If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.
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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by bharadwaja » Fri May 16, 2014 5:31 pm

Qianxi wrote:'bhāṇaka' is found on 2nd century bce - 1st century ce Prakrit donative inscriptions in Sri Lanka and on a couple of 2nd century bce inscriptions in India. Interestingly I think the Sri Lankan inscriptions imply that the bhāṇakas specialise in one Nikaya (Dighabhanaka, Majjhimabhanaka etc.), but in the Indian inscriptions they are just bhāṇakas without a specialisation.
OK thanks, if that was the case, I don't dispute that the bhanakas existed in early Buddhism, if they did exist in the BC era then I do accept that there may have been a bhanaka system. I dispute the interpretation that they were an independent oral tradition or by implication that they existed in the pre-writing era. The fact that they are found on inscriptions is itself the best proof that Buddhists used writing between 4th and 1st centuries BCE before the canon reached Sri Lanka. Most if not all the earliest writings of India from this era are Buddhist. I do accept that both in the Buddha's era and later, there were people who memorized some suttas verbatim. These would have predominantly been verse sutras, and not prose. Certainly the idea that people in the pre-writing era memorized large prose sutras verbatim, or even entire nikayas or pitakas verbatim, is fanciful.
EDIT: In MN 33 and its Chinese parallels http://suttacentral.net/mn33 there's reference to 'those who know the agamas, memorise the dhamma, memorise the vinaya and memorise the matikas' "āgatāgamā dhammadharā vinayadharā mātikādharā" (I may well be wrong with that translation, please correct me.)


There is also the compound pitaka-dhara found in post canonical texts and dhara (from the verbal root dhr- which means to bear) literally means "bearer" i.e. basket-bearer or container-carrier.

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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by ancientbuddhism » Fri May 16, 2014 6:09 pm

I don't think so. His arguments are shaky and one sided. Here are his principal arguments and why I think they are shaky. ...
The use of writing during this period is not so critical as whether the saṅgha used it. Is there any real evidence to suggest they did?

Also, a dhammadhara as one who remembers the Dhamma is just as figurative as piṭaka for the organisation of a greater collective endeavor of information to remember. Are there any real evidences you know of that indicate the use of dhara or piṭaka with reference to physically bearing and storing these texts? Otherwise your claim, although interesting, is truly as you say 'one sided'.
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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by bharadwaja » Fri May 16, 2014 8:44 pm

ancientbuddhism wrote:The use of writing during this period is not so critical as whether the saṅgha used it. Is there any real evidence to suggest they did?
In fact all the earliest manuscripts of India have some relevance to Buddhism or the other (and some are suttas)... can you explain that?
Are there any real evidences you know of that indicate the use of dhara or piṭaka with reference to physically bearing and storing these texts? Otherwise your claim, although interesting, is truly as you say 'one sided'.
Dhara can be used both for physical (literal) and non-physical "bearing". Piṭaka was never used in a non-physical sense in BCE India, can you prove otherwise?

Here are some quotes from Indian literature for your benefit...

Rāmāyaṇa, 2.33.5.1 - khanitra piṭake cobhe mamānayata gacchataḥ
Mahābhārata 1.57.20.2 - alaṃkṛtāyāḥ piṭakair gandhair mālyaiśca bhūṣaṇaiḥ
Laṅkāvatārasūtra 2.136.2 - tatra sarvakuśalamūlotsargaḥ katamaḥ yaduta bodhisattva piṭaka nikṣepo'bhyākhyānaṃ ca naite sūtrāntā
Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā 3.13.62.2 piṭakair avakīrṇo 'tipītalohitapāṇḍuraiḥ
Ānandakanda 2.8.35.1 asnigdhaṃ rūkṣamityuktaṃ visphoṭaṃ piṭakaṃ tathā
Revākhaṇḍa 191.23.2 dadrūpiṭakakuṣṭhāni maṇḍalāni vicarcikāḥ //

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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by ancientbuddhism » Sat May 17, 2014 2:51 am

In fact all the earliest manuscripts of India have some relevance to Buddhism or the other (and some are suttas)... can you explain that?
You would have to explain which of this ‘all’ and what relevance. There is relevance, I have argued as much myself, but that is another topic. The context of the question is evidence of the saṅgha using writing during the period discussed, which if I am understanding you would have been in use already by the First Council?
Dhara can be used both for physical (literal) and non-physical "bearing". Piṭaka was never used in a non-physical sense in BCE India, can you prove otherwise?

Here are some quotes from Indian literature for your benefit...
Actually piṭaka has little relevance (citing non-Buddhist texts does not make that either) to your claim, unless you can show where there is evidence in the EBT's, or paracanonical Buddhist texts referencing that period, that baskets of texts were being stored during the Tathāgata’s career (or just after his parinibbāna and before the first recitation), or hauled to Sri Lanka prior to the written canon we know of .

The use of dhara, with reference to doctrine is within the context of memory e.g.

58. <10> One should cultivate one of great learning, expert in the doctrine (dhammadharaṃ), a noble friend possessed of intelligence. Knowing one’s goals, having dispelled doubt, one chould wander solitary as a rhinoceros horn.” [Norman – The Group of Discourses (Suttanipāta 1.3) p. 7)

The idiom “Bahussutaṃ dhammadharaṃ …” is also at Th. 1035

And unless there is evidence suggesting otherwise, there is no reason to claim this is not with reference to an oral memory.

The practice of catechetical instruction was already known in the Nikāyas e.g. Samiddhi Sutta AN. 9.14, and many of the Tathāgata’s discourses likewise were interrogatory in style.
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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by Sylvester » Sat May 17, 2014 3:32 am

I thought that the existence and persistence of deictic pronouns in the suttas is taken by scholars to be evidence that the suttas were not set to writing until the oral forms had ossified and it became inviolable?

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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by bharadwaja » Sat May 17, 2014 2:11 pm

ancientbuddhism wrote:You would have to explain which of this ‘all’ and what relevance. There is relevance, I have argued as much myself, but that is another topic. The context of the question is evidence of the saṅgha using writing during the period discussed, which if I am understanding you would have been in use already by the First Council?
As I have said, all, if not most of the earliest manuscripts of India are Buddhist (and Buddhists, in the context of BCE India, means the monastic tradition). But it appears to me you are not familiar with early Indian epigraphy, so you are asking me which of this "all"? That the buddhists used written texts in the time of Ashoka does not necessarily have to mean they wrote/copied those texts themselves.

So, far from the wrong but common inference that the Buddhists did not use writing for the canon, it appears from extant archaeological and linguistic evidence that it was only the Buddhists initially, and the Jains after them, who used writing, and that too mainly to record the canon.
Actually piṭaka has little relevance (citing non-Buddhist texts does not make that either) to your claim, unless you can show where there is evidence in the EBT's, or paracanonical Buddhist texts referencing that period, that baskets of texts were being stored during the Tathāgata’s career (or just after his parinibbāna and before the first recitation), or hauled to Sri Lanka prior to the written canon we know of .
The fact is that the word piṭaka in ancient India (as evidenced independently above) was never used in a non-physical sense. Your claim is that in early Buddhism alone piṭaka was used in a non-literal sense, but I have already mentioned that the early buddhist canonical literature don't mention piṭakas at all (because piṭakas were not used to store dhamma texts in the Buddha's era). So even after this much clarification, you keep clinging to your misconception, I don't understand why. Besides it is not even an Indo-Aryan word, it is a Dravidian borrowing used in Pali & Sanskrit, cf. Tamil peṭṭakam
The use of dhara, with reference to doctrine is within the context of memory e.g.

58. <10> One should cultivate one of great learning, expert in the doctrine (dhammadharaṃ), a noble friend possessed of intelligence. Knowing one’s goals, having dispelled doubt, one chould wander solitary as a rhinoceros horn.” [Norman – The Group of Discourses (Suttanipāta 1.3) p. 7)

The idiom “Bahussutaṃ dhammadharaṃ …” is also at Th. 1035

And unless there is evidence suggesting otherwise, there is no reason to claim this is not with reference to an oral memory.
I have already mentioned that "dhara" can be used both for physical (literal) and non-physical "bearing". In fact dhamma itself is derived from the same root (dharma; dhar = "to bear"). So i don't see what your point is when you tell me what I already know and acknowledge.

Besides the above translation is a poor one... it translates this passage:

Bahussutaṃ dhammadharaṃ bhajetha
Mittaṃ uḷāraṃ paṭibhānavantaṃ,
Aññāya atthāni vineyya kaṅkhaṃ
Eko care khaggavisāṇakappo

Bahussutam = "hearing" much (a figure of speech meaning "knowledgeable")
dhammadharaṃ = upholding/bearing dhamma (this has nothing to do with expertise or memory)
bhajetha = trying to associate with

So unless you don't know Pali yourself, there is no point citing a poor translation as an authority to justify clinging to an erroneous belief[/quote]
The practice of catechetical instruction was already known in the Nikāyas e.g. Samiddhi Sutta AN. 9.14, and many of the Tathāgata’s discourses likewise were interrogatory in style.
And what is that supposed to prove except that the interrogation happened orally in the buddha's time? Does that prove that the suttas (particularly the prose suttas) were orally transmitted?

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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by ancientbuddhism » Sat May 17, 2014 5:31 pm

bharadwhatever wrote:As I have said, all, if not most of the earliest manuscripts of India are Buddhist (and Buddhists, in the context of BCE India, means the monastic tradition). But it appears to me you are not familiar with early Indian epigraphy, so you are asking me which of this "all"? That the buddhists used written texts in the time of Ashoka does not necessarily have to mean they wrote/copied those texts themselves.
Actually what you posted was…
bharadwhatever wrote:In fact all the earliest manuscripts of India have some relevance to Buddhism or the other (and some are suttas)... can you explain that?
The English is not clear, ESL perhaps? Nevertheless, if it is the earliest “Buddhist” manuscripts you are referring to as having relevance (to themselves?), what is your point? Can you show how ‘Buddhist’ manuscripts circa 1st century CE make your claim (see your post below) that the bhāṇakas were reciting from written texts. Also, are you indicating a 'Buddhist' written tradition prior to the parinibbāna of the Tathāgata and the recitations at the First Council?
bharadwhatever wrote:Bhanakas were not reciters from memory but readers from texts. In the early centuries of Buddhism not many could read aloud (i.e. recite) since most were illiterate, and those who could were held in high regard.

In the Vinaya I think, there is a story of Ananda correcting a bhanaka who reads out wrongly by mistake.
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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by bharadwaja » Sat May 17, 2014 7:14 pm

ancientbuddhism wrote:if it is the earliest “Buddhist” manuscripts you are referring to as having relevance (to themselves?), what is your point?
No that is not what I said. The earliest extant writings from India (from circa the era of Ashoka) are all (or mostly) Buddhist. What this means is that the Buddhists were the pioneers in the adoption of writing in India.
Can you show how ‘Buddhist’ manuscripts circa 1st century CE make your claim (see your post below) that the bhāṇakas were reciting from written texts
I didn't say that there were no buddhist manuscripts before the 1st century CE, but that seems to be your assumption. I simply said the bhāṇakas were not reciters from memory but rather literates who could (& did) read from manuscripts.
Also, are you indicating a 'Buddhist' written tradition prior to the parinibbāna of the Tathāgata and the recitations at the First Council?
I dont know if there was such a thing as the first council, because the canon itself is silent about it as far as I know.

If the vast majority of the canonical suttas were composed & recited at such a council for preserving them for posterity, they must have been immediately written down (by specialist scribes) in any script that was known/available.

But no I don't claim that there may have been a written tradition in the Buddha's lifetime.

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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by ancientbuddhism » Sun May 18, 2014 12:09 am

No that is not what I said. The earliest extant writings from India (from circa the era of Ashoka) are all (or mostly) Buddhist. What this means is that the Buddhists were the pioneers in the adoption of writing in India.
I didn't say that there were no buddhist manuscripts before the 1st century CE, but that seems to be your assumption. I simply said the bhāṇakas were not reciters from memory but rather literates who could (& did) read from manuscripts.
The reference to ‘manuscripts’ and ‘Indian epigraphy’ was unclear earlier. But working with what you have just given and with reference to earlier statements you made:

◦ If the bhāṇakas were reciting from manuscripts, what evidence can you provide other than to surmise that because a system of writing was in use during the ‘era of Ashoka’ that the early canon was preserved by the saṅgha in this way?

◦ Can you show that a writing system was introduced by the saṅgha (or 'Buddhists' on their behalf) for any purpose?

◦ When did the saṅgha begin using it?

◦ Did the saṅgha never use a mnemonic system with preference to a written one?

◦ I think you mentioned that others (not bhikkhus) were doing the work of recording and storing the materials for the bhikkhus to refer to; is there any evidence that shows this.
I dont know if there was such a thing as the first council, because the canon itself is silent about it as far as I know.

If the vast majority of the canonical suttas were composed & recited at such a council for preserving them for posterity, they must have been immediately written down (by specialist scribes) in any script that was known/available.

But no I don't claim that there may have been a written tradition in the Buddha's lifetime.


The canon is also silent about scribes and rubric manuscripts, but you seem convinced that this is the only way the canon was transmitted. I am not always satisfied with what tradition has given us, but this matter has adequate academic support, and you have not shown anything other than an interesting opinion thus far.
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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by bharadwaja » Sun May 18, 2014 7:04 am

ancientbuddhism wrote:◦ If the bhāṇakas were reciting from manuscripts, what evidence can you provide other than to surmise that because a system of writing was in use during the ‘era of Ashoka’ that the early canon was preserved by the saṅgha in this way?
The evidence is threefold:

The first evidence is that the canon was put in a linguistic form which was previously unknown & unused (which scholars today call middle-Indic), and most if not all this difference between the earlier language and the canonical language is due to the following:
1. Irregularities in orthography (i.e. deficiencies in the script)
2. Scribal errors
3. Later linguistic standardization

The second evidence is the presence of BCE era manuscripts containing both suttas as well as non-sutta texts.

The third evidence is a literal oral tradition (of the vedic kind) which preserves not just the content but also the language and the exact pronunciation of the language needs significantly advanced linguistic scholarship and tools which the Buddhist sangha did not evidently possess.
◦ Can you show that a writing system was introduced by the saṅgha (or 'Buddhists' on their behalf) for any purpose?
Yes because nobody else used much (or any) writing apart from the sangha in the first few centuries of writing in India. All the early written manuscripts are Buddhist, I dont know of the existence of any non-Buddhist written manuscripts from the Ashokan era (+ or - one century)
◦ When did the saṅgha begin using it?
My understanding is that they began using it when the suttas were composed (at the putative first council), because there is proof against the existence of an oral tradition.
◦ Did the saṅgha never use a mnemonic system with preference to a written one?
For the prose suttas - no.
For verse suttas - perhaps but not evident.
◦ I think you mentioned that others (not bhikkhus) were doing the work of recording and storing the materials for the bhikkhus to refer to; is there any evidence that shows this.
No, the texts were used by bhikkus but it is not necessary that the physical activity of "writing" was necessarily done by them, specially in the first few centuries of writing. The Milindapanha contains some evidence of this. There the bhikku Nāgasena (circa 150 BCE) tells king Milinda:

"yathā, mahārāja, yo koci puriso rattiṃ lekhaṃ pesetukāmo lekhakaṃ pakkosāpetvā padīpaṃ āropetvā lekhaṃ likhāpeyya, likhite pana lekhe padīpaṃ vijjhāpeyya, vijjhāpitepi padīpe lekhaṃ na vinasseyya."

My translation of the above: 'Great King, when a man, during the night, desires to send a written letter, and after having a scribe called, has a lamp lit, and gets the letter written. Then, when the writing has been done, he extinguishes the lamp. But though the lamp had been put out the writing does not disappear.'
The canon is also silent about scribes and rubric manuscripts, but you seem convinced that this is the only way the canon was transmitted. I am not always satisfied with what tradition has given us, but this matter has adequate academic support, and you have not shown anything other than an interesting opinion thus far.
I have just quoted a statement above from the Milindapanha (from the Khuddaka Nikaya) which shows that Buddhists in India were well aware of scribes and writing in 150BCE (and generally, but perhaps not always, used scribes to do the writing just as I had thought), and we have suttas & non-sutta manuscripts from the same period (and archaeology might yet yield us other canonical and non-canonical manuscripts in future).

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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by ancientbuddhism » Sun May 18, 2014 10:33 pm

bharad~ wrote:
AB wrote: If the bhāṇakas were reciting from manuscripts, what evidence can you provide other than to surmise that because a system of writing was in use during the ‘era of Ashoka’ that the early canon was preserved by the saṅgha in this way?
The first evidence is that the canon was put in a linguistic form which was previously unknown & unused (which scholars today call middle-Indic), and most if not all this difference between the earlier language and the canonical language is due to the following:
1. Irregularities in orthography (i.e. deficiencies in the script)
2. Scribal errors
3. Later linguistic standardization
Irregularities, errors and other anomalies would be expected with the homogenisation of several dialects into a single standard form, and could well “represent the remnants of recensions in other dialects, which has not been completely translated.” (Norman – 1983 §I). Even so, this proves nothing of a written translation into a Pāḷi standard.

We know that Pāḷi is a homogenisation of MIA dialects for ecclesiastical Theravāda purposes. That Pāḷi as a language of the Theravāda canon represents a homogamy of MIA languages written during the reign of Aśoka e.g. the epigraphy of that period, does not tell us that Theravāda bhikkhus (or others on their behalf) used a written form of it for the preservation of the canon.
bharad~ wrote:The second evidence is the presence of BCE era manuscripts containing both suttas as well as non-sutta texts.
Some citation is needed here. Are these with reference to non-Pāli Buddhist translations from MIA to Sanskrit during the reign of Aśoka? Please give some examples and how they are evidence of a written Pāḷi transmission.
bharad~ wrote:The third evidence is a literal oral tradition (of the vedic kind) which preserves not just the content but also the language and the exact pronunciation of the language needs significantly advanced linguistic scholarship and tools which the Buddhist sangha did not evidently possess.


Yet the saṅgha was not just preserving a language, they were constructing a language derived from several dialects. They undoubtedly possessed the ability. Earlier you dismissed the comment I made with reference to catechetical instruction used in the Nikāyas. Additionally, there is the practice of recitation found throughout the Nikāyas (Anālayo – Oral Transmission of Pāli Discourses, 2.2 Functional Aspects – The Reciters pp.17-19). This is evidence within the Nikāyas of at least the ability to an oral transmission.
bharad~ wrote:
AB wrote: Can you show that a writing system was introduced by the saṅgha (or 'Buddhists' on their behalf) for any purpose?
bharad~ wrote:Yes because nobody else used much (or any) writing apart from the sangha in the first few centuries of writing in India. All the early written manuscripts are Buddhist, I dont know of the existence of any non-Buddhist written manuscripts from the Ashokan era (+ or - one century)
In addition to the above request for references, can you cite any Buddhist manuscripts from this period, with reference to Pāḷi textual transmission?
bharad~ wrote:
AB wrote:When did the saṅgha begin using it?

bharad~ wrote:My understanding is that they began using it when the suttas were composed (at the putative first council), because there is proof against the existence of an oral tradition.
There is a pācittiya prohibiting the reciting of Dhamma from memory to the laity, which would preclude reciting to lay-scribes. So the saṅgha would have had to store and use writing materials themselves, of which we find no mention of rules for the acquisition or use of such requisites in the Vinaya. Even if this were possible, by your reasoning this endeavor of recording the suttas would have been well underway during the Tathāgata’s career of which we also find no mention of in any manuscript or written on any rock. So for you to say “proof” is QED at this point.
bharad~ wrote:
AB wrote: Did the saṅgha never use a mnemonic system with preference to a written one?

bharad~ wrote:For the prose suttas - no.
For verse suttas - perhaps but not evident.
Again, is there any evidence you can cite or reference other than your opinion?
bharad~ wrote:
AB wrote:I think you mentioned that others (not bhikkhus) were doing the work of recording and storing the materials for the bhikkhus to refer to; is there any evidence that shows this.
bharad~ wrote:No, the texts were used by bhikkus but it is not necessary that the physical activity of "writing" was necessarily done by them, specially in the first few centuries of writing. The Milindapanha contains some evidence of this. There the bhikku Nāgasena (circa 150 BCE) tells king Milinda:

"yathā, mahārāja, yo koci puriso rattiṃ lekhaṃ pesetukāmo lekhakaṃ pakkosāpetvā padīpaṃ āropetvā lekhaṃ likhāpeyya, likhite pana lekhe padīpaṃ vijjhāpeyya, vijjhāpitepi padīpe lekhaṃ na vinasseyya."

My translation of the above: 'Great King, when a man, during the night, desires to send a written letter, and after having a scribe called, has a lamp lit, and gets the letter written. Then, when the writing has been done, he extinguishes the lamp. But though the lamp had been put out the writing does not disappear.'
Reference to the Milinda-pañha and Nāgasena is rather late, but even if this exchange was current at the First Council it does not transport writing into the hands of the saṅgha simply because of Nāgasena's simile. Hypothetically, even if writing was done for them and the texts provided for their use, there is the matter of the above mentioned pācittiya on reciting to the laity. Granted, the laity could write down what they themselves heard – the Itivuttaka was remembered by a servant who memorised and taught it to the Queen – but the laity were not present at every discourse.
bharad~ wrote:
AB wrote:The canon is also silent about scribes and rubric manuscripts, but you seem convinced that this is the only way the canon was transmitted. I am not always satisfied with what tradition has given us, but this matter has adequate academic support, and you have not shown anything other than an interesting opinion thus far.
bharad~ wrote:I have just quoted a statement above from the Milindapanha (from the Khuddaka Nikaya) which shows that Buddhists in India were well aware of scribes and writing in 150BCE (and generally, but perhaps not always, used scribes to do the writing just as I had thought), and we have suttas & non-sutta manuscripts from the same period (and archaeology might yet yield us other canonical and non-canonical manuscripts in future).
These are all interesting opinions, but as you say, ‘archaeology might yet yield…’ something to back up your claim.
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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by bharadwaja » Wed Jun 04, 2014 7:55 pm

We know that Pāḷi is a homogenisation of MIA dialects for ecclesiastical Theravāda purposes.
Except that there were no "MIA dialects" in Ashoka's era (or before) that Pali could have been a homogenization of. The supposed distinction between OIA and MIA was totally unknown until about half a millenium after the time of the Buddha. Pali is the ‘mother’ of the MIA dialects (i.e. MIA evolved from Pali), Pali is not a standardization of some pre-existing MIA dialects.

Pali standardized several written variations of the same OIA (not MIA) words. The Pali forms of words was an artificial standardization meant to reconcile these variations (most of which were errors caused by the use of defective scripts) and make them look consistent.

There is no independent evidence for the pre-existence of a single MIA spoken dialect that Pali could have standardized.

Besides a close reading of Pali word-forms in Ashoka's edicts (particuarly the OIA words having conjunct consonants) indicates that the places where such conjuncts occur was usually marked by a dot.

So "Dharma" was written as "dha.ma" in Brahmi (not as dham.a, please note). This was interpreted by some (particularly in the later Theravada tradition as dhamma) however I have valid reasons to believe that the dot represents a conjunct rather than a geminate. To understand the history of Pali therefore needs an understanding of its earliest script (Brahmi).
That Pāḷi as a language of the Theravāda canon represents a homogamy of MIA languages written during the reign of Aśoka e.g. the epigraphy of that period, does not tell us that Theravāda bhikkhus (or others on their behalf) used a written form of it for the preservation of the canon.
It does not matter. We are dealing with written texts all along, it is the oral tradition which we have no evidence of.

The Milindapanha mentions not just writing but hints at a written tradition, by naming certain eminent monks who were formerly skilled in that art... writing therefore was not only used by monks but was a prized skill. Why should buddhists in the BCE era have given such importance to writing if they had an independent oral tradition?
Are these with reference to non-Pāli Buddhist translations from MIA to Sanskrit during the reign of Aśoka? Please give some examples and how they are evidence of a written Pāḷi transmission.
Your question shows an ignorance of the fact that there was no (phonetic) Sanskrit writing in Ashoka's time, and therefore no possibility of a translation from or to Sanskrit -- all written Sanskrit was of the middle-Indic kind (i.e. non-phonetic). Besides I assume by Sanskrit you mean Old-Indic generally, rather than Panini's grammatical standard of Old-Indic (i.e. classical sanskrit). Do not mix them up, they are two very different things.

All the phonetic transliterations (they were not really translations) back into Old-Indic happened a century or more after Ashoka, by when the brahmi script had evolved into a fully phonetic script.
Yet the saṅgha was not just preserving a language, they were constructing a language derived from several dialects. They undoubtedly possessed the ability.
Nope, there is no evidence of them constructing a language. They were artificially standardizing the different word forms found in various written texts (the suttas were not an ordered part of the canon initially, they were independent suttas). For example, dharma was sometimes written as dhrama, sometimes as dhama, sometimes as dhamma, sometimes as dharama, etc.

This in any case does not show they possessed an ability to orally transmit a large corpus of prose texts down several generations.
Earlier you dismissed the comment I made with reference to catechetical instruction used in the Nikāyas.....This is evidence within the Nikāyas of at least the ability to an oral transmission
No, catechetical instruction is no evidence of the ability of photographically memorizing thousands and thousands of pages of prose and of their unerring literal oral transmission. I don't see the connection. We all have the ability of an oral transmission, but of what? We can and do orally transmit nursery rhymes, but we cannot orally transmit a 1000-page prose book. The ability of an oral tranmission in general therefore proves nothing.
In addition to the above request for references, can you cite any Buddhist manuscripts from this period, with reference to Pāḷi textual transmission?
That is another topic altogether, I do not want to venture into that topic here. Pali manuscripts from India are in such short supply because there is a widspread misconception about the Buddha's geographical region (the region in which he lived and travelled). Archaeologists have been digging in the wrong places.

The few manuscripts that we have of BCE era Buddhism are in pre-standardized Pali (called by some as Gandhari). http://www.gandhari.org is a good online resource to look for information about them.
Again, is there any evidence you can cite or reference other than your opinion?
What kind of mnemonic system do you know of that the Buddha may have used?
Reference to the Milinda-pañha and Nāgasena is rather late, but even if this exchange was current at the First Council it does not transport writing into the hands of the saṅgha simply because of Nāgasena's simile.


There are more direct references to theravada scribes in the Milindapanha, like the one below:

“Long ago there was a master of writing named Tissa Thera. How can people know about him?”
“By his writing.”


So if the Milindapanha belongs to the 1st century BCE, then it refers to Tissa Thera as a master of writing long before that time.
Hypothetically, even if writing was done for them and the texts provided for their use, there is the matter of the above mentioned pācittiya on reciting to the laity.
No, there is no such pācittiya. There is one where it says a monk cannot chant with a layperson, but none that says a monk should not chant in front of (or to) a layperson.
These are all interesting opinions, but as you say, ‘archaeology might yet yield…’ something to back up your claim.
Archaeology has already yielded written BC era texts (both sutta and non sutta texts), visit the website I have mentioned above. What archaeology has not yielded yet is any evidence of an oral tradition.

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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by ancientbuddhism » Fri Jun 06, 2014 5:14 pm

bharadwaja wrote:Except that there were no "MIA dialects" in Ashoka's era (or before) that Pali could have been a homogenization of. …
Here again you regurgitate a cogent display of what you think, but these opinions are entirely your own without some evidence that would push back at tradition or the consensus of academia we have.
bharadwaja wrote:It does not matter. We are dealing with written texts all along, it is the oral tradition which we have no evidence of.

The Milindapanha mentions not just writing but hints at a written tradition, by naming certain eminent monks who were formerly skilled in that art... writing therefore was not only used by monks but was a prized skill. Why should buddhists in the BCE era have given such importance to writing if they had an independent oral tradition? …
What “written texts”? The religious tradition (Dīpavaṃsa, 20.20 – 21) refers to a written transmission just earlier to the same period as the Gāndhārī manuscripts (difference in geography notwithstanding). You cite again the Milinda-pañha and Nāgasena’s reference to “hints” of writing, but to use this as evidence of a written transmission of the Pāḷi canon, from the time of the Tathāgata through the first century CE, is specious.
bharadwaja wrote: Your question shows an ignorance of the fact that there was no (phonetic) Sanskrit writing in Ashoka's time, and therefore no possibility of a translation from or to Sanskrit -- all written Sanskrit was of the middle-Indic kind (i.e. non-phonetic). …
Your ad hominem aside, our exchange was actually this …
bharadwaja wrote: The second evidence is the presence of BCE era manuscripts containing both suttas as well as non-sutta texts.
AB wrote:Some citation is needed here. Are these with reference to non-Pāli Buddhist translations from MIA to Sanskrit during the reign of Aśoka? Please give some examples and how they are evidence of a written Pāḷi transmission.
… and the request for citing references still remains avoided by you. Unless you are referring to the Gāndhārī manuscripts, which supports my argument rather than yours wrt a first century CE Buddhist written tradition (the argument is not whether a system of writing existed earlier or at the time of the Tathāgata’s career, but whether a system of writing was used by the saṅgha at that time).
bharadwaja wrote:Nope, there is no evidence of them constructing a language. …
Whether to ‘construct’ or form a ‘composite of dialects’, has been a useful explanation given for over a century now (T.W. Rhys Davids – K.R. Norman et al) But to prevent this discussion from circular arguments to no end, it may be easier to set aside that you prefer your own theories than accepted scholarship on topic. What could inform the discussion is if you could provide evidence for your opinion, other than simply restating your opinion?

Otherwise, that catechetical instruction was used in the Nikāyan period is evidence of ability for an oral transmission, in the lack of anything you can conjecture otherwise, simply because you cannot think it possible.

When I asked for references citing Buddhist manuscripts you alluded to as “proof” of a written transmission from the time of the Tathāgata, you give this:
bharadwaja wrote:That is another topic altogether, I do not want to venture into that topic here. Pali manuscripts from India are in such short supply because there is a widspread misconception about the Buddha's geographical region (the region in which he lived and travelled). Archaeologists have been digging in the wrong places.

The few manuscripts that we have of BCE era Buddhism are in pre-standardized Pali (called by some as Gandhari). http://www.gandhari.org is a good online resource to look for information about them.
Your priceless contributions to Indo-Aryan philology and archaeology aside, I wondered earlier in this thread if the Gāndhārī manuscripts were on your mind. I understand why you did not want to bring them up earlier considering that they do not meet your argument wrt their dating circa first century CE.
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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by bharadwaja » Sat Jun 07, 2014 9:59 pm

ancientbuddhism wrote:
bharadwaja wrote:Except that there were no "MIA dialects" in Ashoka's era (or before) that Pali could have been a homogenization of.
Here again you regurgitate a cogent display of what you think, but these opinions are entirely your own without some evidence that would push back at tradition or the consensus of academia we have.
Really? Can you name some of the distinct dialects that were present in BCE India, and referred to in the literature (either Buddhist or non-Buddhist) of that era? Has any scholar found the name/grammar/dictionary (from BCE) of a single MIA dialect?
bharadwaja wrote:It does not matter. We are dealing with written texts all along, it is the oral tradition which we have no evidence of…
What “written texts”?
The Pali canon itself is for the last 2000 years a compilation of written texts, and we know this for a fact. The null hypothesis is that it was a written compilation not just for the last 2000 years, but for its entire existence (because there is nothing that we know of that indicates that writing was unknown to Buddhism until the advent of the current era).

That null hypothesis can be challenged (and falsified) by an alternate hypothesis (that some/all parts of the canon may have once been oral). The evidences for the alternative hypothesis are completely absent. We have some specious speculations that the Vedic canon's oral tradition was a precedent that may have been used by the Buddhists too. Anything else?
Whether to ‘construct’ or form a ‘composite of dialects’, has been a useful explanation given for over a century now (T.W. Rhys Davids – K.R. Norman et al)
That is funny, have you read Norman's papers on 'A philological approach to Buddhism', especially the paper 5 which deals with the BCE written tradition? Much (but not all) of what Norman says about the canon being formerly (i.e. before it reached its current 'Pali' form) written in an imperfect script, is bang on!
Otherwise, that catechetical instruction was used in the Nikāyan period is evidence of ability for an oral transmission, in the lack of anything you can conjecture otherwise, simply because you cannot think it possible.
That is your own speculation, and it does not even seem to make sense. You don't seem to know what an oral transmission involves, try understanding how it works before you repeat the same thing again. For your information, I have taken the pains of observing/understanding exactly how the Vedic oral tradition worked (and works, for it is still extant).
Your priceless contributions to Indo-Aryan philology and archaeology aside, I wondered earlier in this thread if the Gāndhārī manuscripts were on your mind. I understand why you did not want to bring them up earlier considering that they do not meet your argument wrt their dating circa first century CE.
They are not just from the 1st century CE. The earliest available Buddhist manuscripts in the Gandhari script are dated to the 1st century BCE. This does not mean there were no manuscripts before the 1st century BCE, but that they are still not excavated. Pali manuscripts from this period are by comparison, conspicuous by their absence.

I don't think you would claim from the presence of 7th century Pali manuscripts that writing was not used until then?

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Re: If not sure about authenticity, compare with the suttas?

Post by ancientbuddhism » Sun Jun 08, 2014 7:57 pm

bharadwaja wrote:Can you name some of the distinct dialects that were present in BCE India, and referred to in the literature (either Buddhist or non-Buddhist) of that era? Has any scholar found the name/grammar/dictionary (from BCE) of a single MIA dialect?
The study of dialects does not necessarily have the same convenience of organisation as established languages. The study is more complex and nuanced than one may expect to find of a language given a “name/grammar/dictionary”. Norman considers himself an expert in MIA dialects “used primarily in North India between about 500 BC and 1000 AD…” (Norman, 1994, p. 7). He is extensively published, but the lecture series I mentioned earlier would be well worth your time to read as an overview.
bharadwaja wrote:The Pali canon itself is for the last 2000 years a compilation of written texts, and we know this for a fact. The null hypothesis is that it was a written compilation not just for the last 2000 years, but for its entire existence (because there is nothing that we know of that indicates that writing was unknown to Buddhism until the advent of the current era).
This is just restating the opinion you have given. It remains a baseless claim.
bharadwaja wrote:The evidences for the alternative hypothesis are completely absent.
We have what the religious tradition (Dīpavaṃsa, 20.20 – 21 and commentaries) has given. Which is by far better than criticising archeology for 'digging in the wrong places' for what you lack.
bharadwaja wrote:That is funny, have you read Norman's papers on 'A philological approach to Buddhism', especially the paper 5 which deals with the BCE written tradition? Much (but not all) of what Norman says about the canon being formerly (i.e. before it reached its current 'Pali' form) written in an imperfect script, is bang on!
Now I am really confused. Earlier, you said of Norman:
bharadwaja wrote:His arguments are shaky and one sided.
I have no idea what paper you were reading, but in the one you just cited, Norman defers to the Dīpavaṃsa and commentarial Theravāda tradition wrt the historical period and manner in which the tipiṭaka was written (circa 100 BCE).
  • “There is, however, little doubt that we can accept that the writing down of the tipiṭaka during the reign of Vaṭṭagāmiṇi Abhaya was an historic fact.” (Norman – 1994, p.78)
wrt catechetical instruction and oral transmission:
bharadwaja wrote:That is your own speculation, and it does not even seem to make sense. You don't seem to know what an oral transmission involves, try understanding how it works before you repeat the same thing again. For your information, I have taken the pains of observing/understanding exactly how the Vedic oral tradition worked (and works, for it is still extant).
But it still remains a ‘working’ hypothesis to the baseless claim that simply because there is no evidence of a structured system for oral transmission of the pāḷi canon, as there is with the Vedic, that the former cannot have existed.

wrt dating of the Gāndhārī Buddhist manuscripts:
bharadwaja wrote:They are not just from the 1st century CE. The earliest available Buddhist manuscripts in the Gandhari script are dated to the 1st century BCE. This does not mean there were no manuscripts before the 1st century BCE, but that they are still not excavated. Pali manuscripts from this period are by comparison, conspicuous by their absence.

I don't think you would claim from the presence of 7th century Pali manuscripts that writing was not used until then?
This is just wishful thinking. To say that “This does not mean there were no manuscripts before the 1st century BCE, but that they are still not excavated.” Couples with your earlier claim that “Archaeologists have been digging in the wrong places.”
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