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jts-khorat

Learning Pali

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I have just begun to read on Buddhist philosophy, finding it very intriguing and in many aspects very close to private thoughts I long held myself.

However, many of the concepts are frustratingly difficult to understand, as the English words used are fraught with meaning heavily colored by my own cultural background (eg European, Christian) and therefore in many instances misleading or even hindering understanding severely.

My questions:

Firstly.

How important have other members here found it to actually learn Pali to some degree and how much has it helped them in their understanding?

How far have they found it necessary to master Pali? Just basic vocabulary in English transcription or going further than that to maybe even reading texts in the original?

I am quite willing to learn all the way, if only just as a mind-expanding exercise, but asking for thoughts from members who have gone through some or all of the effort already.

Secondly.

As I am at a very early stage of learning, I use online sources only, many of them derived from this forum.

Are there good introductory sources of online language learning for Pali that have been helpful to members here? If not available online, are there books that have been helpful so I could order those?

Thirdly.

My learning progress and ultimate success will heavily depend on not doing it alone, and involving my current or future partners here in Thailand.

Are there sources that not only are English-Pali, but Thai-Pali in parallel (my Thai is pretty good in speaking and writing, so I am not limited here)?

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How important have other members here found it to actually learn Pali to some degree and how much has it helped them in their understanding?

How far have they found it necessary to master Pali? Just basic vocabulary in English transcription or going further than that to maybe even reading texts in the original?

I think learning Pali is really for advanced study. There are many good books on Buddhism that either explain the Pali terms used in the text or contain a glossary. One of the best books I've read is The Noble Eightfold Path by Bhikkhu Bodhi. That one, his Pali-English Glossary, and an English-Pali Dictionary are all available at BuddhaSasana.

My learning progress and ultimate success will heavily depend on not doing it alone, and involving my current or future partners here in Thailand.

Are there sources that not only are English-Pali, but Thai-Pali in parallel

P.A. Payutto has a Thai-English, English-Thai dictionary described here that might be useful. I find the Thai perspective on Buddhism is very different from a Westerner's, so it hasn't been of any help to me. You might be better off studying alone.

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Secondly.

As I am at a very early stage of learning, I use online sources only, many of them derived from this forum.

Are there good introductory sources of online language learning for Pali that have been helpful to members here? If not available online, are there books that have been helpful so I could order those?

Thirdly.

My learning progress and ultimate success will heavily depend on not doing it alone, and involving my current or future partners here in Thailand.

Are there sources that not only are English-Pali, but Thai-Pali in parallel (my Thai is pretty good in speaking and writing, so I am not limited here)?

2. Introduction to Pali by Warder is a good book for learning Pali. There is a copy in the Chula main library and you can get it photocopied. There is another Pali book in Thammasat main library, forgot the name of the book. It contains a word by word translation of short, famous sutta passages with a good grammar reference at the back. Good to start off with if the Warder book is too heavy.

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Thank you, camerata and grover, two very helpful responses.

Especially as the Thai perspective is so different it might be useful to at least trying to discuss this point. If this is possible -- as it is an extremely complex matter -- or finally helpful needs to be seen of course.

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I took a few courses in Pali and Sanskrit at university, and have found it helpful when mulling over some of Buddhism's central axioms, eg, in a few cases where the English seemed confusing or ambiguous (to me), reading the original Pali made the axiom more clear. As one example, in the thread on dukkha elsewhere in this subforum, to me the original Pali sabbe pi dukkham (all is dukkha) says more to me than the usual English translation.

For anyone with more than a passing interest in Pali Buddhism, I think it's worth the time and effort to master a few hundred Pali roots, understand the range of possible derivations from those roots, and learn the grammar (easier than Sanskrit, Latin or Greek). You may then find you can get the gist of many stanzas, do your own translating and maybe (!) get a clearer picture of the teachings. Perhaps it might also help some become a tad more confident about Pali Buddhist teachings, feeling closer to the 'source', in a way. :o

A basic aquaintance with Pali/Skrt also helps one follow the chants in Thai monasteries (though the Thai pronunciation takes getting used to).

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This thread is even better than one of Libya's.

Cameratas sig is better than yours, jasreeve17

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Hey,

Camerata, I agree with you that there are many great books and Pali translators out there (Bhikkhu Bodhi included), but there are also a bunch of bloody awful ones. The point is, jts-khorat, one has to be very careful with who they are reading. I can't recall his name off the top of my head, but one of the PTS translators was a theosophist, i.e. a total nutter, and one may reasonably expect that a few of his crackpot views made it into the PTS translations. Additionally, while IB Horner was an extraordinary scholar and a heroic woman, her strong role in the suffragette movement can be seen in her over-estimating the Buddha's social egalitarianism (and the same might be said for CAF Rhys-Davids).

Speaking for myself, I've found that learning Pali critically, meaning doing more than simply accepting the narrow definition granted in the PTS dictionary, has simply launched my study of Buddhism to an entirely new level. You will be blown away by how misrepresented Buddhism has been in some Western sources.

By the way Grover, Warder's is fantastic but a ###### tough one for a beginner! I would have certainly struggled very hard with it had I not had significant knowledge of the language beforehand. Jts-khorat, you might wanna check out the Pali Primer online at http://www.vri.dhamma.org/publications/pali/primer/

Also, if you want to work step by step on various textbooks with an online community, you can visit tipitaka.net.

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This thread is even better than one of Libya's.

Cameratas sig is better than yours, jasreeve17

:o Grover, That's just plain hurtfull!

& I thought that you buddhist folk were supposed to be kind.

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:o Grover, That's just plain hurtfull!

& I thought that you buddhist folk were supposed to be kind.

Well, I was going to post that quote about the swine and the pearls, but I figured this is a Buddhist thread, not a Jesus thread :D

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By the way Grover, Warder's is fantastic but a ###### tough one for a beginner! I would have certainly struggled very hard with it had I not had significant knowledge of the language beforehand.

Agreed. But once you make it through the very intimidating (unnecessarily so IMO) first lesson, the rest is easier. I had to read the 1st lesson over and over and over again. Pull out your best unabridged dictionary for this book, too.

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Speaking for myself, I've found that learning Pali critically, meaning doing more than simply accepting the narrow definition granted in the PTS dictionary, has simply launched my study of Buddhism to an entirely new level. You will be blown away by how misrepresented Buddhism has been in some Western sources.

That was the main reason for my question.

Already the most 'simple' (as in 'central to it') precepts of Buddhism seem to have sometimes near the opposite meaning as from what I understood about them before.

My hope is that with looking at the Pali words and their various translations I will gain a deeper understanding of what I have read first in English, as it is basically like witnessing a discussion between the different translators.

Some websites I have seen so far give different translations and I found (with other languages) that the best way to gain knowledge of the deeper meaning of a text is to go through the bloody hel_l of translating it yourself, maybe word for word and then try to see what was meant in addition to what others translated or thought about it in comments.

I am not in it for 'fast progress' but I am searching for a deeper understanding of myself, so it will be an investment in time well spent even if there is no 'result'.

And as I have no access to a teacher here on Phuket where I currently work this is as good as it will get for the time being anyway.

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My hope is that with looking at the Pali words and their various translations I will gain a deeper understanding of what I have read first in English, as it is basically like witnessing a discussion between the different translators.

I'd say that is a fair assumption.

A knowledge of Pali/Skrt can also be also immensely helpful in furthering one's Thai language studies, by the way.

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I am the author of some free software that handles multiple parallel dictionaries, including Thai, Isaan Lao, English, and a dozen other languages. It would be only a couple of days work to add Pali and another couple of days to add Sanskrit. However, these would be empty dictionaries, and would require effort to add words. There are currently 39,000 matched English/Thai words in the dictionary, but the other languages are much smaller. Each word in the dictionary can have a sound file and a grammar note to explain usage.

The software includes programs to update the dictionary, find words in various ways, and print reports in various ways (to look for errors).

There is also a learning program, Speak Easy, which can be adapted for each language. This is the difficult part, as it must be customised for each language. Currently I have Thai working and Isaan Lao in development.

It would be possible to create a workable Pali dictionary and a teaching program for the language, if anyone is interested in volunteering their time. I doubt this would become a marketable product, but it could certainly be useful for people wanting to learn the language, providing we could find an expert speaker of Pali to record the words.

Is this of any interest to anyone?

If so, we could discuss how to get started, the first problem being getting one or more usable Pali fonts, the second being finding a Pali speaker willing to spend many hours recording Pali words. The software and dictionaries are all free, but the source code is proprietary. My time (as programmer) would be donated.

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Thats pretty cool, Doug.

I just did a google on PALI ENGLISH DICTIONRY and the first entry that came up was an online version of the most famous PED by Pali Text Society. I mean to say that it is already available, but it doesn't have voice recordings as you propose. There is also font info on this website if you're interested. Cheers.

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