Re: [Pali] 7 factors of enlightenment, vitakha and vicara
- "yet because the Buddha's framework was vague enough all of those interpretations have
"Dhammo svaakkhaato" -- Dhamma well-expounded.
Interpretations have NO merit. Dhamma is not for interpretation. It is for seeing by oneself (sandi.t.thiko)
D. G. D. C. Wijeratna
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- Hi Stefan,
Thanks for your answer. Although we are not going to solve this perplexing issue through emails, I would make the following observations:
>1. A 45th century future scholar of English might look at the jumble offorms, vocabulary >and grammar in modern English and wrongly conclude it
was a composite language.
I think most linguists agree that English is in fact a composite language of Old German and Old French with some Greek and other foreign words added in. But you're right, that doesn't mean it's not an oral language. To a certain extent all languages are composites as they borrow from languages around them. The difference with Pali is that we haven't been able to localize where it was spoken.
>2. If, by "scholarly language", you mean a written language, this looksterribly unlikely. A >written scholarly language would be like classical
Sanskrit with variant forms reduced and >clear rules of sandhi. I think
Pali has the hallmarks of a real spoken language, with variant >forms
and chaotic sandhi.
If Pali was a spoken language the first question is where? It has the hallmarks of a western language (not an eastern), and is closest to Asoka's rock edict at Girnar (in the west), but not identical. We know it is quite different from Maagadhii and Ardha-maagadhii which are the languages the Buddha probably would have spoken (or Kosalan, if that is different).
Various scholars have suggested that Pali was a scholarly language (Geiger), an artistic language (Bechert) or a lingua franca (H. Smith). My own feeling is that it was probably a lingua franca - a dialect that combined various dialects so that it was intelligible to people from many different dialects. A lingua franca, is of course a spoken language.
>3. Scholars are cheerfully supposing Sanskritisms, but these formscould have evolved >from Vedic and be normal spoken variant forms.
It is unlikely. In historical linguistics there is this concept called "directionality" which tells you in which time direction changes take place. This is usually towards simplification. It certainly was in the case of the Prakrits evolving from Vedic. We have lots of evidence of this simplification. For example the absolutive end in Skt. went from tvaa> -ttaa in the Prakrits, by natural phonological rule of simplifying conjuncts. But in Pali it was changed back to -tvaa so as not to confuse it with agentive nouns like kattaa ("maker, doer") which have the same ending. So we know the re-Sanskritization came later than the simplification. So the time sequence went Skt. k.rtvaa (absolutive of k.r "to do") changed to Prakrit > kattaa and was later changed back to katvaa in order to distinguish it from kattaa which means "doer" from the Skt. kart.r (nom. sing. form = kartaa changing in Prakrit to kattaa). See Von Hinueber, "The Oldest Literary Language of
Buddhism", page 188 in his Selected Papers on Pali Studies.
>4. the earliest evidence for "Eastern" and "Western" dialects comesfrom the Ashokan >edicts, which were written 150 years or more after the
Buddha. English has changed >significantly in the past 150 years and I
presume the Prakrits of northern India would have >too. That a prakrit
is found recorded in Western part of India does not mean it originated
>there; the BBC uses baseball terms all the time, but no-one in Englandplays the game. >Pali could have been pushed out of common parlance in
central India by the power and >prestige of Magadha 150 years later,
just as British English is giving way to American >English.
Yes, the Asokan edicts postdate Buddha by at least 100 years. We just don't have any evidence that Pali was spoken in the east and then later supplanted by Magaadhii and pushed to the west of India. A more plausible answer is that Pali was a lingua franca which combined elements of both east and west dialects (and northern too, for that matter) so that all could understand. That hypothesis means it could indeed have been a dialect spoken by the Buddha (in a form that everyone could understand). However, we have no proof of that. In my previous emails, I have tried to show, that if you compare Pali and some other surviving dialect forms of the Buddha's teachings, it suggests that there was a common form underlying both, which I would suggest is the "lingua franca" that may have been spoken by the Buddha. It is the only thing that would explain the different forms that have survived. I agree that Buddha wanted his teachings memorized and that in principle
his followers were quite capable of doing it (as that was their tradition, since the Vedas were learned that way), but it doesn't appear that they were transmitted exactly over the 300 years from this death to Pali being written down. There are too many variants in the Pali and in parallel Sanskrit forms. Just to take one example, in the Mahaparinibbana sutra, there is a word vedha-missakena (DN II, 99; "combined with straps" the Buddha is talking about his body falling apart as he is 80 years old) which has five variants for the word vedha- (ve.tha, ve.lu, vegha, vekkha, vekha). The parallel Skt. form has something phonologically related, but different: dvaidha-ni`srayena. The only way to explain this variation is by positing an underlying form common to both. I suppose one could say that the Pali is correct and the Buddhist Hybrid Skt. form is wrong, but which of the six different Pali forms is right? Commentators have been arguing about it since
>5. The bhaanika system allowed the huge corpus of Pali to be transmitted orally. Why >should Pali be different from the Vedas?Yes, but obviously errors in the transmission happened. See Norman's Philological Approach to Buddhism, chapter on Buddhism and Oral Tradition, "...despite the care which the bhaa.nakas may be assumed to have taken in reciting the texts allotted to them, it is inevitable that mistakes would creep into the tradition by reason of the type of error which is inherent in oral recitation, particularly when monks from different parts of India, with different pronunications of Paali, were assembled together" (page 73 in my copy). Later in the book (page 179) he makes the point that the bhaa.naka system is not coincident with the First Council (when there was no such thing as Nikaayas), and probably quite a bit later - i. e. more time for errors to creep in.
>6. An oral tradition recited communally by wandering monks from variousparts of India >will not change easily as the deviations will stick out
like a sore thumb. The huge number >of stock phrases, repetitions and
the commentarial tradition all suggest that the Pali >suttas were an
I myself agree that, even if Pali is a scholarly, literate form of the language as some maintain, it definitely preserves an oral tradition. As you say, there are too many oral elements in the suttas for it to be anything else
>7. It is only difficult to reconstruct what happened if the simplerthesis, that the Buddha >spoke Pali, is put aside. The problems of
different readings by different scribes is a >feature of a written
tradition at least 300 years after the Buddha, not of an oral
tradition, >which I think Pali was.
I fear that it is not primarily a scribal issue, but an oral transmission issue. Because the monks were all from different parts of India, and there were different dialects in different areas, they pronounced the words differently and that's the source of the variants. Norman suggests (in his article "The dialects in which the Buddha preached") that the Buddha may have spoken several different dialects depending on who he was speaking to and that's the source of the variation. In that case he says,
"since it seems probable that some of the Buddha's sermons were uttered in the fifth century form of Maagadhii, and others in related dialects, it is, broadly speaking, correct to call the Buddha's language Maagadhii. Since it seems likely that Pali was spoken somewhere within the boundaries of Magadha, and was related to Maagadhii, it is, again broadly speaking, correct to call the language of the Theravaada canon Maagadhii, as long as we remember that we are in fact referring to two different phases of Middle Indo-Aryan, more than two centuries apart." (page 146 in my copy). [Buddhaghosa called the language of the canon Maagadhii, in his commentary]
In other words, if Buddha spoke in several dialects, then it was just an accident of history (Asoka sending his son to Sri Lanka) that resulted in Pali being preserved over the other dialects (only parts of which have survived, from central India, Gandhari, and parts of west China).
Hope that gives you some food for thought. Thanks for the interesting discussion,
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