just the thing to quench my thirst," quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: "I am sure they are sour."

:stirthepot:
Mettāya,
Kåre

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Kamran
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by Kamran » Sat Apr 06, 2013 7:57 pm

It was reading in Pali about metta meditation that Bikhu Analayo realized that the metta that he had been taught was not the same as in the suttas, and that the sutta method worked much better for him.

This set him on the path to learn source languages including Pali and Chinese and compare the sources against each other to glean new insights.

Even though he is an intensive scholar, Analayo spends 3 days in self-retreat each week, as well as longer retreats throughout the year, so it is possible to do intensive intellectual work, and still have the energy to advance in you practice.

As of yet, there is no English translation of the Agamas and the original Chinese can't be read by modern Chinese readers.

I believe there is a need for more people to learn the source languages, and I am thankful for those that have.
"Silence gives answers"

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

danieLion
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sun Apr 07, 2013 7:14 am

manas wrote:How did Venerables Thanissaro, Bodhi, and others come up with all those wonderful translations, that we can compare with each other? They studied pali thoroughly and deeply, that's how. I admit I have relied on translations also for the vast majority of my practicing life, and still do. But I do intend to change that, although progress is very slow, myself being a householder with kids and all, but still I think we gain much from reading the texts in the original pali, hearing the word placements and the syntax, and learning gradually how to think in pali rather than just in English. I admit it's a long-term task, and that I've made some progress in the Dhamma (I hope) even knowing very little pali. Yes, that's true. But even so, I see it as a useful thing to study for all practitioners to whatever extent they are able, who wish to get a little bit closer to how the Buddha's words might have sounded. Closer...

As for the words pointing to concepts beyond words - well yes that's true, but we shouldn't let go of the raft until we've made it safely across to the other side. So in the meantime, words and their accuracy still matter.

:anjali:
Are you you saying there's a nececessary connection between "the raft" and Pali?

danieLion
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sun Apr 07, 2013 7:15 am

Mr Man wrote:
danieLion wrote:
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.
So is that a yes?
Take it as you wish.

danieLion
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sun Apr 07, 2013 7:16 am

Kare wrote:Whenever I see someone try to convince themselves and others of the unimportance of studying Pali, I can't help thinking of one of Aesops fables:

One hot summer's day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. "Just the thing to quench my thirst," quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: "I am sure they are sour."

:stirthepot:
I didn't say studying Pali is unimportant.

danieLion
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Sun Apr 07, 2013 7:17 am

Kamran wrote:It was reading in Pali about metta meditation that Bikhu Analayo realized that the metta that he had been taught was not the same as in the suttas, and that the sutta method worked much better for him.

This set him on the path to learn source languages including Pali and Chinese and compare the sources against each other to glean new insights.

Even though he is an intensive scholar, Analayo spends 3 days in self-retreat each week, as well as longer retreats throughout the year, so it is possible to do intensive intellectual work, and still have the energy to advance in you practice.

As of yet, there is no English translation of the Agamas and the original Chinese can't be read by modern Chinese readers.

I believe there is a need for more people to learn the source languages, and I am thankful for those that have.
The Buddha and the dhamma are the "source," not a language.

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Mr Man
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by Mr Man » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:37 am

danieLion wrote: Take it as you wish.
Hi danieLion
I asked the question as I thought it was relevant to the OP and the topic not because it is relevant to me. Not sure why a straight answer is so hard.
:)

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Kamran
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by Kamran » Sun Apr 07, 2013 3:44 pm

danieLion wrote: The Buddha and the dhamma are the "source," not a language.
Unfortunateley, the Buddha is unavailable to answer questions because he died over 2,500 years ago :)

What we have, and interestingly, what are still being discovered, are documents which are the result of oral transmissions in various languages including pali, sanskrit, gundari, chinese, etc.

If interested, I would highly recommend Bikhu Analayo's comparative analysis lectures. I think the value of learning the languages that the dhamma has been written will be apparent when listening to this course.

http://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg. ... es2012.htm
"Silence gives answers"

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

danieLion
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Mon Apr 08, 2013 4:54 am

Kamran,
I've listend to about half so far. I feel annoyed that you presumed I hadn't heard of them, and their content has little to do with the importance of Pali. If anything, they de-prioritize Pali.

danieLion
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by danieLion » Mon Apr 08, 2013 4:58 am

Too many great Buddhist teachers have not mastered Pali--and many others have not even come close--for me to think it should be placed above using translations to guide our practice.

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mikenz66
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Re: The Problem With Pali

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Apr 08, 2013 5:17 am

Hi Daniel,
danieLion wrote:Too many great Buddhist teachers have not mastered Pali--and many others have not even come close--for me to think it should be placed above using translations to guide our practice.
I have mixed feelings about this. For me, I'd rather spend time on practice and reading than to spend a lot of time mastering Pali idioms.

However, for teachers it may be a different story. I presume that if you're talking about Theravadin teachers above you're referring mostly to non-monastic and presumably Western teachers. I've come across very few Bhikkus who don't have a reasonable knowledge of Pali.

While the recent fashion for historical and comparative studies is interesting, it doesn't change the fact that we have a complete Canon, Commentary, Sub-Commentary, and living tradition in Theravada. And most of that is quite inaccessible without Pali. I don't need to personally read all that, but I appreciate having the work of dedicated teacher-scholars (especially Bhikkhu Bodhi) who do, and have shared their knowledge in English.

:anjali:
Mike

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