Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pālī Language

The language of ‘tipit᷂aka

It has been widely comprehended and accepted that Pālī is considered the language of Theravāda Buddhism [Orthodox doctrine of Buddhism] or tan᷂tibhāsā (conventional language) is identical or/and developed from an ancient dialect called ‘māgadhī’ (the dialect used in the ancient Kingdom of Magadha – one of the Indian political powerhouse in the time of the Buddha). Presumably He used the language to propagate his doctrine. It is believed, after the attainment of the complete liberation [nirvana], that Pālī has been used to preserve his teachings in the form of oral recital [muk᷂khapāt᷂ha] until later has been recorded in various actual alphabets throughout Buddhist traditions. 
However, this notion is merely accepted by the Theravāda school in which the idea evidently is gradually influenced and fully adopted as the revered language from at᷂th᷂agāthā scriptures [commentaries] which were mostly produced in 5th Century B.C. (Wannapok, 2010, 252). Western scholars like Maurice Walshe, in his ‘the long discourses of the Buddha’ translation, pointed out that “its exact origins are the subject of learned debate…it may be said that the traditional equation with the language of ancient kingdom of Magadha, and the assertion of Pālī is, literally and precisely, the language spoken by the Buddha himself, cannot be sustained. All the same the language the Buddha actually spoke was in all probability not very different from Pālī”. (Walshe, 1987, 48) Thus, the assertion of the confidence, in which the language was really spoken by the Buddha, from the Theravādin commentaries on such matter is still unclear.

Additionally, through various researches and studies on this particular matter in the history of Buddhism, it is uncertain to assert that the language used in ‘tipit᷂aka’ is possibly identical, influenced or developed from that of the dialect in the ancient kingdom of ‘Magadhī’, or any other dialects in the region. Furthermore, the precise meaning of ‘Pāli (Pālī) itself is still puzzled and debatable by scholars. Therefore, the confirmation of it as a name of one particular language is problematic. However, if this puzzle has been disentangled by some next wise scholar, it will definitely clarify the identity and status of the language used in ‘tipit᷂aka’ as well.
In this personal trivial space here, I would like to share some views from many prominent scholars on this matter.

‘Pālī’ is not a proper name of one particular language
Subhūtithera, who has collected a well-recognised Buddhist scripture called ‘abhidhānanap᷂padīpikāsūci’, provides tentative meanings of the term ‘Pāli’ (or Pāl᷂i) in 3 possible implications; 
  •  Pāl᷂dhama or Pariyat᷂todhama (the teachings or scriptures to be studied) from which the line appears that ‘pāl᷂iyā at᷂tham᷂ up᷂parik᷂khan᷂ti’ – [monks] contemplate the real meanings of the scriptures (teachings).  
  • Pāl᷂i – ‘Edge’ (for example an edge of a pond) – It appears in the scripture that ‘tal᷂ākas᷂sa pāl᷂i’ means ‘an edge of a pond’. 
  • Pāli – ‘Row or line’ as it is stated that ‘pāl᷂iyā nisīdim᷂su’ – [monks] seated in line.

Rhys Davids and Villiam Stede both have dedicated all their entire lives working on the Pali-English dictionary for the Pali Text Society have also provided some possible assumptions of the meanings of Pāli. Eventually the interpretation is, somewhat, identical with previous notion of Subhūtithera a ‘Edge’, ‘Line’, and ‘Scripture or Teachings’. Furthermore, Scholar like Sir Monier Monier, who devoted his time working on the Sanskrit – English Dictionary, suggested 6 possible meanings of this term as;

  •  ‘Edge of the ear’ or ‘Ear’ – (Basically it is medical term used by Ajan Suṥruta.
  •  ‘Edge’, which matches the second meaning provided by Subhūtithera.
  •  ‘Line’ or ‘Row’ such as ‘ratanapāli’ = ‘the row or line of gem’. This assumption matches the third meaning provided by Subhūtithera, and the first meaning provided by Rhys Davids and Stede.
  •  ‘Canal’ and ‘Bridge' 
  •  ‘A boiling pot’
  •  ‘Measuring standard’ which states that 1= parasatha

As we have learnt from mentioned views previously, there is no such firmed evidence to assert the status of Pālī as one particular spoken language. In addition, the prominent Sanskrit-English Dictionary merely suggests the implication of the word ‘bhāsā’ as ‘speech, language’. Especially in this context, it only refers to those of local dialects (prākrit) which widely used in ancient Indian context in the time of the Buddha opposite to Sanskrit- the Vedas holy language.

Achaic form of the Buddha's teachings collections

1. The ‘navaŋgasaṭthusāsanaṃ’ – The nine categories of the teacher’s teaching.

1.1 ‘sutta’ – teachings preserved in a pure prose form, the commentary describes them such as ubhatovibhaŋga – the ‘pāṭimoḳkha’ or the fundamental precepts from both sides (in this context presumably it is comprehended as that of both biḳkhu and biḳkhuni), khaṇthaka (miscellaneous), parivāra (epitome of the vinaya – or the accessory), nidesa (exposition), and several discourses in sutta-nipāta (one of the oldest collections of Buddhist discourses in the Pāli canon), as well as those other discourses that appear without ‘sutta’ word.

1.2 ‘geyya’ – the collection of teachings preserved in both prose and verse form. Likewise they are meant to be all discourses preserved in verse especially the last discourse in sagathavag̣ga – saŋyuṭtanikāya.

1.3 ‘veỵyākaraṇa’ – the collection of teachings that were commented in details by the commentaries mainly in prose such as ‘abhidhammapiṭaka’, some discourses without verse, and likewise other collection of teachings which were not fit in particular category.

1.4 ‘gāthā’ – the collection of teachings in pure verse form such as ‘dhammapadagāthā’, ‘theragāthā’, ‘therīgāthā’, and those pure verse in sutta-nipāta that appear without ‘sutta’ word.

1.5 ‘udāna’ – the collection of teachings which come in the form of utterance or expression of the Buddha and that of other foremost ordained disciples, mainly they were preserved in pure verse form.

1.6 ‘itivuṭtaka’ – the collection of teachings appeared as references presumably to the possible authentic words of the Buddha in a form of short passages such as the 110 discourses that begin with expression of ‘vuṭtaṃ hetaṃ bagavatā’ (this has been said by the blessed-one…).

1.7 ‘jātaka’ – the collection of teachings in mythical tales and legend – apparently those stories referred to past lives of the Buddha while accumulating perfection and sublime merit in ‘bhoṭhisaṭtā’ (sentient being who await to become Buddha) form before the achievement of enlightenment in this life.

1.8 ‘aḅbhutadhamma’ – the collection of teachings of supernatural power and magic of the Buddha and his foremost ordained disciples, for example the account of Buddha dwells inside his mother’s womb in which he is described sitting in a meditative posture, turning his face to the front, apparently depicted not tainted by blood and other kinds of liquid inside his mother’s womb est.

1.9 ‘vedaḷla’ – the collection of teachings in the form of question and answer- It literally means ‘gaining knowledge and joy’. In this context, it is explained that the Buddha’s audience continues endlessly questioning him, for it never stop entailing their joy and pleasure.

Therefore, the organisations of the teachings of Buddha of ‘nine categories’ seemed to exist by the time he was still alive before the emergence of tipṭaka later. Evidently it possibly is the most archaic form of collection of teachings in the history of Buddhism.

2. Another system is organised in another conventional form called ‘vag̣ga’ (chapter, volume) apart from ‘navaŋgasaṭthusāsanaṃ’ as mentioned previously. It is claimed that there is a tendency to assert that the teachings were collected in ‘vagga’ form – only the exact numbers was unclear. Evidently, the one and only, there is an account in ‘vinayapiṭaka’ described a story of soṇakuṭikaṇṇa biḳkhu, who is an acquaintance of venerable mahākaccāyana biḳkhu – one of the foremost ordained disciples of the Buddha, was once sent to the presence of the Buddha by his inceptor. His significant mission was to ask the Buddha for rescinding some of the miscellaneous monastic disciplines. The account was described that soṇakuṭikaṇna biḳkhu resided in the presence of the Buddha and gradually lauded his dignity in a chanting form called ‘aṭthakavag̣ga’ – the eight chapters collection.

3. The collection of teachings in a group or division – begins from ‘group 1 – group 10’. Evidently at one time the Buddha, after addressing monks, observed that most of his disciples still have the will to continue the dhamma talk with him. He then assigned one of his foremost ordained disciples – sāriputta to continue the discussion with those monks. In an account, it is asserted that sāriputta, rather concerning Buddhist issue, brought about the cause of the philosophical division of the nigantha (ascetics of Jainism – the founder is nigantha nāṭputra or mahāvira) shortly after the death of their master. Sāriputra pointed out [exemplified] that the major cause of theoretical and philosophical division inside Jainism school is because of mahāvira never thought of assembling his teachings into proper collection or system. He then urged, probably strongly suggested, those acquaint monks to considerate collecting and assembling the Buddha’s teaching into a systematic collection for the first time called ‘saŋgīti’ (assembly, collect). Those teachings then were organised in 10 groups which appear in ‘saŋgītiyasutta’ of ‘suttantapiṭaka’ discourse, volume 11.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Theravada Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism in Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Details are coming later....

Terminology used before 'tipitaka'

The tentitive organization of Buddha's teachings before tipitaka

In the time of the Buddha, most of his scattered teachings obviously were not recorded or organized and put into a proper system as today. Therefore, the existence of the ‘tipitaka’ is unacceptable. Nonetheless, they were at least two possible systems and terminologies used to preserve and refer to his teachings drawn from various sutta such as:

1. ‘ḅraḥmacariya’- (P. literally means - Live virtuously, or virginal conduct, or live like Brahma –God of creation) – However, what does it mean for Buddhist interpretation is that ‘to study and learn doctrinal metaphysics and virtuous conduct from Buddha’s teaching’. The terminology of ‘ḅraḥmacariya’ firstly manifested in the suṭta from Buddha’s utterance when he decided to send his first group of sixty monks to propagate his teaching that;
        “caratha biḳkave cārikaṃ bahujanahitāya bahujanasukhāya lokānukaṃpāya aṭthāya hitāya sukhāya devamanuṣsānaṃ desetha biḳkave dhaṃmaṃ ādikalyāṇaṃ maj̣jhekalyāṇaṃ pariyosānakalyāṇaṃ saṭthaṃ saḅyaṇ̌janaṃ kevalaparipuṇṇaṃ parisuḍdhaṃ ḅraḥmacariyaṃ pakāsetha.”
        “monks, you! go on a mission! for the great benefit and happiness of people, for the compassion (aid, support), for the benefit and happiness of gods (devā) and human. Monks! You teach! (propagate) the dhamma which is beautiful at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. You teach! (propagate) the ḅraḥmacariya (teaching, doctrine or sublime life- or God like-life: A.K. Warder; Introduction to Pali) possessed with pure and completed meanings and expression.”

Clearly, the terminology of ‘dhaṃma’ for teaching, or doctrine in the time that this notion was widely used to express theoretical ontology of various schools and well conceived in India more than twenty-five Centuries ago, is understandable. However, the reason of using ‘ḅraḥmacariya’ included in this significant mission is unclear. The hypothetical view that the Buddha might have adopted or loaned some terminology and expression used in Brahmanical doctrine which, however, still mainly dominated most part of Indian societies while seeking to create his own term to express it, is possible.

2. ‘dhaṃmavinaya’ p. literally means doctrine and monastic rules – This terminology had always been expressed to Ananda (his cousin, also well known as his personal secretary and care-taker). In the ‘mahāparibānasuṭta – s. mahāparivāraṇasūtra’, the Buddha expressed the significant clarification of who would be his successor after his attaining the complete extinction (nirvana) that;
    “yo vo ānaṇda mayā dhaṃmo ca vinayo ca desito paṇ̌ňaṭto so vo mamac̣cayena saṭtha”
       “Ananda! whichever dhamma and vinaya that has been expressed (taught) and legislated by me, that will be your teacher by the time of my extinction.”

Thus, both mentioned terminologies which expressed by the Buddha in the most two significant occasions, one shortly after he achieved the enlightenment, and secondly shortly before attaining the complete liberation, has proved that, for almost 45 years of the doctrine propagation, there were no proper and systematic assembly and organization of his substantial teachings into a practical collection. However, there is some form of evidence which at least shows that there had been an attempt (by some unknown disciple) to put his scattered teachings into collection, when he was still alive, called ‘navaŋgasaṭthusāsanaṃ’ which literally means ‘the nine categories (groups) of the teacher’s teaching’. What are those nine types of his teachings?

I will describe in details of this terminology in the next chapter.

The 'tipitaka'

The origin

The ‘tipitaka-tripitaka’ (Thaiพระไตรปิฎก) is accepted one of the major Buddhist scriptures in which is similar to that of The Bible of Christianity, The Koran of Islam, The Vedas of Brahmanism (Tri Vedas) and Hindu. Eventually, it is considered by most Buddhist traditions that it preserves the original teachings of Buddha, the historical Buddha Gotama (Sansakrit – Goutama) or Sakayamuni. The 'tipitaka' is recorded in Pali language - it is believed to be the simplification of Sankrit [it is widely used to preserve Mahayana Buddhist scriptures]. There is no clear evidence of Pali as the original language used for propagating his doctrine in his time. Merely the hypothetical assumption in which perhaps it is one of the dialects in India the Buddha chose to preach in order to avoid using Sanskrit which was widely revered in the Brahmanic society - the reason is still debatable. However, Pali is also indicates a significant hallmark and a unique trait of Buddhism it represents - Theravada Buddhism, Pali Buddhism, South East Asian Buddhism, and/or Orthodox Buddhism.
Literally meaning of the ‘Tipitaka’ (Pali – tipitakaṃ or tepikakaṃ) is derived from Pali words of ‘ti’ or ‘te’ means ‘three’, and ‘pitaka’ which literally is ‘basket’. The ‘Three-Baskets’ contains the teaching or words of the Buddha. However, the literal translation as ‘the three basket’ sounds odd for religious or doctrinal ontology, and its accounts containers. It creates a doubtful understanding for people in other traditions. The word ‘pitaka’ itself, in many regions, has been interpreted by the Pali atthagathacara (the commentaries or the Pali grammarians) in two interesting notions;
1. ‘pitaka’ as ‘ontology or scripture’. Clearly, the translation has been drawn from the Pali discourse itself that says in Pali that ‘ma pitaka saṃpadanena’ which is literally translated as ‘do not be attached merely by reading from scripture’. This notion obviously suits best for the general meaning of religious and doctrinal context, for it is more trustful and revered as common religious content is supposed to be.   
2. ‘pitaka’ as ‘container’ like basket which also appears in the Pali discourse that says ‘atha puriso agac̣cheyya kuḍdala pitakamadaya’ which means ‘then a man having carried a hoe and a basket comes this way’. Thus, the suitable meaning of the ‘tripitaka-tipitaka-tepitaka’ is ‘the discourse or scripture’ for it systematically organises and assembles most of the significant teachings and accounts of the Buddha and some of his major disciples into one system as if they were kept safely in the baskets. What are those three ‘pitaka’?

The Tipitaka
1. The Vinaya Pitaka (Pali) – It contains monastic rules and disciplines of bikkhu and bikkhuni (Buddhist monks both male and female) or some regulations that are legislated by the Buddha for bikkhu and bikkhu to practice and live in virtuous conducts.  Additionally the Vinaya also records monastic customs, traditions and indicates how the monastic administration and management should work.
2. The Sutta Pitaka (Pali – or Sutra in Sanskrit) – It refers to the general discourses, sermons, accounts and teachings of the Buddha and his major disciples for all kinds of people in various locations, places and circumstances. The Sutta is considered the longest text recorded in the ‘tipitaka’. The discourses have been recorded in all literally formations such as common conversation, actual sermon debate, and preach in both prose and verse, or some are the mixture of prose and verse formation.
3. The Abhidama Pitaka (Abhidarma – Sanskrit) - This scripture refers to pure Buddhist principles, philosophy and ontology in which it is believed to be recorded and organised in the most systematic and academic approach without any personal accounts or events included. They are mostly psychologist, philosophical and the metaphysics principles of Buddhism. Despite the most holy and supreme it sounds compare to the previously mentioned scriptures, it is considered by many Buddhist scholars that the Abhidama is not a genuine teaching that expressed from the Buddha himself, for the style of the language (Pali) used is considered much later. It is described as a master piece of literally works which written and established by an unnamed Buddhist authors around 3th Century B.C. in order to assemble the scattered Buddhist teachings and principles in a more systematic approach. However, the derivation of the complete tipitaka itself is also skeptical in which it never been mentioned in any Buddhist scriptures in the time of the Buddha. Therefore, the question is that how did the Buddha, his disciples and general Buddhists in India by that time organize, describe and put together a massive amount of those teachings proliferated and infiltrated Indian societies for at least 45 years since he first ‘set the divine wheel treasure of Dhamma in motion’ – (pavaṭtitapavaradhamacaḳko) into a practical and accessible system.  In the time when a proper writing system was not widely recognized and accepted, obviously a complete set of Buddhist scriptures did not exist until the latter half of the 3th Century B.C. (approximately around 300 years after the Buddha attained nirvana, niḅbana – liberation). In addition, there is no evident to prove that the Buddha himself is literate. It seems he did not write anything during his long teaching period. Nonetheless, there must have been some forms of an approach to preserve his substantial teachings and words for his disciples and Buddhist to recount when needed. However, the formation and actual forms should not be as it is now, but it is called ‘mukhapātḥa’ approach means ‘verbal recital’.  

Monday, January 3, 2011


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