Ancient Greek Monks & the Writing of the Pali Canon: Recent Research by Ajahn Sona

The Buddha in fact did not speck Pali or Gandhari. All extant EBTs, such as the principal four nikayas/agamas, are just sectarian texts, some edited or collected early, some later. EBTs in history only can be identified as essential or non-essential teachings of Early Buddhism.

Sure, I didn’t say the historical Buddha spoke Pali or Gandhari. In fact we know that he didnt speak them. He must have spoken an underlying Indo-Aryan language that the Gandhari EBTs and the Pali EBTs and the BHS EBTs were trying to approximate.

However Pali and Gandhari represent the linguistic registers of two of the most prominent/earliest surviving EBT rescensions (the Pali canon and the Gandhari Buddhist texts). It is known for some time now that Pali approximates the language of the Girnar edicts of Ashoka. Gandhari, on the other-hand belongs to the north-western region of the Indian subcontinent (directly well north of Girnar) - that would put Pali and Gandhari (and their known locations) in a direct South-North positon to each other respectively, exactly as the passage in the MN140 says about Rājagaha and Sāvatthī - see my post above. Moreover Girnar happens to be one of the oldest and most important pilgrimage centre of the Jains (which is as it should be if Girnar was the historical Girivraja/Rājagṛha).

Nothing (in my understanding) connects Magadha, Mauryans, Girivraja (Rājagṛha) & Pāṭaliputra more securely to one another than the Major Rock Edict 5 of Ashoka at Girnar.

I’ve never heard or seen a thesis like this. Rājagṛha has always been associated with modern day Rajgir, of course in roughly the same area, not pin-point exactly. Girnar is much further West than the Madhypradesa as it is traditionally understood without exception, in my experience. Honestly I’m not following your line of thinking at all here; all the other places of the EBTs are in traditional Magadhan/Kosalan region in ~North-East India.

Are there any scholars who disagree with this and have written on it, especially any who associate the further West (and areas like Girnar) with the historical Buddha’s stomping grounds? Could you provide resources if so?


The first 30 or so minutes of this lecture by Jan Nattier has a fascinating discussion of how and why the writing down of the Pali canon occurred at the margins of India first, Gandhara and Sri Lanka.


Whether or not the Buddha spoke Pali certainly seems still up for debate- Richard Gombrich wrote a book a few years ago claiming that he possibly did.


Sorry for the long response, there is a huge amount of information that one needs to digest to make sense of it all. So let me try to explain it to some extent.

Madhyadeśa or Madhyama-deśa (Pāli: majjhima-deśa) is not Madhya-pradeśa. Madhya-pradeśa is the modern Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Rājagṛha has not always been associated with modern-day Rajgir - Rājgir is a relatively modern name and it has been associated with Rājagṛha only since Alexander Cunningham’s identification of EBT-sites since circa the mid-19th century.

Before that nobody in India knew anything about such an association. There is nothing excavated or found at Rajgir or any site within a 100 mile radius that conclusively shows that the site was indeed called Rājagṛha (or that it was unambiguously associated with Magadha or the Mauryan dynasty) in antiquity. The same can be said about Patna which is a modern name (there is no conclusive evidence to show that the place was called pataliputra in antiquity that I am aware of).

Yes, and most of those sites were identified and/or renamed by British colonial archaeologists like General Cunningham in the 19th century to build a credible theory about them being located in Eastern India in the time of Ashoka. Since then, those proposals have not been challenged as far as I know, so old speculations continue to circulate as if they are incontrovertible facts. However the places so identified are based on flimsy evidence, and there is more solid evidence against them than there is for them. The Indian central and state governments do not want to lose tourist revenue from the Buddhist circuit so they keep propagating the colonial-era stories.

A few examples of where the evidence doesn’t fit :

  1. There is a eastern site called Sarnath that is associated with Pali Isipatana (BHS Ṛṣi-patana). The pali commentary says it is called so because it was the place where the buddhist isi-s (buddhas & pacceka-buddhas) used to launch into and descend from the skies when they were flying about. (isipataneti buddhapaccekabuddhasaṅkhātānaṃ isīnaṃ dhammacakkappavattanatthāya ceva uposathakaraṇatthāya ca āgantvā patane, sannipātaṭṭhāneti attho). However Prof. Collette Caillat has shown half a century ago that the name is a misunderstanding - the word is not the name of a place, isipatana is basically a corruption of a common noun ṛśya-vrjana (which means the same as migadāya) - you can read an English translation of her paper at

  2. Most of the Jain populations (and their oldest and holiest sites are located in Western Indian states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. The literary evidence however points to the idea that Jains inhabited pretty much the same regions as the Buddhists. Girnar itself is a very important Jain pilgrimage site, while they are nowhere to be found in Patna - the ostensible capital of the Mauryans. Thus Magadha is likely located in and around Gujarat, not anywhere near Bihar. The Jains have never had any historical associations with eastern-India. Here is a map of their population-density. Jainism in India - Wikipedia

  3. There is also evidence that the janapadas of Kāśi, Videha & specifically Kosala (and its capital Śrāvasti which is described as being on the banks of Ajiravatī) was located closer to Punjab and not in Eastern UttarPradesh. Ajiravatī is called Hydraotes in Greek records in the accounts of Alexander, and is also mentioned by Panini as a north-western river. Further Patañjali mentions in the 2nd century BCE that the Yavanas had attacked Sāketa in his time, which could have been the invasion of Demetrius II (as Sāketa was located somewhere close to Punjab in his time) and Demetrius never ruled eastern India as per available evidence. All Indo-Greek kingdoms were based only in the North-West.

  4. Mauryas are called மோரியர் (Moriyar) or its lexical variant ஓரியர் (Oriyar) in early Tamil literature and they have the epithet சக்கரவாள சக்கரவர்த்திகள் (cakravāla cakravartin-s) - the cakravāla of course referring to their rule from the circular mountains at Girivraja (Girnar) which functioned as their natural fortress. [In later literature, the name cakravāla is mythologized as the name of a similar circular cosmic mountain range that surrounds the entire world but originally the Mauryans are specifically associated with the cakravāla/girivraja mountains that are naturally shaped round like a cakra]. This does not fit Rajgir, but fits Girnar


  1. We know for a matter of fact that Girnar was a major political center for Ashoka, he has left the best preserved copy of all his major rock edicts there, the language looks very stable and clear here and seems to be the first recorded site of those edicts. Several major Indian Emperors such as Rudradāman and Samudragupta have left their inscriptions right next to Ashoka’s edicts at Girnar - thus we see that Girnar was a prestigious/important place at least from the time of Chandragupta Maurya (4th century BCE) until Samudragupta (4th century CE) - thus spanning about 700-800 years.

  2. Also there are references in the Pāli canon to trade and business visits of Brahmins and others arriving from Vairantya/Verañja to Śrāvasti/Sāvatthī (MN42 for example) which makes more sense if we assume that Śrāvasti and Vairantya were 350 kms away from one another and not 1500 kilometres away from each other (i.e. if we assume Śrāvasti was in the Punjab and not in Eastern Uttar-Pradesh).

  3. Pāli Aciravatī (mentioned as river on whose banks stood Śrāvastī, the capital of Kośala janapada as per the Pāli canon) is Sanskrit Ajiravatī (mentioned by Pāṇini - A6.3.119, as the name of a north-western river). The greek accounts of Alexander’s invasion preserve the name of the river Ajiravatī as Hydraotes. Vitastā similarly gets recorded as Hydaspes, and Asiknī is mentioned as Acesines, Vipāś is named Hyphasis. Moreover there is a king named Ambhi or Ambisares ruling in Punjab in the Alexander accounts which reminds of a similarly named earlier king Bimbisāra. Alexander after crossing the Hydraotes(Ajiravatī) and advancing east came across the Malloi/Mallians which can be interpreted as the Malla janapada who are described as fierce warriors. The Alexander records also mention Sisicottus, ruler of the Assaceni in North-West India who met Alexander - and I believe this was perhaps Śaśigupta (a variant name for Chandragupta, śaśi and candra both mean “moon”) and perhaps he was already a ruler/governor commanding the Aśvakas/Aśvakāyanas in the time of Alexander (around 325 BCE).

  4. Besides, most of the excavated personal relics of the Buddha until date are from sites in the Gandhara region between Taxila and Peshawar, not from eastern-India.

  5. The Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya (2.30.29) composed towards the end of the 4th century BCE, classifies horses based on the places in the western border regions from which they are imported as follows: prayogyānām uttamāḥ kāmboja.saindhava.āraṭṭa.vanāyujāḥ. madhyamā bāhlīka.pāpeyaka.sauvīraka.taitalāḥ. śeṣāḥ pratyavarāḥ
    Meaning of the above: "Best horses are from : Kāmboja (realm of Cambyses i.e. Persian), Sindhu, Āraṭṭa and Vanāyu (i.e. Arabia). Middle-quality are from: Bahlika (Bactria), Pāpā, Sauvīra & Titala. Rest are poor quality.
    Almost all of these are either other countries to the west & north-west - like Persia, Arabia, Bactria etc - or western & northwestern janapadas. Sindhu & sauvīra were located next to each other, and are usually mentioned together as Sindhu-sauvīra. What interested me is that apart from some locations outside India proper, like Kāmboja, Vanāyu & Bahlika, there are some relatively rare places like Pāpā that are mentioned in the Arthaśāstra. Pāpā of the Arthaśāstra is Pāvā of the Pali canon, the capital of one of the two Malla janapadas, Kusināra being the capital of the other Malla janapada. So we see that Pāpā/Pāvā was very likely a north-western town from where horses were imported by the Mauryans to other parts of their empire.

  6. Alexander met the Malloi/Malli (Malla-janapada) between the Hydaspes (Vitastā/Jhelum) and Acesines (Asikni/Chenab) - and found them fierce and warlike. Their neighbours the Oxidraci (i.e. Kṣudraka, in Pāṇini’s opinion (sūtra 5.3.114), were āyudhajīvis i.e. professional warriors) who joined with the Mallas to oppose Alexander. The Kṣudrakāḥ are named khuddakā in the pāli canon but are not very frequently met with there). We dont know which Mallas these are who are located between the Vitastā and Asiknī - the Pāpā mallas or the Kuśinagara mallas. But it gives further evidence of the Mallas also being a north-western janapada.

  7. Let me also draw your attention to Major Rock Edict 1 of Ashoka - his very first order in his very first edict is to ban animal slaughter in his kingdom (idha na kiṃci jīvaṃ…) and commit himself to vegetarianism - and the grammarian Kātyāyana in his vārttikas refers to devānāṃpriya (the title of the Mauryan kings) as an exception to Pāṇini’s sūtra 6.3.21 and calls Ashoka the vegetarian king (śāka-pārthiva) while commenting on sūtra 2.1.69. We have to see where Aśoka’s ban had the most effect - in Magadha itself surely? Do you think Bihar (or the eastern janapadas) became predominantly vegetarian - or does vegetarianism fit the description of Gujarat/Rajasthan etc? Here is a map which makes the answer easy.

  1. Coming to the information we can gather from other Ashokan edicts, at Dhauli (Orissa) he made two separate edicts which are not found outside the Kalinga region. In one of these edicts he makes a promise to the people of Kalinga that he will send out periodically his officers from Ujjayini and from Takshashila - to Kalinga to check about the people’s welfare. This is very important - why are these Mauryan royal officers despatched by Aśoka from the Western Janapadas i.e. Ujjayini (Avanti) and Takṣaśilā rather than coming to Kalinga from Patna or Rajgir if the Mauryans ruled from Bihar? It would rather make sense if his royal base was mainly in the Western part of the country. [[The relevant text from the edict: Ujenite pi cu kumāle etāye va aṭhāye nikhāmayisa . . . . . . hedisameva vagaṃ no ca atikāmayisati tiṃni vasāni hemeva Takhasilāte pi adā …]]

Here is what Aśoka’s Major Rock Edict 5 at Girnar and its copies at other places say:

Girnar Major Rock Edict 5 - Ashoka says in one of the lines: Pāṭalipute ca bāhiresu ca nagaresu
The same line of the same RE5 in Kalsi, Uttarakhand reads: hid[ā] bā[h]ilesu cā naga[l]esu
The same line of the same RE5 in Shahbazgarhi (near Peshwar) reads: ia bhahireśu ca nagareśu
The same line of the same RE5 in Mansehra (near Abbotabad & Muzaffarabad, Kashmir) reads: hida bahireṣu ca nagareṣ[u]
The same line of the same RE5 in Dhauli (in Odisha) reads: hida ca bāhilesu ca nagalesu

So we see that only at Girnar is the name Pataliputra mentioned (in all other places of the subcontinent, it is replaced by hida i.e. iha) - which certainly means that only the people around Girnar were expected to know the location of Pāṭaliputra (as it was close to that location). At the other places where the name Pāṭaliputra would not be recognized (as it was a new city built in the Mauryan era) unlike Girivraja, the edicts did not mention the name. But the people of Magadha living at Girivraja were expected to recognize and know Pataliputra.

So Magadha was somewhere in Gujarat, not near Patna or Bihar. Do you have a more plausible reason than mine as to why the name of Pataliputra wasnt mentioned in any of the copies and only at Girnar?

If we consider Girnar as the earlier capital of Magadha, it explains why Pali (as a western-Indo-Aryan language close to the language of the Girnar Ashokan edicts) is described by the Theravadins as being based on Magadhabhāṣā.


Thank you for your breakdown. I find it all very interesting, and you certainly seem very knowledgable in Sanskrit sources based on your recent posts here. Can I ask if you have published any material or work as an academic?

I’m not qualified in these resources to evaluate this thesis. It would be interesting to see Ven. @sujato ‘s assessment of this, him being quite well-informed in terms of EBT geography and place names. Likewise, if @viirya has anything to say here. She has done research on the (North) Eastern Brahmanical groups and their relationship to Buddhism, associating the Satapatha Brāhmana / Kānva Vedic schools outside the main Vedic region with Early Buddhist religious dialogue.

If you have resources that trace back how the modern-day associations with Early Buddhist sites came to be, I’d be interested to see them and see on what grounds they were established, as you said that they were extremely speculative. My understanding was that some of this was done via Chinese travelogues to the sites in the early centuries of the CE.


I have not academically published anything as I am not in academia and am not familiar with academic publishing. Most of what I say is based on personal observations and understanding. I am happy to be challenged on anything I’ve stated.

About early Buddhist geography, just look at what information I’ve gleaned above from the Ashokan edicts as they are all fairly important. There is even more evidence from Ashoka and other sources that persuades against the theory that Mauryan & Pre-Mauryan Magadha was located in eastern-India.

Yes, it appears that the basis for identifying the sites was to rely on the Chinese travelogues of Xuanzang, Faxian etc. These chinese travelogues are separated from the Buddha’s time by over 1000 years, and I consider them quite unreliable for the most part. They cannot overrule what Ashoka himself says in his edicts.

I’ve argued at Pāṭimokkha and paṭimukka - #7 by srkris that the underlying language of the earliest suttas in the Pali canon was not Pali. See that thread for the reasons.

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Hence, ‘still up for debate’ !

I will have a look.

Jan Nattier seems to be saying the same things that I am. It is an interesting talk which I had not heard before, but would have saved me time if I had heard it first. Nattier is right on the edge of something, and that is about the writing in Gandhara and Sri Lanka, and the lack of it in the central area of Buddhist India. That is, the entirely obvious presence in Gandhara of a writing culture…namely the Greeks. It is my own guess that the Sri Lankan writing of the Pali Canon would not have occurred without some influence from the north through contact with Greeks writing the suttas down earlier than the the so called “4th council”, in Sri Lanka about 30 BCE. By the way, I am not claiming that the suttas were written in Greek, but clearly they were written in Gandharan and in Karosthi script. Though certainly the Asokan pillars in the Gandhara area are indeed in both Greek and Aramaic language side by side.


I’m glad you found her lecture helpful, Venerable.
It’s interesting that it’s for religious reasons that things weren’t written down in most of India, perhaps a way for Brahmins to protect their ‘intellectual property’ !
And that it seems that Buddhist texts were written down prior to Vedic ones, for this reason.

Whether the writing that occurred in Sri Lanka was in some way related to Gandhara is an interesting one, these two poles of India were certainly very far apart.

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And Kharoṣṭhī (though not side by side with the Greek & Aramaic).

The bilingual Greek-Aramaic inscription of Ashoka is very interesting for another reason. In the Aramaic copy the name of Ashoka is mentioned as “pryd’rš” as though it were copied from a sanskritic source “Priyadarśī”, but in the Greek copy, the name appears as Piodasses (as in prakrit or pali “Piyadassi”) – Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription - Wikipedia

Not only were Greeks likely writing Indic texts - but also apparently people with Indic names in eastern Afghanistan were writing fluent Greek and Aramaic - Kandahar Sophytos Inscription - Wikipedia
Pul-i-Darunteh Aramaic inscription - Wikipedia
Kandahar Aramaic inscription - Wikipedia

There is also a very interesting Indian gold coin found in Afghanistan from the beginning of the Common Era apparently showing the Buddha as the Dharmacakra-pravartaka (one who turns the Dharma wheel) – Tillya Tepe Buddhist coin - Wikipedia



The word chandas does not mean prose (or versified) sanskrit. Chandas here means the metric style and language of the early vedic mantra hymns. What could be the plausible advantage of elevating (“āropema”) the buddhavacana into the form of early vedic mantra style poetry? Do we as readers understand the suggestion of these brothers correctly?

I don’t think this is what the brothers meant. The commentary states vedaṃ viya sakkatabhāsāya vācanāmaggaṃ āropema, which I take as 'let us elevate (the Buddha’s words) into a manner of refined speech like a Veda. My interpretation of the passage is that the brothers noticed that there were 100s of prose suttas with verses attached. As they had learnt Vedas in verse and verse is less corruptible, they offered to turn all Buddhist sermons into verse in refined Veda-like archaic Gātha language, to use Geiger’s phrase. The Buddha rejected this as it would not help conversion to Buddhism. At first, It had nothing to do with translation into a different language (the PED and DOP don’t have ‘translate’ for āropeti, but the CPD does), but Chinese versions quoted in Edgerton’s Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit introduction did take it as ‘translate’ to justify their translations, a practice originally contrary to Indian tradition.

*, i.e. not like

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I don’t see exactly what you are disagreeing with, as you seem to accept what I’ve said - that ‘chandas’ in the passage refers specifically to versified early-Vedic, and not to any other kind of Sanskrit (in general).

The word chandas (when used to denote a language in all the BCE texts I’ve read) invariably means metrical early-Vedic, and no other so-far unattested archaic gathā-language has come to light in any BCE textual source, except gāthic-Avestan or Old-Persian (one or both of which however I accept Pāli as being influenced by) - but Avestan and Old-Persian were never called/equated-to chandas in mid-1st-millenium BCE India to my knowledge.

Further, in hundreds of sūtras of Pāṇini (circa 4th century BCE) in which he explains the grammatical peculiarities of the ‘Chandas’ language (i.e. as opposed to bhāṣā or ‘spoken classical sanskrit’ of his time), the word Chandas means no other language, other than early-Vedic. Wherever he says ‘chandasi’ (either explicitly or by anuvṛtti), those rules fit the description of early-Vedic. This is what Kātyāyana, Patañjali, and practically everyone else in BCE (whose texts are extant) take the word to mean. So I don’t see what else Geiger could have meant by “archaic Gātha language” and how an unattested phantom language would plausibly connect to the term ‘Chandas’.

The Buddha’s resistance to the “chandaso āropema” suggestion is not however that it would prevent “conversion” (which is also an idea foreign to the first-few generations of Buddhists, as most of the society in the time of the Buddha, lay or monastic, didn’t consider themselves systemically ‘converted’ by the Buddha or by his non-Buddhist contemporaries, but rather persuaded by the Buddha’s eloquence, wisdom and worldview. There isn’t anything in the EBTs that I see to indicate that they considered the Buddha’s wisdom to be uniquely Buddhist, to which they had to convert or bear exclusive alleigance/loyalty to, and the term ‘conversion’ would imply such exclusive-alleigance, and an explicit rejection of what they formerly had alleigance-to).

The explicit reason for the Buddha’s resistance (that is mentioned in the ‘sakāya niruttiyā’ passage) is that such an effort wouldn’t “add to the clarity of those Buddhist monks whose knowledge of the Buddhavacana was alpa” (“n’etam… appasannānaṁ vā pasādāya”). He thought that if the Buddhavacana wasn’t understood already (in its pre-existing form), it would not be made any clearer (for those who couldnt grasp the Buddhavacana properly) by elevating it to early-Vedic verse.

Therefore there is no Sanskrit vs Prakrit distinction (or a Sanskrit vs. Pali distinction) meant in the passage - moreover when the Buddha heard a sa-svara recitation of the aṭṭhakavagga by Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa he appreciated it - and a sa-svara recitation of a text that is not normally recited with svaras (pitch accent) was only possible in late-Vedic as I’ve argued in that post (linked above). So the distinction here is between late-Vedic (i.e. classical sanskrit) and versified early-Vedic. This incident is mentioned both in the Pali canon and the Sanskrit tradition underlying the Divyāvadāna. The buddha there is reported to have praised the sa-svara recitation saying it was well understood, well remembered and well-recited by Soṇa: “sādhu sādhu, bhikkhu, suggahitāni te, bhikkhu, soḷasa aṭṭhakavaggikāni sumanasikatāni sūpadhāritāni". The epithet ‘koṭikarṇaḥ’ (sanskrit for kuṭikaṇṇa) used for Soṇa literally means “one with 10 million ears” (perhaps referring to his superior listening abilities and exact recitation of what he heard).

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I am following roughly the translation of I.B. Horner Book of the Discipline Vol 5 Cullavagga p194:

Now we, Lord, give the speech of the Awakened One in metrical form. The Awakened One, the Lord rebuked them, saying : “ How can you, foolish men , speak thus : Now we, Lord, give the speech of the Awakened One in metrical form’? It is not, foolish men, for pleasing those who are not (yet) pleased . . . And having rebuked them, having given reasoned talk, he addressed the monks, saying : " Monks, the speech of the Awakened One should not be given in metrical form.

We seem to have these three points of disagreement:

  1. chandas/ chando is early Vedic in the Sanskrit grammatical tradition, but is merely verse in the Pali tradition. I take it to mean any of the verses in the the Tipiṭaka. Geiger calls their language ‘Gātha language’ in his grammar §0.1.
  2. I have put in bold Horner’s translation of n’etam… appasannānaṁ vā pasādāya”. I found Edgerton’s for converting the unconverted more convincing, but I can see why you would think that goes too far. Still, I persist in thinking Buddhism had a missionary aspect. There are problems with your translation: (a) you read the passage as if it were appa-sanññānaṃ but I read a-ppasannānaṃ, as does Horner; (b) I don’t see any restriction to monks. We just don’t agree on the translation or on an aspect of Buddhism.
  3. Yours is the only suggestion I know of that pitch accents existed in Pali. Do you have any evidence? Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa is said at Vin i 196 to have recited the Aṭṭhakavagga sarena and the PED definition below does not give ‘pitch’ or ‘tone’:

Sara Sara5 [Vedic svara, svar, cp. Lat. su-surrus, Ger. surren] sound, voice, intonation, accent Vin ii.108; D ii.24 sq.; A i.227; Pv ii.124 (of birds’ singing=abhiruda C.); J ii.109; Sn 610 (+vaṇṇa, which is doubtful here, whether “complexion” or “speech,” preferably the former); DhsA 17; eight qualities D ii.211, 227; gītāssara song Vin ii.108; bindussara a sweet voice Sn 350; adj. J ii.439; sīhassara with a voice like a lion’s J v.296, 311 (said of a prince). Cp. vissara. — In combn with vaṇṇa (vowel) at A iv.307; Miln 340.
-kutti [=kḷpti; can we compare BSk. svaragupti “depth of voice” Divy 222?] intonation, resonance, timbre, melodiousness of voice Vin ii.108=A iii.251; J vi.293 (Kern, “enamoured behaviour” [?]); DhsA 16. Cp. Vin. Texts iii.72. -bhañña intoning, a particular mode of reciting Vin i.196; ii.108, 316; J ii.109; DhA i.154. -bhāṇa=˚bhañña DhA ii.95 (v. l. ˚bhañña). -bhāṇaka an intoner, one who intones or recites the sacred texts in the Sarabhañña manner Vin ii.300. -sara an imitative word; sarasaraŋ karoti to make the noise sarasara M i.128

Svara in Sanskrit has all the above meanings plus ‘tone’. Why are you selecting ‘tone’ out of this wide range of meanings?* Are you saying the whole of Pali poetry had tones or just the Aṭṭhakavagga? Why would the classical Sanskrit Divyāvadāna refer to tones, which were obsolete? Surely sa-svara would be ‘in his own accent’ because tones would need not to be individual in order to communicate well?

There is no evidence to my knowledge that such an association was restricted only to sanskrit grammatical sources (to the exclusion of all other literature).

Monier Williams says it is used with the meanings:

  • incantation-hymn - in RigVeda. AtharvaVeda ŚatapathaBrāhmaṇa, MahāBhārata, Raghuvaṁśa
  • the sacred text of the Vedic hymns - in ŚatapathaBrāhmaṇa, ĀśvalāyanaGṛhyasūtra , KauśikaSūtra , GobhilaŚrāddhaKalpa , VājasaneyiPrātiśākhya, Pāṇini, Manusmṛti etc.

So we see the usage is not restricted to grammatical literature within Sanskrit. There are several other sources that MW doesnt mention, it is however common knowledge in Sanskrit that chandas (when denoting a language) refers to the language of the Vedic mantras.

Even within the Pāli tradition, there is evidence proving that it meant metrical early-Vedic from both the canon and the commentary:

In the Sutta Nipāta Snp3.7 (the sutta is repeated in MN92 verbatim) the Buddha is quoted as saying that the Sāvitrī mantra (Ṛgveda 3.62.10 - composed by Viśvāmitra Gāthina) is the foremost of the Vedic mantras (here the word used by the Buddha for Vedic is chandaso) and that the agnihotra is the foremost among yajñas - and he is saying that to a Vedic brahmin ascetic sitting in his āśrama (hermitage) after having a lunch with him.
“aggihuttamukhā yaññā, sāvittī chandaso mukhaṃ”
It is a well-known fact that the Sāvitrī mantra (Ṛgveda 3.62.10) is the most prominent among all Vedic mantras - out of 10600+ mantras of the Ṛgveda, it is one of the few with its own Wikipedia page - Gayatri Mantra - Wikipedia , it is extolled throughout the Vedic literature, and orthoprax Brahmins to this day chant it 108 times thrice every day. The Mahākaṇhajātaka has a verse that shows that it was common knowledge among early Buddhists that the sāvitrī is a prominent vedic mantra: “adhicca vede sāvittiṃ, yaññatantrañca brāhmaṇā, bhatikāya yajissanti, tadā kaṇho pamokkhati”

If we take Horner’s interpretation of chandas as metric poetry, then the Buddha’s above comment would ostensibly mean “The Sāvitrī is foremost among all metric verses” (a nonsensical statement) – rather than saying that it is the foremost among the vedic hymns (which is a commonly held view within the vedic tradition that would be readily accepted by a vedic ascetic performing agnihotras and other yajñas and living in an āśrama). The commentary for this says “tattha aggiparicariyaṃ vinā brāhmaṇānaṃ yaññābhāvato “aggihuttamukhā yaññā”ti vuttaṃ. aggihuttaseṭṭhā aggijuhanappadhānāti attho. vede sajjhāyantehi paṭhamaṃ sajjhāyitabbato, sāvittī, “chandaso mukhan”ti vutto.”

The commentary definition you’ve yourself quoted above (vedaṃ viya sakkatabhāsāya vācanāmaggaṃ āropema) explicitly starts with “vedaṃ viya” so even a thousand years after the Buddha, the Pāli commentator had no doubt about the word referring to Vedic i.e. the vedas and its language are what he immediately thinks of when he comes across the word chandas, and to give greater clarity, he says sakkatabhāsāya (to the Saṃskṛta-bhāṣā i.e. not in any kind of prākṛta/pāli).

There is more from the commentaries (both from aṭṭhakathā & ṭīka sources) that show the Pāli commentators are unanimous about it:

  1. chandasoti vedassa (Source: vinayapiṭake bhikkhunīvibhaṅgavaṇṇanā mahāvaggavaṇṇanā keṇiyajaṭilavatthukathāvaṇṇanā)
  2. chandasoti vedassa. sāvittī mukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ sajjhāyitabbāti attho. tapatanti vijotantānaṃ. (Source: vinayapiṭake vimativinodanī-ṭīkā (dutiyo bhāgo) 6. bhesajjakkhandhako keṇiyajaṭilavatthukathāvaṇṇanā)
  3. chandāropanakathāyaṃ chandasoti sakkaṭabhāsāya. na āropetabbanti vācanāmaggaṃ na āropetabbaṃ. sakāya niruttiyāti māgadhabhāsāya. tattha santehi katāti sakkaṭā, aṭṭhakavāmakādīhi samitapāpehi isīhi katāti attho. (Source: vinayapiṭake vinayālaṅkāra-ṭīkā (paṭhamo bhāgo) 34. pakiṇṇakavinicchayakathā chandāropanakathā)

So I don’t think Ms. Horner’s interpretations are valid here.

Apasannānaṃ in this context can’t mean “pleasing those who are not yet pleased” because
a. that would have nothing at all to do with either the issue at hand (novice bhikkhus accused of “sakāya niruttiyā buddhavacana-dūsanam”), or with its suggested remedy (“buddhavacanam chandaso aropema”)
b. the buddhavacana is nowhere described (either in the canon or in the commentary by anyone) - that its primary existential purpose (or the buddha’s own primary existential purpose for that matter) is to please those who are not yet pleased.
c. the buddha does not say that “sakāya niruttiyā buddhavacanaṃ dūsenti” is a false accusation, however he says “anujānāmi sakāya niruttiyā buddhavacanaṃ pariyāpuṇitum” (I allow the learning of the buddhavacanam in the sakā nirutti) - how would that “please those who are not yet pleased” or even solve the issue at hand if the buddhavacanam is already available in poetry from the earliest phases?
d. There is no seeming mutual-contrast between sakā-nirutti and chandas (in your/Horner’s) interpretation - as converting it to metrical form does not get rid of the sakā-nirutti. Sakā nirutti does not mean “unmetrical form” for that matter either. Rather by “chandaso aropema”, the brothers obviously are trying to fix the issue of the corruption that has arisen in/from the sakā nirutti.
e. In ostensibly direct violation of the Buddha’s orders, thousands of metrically versified buddhavacana samples exist all across the Pali canon from the Buddha’s own lifetime (starting with the Aṭṭhakavagga & Pārāyaṇavagga and Dhammapada to say just three of the most widely revered metrical poetic sources of early-Buddhism), and also more poetry from after his passing. Nowhere do we find it being claimed in the canon or commentaries that all those verse suttas have prevented people who are displeased from getting pleased.

But I now (having gone through similar passages elsewhere in the Vinaya) see that “appasannānaṃ vā pasādāya” is a band-aid phrase (canned phrase) that likely would have been copied over verbatim from another vinaya rule - so I guess there is no point arguing over it’s exact significance in this rule.

That pitch accents existed in Pali (at some stage or the other) is not what I have suggested at all. The reason I have not suggested it is because I don’t believe it to be true, and there isn’t the slightest evidence for it. No form of Middle-Indo-Aryan had the svara/intonation-accents historically. Even Classical Sanskrit (in the Buddha’s time) did not have the accents invariably. But there was an option to speak sanskrit with svara intonations or without.

What I have, on the other hand, suggested both there and here above, is that the aṭṭhakavagga must originally have been composed in late-vedic. The fact that Soṇa recites the atthakavagga with the pitch (svara) intonation, while it must have been recited by others without the svaras - is to be noted. This option to speak/recite with or without svaras is a feature of late-vedic (otherwise called classical-sanskrit). Pāṇinian grammar gives several rules relating to the use of accent in both classical sanskrit (late-vedic) and the chandas language (early vedic). Whereas in early-vedic (chandas language), the accent is compulsory - in late-vedic it had become optional. From other literature of the same period, we learn that scholarly Brahmins to show their erudition (and for better semantic clarity, as the pitch-accent affects the meaning) spoke Sanskrit with the pitch accents, while almost everyone could speak Sanskrit without accents. Soṇa here is a brahmin (suggesting he was in familiar territory when he attempts an intoned recitation), and the buddha appreciates the attempt heartily. My suggestion is that the atthakavagga (and other early suttas) were originally composed in such a language where there was an option to recite with or without accents i.e. in late-Vedic. There is lexical evidence as well that it must have been composed in late-vedic, as it preserves Vedic word-forms that have been since pāli-fied in the pali tradition.

It surely does mention (in your above quote):

  1. “intonation”, “accent”
  2. -bhañña intoning, a particular mode of reciting Vin i.196; ii.108, 316; J ii.109; DhA i.154. -bhāṇa=˚bhañña DhA ii.95 (v. l. ˚bhañña).
  3. -bhāṇaka an intoner, one who intones or recites the sacred texts in the Sarabhañña manner

I don’t think the other meanings are contextually relevant or make sense here. Reciting with sound , reciting with voice , reciting with vowels etc make no sense at all. There is no option to recite them without sound, voice or vowels, so why would it even be worthy of mention, and why couldnt anybody or everybody do it in that case?

The intoned recitation was not obsolete in the Buddha’s time, it was used widely by Brahmins (maybe by others as well but at least by brahmins). The Rāmāyaṇa has Hanumān (being a monkey) wondering whether to speak to Sītā in the accented language of the twice-born or the unaccented language used by everyone else - he thinks “if I speak in the speech of the dvijātis (i.e. with accents), Sītā would fear me thinking I am Rāvaṇa in disguise, so let me speak to her in the common language (unaccented sanskrit)” - and the rest of the conversation with her is in that unaccented sanskrit. The bulk of the Rāmāyaṇa is from the same era as the Pāli canon, i.e. composed not very long after the Buddha’s time, and this śloka (yadi vācaṃ pradāsyāmi dvijātiriva saṁskṛtām| rāvaṇaṃ manyamānā māṃ sītā bhītā bhaviṣyati ॥) shows that the dvijātis could speak intoned sanskrit on occasion, and such accented speech must have been understood widely - while most people of that period spoke the unaccented version of sanskrit that is spoken today invariably.

Patañjali mentions that common people sometimes spoke intoned sanskrit with mistakes. While commenting on the sūtra vṛddhirādaic he says: “taparastaïti tatkālānāṃ savarṇānāṃ grahaṇaṃ yathā syāt . keṣām . udāttānudāttasvaritānām . kiṃ ca kāraṇaṃ na syāt . … bhedakatvātsvarasya … bhedakā udāttādayaḥ . kathaṃ punarjñāyate bhedakā udāttādaya iti . evaṃ dṛśyate loke ya udātte kartavye’nudāttaṃ karoti” - so it is clear that even in his time (mid 2nd century BCE) common people were trying to speak intoned sanskrit but they sometimes used the wrong accents.

I don’t know about all of the poetry in the Pali canon having tones originally, it is unlikely to have been the case in my understanding. However the historically earliest (foundational) suttas of early-Buddhism, and those that contain evidences of Vedic vocabulary would have originally been in late-Vedic in my understanding. The texts the Divyavadāna mention (see below) all seem to be early texts. I quote the whole of the relevant paragraph from the other thread below:

The Divyāvadāna evidences the intoned recitation that I have postulated – see “athāyuṣmāñ śroṇo bhagavatā kṛtāvakāśaḥ asmāt parāntikayā guptikayā udānāt pārāyaṇāt satyadṛṣṭaḥ śailagāthā munigāthā arthavargīyāṇi ca sūtrāṇi vistareṇa svareṇa svādhyāyaṃ karoti” - here, apart from the word svareṇa, the usage of the word svādhyāya is also significant. Svādhyāya in the vedic tradition refers to chanting the memorized vedic hymns periodically. Each brahmin clan is associated with a specific set of vedic verses handed down in an oral patrilineal tradition that goes back to the original vedic Ṛṣis who composed those verses. So svādhyāya means they periodically recite the memorized set of hymns that they had inherited from their ancestors with an intention to pass it down the line. In the buddhist sense, the above statement in the Divyāvadāna (and in the Pāli canon where too sajjhāya is mentioned as being done both by brahmins and buddhists of the buddha’s lifetime) would mean not an oral transmission across generations (unlike the vedas) but chanting the suttas of the arthavargīyāṇi (aṭṭhakavagga), śailagāthā (sela-sutta), the munigāthā, the satyadṛṣṭa, the verses of the pārāyaṇavarga, udānas etc as these early suttas would have been regarded as foundational texts of the buddhist canon, and memorizing / reciting them with their original accents was evidently considered a form of svādhyāya.

Thank-you for such detailed and learned replies. Unfortunately, I don’t find your answers convincing and I doubt that I will post if you make further comment. Out of courtesy to you for your great efforts, I should let you know what I don’t find convincing:

  1. chando in Pali has a wider meaning than early Vedic, according to the PED:

Chando Chando (nt.) [Vedic chandas, from skandh, cp. in meaning Sk. pada; Gr. ἴαμβος] metre, metrics, prosody, esp. applied to the Vedas Vin ii.139 (chandaso buddhavacanaŋ āropeti to recite in metrical form, or acc. to Bdhgh. in the dialect of the Vedas cp. Vin. Texts iii.150); S i.38; Sn 568 (Sāvittī chandaso mukhaŋ: the best of Vedic metres).
-viciti prosody VvA 265 (enumd as one of the 6 disciplines dealing with the Vedas: see chaḷanga).

The DOP on chanda2 is too long to copy, but the first meaning is ‘metre; a metrical text’. Here is the DOP for chandasā:

chandasā, f. (or pl. of chanda(s)2 ?) [cf S. chandas],
metrical science; Mil 3,32 (bahūni c’ assa satthāni
uggahitāni honti … jotisā māyā hetu mantanā yuddhā -ā

So, are the PED, DOP and Horner wrong?

  1. I take vedaṃ viya to mean ‘like scripture in verse only’ as opposed to scripture in prose only or in prose and verse.

  2. The PED does not give ‘Sanskrit’ as a meaning of sakkata

Sakkata Sakkata [pp. of sakkaroti] honoured, duly attended D i.114, 116; ii.167; Nd 73; J i.334; Miln 21; SnA 43 Usually combd with garukata, pūjita, mānita.

I take it as ‘ornate’ or ‘respectful’, which goes well with your translation of āropema as ‘elevate’

  1. Horner’s “pleasing those who are not yet pleased” is etymologically correct but clunky, I prefer Edgerton’s ‘converting the unconverted’. Here is part of PED on citta:

(c) A heart, composed, concentrated, settled, self-controlled, mastered, constrained. — (α) c. pasīdati (pasanna-˚c) (a heart full of grace, settled in faith) S i.98; A i.207; iii.248; Sn 434; pasanna˚: A iv.209, 213; Sn 316, 403, 690, cp. c. pakkhandati pasīdati S iii.133; A iii.245; also vippasanna˚: S v.144; Sn 506; cp. vippasannena cetasā Pv i.1010.

Note “setted in faith” Here is the PED on pasāda:

Pasāda Pasāda [fr. pa+sad, cp. Vedic prasāda] 1. clearness, brightness, purity; referring to the colours (“visibility”) of the eye J i.319 (akkhīni maṇiguḷa-sadisāni paññāyamāna pañca-ppasādāni ahesuŋ); SnA 453 (pasanna-netto i. e. pañca-vaṇṇa-ppasāda-sampattiyā). In this sense also, in Abhidhamma, with ref. to the eye in function of “sentient organ, sense agency” sensitive surface (so Mrs Rh. D. in Dhs. tsrl. 174) at DhsA 306, 307. — 2. joy, satisfaction, happy or good mind, virtue, faith M i.64 (Satthari); S i.202; A i.98, 222 (Buddhe etc.); ii.84; iii.270 (puggala˚); iv.346; SnA 155, PvA 5, 35. — 3. repose, composure, allayment, serenity Nett 28, 50; Vism 107, 135; ThA 258. — Note. pasāda at Th 2, 411 is to be read pāsaka (see J.P.T.S. 1893 pp. 45, 46). Cp. abhi˚.

Note the meaning “faith”.
I agree that this has nothing to do with the original problem of corrupting the Buddha’s speech. The Buddha is pointing out that the brothers’ solution of versifying the prose sections of suttas to make them less corruptible leads to a new problem of only off-putting, rarified language for those who are unconvinced by Buddhism. The Buddha then requires the buddhavacana to be learnt in his own manner of expression i.e. retain prose as prose and verse as verse.

  1. I don’t find your account of “intoned recitation” coherent. You seem to be equating it with ‘intonation’ and ‘accent’, but excluding pitch accents in Pali except perhaps for:

the suttas of the arthavargīyāṇi (aṭṭhakavagga), śailagāthā (sela-sutta), the munigāthā, the satyadṛṣṭa, the verses of the pārāyaṇavarga, udānas etc as these early suttas would have been regarded as foundational texts of the buddhist canon, and memorizing / reciting them with their original accents was evidently considered a form of svādhyāya.

Or are you saying there was a parallel Sanskrit transmission of the Aṭṭhakavagga etc. from late Vedic times? I don’t know how you are using terms. Perhaps it is because of my failure to define that you don’t engage with my idea of sarena as ‘accent’ in the sense of regional or educated accent, which I failed to make clear.

Thank you for your responses. Perhaps what I’m saying isn’t clear.

I do claim that Horner’s translation (of chandas in this context) is wrong because the specific meaning that she picks is wrong in that specific context.

The dictionaries are however not wrong but it is their job to suggest all possible meanings, one of which needs to be picked according to context in a given situation. What the context is cannot be inferred from the dictionary (unless the dictionary lists contextual meanings), and not all meanings (suggested in a dictionary) are equally plausible in any given context.

So I dont see how you can take all the meanings the dictionary suggests as being equally/randomly valid. As a translator you pick the meaning based on context - and must not have a preconception that just because the word is used with one meaning elsewhere in the pali canon, all other places in the canon must necessarily have the same meaning for it. When you make such an apriori assumption, your translation suffers (and I mean the “you” in a generic sense, not you personally) - I have heard some Pali translators claim that words have to be translated consistently (with the same meaning wherever they occur) which I found weird as you’re then forcing an artiificial uniformity on the text. Others then rely on those mistranslations to claim that specific Pali words have only that artificially standardized translated meaning - circular logic?

Even in sanskrit, the word ‘chandas’ can and does mean

  1. poetic metres in general,
  2. a specific named poetic metre,
  3. the śāstra involving the study of poetic metres,
  4. the vedāṅga called chandas dealing with the metres used in the vedic corpus,
  5. the corpus of vedic poetry, or
  6. the language of the vedic poetry

The context in each text determines which of the above meanings is more apposite.

In the context of a linguistic contrast between sakā nirutti and chandas - it specifically and primarily refers to the language (and only secondarily, if at all, the poetic form) of the early vedic metrical corpus. This is not to say that other meanings in the dictionary are wrong - however those other meanings don’t apply here in this context.

Yes, I have the DOP with me - and it mentions (1) metre & metrical text, and (2) the form / language of the vedic texts.
So chandas in Pali does also mean the form or language of the vedic texts in a specific context - such as in this ‘sakāya niruttiyā’ context. In fact, Prof. Cone explicitly quotes these phrases "handa mayaṁ, bhante, buddhavacanaṁ chandaso āropema” & “na, bhikkhave, buddhavacanaṁ chandaso āropetabbaṁ” under the 2nd meaning. I don’t see how you can claim that this is not the case?

We dont need Prof. Cone’s dictionary to tell us this - it is quite obvious already.

That is however not its meaning. Vedam means the Veda, not any generic versified scripture. ‘Like the veda’ means a verse composed in vedic sanskrit. Pali verses are by default not likened to ‘vedaṃ’ - so composing verses in Pali (without the vedic accents, and having no lexical / phonetic / grammatical / metrical semblance to the vedic mantras), cannot be described as ‘vedaṃ viya’.

The PED as far as I am aware does not deal with commentarial usages. Sakkaṭabhāsā is obviously saṃskṛta-bhāṣā. Sakkata (from sakkaroti) in the canon can also mean Sanskrit sat-kṛta (Past Passive Participle of sat-karoti) - but that word has nothing to do with any bhāṣā and therefore cannot be compounded with bhāsā. So the meaning for sakkata suggested by PED is contextually inapplicable in the compound sakkaṭabhāsā.

That sounds quite weird when used for a bhāsā. Sakkaroti is normally “showing respect to someone or something, or serving them, honouring them etc”. You dont do satkāra to a bhāṣā.

No, I am saying that the aṭṭhakavagga, pārāyaṇavagga etc (being the historically earliest /foundational suttas of the Pali canon and the Early Buddhist Tradition as a whole) were originally composed in Late-Vedic – and that Late-Vedic is the proto-canonical language of Early Buddhism as a whole - perhaps you havent read my other posts in this thread (click) on the protocanonical language of early-Buddhism fully yet. Pali was not the language of the Buddha, and could not have been - the oldest canonical language of Buddhism was late-Vedic. The Pali Canon (and Gandhari and BHS sources) necessarily derive some of their earliest texts from a late-vedic proto-canonical core-corpus.

What other early-Buddhist texts did this late-vedic proto-canonical core corpus contain (apart from the ones mentioned above by the Divyavadana, the Ud5.6 in the Pāli canon, and the texts mentioned in the Ashokan edicts)? - is a question I dont have a conclusive answer to.

Pali does not have any kind of intonation, tone, accent, pitch etc (they are all translations for the word ‘svara’, referring to the vedic/sanskrit pitch-accent) - and the references to intonation/pitch-accent etc found in the Pali canon are about its existence historically in late-Vedic (from which those texts have been later converted to Pali). The texts of the Pali canon that derive from proto-canonical late-Vedic originals may have been originally accented when they were still in late-vedic sanskrit (or could be alternatively recited with accents because accented recitation for non-accented sanskrit texts was possible in late-vedic sanskrit during the time of the Buddha). However this doesnt necessarily mean every single text surviving in the Pali canon today derives from an accented / unaccented late-vedic original.

I look foward for the essay, Venerable.
This is highly interesting. It could lead to the view that Buddhism is not some “eastern foreign” religion and actually a Philosphy that has been around our Greek-Roman cultural sphere since its very beginning.