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

The subject of language is mentioned by me in the video. It is rather an aside in terms of what is permissible these days in terms of reciting the “patimokkha”. This is an issue which is rather rigidly followed in the Thai forest tradition…ie recitation by memory in Pali. The question of “insistence on language” is highly debatable. The dhamma is comprehended by understanding the basic reality that the Buddha is pointing to, and not necessarily through precise use of language. Anyway, as we can see these days, and as I mention in the talk, I speak in English to people. As to the recitation of the patimokkha, I would advocate the english translation for recitation to english speakers. The recitation of the rule summary, is not the “vinaya” but a mere brief summary to jog the memory. The monks are obliged to understand the vinaya, and for many of them, that won’t involve much pali, but comprehension gained through translation and the logic of ethics.


On the question of Persian origins of the śākyas - I would tend to agree with the suggestion that they were probably Persian (and I have my own independent reasons for it), but that would not necessarily make the Buddha himself Persian - the Persian-origin people in India may have claimed him to be one of their own after his time.

The reasons that I have for regarding the śākyas as being Persian are as follows:

  1. The endonym of the Achaemenids (i.e. the name they called themselves in the Old-Persian language of their time) was “Xšāça” i.e. it sounded very close to the name śākya. This name is not found as the name of any Indian dynasty in the late-vedic period when the Buddha lived, and we dont know where that dynasty was either before or after the time of the Buddha (the śakyas, assuming they were Indian, have no documented precedence before buddhism, nor is their continuing presence attested anytime after the Buddha’s passing) . The Jain literature are also apparently silent about such a dynasty.

  2. Dr. Thomas Oberlies in his book “Pali: A Grammar of the Language of the Theravada Tipiṭaka” (pages 6-9) points out specific word forms in Pali that betray Persian linguistic origins, specifically from a language like Avestan. This was to be expected, for the Achaemenids had invaded north-western India about one or two centuries before the Buddha’s lifetime and their linguistic influence must necessarily show up in some kind of Indo-Aryan. The fact is both Gandhari and Pali show similar Iranic influences. Those influences are however not present in Classical Sanskrit and Vedic, which allows Dr. Oberlies to isolate Pali from Classical Sanskrit. Vedic and Classical Sanskrit due to their conservative grammatical and phonetic traditions appear to have resisted this lexical and phonetic influence.

  3. If we reject the above and say that Pali is entirely Indian, then necessarily it calls into question what language family it belongs to - as the word forms pointed out by Dr. Oberlies cannot have arisen in an Indo-Aryan language family (i.e. originating in Vedic). Why didnt such “foreign to Indo-Aryan” phonetic forms survive after Pali in later forms of Indo-Aryan - and what makes them unique to Pali (and Gandhari)?

  4. The comments of the Sanskrit grammarian Patañjali (circa 2nd century BCE) are relevant here. He says “mlecchaḥ ha vai eṣaḥ yat apaśabdaḥ. mlecchāḥ mā bhūma iti adhyeyam vyākaraṇam” (Ungrammatical word forms are not Indo-Aryan, they are mlecchāḥ i.e. foreign to Indo-Aryan India; therefore one should know the grammar to identify ungrammatical usages to avoid speaking like the foreigners). The foreigners that he was referring to could have been only the yavanas (greeks) or the kambojas (persians), both of who had their presence in India in the few centuries before his time. It wouldnt have been the greeks, because greek words were grammatically and phonetically far from influencing Indo-Aryan speech. However Iranian speech was not far, in fact Avestan and Old-Persian were very close to Old-Indo-Aryan and would have had exactly the kind of influence on Indo-Aryan that Patañjali speaks about here, and what Dr. Thomas Oberlies has provided evidence of from Pali. Gandhari being written in the Kharosthi script derived from Imperial Aramaic script (the official script of the Achaemenid Empire), and being a land under Persian rule for 2 centuries, and also being one of the languages of early Buddhism also shows the same Persian influence as Pali does.

  5. One may raise the question - how could Pali, being an eastern Indian language associated with Magadha be identified as a language with Persian influence. For gandhari at least, it makes sense as it was a northwestern Indian language. The answer to that question is that Pali is not an eastern-Indian language, it is now common knowledge that Pali is also a western Indian language close to the language of the Girnar Ashokan edicts (located in the Western Indian state of Gujarat).

  6. A curious fact about the Major Rock Edict 5 of Ashoka at Girnar is that it is the only one of his edicts that names the city of Pāṭaliputra. Exact copies of the same edict are found in at least four or five different other places across Northern India but everywhere else, the word Pāṭaliputra has been replaced by the word “idha”. My understanding is that this was done because the people of those places would not have perhaps recognized the name Pāṭaliputra (as it was a new capital city built evidently by the Mauryans themselves, or shortly before them). The earlier capital of Magadha was Girivraja (also called Rājagṛha). So Aśoka evidently expected the people of Girnar to know Pāṭaliputra (as it was evidently somewhere in the vicinity of Girnar) but the other locations where he had put up the same edict were not expected to know the new city, and therefore had to be omitted from their local copies of the same stone edicts.

  7. The above point also indicates that Girnar was possibly the original location of Ashoka’s edicts, as that would have given the opportunity to remove the word Pāṭaliputra before the same edict was inscribed at other locations.

  8. This further raises the possibility that Girnar was in Magadha i.e. it was Ashoka’s home territory which is why his edicts came up first there.

  9. Another king named Rudradāman (who lived about 3 centuries after Aśoka, also has left his edict at Girnar right next to Ashoka’s edicts, saying that the area was under the control of Chandragupta Maurya who make some improvements to the lake located at that location.
    So we have this early evidence pointing to the idea that Girnar is related not just to Ashoka but even to his grandfather, the founder of the Mauryan empire i.e. Chandragupta, and it contains the only mention of the name of Pāṭaliputra in all of Ashoka’s edicts, and the Girnar edicts were his earliest copy of the Major Rock Edicts. All this in my mind makes it most likely that Girnar was the location of the historical Girivraja, and that the historical Pāṭaliputra was somewhere in the vicinity of Girnar.

  10. In the MN140, the Buddha is in Rajagṛha where a young monk says to the Buddha (the monk doesnt know the person he is speaking to the Buddha himself) - “Atthavuso, uttaresu janapadesu savatthi nāma nagaram” (there is, sir, in one of the northern kingdoms, a city called Śrāvasti) - evidently this means someone at Rājagṛha is not expected to know cities in the northern kingdoms, and more importantly, there is evidently a sure north-south orientation between Śrāvastī and Rājagṛha. Śrāvastī was in a northern kingdom (Kosala), and Rājagṛha is in a southern kingdom (Magadha). So if Rājagṛha is Girnar (see the above point), Śrāvastī can be expected to be well north of it, i.e. somewhere in or around the Punjab.

  11. Now Punjab is where the other EBT language (Gandhari) was prevalent in. So if Pali is the language of the western Indian state of Gujarat or thereabouts (as Pali is close to the language of the Girnar edicts), why wouldnt the language of Kosala (Punjab) be Gandhari? It seems to make sense. That is how both Gandhari and Pali appear to have western influences connected to Persian. Since writing originated in India from Persia at the same time, it would also then make sense that the canon was written originally in Kharosthi and Pali - which are two of the most important EBT languages, and they are both linguistically related to one another. That is also how Pali would properly be identified as a Magadhan language, not if Magadha itself was somewhere else in Eastern India.


Yes, but my point above regarding the sakāya niruttiyā episode in the Pali vinaya, is to get into the facts of the case regarding your claim that the Buddha forbade sanskrit . In my understanding that is not what is meant.

Do you know Pali and are you able to respond to the points I have raised regarding the sakāya niruttiyā issue?

What is it about ibbha (sanskrit: ibhya) that makes it “native” or non-IE? I am able to locate it in the Rgveda 1.65.7 ( jāmiḥ sindhūnām bhrāteva svasrām ibhyān na rājā vanāny atti ), RV 1.84.17 ( kas tokāya ka ibhāyota rāye 'dhi bravat tanve ko janāya), the Yajurveda ( kṛṇuṣva pājaḥ prasitiṃ na pṛthvīṃ yāhi rājevāmavāṁ ibhena ), the Chandogya Upaniṣad (jāyayoṣastir ha cākrāyaṇa ibhyagrāme pradrāṇaka uvāsa), ( sa hebhyaṃ kulmāṣān khādantaṃ bibhikṣe) and in classical sanskrit etc… so I dont see what the point is. I dont think it has anything to do with taming elephants or a brahmin/non-brahmin distinction.

“Kosalesu niketino” in Snp3.1.18 simply means they (sakyas) reside/dwell/have their home among the Kosalans. I dont see where it indicates a long connection with the land. In fact the Kosalans themselves dont apparently go more than a few centuries back before the śatapatha-brāhmaṇa (which is the only place in the Vedic literature that I have seen the Kosalans being named as a janapada). The Sakyans are even less likely to be found on the historical record of Vedic India, but if their name and linguistic traits match those of the Achaemenid Persians (whose presence is anyways expected in northern India at that very period in which the Buddha lived), why would it be unreasonable to suppose that they were indeed the historical śakyas?

I think Prof Witzel connects the śākyas culturally to the building of stupas which is from a bactrian or central/west asian origin as well - as the pre-Buddhist Vedic Indians didnt evidently consider it part of their culture to build stupas (I need to find the research paper where I read this from).

That ostensible origin of the Sakyans a thousand years or more before the Buddha would be wildly impossible, for then the entire linguistic history of India would need to be revised. I’ve never heard of such a theory from any academic source so far.

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.

1 Like

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.

1 Like

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

1 Like

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).

1 Like

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?