A Rose by Any Other Name (sermon/talk/discourse)

In another thread, I made this observation:

And I notice that in Australia Bhante @Sujato gives Dhamma talks and that in Sri Lankan English the same Zoom event is a sermon. Also a result of the Victorian/Edwardian I expect.

I didn’t expect it to attract any attention, but since the topic sermon gathered traction the topic deserves a thread of its own.

In reposting I become aware that I made a general observation without providing any evidence: which is not a good thing to do! I went back to the seminar series and the first token I found is in the second video in this post at 1:24:38 where Bhante is thanked for “giving this sermon”. There are other instances during the eight-week series.

However there are also references to “this Dhamma session”, and I am in receipt of an email that refers to “the recording of the Dhamma Talk”. The event was advertised as a series seminars: so there seems quite a lot of variation.

1 Like

I think this is a result of it being a sermon. In my opinion, a talk is something you give at your garden club about how best to grow roses. A sermon is something that lifts you up according to religious principles. So calling it a sermon is not the result of Victorian influence. But calling it a talk is most certainly the result of “lets pretend we aren’t a religion” Buddhist Modernism.

Sri Lankan English is certainly a thing. But sermon is just standard English.


Not in Australia. In Australia Christians give sermons and Buddhists give Dhamma talks. That’s standard Australian English. I’ve not been back to England lately so I can’t speak for English/British English.

Forgive me Bhante, but there is no such thing as standard English, only standard dialects (as well as non-standard dialects; and the possibility of a standard international English emerging, but it’s not quite there yet).

I promise you, I know many Buddhist monks in Australia who give Dhamma sermons. When you say “Buddhists in Australia” I think what you mean is western convert Buddhists. There are plenty of Buddhists in Australia who don’t meet that definition and speak English.

What I meant by saying that “sermon” is standard English is that the meaning is the same across many forms of English. The use in Sri Lanka is not some idiosyncratic thing. It is in fact being used as the universal dictionary definition of the word.

Usually Dhamma desanā is how a Buddhist sermon given by a monk is described in Sri Lanka as far as I know. (sermon / teaching when translated into English is what I understand it to be). Calling it a “talk” in that community takes out the reverential aspect ( I.e. respect) which won’t go too well with the audience.


Interesting :slight_smile: … can you point to any online recordings?

Please follow this link. :pray:


I understand that the term dhamma talk (dhammakatha, cf anumodanakatha) is equally acceptable and polite in Pali and in English, dhamma talk or dhamma discussion being a very straightforward way of expressing these terms.


Yes, personally I don’t see an issue with either word ( what comes out is what matters to me :sweat_smile:). In my limited experience, I usually have seen it called a sermon when described in English. Maybe depends on the temple? Might be a generational thing with the use of the word sermon vs talk?

I listen to Bhante G and he describes his teachings talks so…🤷🏽

1 Like

My guess is that the Ajahn Chah tradition may have played a role in popularising the concept of the dhamma talk in the West (via term dhammakatha), if someone wanted a research project, they could try to find the date this term first entered Western Buddhist creole English?


I’m reluctant to continue discussing the word sermon (and it’s corresponding verb “preach”) since it’s kind of off topic for the thread. But I’ll just add that I find monks who are trying to appeal to a westernized audience (which could included Sinhala people) use the word “talk.” You have to keep in mind the context in which Buddhism came to the west, as well as pushed back against colonization in the east. Marketing Buddhism as “not religion” was a very common tactic. And if you call sermons sermons, well, then it’s hard to argue that you aren’t a religion.

The monks I know in Australia aren’t doing youtube videos.


I very much like the notion that Western buddhist creole English is a thing, but a quick dip into Google scholar suggests that at best it’s the next thing, as I found nothing. I’m past embarking on a new research project, but I think I might enjoy embarking on some unofficial data recording. … better to concentrate on learning Pāḷi!

@Suvira: I doubt it’s reached the stage of being a creole, as creoles need to have native speakers. More likely Western Buddhist jargon: which doesn’t have the same ring at all. :frowning:

POST EDITED after two days.


In Pāli there is the compound dhammakathā, the word ‘kathā’ (from katheti, PED gives “to speak, say, tell, relate”) can be translated as ‘talk’ or ‘discourse’.

In the Theragāthā: (#874)
“Disāpi me dhammakathaṃ suṇantu, disāpi me yuñjantu buddhasāsane…”
Let even my enemies hear a dhamma talk, let even my enemies engage in the Buddha’s teaching…


I see a subtle difference between talk, sermon and teaching, but I suspect it arises from my conditioned experience with science, religion and Buddhism.

When I think of a talk, I do think of a dharma talk. But I also think that a dharma talk can take different forms. For instance, I’ve noticed that many of the high profile western “Buddhist” dharma teachers often give dharma talks without ever mentioning or quoting a sutta. That’s why I prefer listening to monastics.

I also think of a TED talk and a lecture. The former is a persuasive argument and the latter might be more of a drier teaching.

To me, a sermon conjures up sitting in a Christian church listening to a pastor/preacher preach something to believe. When I think of the Buddha saying “Listen, bhikkhus, to what I have to say, pay careful attention” I think of it more as a teaching to understand something and how to follow his explicit instructions. Perhaps there is a difference or perhaps I simply don’t want them to be the same! :rofl:

1 Like

For what it’s worth, in translations from Chinese Buddhism, the common term I’ve seen is usually just translated as “lecture” (講).

Using a term like “sermon” seems more linked with Christian concepts about delivering an inspirational message to a congregation.

1 Like

I just thought of another example of Buddhistglish (Buddhist-almost-English):

Dhamma propagation


For me the most interesting aspect is, that we have many expressions by specific words, but each expression has a certain, and different connotation with it. So sermon and dhamma-talk bear in my ears different connotations of the characteristic of the moment, that some guest has been with.
And I’d like that the possibility to express such various connotations/styles is as variable as the smells of the various roses, so to say … - and may be preserved as long as possible.

This is not different from presentations of scientific stuff: there are talks, seminars, poster-sessions, powerpoint-presentations, expositions, open-space events (with strong reflection possibility for the guests).

So why not have (dhamma)-sermons, -talks, -expositions, even -revelations may come to mind :wink: -workshop, -tutorial , -discourse, … - as a repository of terms, which allow to denote (by a reporter) and to understand (by the interested) the characteristic of the event as specific as possible/as needed?

1 Like

What words get used in German, Nessie? And do you see different usages in Buddhist groups and Christian groups?

Hi Gillian - well I didn’t think this matter seriously before, so I need a time to think about your question. I’ll come back to this probably tomorrow after creative reorganisation of experiences in my mind :slight_smile:

1 Like