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Re: [Pali] Hello, i'm new to this group and would like to ask afew questions.

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  • Piya Tan
    Robert, Thank you for your insightful answer, which I really enjoyed reading and agree with. P.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 10, 2002

      Thank you for your insightful answer, which I really enjoyed reading and agree with.


      Robert Eddison wrote:

      > Samatha Savaka wrote:
      > > Hello everyone, i'm new to this mailing list, i don't know Pali or
      > >Sanskrit or Chinese, even though i have a few friends who do.
      > >i was inclined to join this e-group because of some inquiries i have
      > >regarding translations from the Nikayas.
      > >Also, english is not native languange, spanish is, so excuse me if my
      > >grammar is not proper.
      > >Here are the questions i'd like to ask:
      > Welcome to the list.
      > >1. if a Jain can use Attan to mean Soul, how come a Buddhist can only
      > >use Attan as himself, herself, oneself, etc... ?
      > In fact both usages are found in Buddhist texts. The only difference is
      > that when it is used in Buddhist texts to mean soul it will generally be
      > part of some passage in which soul theories are rejected, whereas in a Jain
      > text the soul's existence will be asserted. (By the way, although a few of
      > the older Jain texts use aya -- a Prakrit cognate of attaa -- for the soul,
      > the vast majority always use jiiva).
      > As for the use of attaa for the reflexive pronoun, this is not limited to
      > Pali Buddhist texts. You will find exactly the same usage in texts written
      > in other Indian Sanskritic and Prakritic dialects, no matter whether their
      > authors are Buddhist, Hindu or Jain.
      > Even in a Hindu text that does propound a soul theory, if the text in
      > question has a lot of narrative content (e.g. the Bhagavad Gita,
      > Ramayana, Avadhut Gita and suchlike), you will find that the Sanskrit
      > "aatman" more often functions as a reflexive pronoun than as a word for the
      > soul.
      > Example:
      > Siitaa-devii praaptaprasavavedanam AATMAANAM atidu.hkhasa.mvegaad
      > Gan.gaa-pravaahe nik.siptavatii
      > "Queen Sita, when the pangs of childbirth were upon her, in the extremity
      > of her suffering, threw *herself* into the Ganges."
      > >2. When the nikayas were recorded using Pali, was there an agreement
      > >on the cognitive level of the times which dictated that if you were
      > >Buddhist and said the word Attan that that meant something else
      > >besides Soul and that if you were a Jain Attan was indeed Soul?
      > I wouldn't put it like that. The word attaa/aatman must have had some
      > generally accepted denotations, else it would have been impossible for
      > Buddhists, brahmins and Jains to talk to each other on the subject. On the
      > other hand each sectarian group had its own take on what precisely the soul
      > was, or on whether such a thing existed.
      > >3. In spanish, when i say Espiritu (Spiritus, Spirit), the word's
      > >meaning remains the same regardless of wether or not i believe in a
      > >Espiritu. How come in Pali is different?
      > In English when I say 'spirit' I might well be referring to gin, whiskey,
      > vodka and suchlike. Strangely, when Germans say 'Geist' (spirit) they never
      > mean anything of the sort. How come German is different?
      > What exactly are you asking here? How come Pali isn't the same as Spanish?
      > And are you seriously suggesting that in Spanish each word has only one
      > meaning? I find it hard to believe the language could be that impoverished.
      > In the case of espiritu does it not also mean espectro, ánimo, alma,
      > respiraci├│n.... ?
      > The point to note is that Pali, Sanskrit and related languages didn't have
      > any words that corresponded exactly to reflexives such as 'myself',
      > 'himself', 'oneself' etc. So in order to convey the idea of reflexivity (of
      > an action falling back upon the agent) some other method had to be
      > employed. One was to use the indeclinable particle saya.m ('by oneself').
      > The other, much more common way, was to use attaa.
      > >4. Is there any possibility that such strange characteristics of the
      > >Pali languague regarding the word Attan arise due to sectarian
      > >interpretations and that are not instrinstical problems of the
      > >languague itself?
      > As noted above, it is not a strange characteristic of Pali, but a shared
      > feature of Aryan languages in the Indic group. It is very rare that
      > sectarian concerns determine the everyday conventions of usage in any
      > language.
      > >5. How come many Pali translators, like Bodhi, or Nyanatiloka, use
      > >Anatta as if to describe what the Attan is not?
      > Firstly because this is linguistically correct. Secondly because both of
      > the above translators subscribe to the mainstream Buddhist interpretation
      > of anattaa, and not to any of the heterodox variants (e.g. those of the
      > Puggalavadin schools in bygone days, or of Rhys Davids, George Grimm and
      > Ven. Thanissaro in more recent times).
      > >What use would there be to state what the Attan is not if all the word
      > >Attan meant was: himelf, oneself, herself, etc... within the Buddhist
      > >context?
      > But whoever made such a claim? Though "himelf, oneself, herself, etc" are
      > probably the most common meanings of attaa in narrative passages, they
      > don't by any means exhaust the range of applications this word has in Pali.
      > >What use would there be to say that the 5 skandhas are Anatta if
      > >there was no Attan at all?
      > Because worldlings don't know that there's no attaa at all and this
      > non-knowing leads them into suffering.
      > Best wishes,
      > Robert
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