Different Meanings of the Word Kusala (Wholesomeness)

Regarding puñña and kusala, I have said my (native) opinions about them as I have a native sense of what they mean, you can follow whatever else you find appropriate. Sure, as you say not all meanings are appropriate in every context, but you will still need to make up your mind on which meaning fits which context.

Yes - they are different - no disagreements there - however most are surface-level differences. Also, of all languages that you could call similar to Pali, Classical Sanskrit (or late-vedic) is probably the nearest. Early-Vedic (which is normally called Vedic), on the other hand, is very far from Pali.

Classical Sanskrit too had vedic archaisms at that time, and it’s not just Pali that has them - and therefore there is no philological need to invent a parallel evolution for Pali from Vedic (rather than linearly from Sanskrit), or go even beyond Vedic into Proto-Indo-Iranian (to explain what amounts to a few, possibly Iranic, loanwords).

As I have said elsewhere – there is no hard and fast rule demarcating classical sanskrit from vedic sanskrit, and vedic grammatical and other archaisms did continue in classical sanskrit even after Pāṇini (for example Patañjali, in his 2nd century BCE commentary on Pāṇini’s grammar, the Vyākaraṇa-Mahābhāṣya, written in classical sanskrit, uses the vedic ‘tavai’ infinitive affix – “tasmād brāhmaṇena na mlecchitavai nāpabhāṣitavai”). Other classical sanskrit texts from the period do have such archaisms too. So Pali is not uniquely non-derivable from classical sanskrit in that respect - it is a popular misconception.

I’ve said about this here - and I restate:
I have read such claims and I find them greatly exaggerated. Those words that are cited as evolved from variant pre-Pali dialects are less than 1% (or even 0.1%) of the Pali vocabulary - and they may very well be Iranic (Old-Persian / Median / Avestan / Scythian) loanwords - if at all they are of Indo-European origin. I dont even think such words exist in the later Pali texts or commentaries. So they are very likely Iranic loanwords from a time when the Achaemenid Empire ruled parts of North-Western India (which I believe was the homeland of Canonical Pali & Gandhari) from Persia. The period of Achaemenid suzerainty was when the Buddha lived and died.

They vast majority (circa 99%) of Pali word forms are phonetically simplified variants of classical sanskrit words and are therefore capable of being etymologized from classical or vedic sanskrit. Can any scholar prove (or has any scholar proven already) that this is not so?

Besides there is some clear evidence about the Buddha’s spoken language from the Ud 5.6 – a statement that Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa recited (abhaṇi) the aṭṭhakavagga “with svaras” (sarena) to the Buddha, and at the end of the recital with svaras (sara-bhañña-pariyosāne), the buddha lavished praises on him for his clear and correct enunciation. But what exactly are the svaras? I take them to be the vedic svaras (the tone accents) - he recited the verses with the tone accents. The accents (svaras) exist in classical sanskrit (where they are optional) as well as vedic (where they are compulsory), so what other language other than Old-Indo-Aryan (Classical Sanskrit or Vedic) could Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa have recited the aṭṭhakavagga to the Buddha in? The Vedic svaras (tone accents) are inherited from the Proto-Indo-European, see Proto-Indo-European accent - Wikipedia and Vedic accent - Wikipedia . For more about this topic, see my posts here

It’s already been discussed. I don’t think he did. In any case, a lot of Buddhists thereafter defied him by doing exactly that. Maybe the Theravādins alone persisted with that notion.

Many of them are superficial opinions though. Very few are really thought out in depth.

Sure. As far as I can see, the Pāḷi tradition understood quite well what the senses are, with an internally consistent picture in the canon itself of what the terms under discussion mean or can mean. I would wager the above demonstrated that.

Can you direct me to any publication arguing that Pāḷi is derived from Classical Sanskrit? I mean I am no expert by any means on the subject, but I just heard about Vedic being a candidate but never CS. That is how I summarized some of the opinions elseswhere earlier (see under the link for exact references):

Basing himself upon morphological and lexical features, Oberlies states that Pāḷi cannot be a direct continuation of Vedic, but Geiger and Pischel stress its closer relation to Vedic rather than Classical Sanskrit, the latter from which Pāḷi, they maintain, cannot directly be derived. Wackernagel (as quoted by Karpik) and others (Karpik, Oberlies) argue for a parallel development of Vedic and the Prakrits in general, among which Pāḷi and the other Middle Indo-Aryan dialects are sometimes classified (Geiger, Norman). Pischel maintains that “[…] it does not seem probable that all the Prakrit dialects sprang out from one and the same source.” Woolner and von Hinüber, on the other hand, see them as (essentially) derived from Vedic. For Levman “the actual answer appears to lie in the middle.”

Thanks for the link. Yes, I think the fact that the Theravādins did actually stick to the Buddha’s advice in this case speaks for the fact that they took pain to conserve Buddha-vacana, a feature often especially attributed to this school, actually. I now saw that I also engaged in discussing the topic of sakāya niruttiya and chandaso earlier here; if I may share as well.

The Pāḷi tradition is clear about it, which I would simply refer to as additional evidence, as the Samantapāsādikā has it, indicating that it was not Sasnkrit per se but the way of recitation (as you actually pointed out): “let us commit [or ‘entrust’] to the chando: let us commit to the way of recitation like the Veda is done in the honored speech. […] ‘own tongue’ means the common speech belonging to Magadha (māgadhiko vohāro) in the manner spoken (vuttappakāro) by the Perfectly Enlightened One.” I also once asked Patrick Olivelle about what he thinks chandaso refers to in the passage under discussion. His reply was this:

With regard to “chandas”, which is your main question, the term has several related meanings. First, it is one of the Vedāṅgas, the limbs of the Veda, and in that context it refers to meter. It also had a related meaning of chant (probably metrical texts were chanted), and was connected especially with the Brahmins of the Sāma Veda. So we have the “chāndogya upaniṣad” belonging to the Chāndoga brahmins.

In grammatical literature chandas is used with reference to the language of the Veda (as Pollock has pointed out), especially in contradistinction to “bhāṣā” which was the spoken Sanskrit of the time. The distinction in grammar between the two is often pointed out. This distinction parallels the other distinction you find in grammatical works between “Veda” and “loka” — that is what is found in the Veda, including its language, and what is found in the world, the normal discourse and speech patterns.

So, the Buddhist reference [i.e. that of *sakāya niruttiyā*] clearly parallels the latter meaning, and must refer to the way Vedic texts are composed, especially the metrical part, and the language in which it is composed — which is supposed to be eternal and fixed. This also facilitated the memorization of the texts — after all there were no written texts then; the Veda was all in memory.

Rhys Davids & Oldenberg, Geiger, Winternitz, Brough, and Gombrich also agree that chandaso refers to Sanskrit. As was pointed out by Pollock, chandas was used by Pāṇini (fl. ca. 5th century BCE) for “the idiom actually used for the Vedic texts themselves.” Whatever the case may be, the incidence at least shows that the Buddha was not in favor of some feature that relates to Sanskrit.

Hmm; you may be right. Did you yourself write on the topic in some publication (academic paper, book etc.)? I would be interested to know about it.

No publication that I’ve seen has analysed all canonical Pali vocabulary to determine what % of it relies mainly on Vedic grammar, what % of it is explainable through classical sanskrit, and what % can’t be explained by either of them - have you seen such a study published anywhere? None of those names that you quote above appear to have done such an exercise - as far as I know.

Academics usually cite (rely-on) one another’s opinions in their publications (but rarely do they have 100% consensus-ad-idem on any topic to make such a reliance meaningful) - so one isn’t sure who was the last person who actually applied his own mind independently and comprehensively on the topic - and who is simply bouncing off their conclusions based on on other people’s opinions or misconceptions. The scholars you have named don’t agree on what exactly is/was sanskrit, what exactly is prakrit, etc. They have fuzzy definitions that they change according to need.

I’ve recently worked on thousands of Pali words to trace their Sanskrit equivalents for the DPD - and my personal experience tells me the vast majority are directly traceable to classical sanskrit etymologically. Therefore I am basing my opinions not on other people’s opinions (whether published or not), but on my own (ongoing) work. Once I trace the etymology of many more thousands of Pali words, I will be able to say much more definitively on the issue.

Prakrits were not dialects - there were no distinct ethnicities of Prakrit speakers found anywhere in Indian history to my knowledge. There is no one-to-one systematic sound-shifts between any single prakrit and any modern Indo-Aryan language that anyone has proven conclusively. So what made Pischel think they were dialects?

The two brothers were not evidently complaining about the the buddha’s own language or about any specific regional common/standard language, when they said “etarahi, bhante, bhikkhū nānānāmā nānāgottā nānājaccā nānākulā pabbajitā. Te sakāya niruttiyā buddhavacanaṁ dūsenti."

The commentarial interpretation therefore appears incorrect when it opines that ‘sakāya niruttiyā’ refers to ‘vuttappakāro’ or ‘māgadhiko vohāro’ - as that would make the original complaint (of a diversity of bhikkhus linguistically and semantically distorting the buddhavacana in their own peculiar subjective ways) meaningless.

There is no recourse to ‘probability’ required here. All vedic mantras (of all vedas) are and were chanted - and this is known to all vedic scholars as it is an extremely common occurence even today. Chanting is not specific to the Sāmaveda. Olivelle is a great scholar - he should have known what he was talking about - not sure if he was trying to suggest something different here.

Chando-ga (< Chāndogya) refers not to mere chanting the metrical hymns but actually singing them - as grāmageya gānas, āraṇya gānas, ūhā gānas and ūhya gānas, (see page 26 here). The ga at the end of the word Chandoga is from √gai (to sing) -
as the Monier-Williams dictionary points out: chando-ga m. (√gai) ‘singer in metre’, chanter of the SV. , Udgātṛ priest, AitareyaBrāhmaṇa. iii, 32 ; ŚatapathaBrāhmaṇa. x ; ŚāṅkhāyanaŚrautaSūtra. &c.
The same is said by the Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictonary Vācaspatyam: chandoga puṁ - chandaḥ sāmavedaṃ gāyati , √gai.
Again the same is known also from the Śabdakalpadruma Skt-Skt dictionary: chandogaḥ, puṃ, chando vedaviśeṣaṃ sāmetyarthaḥ gāyatīti. √gai.

We don’t need Pollock to point out what is in fact practically universally known for millenia - that chandas in grammatical texts refers to vedic and that it is used in contradistinction to spoken sanskrit. The distinction between Veda and loka also are widely known for a very long time.

Scholars cannot “agree” that chandaso refers to classical sanskrit - because it rather refers to the language and hymns of early vedic metric poetry. I dont see where they agreed about it and on what basis.

As I have said in point 8 here - the word chandas does not mean prose (or versified) classical sanskrit. Chandas here means the metric style and language of the early vedic mantra hymns. So the distinction in the passage was not between Classical Sanskrit and Pali but between the spoken language (Classical Sanskrit) and versified Vedic.

You can read more about this in my discussion with Stefan Karpik here.

Very well. Perhaps you can write a paper where you give some examples and see if it will convince scholars that Pāḷi is derived from CS? Could really be. I mean I would like to have a look. I am just asking myself now if you can rule out that they are simply cognates as opposed to, as you say, there being a historical development from CS to eventually Pāḷi. CS is usually taken to be chronologically later.

It isn’t that evident to me, really, at least on the basis of the text itself. That they speak of nānānāmā nānāgottā nānājaccā nānākulā pabbajitā seems to support the thesis that the Māgadhabhāsā (our Pāḷi) was something akin to a transregional language. I mean you may put forth arguments against that on different grounds, but at least the text above supports it (in fact others in the commentaries as well). For example, the Samantapāsādikā (Sp I: 94) equates Māgadhabhāsā seemingly with the Aryan language as a whole, thereby possibly referring to a supra-regional language. I also don’t see how this statement in the Vimativinodanīṭīkā (125) doesn’t adequately describe the incident:

They ruin (dūsenti) the word of the Buddha with their own language (sakāya niruttiyā) as it relates to the canon (pāḷi): ‘Surely, those of inferior birth who have learned [or ‘memorized’; i.e., the buddhavacana] corrupt the language of Magadha to be spoken by all with ease’ – this is the meaning.

Some may still need him … :slight_smile:

But you don’t concede that the Buddha then spoke against rendering his teachings into this language and its particular style?

Ah, I see. You mean the Buddha is there depicted as having spoken Classical Sanskrit and that he advocated that it should not be versified? Do I understand you correctly?

That would have to be an etymological dictionary of canonical Pali.
It is a topic I am interested in, but time will say whether I’ll be able to work on it.
My idea was to contribute enough sanskrit content to the DPD so that it would eventually serve the same purpose.

I don’t see the basis of such a conclusion. We have the Aṣṭādhyāyī and several other secular and non-secular written texts from the 4th century BCE and earlier in classical sanskrit, and there is no doubt about their age, or the age of the language in which they are written. Pali is not chronologically earlier than Classical Sanskrit (i.e. late-Vedic) - there is no indepedent attestation of Pali I am aware of that is dated before classical sanskrit.

People who make such claims must make clear what they mean/understand by the term Classical Sanskrit - because their arguments stem from underlying assumptions that later turn out to be baseless.

You may watch Prof. Richard Salomon describe the relationship between Sanskrit, Gandhari and Pali at (from 13:15 onwards in this video, and again the Q&A from 35:30 onwards) – https://www.youtube.com/live/jzRutSQsdUA?feature=shared&t=795

There are classical sanskrit texts from the Buddha’s era that have vedic archaisms in them. For example:

  • the Kāṭhakagṛhyasūtra, written in classical sanskrit employs the vedic infinitve form ‘kartave’ (tvaṃ tā ehi vivahāvahai puṃse putrāya kartave rāyaspoṣāya suprajāstvāya suvīryāyeti).
  • So does the Vārāhagṛhyasūtra (prajāṃ sṛjāvahā ubhau puṃse putrāya kartave)
  • The Mānavagṛhyasūtra has the vedic infinitive affix tavai ( tā eva vivahāvahai puṃse putrāya kartavai)

Would these therefore not be classical sanskrit texts - and would they become vedic-era texts? Why would Pali texts that have similar vedic archaisms be treated any differently from classical sanskrit texts from the period that also contain such archaisms?

There is not one single Sanskrit - there were several dialects of Sanskrit - and they were not all uniform as is commonly imagined by most people.

Linguistic archaisms in Pali are by themselves not a good enough reason to date Pali texts as being older than classical sanskrit texts of that era.

That doesn’t follow. There is no indication that either the Buddha or the bhikkhus who were ruining the Buddhavacana were doing so in our Pali. Also I dont see how Pali was a trans-regional language - is there any evidence Pali is or was relevant to the general public (outside Buddhism) either now or at any time in the past?

Assuming the vinaya passage is authentic (and not interpolated by the Pali tradition to give legitimacy to their own textual tradition), the Buddha would have been saying that his teachings should not be converted to early-Vedic metric hymns simply to make them tamper/ruin-proof. It is not an argument against either classical sanskrit or versified poetry in general.

Yes the language he was speaking would have been classical sanskrit and the suggestion there made by the brothers was to transform the Buddhavacana into specifically early-Vedic verse (and not classical sanskrit verse). It is in that context that I mentioned the incident of Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa from the Ud 5.6 (see above) - where the language in which he chanted the Aṭṭhakavagga would have to be classical sanskrit because he was chanting it with the vedic svaras (such a possibility only existed in classical sanskrit).

That would be a massive task, but I think a more or less long paper would be a good start to spark of discussion. I am afraid that the DPD will not receive the same credit as actually published material with a reputable institution, as correct as it may be.

Isn’t it scholarly consensus, basically? You are the only one I know to suggest that Classical Sanskrit is earlier than Pāḷi and that the Buddha spoke the former. I mean they conducted several symposia on that topic … Not that has to mean anything ultimately but just saying.

Well, there is explicit identification in the Pāḷi tradition itself, which constitutes an important part to the puzzle. So, I don’t concede your “no indication.” When we consider the evidence that speaks for the ancient origins of the commentaries, possible going back to the Buddha (at least in part), probably they knew a bit more than a tad about which language the Buddha spoke.

What do you make of the Hathigumpha Inscription? Norman posited that it is feasible to regard the home of Pāḷi as being outside the region where the true Māgadhī was spoken but still within Magadha, somewhat in the center of the east-Indian region, not far from Kaliṅga, the region of the Hathigumpha Inscription, which is basically Pāḷi. He considers it feasible that Māgadhī – as depicted within the Aṭṭhakathā tradition as the language of the Tipiṭaka – is a variant of the Māgadhī dialect proper and that the Buddhist tradition can thus be correct. To similar conclusions came already Winternitz, seeing the Māgadhī dialect proper at the base of Pāḷi, and Geiger, to quote the latter:

A consensus of opinion regarding the home of the dialect on which Pāli is based has therefore not been achieved. Windisch therefore falls back on the old tradition—and I am also inclined to do the same—according to which Pāli should be regarded as a form of Māgadhī, the language in which Buddha himself had preached.

But I am trying to understand your position a bit better. So, how would you sketch the origins of Pāḷi then? Do you think that it was ever spoken anywhere? Or do you think that it was a pure literary language? You posit that the Buddha spoke Classical Sanskrit. When, why, and how did the shift happen to Pāḷi according to your theory?

You wrote elsewhere:

[…] 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.

We could say that calling them moghapurisā after they have made their proposal is, first, a clear indicator that he thought highly negative about their proposal, and I am not sure if a mere suggestion that goes against mere safeguarding would merit such severe criticism. Secondly, assuming that the regions where he was mostly active were not predominantly Brahmin, we could see how adopting a way of presenting his teaching (or outright that language) according to their customs would not be pleasing those who have no faith; at least it would not arouse the right kind of faith.

There isn’t such a consensus to my knowledge. Did you watch the video in my prior post above where Dr. Richard Salomon says Sanskrit is linguistically the mother of Pali and Gandhari?

Dr. Gombrich apparently says pretty much the same thing (i.e. “Pali is a derivative of Sanskrit” & “Prakrit languages are those directly derived from Sanskrit”).

The consensus, if it exists, points rather in the opposite direction to what you are assuming. Virtually everyone in academia knows that the dialects of late-Vedic (Sanskrit) and their direct ancestors, the dialects of early-Vedic constitute what is today known as Old-Indo-Aryan. Everyone knows too that Old-Indo-Aryan is earlier than Middle-Indo-Aryan across the board.

The idea that Pali (or the Middle-Indic features that distinguish it from sanskrit) precedes classical sanskrit amounts to no more than radical speculation - and it needs much stronger evidence (than is currently adduced in works like those of Oberlies etc) to be considered seriously. Syntactically canonical Pali follows the style of the late-Vedic prose brahmanas (like the Śatapatha, Kauṣitaki etc) but they are considered late-vedic and are very close in time to Pāṇini and classical sanskrit. If someone were arguing that Pali is also a kind of Old-Indo-Aryan - then that would be an interesting argument I would like to study deeper - but not if someone were trying to show that Middle-Indo-Aryan linguistic features in Pali somehow pre-dated Sanskrit - that would make no real sense from a philological point of view.

The very definition of the name Prākṛta i.e. Prakrit (as it is applied to certain Middle-Indo-Āryan languages) means that they are derived from a Prakṛti (original or originary language) and that originary language is Sanskrit (according to multiple native sources), see below.

  1. Hemacandra (a Jain grammarian of the 10th century who lived in Gujarat) in his grammar of Sanskrit and Prākrit named Siddha-Hema-Śabdanuśāsana, defines prākṛt’s origin to be sanskṛt:
    “prakṛtiḥ saṃskṛtam, tatrabhavaṃ tata āgataṃ vā prākṛtaṃ”
    [Sanskrit is the prakṛti (primary/source) - and Prākṛta is so called because it either ‘originates-in’ or ‘comes-from’ Sanskrit.]
  2. Another prākṛt grammarian, Mārkaṇḍeya, writes in his grammar Prākṛtasarvasva -
    “prakṛtiḥ saṃskṛtaṃ, tatrabhavaṃ prākṛtam ucyate“
    [Sanskrit is called the prakṛti (origin), and from there prākṛtam originates].
  3. Dhanika, in his ‘Daśarūpakāvaloka’ commentary on Daśarūpaka (one of the most important treatises explaining the 10 types of Indian Drama), says:
    “prakṛter āgataṃ prākṛtam, prakṛtiḥ saṃskṛtam”
    [from the prakṛti (source) comes prākṛtam, and that prakṛti is Sanskrit]
  4. Siṃhadevagaṇin while commenting on Vāgbhaṭālaṅkāra writes:
    “prakṛteḥ saṃskrtād āgataṃ prākṛtam”
    [from Sanskrit (which is the source i.e. Prakṛti) - comes Prākṛt]
  5. The Prākṛtacandrikā (a grammar of Prākṛt) says:
    “prakṛtiḥ saṃskṛtaṃ, tatrabhavatvāt prākṛtaṃ smṛtam”
    [Sanskrit is the prakṛti, it is remembered that prākṛtam originates from that (prakṛti)]
  6. The Prākṛtaśabdapradīpikā of Narasiṃha says:
    “prakṛteḥ saṃskṛtāyāstu vikṛtiḥ prākṛtī matā”
    [Alterations/changes (vikṛti) of the original Sanskrit - is known as Prākṛt]
  7. The Ṣaḍbhāṣācandrikā of Lakṣmīdhara says the same thing as the above:
    “prakṛteḥ saṃskṛtāyāstu vikṛtiḥ prākṛtī matā”
    [Alterations/changes (vikṛti) of the original Sanskrit - is known as Prākṛt]
  8. Vāsudeva, in his Prākṛtasaṃjīvanī commentary on Rājaśekhara’s Karpūramañjarī says:
    “prākṛtasya tu sarvameva saṃskṛtaṃ yoniḥ”
    [Sanskrit is the mother of all Prākṛt]
  9. Nārāyaṇa, in his Rasika-sarvasva commentary on the Gītāgovindam of Jayadeva, says:
    “saṃskṛtāt prākṛtam iṣṭaṃ tato ‘pabhraṃśabhāṣaṇam”
    [From Sanskrit is derived proper prākṛt, and from that is derived the corrupt-speech i.e. apabhraṃśa]
  10. Śaṅkara, in his Rasacandrikā commentary on the Abhijñānaśākuntala (play by Kālidāsa) says something slightly different from the above:
    “saṃskṛtāt prākṛtam śreṣṭhaṃ tato ‘pabhraṃśabhāṣaṇam”
    [From Sanskrit is derived best prākṛt, and from that is derived the corrupt-speech i.e. apabhraṃśa]

These sources are mentioned at the very beginning of Richard Pischel’s ‘Prakrit grammar’. Observe that the native understanding of them was that the Prakrits are ‘literary languages’ i.e. languages of written literature, not spoken ‘dialects’.

Well that’s sort of my own inference. I’ve given reasons for it above (the Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa incident above, and the two-way distinction between Classical & Vedic sanskrit known also from non-Buddhist sources of the same period etc, among several other reasons that I have not mentioned). I dont expect everyone to agree with me on this inference - and I am happy to be persuaded away from this inference by stronger evidence in the other direction. But this is my working hypothesis for now.

I don’t think of them as ‘evidence’, the commentaries do not go back to the Buddha, and they are wont to make fantasy explanations on occasions - as for example, this explanation for the name isipatana (in the MNa): “…iti isayo ettha nipatanti uppatanti cāti taṃ ṭhānaṃ”. They do on occasion make useful observations and alternative readings, but they are in any case not evidence for the state of affairs in the Buddha’s lifetime. They stories they spin about the Buddha’s time are mostly speculative and are not ‘inherited’ from the Buddha’s era, as far as I know.

The Hāthigumpha inscription (or ‘Hatthiguhā’ inscription if you like to read its name as Pāli) is not written in standard canonical Pali. It has the following distinctive features that show its differences from standard Pali (as per the reading published in the Epigraphia Indica Vol 20):

  1. It doesn’t employ consonant clusters unlike Pāli.
  2. The word arahantānaṃ (std. Pāli) is spelled as arihantānaṃ - which is more like the Jain (ardhamāgadhī) spelling.
  3. The word sabba is written as sava
  4. It uses the diphthong ‘ai’ in the word Airena - which is a phoneme not recognised in Pali (or in any other kind of known Prakrit to my knowledge)
  5. The usual word for ‘15’ in pāli is either pannarasa or pañcadasa - but the inscription has paṃdarasa
  6. Pāli usually represents intervocalic ḍ as ḷ (for example kīḷā, biḷāra etc) but in the inscription this rule is not followed - it has kīḍitā, kumārakīḍikā etc.
  7. The word normally found in Pāli as vohāro/vohāram (or its verbal form voharati) is in the inscription written vavahāra. Vohāro (as in Pāli) is a further advanced form phonetically, and the inscription represents an earlier stage of phonetic development compared to pali.
  8. The word yovarajaṃ (the status of heir presumptive to the throne) found in the inscription, corresponding to the sanskrit form yauvarājyaṃ - is not attested in canonical pali to my knowledge.
  9. What in Pāli is nearly invariably written as paṭhama/paṭhame is written in the inscription as padhame. This voicing of unvoiced consonants is also found in other words in the same inscription, such as goradha, bharadhavasa*, Madhuraṃ etc. There is however a lexical variant attested in one of the Jātaka verses of the word bhāradha (similar to the bharadhavasa of the inscription), where the normally expected form would be bhārata.
  10. The word written as puñña in Pāli is found in the inscription as puṃna in the compound matuka-pada-puṃna (pure/auspicious status of motherhood).

It’s a long inscription and there are many other observations that can be made.

If it is argued that differences notwithstanding it can be treated as Pali, by that same argument, differences notwithstanding it can be treated as Sanskrit too. Therefore my opinion is that there were no separate languages called Pali, Ardhamagadhi, Gandhari or Epigraphic Prakrit back then (around the 3rd or 2nd century BCE) - they were viewed as being the same language as standard sanskrit - so we shouldnt superimpose the artificial distinctions we’ve created (for our own understanding) on history. The people of those time didnt recognize those distinctions.

Before speculating about whether Pali was representative of ‘Magadhabhāsā’ or not, it would be useful to see if there is any canonical or other coeval BCE literary mention of Magadha having a uniquely identifiable dialect or language of its own.

As far as I know Magadha did not get singled out as a region with its own peculiar dialect in any surviving BCE text. Regional dialects or languages bearing their own names are not found in any early (BCE) textual source, Buddhist or non-Buddhist. So the idea that there was a uniquely identifiable Magadhabhāsā in the time of the Buddha or even in the time of Ashoka is something that needs to be proven. After such a unique dialect or language is proven beyond doubt to have existed in the 4th or 3rd centuries BCE, we can begin identifying its unique features and start comparing Pali to it.

The other name ‘Ariyaka’ (Aryan language, or language of the Aryans) is historically a name of Sanskrit (see page 126 in Andrew Ollett’s ‘Language of the Snakes’). Sanskrit was historically called Āryabhāṣā, and that name is found applied to Sanskrit not only in Indo-Aryan texts but also in Dravidian texts. We dont see that name (Āryaka/Ariyaka or Āryabhāṣā/Ariyabhāsā) being applied to any Middle-Indo-Aryan language or to Pali in any independent source.

Here are the words āriyam (= pāli ariyaka), āriya-moḻi (= pāli ariya-bhāsā) and vaṭa-moḻi (“northern language”) & their meanings as used in Tamil texts (as listed in the Madras University Tamil Lexicon):

ஆரியம்² āriyam , n . < ārya .

  1. Sacred land of the Āryas; ஆரியாவர்த்தம். (அக. நி.)
  2. Sanskrit, the language of the Āryas; ஸம்ஸ் கிருதம். ஆரியம் முதலிய பதினெண் பாடையின் (கம்பரா. பம்பா. 14).

ஆரியமொழி āriya-moḻi , n . < id. +. Sanskrit, the language of the Āryas; வடமொழி.

வடமொழி vaṭa-moḻi , n . < வட +. 1. Sanskrit language; சம்ஸ்கிருத பாஷை. வடமொழி முதலான பிறகலைக்கடல்களுள்ளும் (நன். 459, மயிலை.). 2. (Gram.) Sanskrit word; வடசொல். செந்தமிழ்க்கண் வந்த வடமொழியு மாற்றாதே (யாப். வி. பக். 461).

The dictionary of chinese buddhist terms also connects the word āryabhāṣā with sanskrit –
聖語 āryabhāṣā . Sacred speech, language, words, or sayings; Sanskrit.

This question is really about how I understand the linguistic pre-history of Pali and the prakrits. Pali is a standardized literary register (originating in a specific manuscript tradition) of the Buddhist canon (based on an underlying spoken language that cannot however be called or identified as Pali). Canonical Pāli as a manuscript tradition is based closely on the Epigraphic language used by Ashoka, the Hathigumpha and other early inscriptions (but is far more phonetically and grammatically regularized/standardized, specially in the prose). The reason why the Epigraphic language differs from Classical Sanskrit is because classical sanskrit with its complex consonant clusters was very difficult to engrave on stone with full phonetic accuracy. The spoken language (Old-Indo-Aryan) had to be necessarily simplified phonetically and grammatically to suit the nature of the early scripts and with the requirements of stone engraving. The Brāhmī script itself was very new in the early Mauryan period and it took a few centuries for it to stabilize and evolve enough to represent sanskrit with full phonetic accuracy. So the introduction of writing led to the origin of prakrit as an artificial linguistic variant distinguishing it from Sanskrit (the spoken language) - writing therefore, particularly in the early centuries, was not a phonetically accurate record of speech. The Pali tradition also used the early epigraphic conventions to write the canon quickly and easily (as copying the canonical suttas into as many manuscript copies as possible was the only way Buddhism could spread its doctrines far and wide - there being no oral transmission). So the obvious ease of writing Pali with its artificially simplified consonant clusters (vis-a-vis the difficulty of writing phonetically accurate sanskrit in early-Brāhmī) would have played a big role in the choice of Pali as a linguistic medium of Early Buddhism. Not all early Buddhist sects agreed with the Pali tradition in retaining this early epigraphic register as the canonical language indefinitely - so some Nikaya schools converted the canonical texts back into proper Sanskrit when the script had evolved and it became usual for the written language to represent the spoken language with fuller phonetic accuracy. All this would have been quite obvious back then, but over the centuries Brāhmī itself was abandoned as it had evolved into regional variants and the original need for using the early epigraphic registers were forgotten over time. The later Pali tradition assumed that the inherited language of their canonical texts (later called Pali) was the original language of Buddhism - which was however not the case historically. The Jains too were in a similar situation with ArdhaMāgadhī (AM) - they claimed it was the original language of Jainism but the situation was pretty much the same for AM as it was with Pāli.

Yes - the Buddha wasnt apparently disagreeing with the statement - “sakāya niruttiyā buddhavacanaṃ dūsenti”. However he didnt agree with the solution proposed by them – “to convert the Buddhavacana to early-Vedic metric poetry”. He allows the errant bhikkhus to ‘learn’ the buddhavacana (anujānāmi buddhavacanaṃ pariyāpuṇitum) “sakāya niruttiyā” - so it would appear that he agreed there were linguistic distortions but was OK with it. Anyways, I dont know if this incident is authentic or if it a interpolation by the Pali tradition into their own vinaya to justify their reliance on Pali

Yes but the words moghapurisa/moghapurisā are a part of a stock phrase, and are used nearly about 400-500 times in the vinaya based on a rough count - it would appear that it is not uniquely applicable to this situation. So I dont attach much significance to it. You dont appear to be addressing the Buddha’s praise of Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa who is said to have chanted the Aṭṭhakavagga with the vedic tone accents (which as I have mentioned is an option that would have been possible only in classical sanskrit in the Buddha’s era.)

That doesn’t sound like a valid assumption to make. Not sure how you come to this understanding.

Brahmin & Vedic cultural presence is seen practically all over the Pali canon, in many hundreds or even thousands of suttas. References (direct or indirect) to Vedic culture is found all over. Vedic Brahmins were not outsiders to Early-Buddhism either culturally or doctrinally (nor were most early Buddhists foreign to Brahmanism in any significant way). The principal difference between the Vedic Brahmanism and early Buddhism, as it appears to me, is Brahmanism’s focus on Vedic ritual and scholarly attainments, vs Buddhism’s focus on psychology and philosophical inquiry. The difference is one of worldview and focus, not one of cultural, ethnic or regional differences or animosities. They were not in any way separated by geography or cultural background. The Buddha stayed in several Brahmin villages and regularly met brahmins (both ritualists and hermits) from tens of different clans/gotras. Brahmanism may not have known everything about Early-Buddhism, or paid much attention to Early-Buddhism (because early-Buddhism was relatively a tiny doctrinal presence back then in the Buddha’s time, i.e. one among multiple similar movements that claimed to chart a new way of life, rejecting different aspects of the inherited Brahmanical tradition), but early Buddhists couldnt have ignored Brahmanism even if they tried, as its presence in the India of the Buddha was ubiquitous.

Sanskrit was not a Brahmin-only language by any means. It was a secular and widely-spoken language of the entire Indo-Aryan India (i.e. most of northern and central India) in the Buddha’s time. Classical Sanskrit dialects spoken across India in the Buddha’s time were the direct descendants of the Vedic dialects which used to be spoken all across Northern-India in the 1000 years or so before the Buddha was born. The idea that Sanskrit was restricted to Brahmins in the time of the Buddha is a misconception and it has no basis in fact. Brahmins were certainly its exemplars, but that is due to their status as teachers and scholars, not that they were its only native speakers.

Pali is very close to Sanskrit lexically and grammatically, and comes in the same linguistic and cultural tradition. It cannot have been considered a language opposed to Sanskrit. Such an idea is not present anywhere in the Pali canon to my knowledge (notwithstanding the modern misinterpretations of the phrase ‘sakāya niruttiyā’ and setting up this imaginary false picture of the Buddha being opposed to Sanskrit).

I would be interested to know if they were speaking about Vedic or the Classical Sankrit as per Pāṇini? Indeed I would like to know if there is really anyone saying the Pāḷi is derived from Classical Sanskrit as such. I don’t know the percentage, but there are certainly a fair number of those who say that Pāḷi is rather derived from Vedic rather than Classical Sanskrit: "Old Indo-Aryan includes Vedic, Classical and Epic Skt.; Vedic developed to the more popular Middle Indo-Aryan languages (Prākṛt, Pāli, Ardha-Magadhī, Māharāṣṭrī, etc.) (Witzel: Origin and development of language in South Asia: Phylogeny versus epigenetics?, p. 47).

That’s what I have I also heard but never that this also applies to the Classical Sanskrit. I am not in the position to proof that myself but that has always been my impression from what I have read of those who studies the matter.

Hmm, as to the syntax, the sholars I know of have explained a connection to Vedic rather than Classical Sanskrit: “Altogether, the Pāli style has a more primitive character than the Sanskrit style which has a more refined (and more artificial) effect. The styles of the canonical Pāli texts in particular exhibits a very ancient phase, in many respects reminiscient of Vedic prose” (Hendriksen: Syntax of the Infinite Verb-Forms of Pāli, p. 81).

Wijesekera (Syntax of the Cases in the Pali Nikayas, p. 6) posits something similar: “The Pāli Nikāyas represent an idiom which in its general outlines bears close affinities to Vedic syntax, thereby showing a nearer relation to Indo-European than Classical Sanskrit; a fact that may be considered as further support for Franke’s contention that ‘certain appearances exclude the possibility that (Classical) Sanskrit and Pāli (in growth and development) belonged to one and the same region.’”

Interesting; thanks for sharing. What come to mind is the fact that Pāḷi is not always classified among the Prakrits; I would wager that as per the description of the Sanskrit sources you cited, Pāḷi would not be included.

I directed Ven. Ānandajoti to one of the threads where you argued that Magadha was situated around present-day Gujarat since he’s done research about similar topics. He agreed that it would be good if you’d put your arguments into a paper, which I think might well apply here too (he doesn’t come to same conclusions regarding ancient Magadha, but that’s another thing).

Well, I think it is just natural to assume that the commentaries were, at least in part, recited at the first council, as they themselves say. What good reason do we have to doubt that there were commentaries at the time of the Buddha? Where do you think the high numbers of students of the great disciples would go to for clarification of obscure points contained in the teachings of the Buddha? Not all could just go as they please to him, so they had naturally to rely on their teachers with whom they interacted more regularly, even on a daily basis. I find it a bit unlikely that they were not considered and recited after the passing of the Buddha. As K.R. Norman put it:

[…] some parts of the commentaries are very old, perhaps even going back to the time of the Buddha, because they afford parallels with texts which are regarded as canonical by other sects, and must therefore pre-date the schisms between the sects. As has already been noted, some canonical texts include commentarial passages, while the existence of the Old Commentary in the Vinaya-piṭaka and the canonical status of the Niddesa prove that some sort of exegesis was felt to be needed at a very early stage of Buddhism (Pāli literature : Including the canonical literature in Prakrit and Sanskrit of all the Hīnayāna schools of Buddhism, p. 119).

The anthropological, geographical etc. (biographical to some degree) information is usually not regarded with much suspicion by scholars (of course, it is not perfect). Again, just natural to assume that such secondary information would have found entrance into the commentaries, circulating as part of early-Buddhist lore.

All I can say is that it sounds interesting, without wanting to mention perhaps one or two inconsistencies (it’s taking too much time the back and forth; my apologies).

Well, linguistic distortions from a Vedic perspective. The Buddha didn’t see a problem to stick to the ways of the Māgadhabhāsā instead.

Agreed, it’s not a special word, but it still indicates that the Buddha thought negatively about a proposal of theirs that related to things Vedic.

I looked a little bit closer into it, but I am afraid I won’t be able to continue my research of merit (remember the OP after scrolling for 2 minutes up?) if I don’t get back to it now.

Sure, they were there, but there are scholars who argue that they were not dominant (see Bronkhorst with his Greater Magadha or Alexander Wynne, who basically agrees with him). But, again, I am not able to confirm or reject their assessments. Are we right to assume that only some learned Brahmins would still know old-Vedic at the time of the Buddha? If so, I think we would see why the Buddha didn’t like to adopt to the proposal of the Brahmins.

Is Classical Sanskrit not usually classified as a literary language, rather? I would be interested to know: How can we understand that it was spoken at the Buddha’s time other than via theories of historical linguistics?

They dont seem to have considered such a distinction relevant here, or they would have explicitly said ‘Vedic’ to be on the safe side if they wanted to. They were talking about Sanskrit as a whole. Such a distinction is artificial - there was an unbroken linguistic continuity from early vedic sanskrit to classical sanskrit and it was essentially the same linguistic continuum.

When you say “as per Pāṇini” – are you aware Pāṇini’s work describes not only the classical sanskrit dialects spoken in his time but also (early) Vedic dialects - he treats them both as two stages of the same language.

Sanskrit is attested in various chronological stages all through the vedic period:

  1. The earliest dialects of Vedic are attested in the so-called “family-books” of the Ṛgveda (i.e. maṇḍalas 2-7).
  2. A slightly later stage of Vedic dialects are attested in the later books of the Ṛgveda, the Yajurveda, the Atharvaveda etc.
  3. A still later stage of Vedic is attested in the texts of the early Brāḥmaṇas (which are Vedic commentaries from the pre-Buddhist era).
  4. The later brāhmaṇas, the āraṇyakas, the early upaniṣads, the sūtras (kalpasūtras, gṛhyasūtras, dharmasūtras, sulbasūtras etc) and the oldest core of the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, are roughly from the Buddha’s era (plus or minus a century). This is the stage normally called classical-sanskrit and dates to the time of Pāṇini. Pāṇini, as you may be aware lived very close to the time of the Buddha (within a few decade or so of each other).

So classical sanskrit is a direct continuation of Vedic, and it was a widely spoken language. Sanskrit words are Vedic words, and Vedic grammar is sanskrit grammar (pertaining to an older stage of the same language). The distinctions between Early-Vedic (or simply 'Vedic) and Late-Vedic (or ‘Classical Sanskrit’) are similar to the distinctions between Chaucerian English and Shakespearean English. They are two stages of the same language. Their vocabulary is in most cases phonetically, semantically and grammatically identical to one another and are listed without distinction in most sanskrit dictionaries.

So I dont see a need to treat them as different sources of linguistic information, they are one continuum.

The middle-Indo-Aryan features of Pali (which are essentially the features that make Pali what it is) are invariably younger than the Old-Indo-Aryan features of Classical Sanskrit. The distinction between classical and vedic sanskrit here is basically about earlier or later stages of the same language.

Who are they and what are their arguments on which they are basing such an opinion? I would like to see their educational and scholarly backgrounds - how many have more than basic familiarity with Paninian grammar and the native scholarly traditions? Sanskrit literature is vast (more than 100x of all Pali and Prakrit put together) and spans millenia before and after the Buddha. Are you saying they are all equally competent in the subject? I don’t think so. The conclusions they arrive at need to be dissected in the light of historical evidence and facts. I have not seen any substantial/convincing/valid arguments to date Pali before Classical Sanskrit.

Those who make a distinction between Vedic and Classical Sanskrit to then argue that Pali’s origins cannot have been classical sanskrit - usually adopt their own narrow artificial definition of classical sanskrit i.e. they treat the grammatical model of Panini alone as classical sanskrit. They wouldnt take the Classical Sanskrit language historically attested in hundreds of BCE texts as constituting a historical record of Classical Sanskrit. Therefore their argument eventually turns out to be circular i.e. they would be making arguments that fit their definitions, and they would be using definitions that fit their arguments. This is my observation from reading some of their opinions. Witzel (quoted by you above) is one of those who makes up his definitions to suit his theories about what constitutes classical sanskrit, as far as I remember having read his articles on the topic.

Where has anyone said that classical sanskrit cannot be considered Old-Indo-Aryan - or that it cannot be considered ancestral to middle-Indo-Aryan as a whole? What definition of classical sanskrit are they using - is it a definition that limits the language to whatever suits their theory, or does it take the wider historically attested classical sanskrit texts and BC-era native descriptions of its phonology and morphology into consideration?

That is exactly what I was saying too - “Syntactically canonical Pali follows the style of the late-Vedic prose brahmanas (like the Śatapatha, Kauṣitaki etc)” … which are however considered late-Vedic texts approximating in time to classical sanskrit of the time of Pāṇini.

However, when we compare Classical Sanskrit texts with Pali, we will need to compare classical sanskrit texts from the same period as the Pali canon i.e. within a few centuries after the Buddha - not classical sanskrit texts from the 4th century CE, or the 7th century CE, or the 10th century CE, or the 15th century or 18th centuries CE.

I dont see them making such a distinction. Classical Sanskrit is not a uniform language, it’s syntax varies based on time and place. Later classical sanskrit from the common era will (of course) be younger than canonical pali. However if we are talking about the classical sanskrit of Panini’s time, or the Buddha’s time, it would have been ancestral to Pali. So I would like to see if those scholars are nuanced enough in their understanding, opinions and argumentation - or if they are taking classical sanskrit to be a monolith regardless of the century of its use - which it isn’t.

Again I dont see which classical sanskrit he was talking about - i.e. classical sanskrit of which period and as represented by which texts/literature? Without knowing that, it would be a circular argument.

The Pali canon historically pre-dates most sanskrit texts composed in the last 1500+ years. It would not be sensible to compare or argue that those classical sanskrit texts (from the last 1500 years) preserve a linguistic idiom ancestral to canonical Pali. I am not making such an argument.

When I say ‘classical sanskrit’ being older to Pali, what I mean is the classical sanskrit that existed historically in the speech and texts of the 5th, 4th, 3rd & 2nd centuries BCE - and as evidenced by the literature that were produced in those centuries that survive today. I don’t think Wijesekara was talking merely about co-eval texts or linguistic usage.

It looks like he was comparing all classical sanskrit (including classical sanskrit books written in the 20th or 21st century, or even the variety of classical sanskrit spoken by people today, within his definition.) That is not particularly an apt comparison to make.

If we find Pali mentioned anywhere in any source outside of the Pali tradition, it would probably be classified along with the prakrits, but I have not seen the language that we today call Pali mentioned anywhere as a separate language.

That apart, if we compare the common Middle-Indo-Aryan features of Pali which it shares with the “Prakrits” (which are what distinguish Pali and the Prakrits from Sanskrit and Vedic) - those features are not found attributed in native Prakrit grammars as belonging to any unique or separate linguistic tradition that ostensibly directly originated from vedic (and not via classical sanskrit). So if most Prakrit features are traced to Sanskrit in origin, it means the very same Middle-Indic features in Pali are part of the same linguistic innovations/changes historically.

Therefore the idea Pāli had a history uniquely distinct from other Prakrits (despite shared phonetic and grammatical innovations) does not sound credible from a historical linguistics point of view.

Oh thank you for asking him to comment. My point of view about Magadha’s location is really centered around Ashoka’s edict at Girnar, the reason he doesnt mention the name Pāṭaliputra in any other identical copy of his edicts (located at at least 5 other places), and the edicts of other kings connecting the location of Girnar with Chandragupta Maurya (the first Mauryan emperor and Ashoka’s grandfather).

Even in the Hāthigumpha inscription (located in the Udayagiri Hills in the Indian state of Orissa), Khāravela calls himself a king of the Chedi janapada. The Chedi janapada is shown somewhere in eastern Rājasthan in this Suttacentral map (under the name Ceti). The distance between those two places amounts to a 1000 kilometres error. The places are not therefore clearly identified (even today).

Therefore my suggestions are intended to bring some additional historical context to the places identified so that they may be identified more accurately

I was just this morning talking about the origin of the commentaries with an aquaintance who is a Pali expert (who shall be unnamed for now) - he mentioned that based on his extensive reading of the commentaries, he is of the opinion that Buddhaghosa was evidently thinking in Sanskrit while writing the commentaries in Pali. He says the Pali of the commentaries is so very different from the Pāli of the mūla canon in diction.

Neither the commentaries nor the canon could have been recited in any council immediately following the Buddha’s death - as I dont think they existed in their present form back then. Most of the canon was composed or compiled from multiple sources. The commentaries did not exist until a few centuries after the canon had been redacted. The oldest commentaries (the niddesas) are part of the canon but date to a century or two after the canon - maybe from the time of the Milindapanha - whereas Buddhaghosa’s commentaries, and the ṭīkas on them - are about 8 or 9 centuries after the buddha’s time.

Are you saying those students even in the Buddha’s lifetime and immediately thereafter, would have been reading or memorizing the commentaries word by word to gain doctrinal clarity? That too in a period when most common people didn’t do any academic study of any kind?

That wouldnt have been the case in my understanding. The commentaries were commenting on written texts. The canon was a written canon, and due to its enormous bulk, I dont think it had any complete written commentary before Buddhaghosa’s time (apart from the Niddesas which are a comparatively tiny commentary on parts of the suttanipāta datable to the beginning of the common era). The commentaries for the most part post-date the huge abhidhamma doctrinal systematization of the primitive canonical ideas (which very likely happened in the early years of the common era). There were no commentaries in the first council in my understanding.

Regarding Dr. Norman’s comments about some parts of the commentaries being old - which parts was he talking about and what is the logic he was relying on to reach that conclusion? How old exactly is very old? Those statements of Norman you’ve quoted appear vague. I am not disputing the idea that there are the niddesas are commentarial texts - and I am not disputing that they are older than the atthakathas, but none of the commentaries go back to the time of Buddha, and there was no commentary that I know of that existed for the whole canon at an early date. If Norman has explained his ideas and logic clearly and logically, I would like to read them in greater detail and educate myself. It looks like even Norman only believes that only parts of commentaries may be old, not a whole commentary on the entire canon.

I don’t consider most commentarial information very reliable as they are not verifiable (sometimes they are outright wrong in their interpretations). If any of the information they mention were circulating as part of early-buddhist lore, that would be evident from the epigraphic record for example (as in the story of Anāthapiṇḍika buying Jetavana depicted in the Bharhut Stupa, see first image).

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Although I find it interesting, I think I have reached the limit of time to spend now on questions about historical linguistics. :slight_smile: Thank you for your erudite perspectives.

Yeah, definitely good to share.

I am not sure if we can say “very different.” They are the same language with scholars having remarked how homogenous the language of the Tipiṭaka and their commentaries are as a whole. If one can read the Tipiṭaka, one can pretty much read the commentaries (with the obvious exceptions being technical terminology, more complex syntax etc.).

Sure, I was not speaking of the present form today, excepting such things as obvious editing. Otherwise, why not accept the obvious. Where are all the explanations of the great disciples? I think where the commentaries themselves say they are. It’s the opinions of the elders of the first through the third councils.

I don’t think that’s true. For example, with the Niddesa, even Norman in his Pāli Literature (p. 85) finds it not impossible that parts of the text go back to Ven. Sāriputta as author, but still says that the book as a whole is of a later date just because three words contained in the Suttanipāta have been explained differently. I don’t find this rejection convincing and sufficient reason to reject a perfectly cogent claim made by the tradition since one can so easily find other reasonable explanations to account for such minor things. If one would apply the same standard even to quite uncontested portions of the canon, one would probably question if it comes from the Buddha. I mean, people reject, for example, whole discourses of the Saṃyuttanikāya as late but still never come to the conclusion that the collection as a whole isn’t attributable to the Buddha. It’s double standards at play.

By means of dating certain Sinhalese elders mentioned, the commentaries contain evidence that shows that no additions have been made until around the first century BCE. Later, Buddhaghosa was editor and compiler, not author. He was quite faithful, inserting lots of quotations and indicating if the opinion of a certain elder he takes recourse to is not found in the commentaries that were available to him. You can also see his faithfulness when comparing his Suttanipāta commentary with Ven. Sāriputta’s Niddesa. In the latter, sometimes many examples are given, with Buddhaghosa simply giving the first or the second of that list (or perhaps some other contained therein) for the sake of brevity. There is certainly good evidence that speaks for the authenticity of the commentaries. The Ṭīkās are a different matter, yes.

He doesnt challenge the two brothers about the fact of there being a distortion of the original buddhavacana (not from just a vedic perspective as you’re suggesting, but even from the Buddha’s own perspective) by novice bhikkhus from different social backgrounds. He implicitly accepts the charge (by not disputing that observation), but he appears to dispute the suitability or effectiveness of the solution proposed by the brothers. I don’t see the need to bring in any Magadhabhāsā into the picture.

I cannot say what you have to think or how you have to construe an argument - but the arguments there do not appear to be depicting such a narrow tribalist mentality as you are taking them to be. The Buddha was rejecting the suggestion (assuming the account is authentic) not because the language proposed was Vedic per se – but because the purpose of Buddhist doctrine was for it to appeal to the people of the day and not become stored in a pristine condition within an archaic dialect and form like early-Vedic metric poetry. The fact that whole buddhist canons existed in classical sanskrit not very long after the Buddha’s lifetime means that early-Buddhists did not view the sanskrit tradition as mutually opposed to their culture as you are taking them to be.

I have read part of Bronkhorst’s arguments as presented in his Greater Magadha hypothesis - and I think his ideas of greater Magadha are not credible, and I wont be spending any time discussing them.

Early-Vedic was many centuries older (like 600-800 years older) than the spoken sanskrit of the Buddha’s time - and it was becoming less comprehensible to the common people of the Buddha’s era. It was the religious duty of the Brahmins to learn and teach the Vedas to others, and as part of Vedic study they also had to learn its grammar, pronunciation, etymologies etc - so at least some Brahmins would have understood early-vedic (including accented Sanskrit speech). But early-vedic wasn’t very intelligible to those who hadn’t done such a study. The Buddha may have understood it (assuming he had been initiated into a full Vedic education and ritual tradition in his privileged youth - aspects of which are visible from the arguments he makes in some suttas) - but for the vast majority who were at home in classical sanskrit - accented early-Vedic language would only have barely made sense, and commentarial explanations would have been required for most people to make full sense of early-vedic metric hymns.

There is plenty of evidence from BCE texts for classical sanskrit having been a widely spoken natural language. Pāṇini himself makes several remarks on dialectal features attributable to the easterners, northerners etc.

For example in the following rules he gives peculiarities of the sanskrit as spoken in eastern janapadas:
4.1.160 prācāmavṛddhāt phin bahulam
4.2.139 prācāṃ kaṭādeḥ
5.3.80 prācāmupāderaḍajvucau ca
6.2.74 prācāṃ krīḍāyām
7.3.14 prācāṃ grāmanagarāṇām
7.3.24 prācāṃ nagarānte
1.1.75 eṅ prācāṃ deśe
2.4.60 iñaḥ prācām
2.4.66 bahvacaḥ iñaḥ prācyabharateṣu
3.1.90 kuṣirajoḥ prācāṃ śyan parasmaipadaṃ ca
3.4.18 alaṅkhalvoḥ pratiṣedhayoḥ prācāṃ ktvā
4.1.43 śoṇāt prācām
4.1.178 na prācyabhargādiyaudheyādibhyaḥ
4.2.113 na dvyacaḥ prācyabharateṣu
4.2.120 vṛddhāt prācām
4.2.123 ropadhetoḥ prācām
5.3.94 ekācca prācām
5.4.101 khāryāḥ prācām
6.2.99 pure prācām
6.3.10 kāranāmni ca prācāṃ halādau
7.3.45 na yāsayoḥ
8.2.86 guroranṛto’nantyasyāpyekaikasya prācām
8.3.75 pariskandaḥ prācyabharateṣu

Similarly these sūtras present dialectal peculiarities of Sanskrit spoken in the north(-western) janapadas:
7.3.48 abhāṣitapuṃskācca
7.3.47 bhastraiṣā’jājñādvāsvānañpūrvāṇāmapi
7.3.46 udīcāmātaḥ sthāne yakapūrvāyāḥ
6.3.32 mātarapitarāvudīcām
4.1.159 putrāntādanyatarasyām
4.1.157 udīcāṃ vṛddhādagotrāt
4.1.153 udīcāmiñ
4.1.130 āragudīcām
4.1.1 ṅyāpprātipadikāt

Pāṇini’s commentators explain that Paninian grammar is based on native everyday speech, and therefore actual usage is more authoritative than grammatical rules (in the opinion of the grammarians). Grammar therefore was not intended to have prescriptive authority over spoken sanskrit. Grammar was only used to resolve disputes on what constitutes accurate speech. The spoken Sanskrit was therefore a widely spoken living language having multiple regional dialects, and it was the basis on which the Paninian grammar was formulated. The grammatical tradition was the creation of 1000s of grammarians spanning several millenia (both before and after Panini) contributing their opinions and suggestions about grammatical and phonetic accuracy.

Also there was a separate Shiksha (Sanskrit phonetics) tradition with its own corpus of texts and commentaries about how syllables and word should be pronounced, and their places of articulation in the mouth, as well as what constitutes mispronunciation. Examples and anecdotes are given in grammatical and phonetic texts of mispronunciations, faulty grammatical usages by common sanskrit speakers in everyday environments, including how children spoke sanskrit, how servants spoke, how chariot drivers argued about the language with grammarians, etc. There is therefore quite a lot of both direct and indirect evidence of sanskrit speech - even by Buddhists and wider society.

Geiger says the opposite in the introduction to his his ‘Pali language and Literature’ :


Are you saying Geiger isn’t very accurate in his description when he says Pali is not a homogenous language - and when he describes the changes in diction at each of the 4 main stages of Pali literature?

As far as I am informed the description of the first council as contained in the commentaries isn’t considered historical by anyone in academia. So the idea that the entire canon (and commentaries thereon) were recited in such a council by Ānanda or some other great disciple is very likely a mythical narrative.

The Sanskrit tradition is also a very highly commentary oriented tradition, and each major work has several, sometimes even 10-20, commentaries. The Bhagavadgītā reputedly has 200+ Sanskrit commentaries. However one thing I have routinely observed about them is that commentaries always post-date the source text by at least a century or two, unless

  1. it was an autocommentary by the author of the source text - or
  2. the source text was a highly scientific/technical (śāstric) text with its own śāstra-specific definitions and scientific methods which was desiged from the start to only be explained through scholastic commentarial means.

The Pali canon would fall under neither of the above categories.

I dont see why the Pali canon which is eminently readable and understandable from its source texts would have needed a commentary as soon as it was first redacted. Commentarial traditions in ancient India didnt work like that to my knowledge - so I dont see canonical commentaries dating to either the Buddha’s time or in the first century of Buddhism as a credible prospect.

Those old commentaries are to my knowledge not available today, so whether they contained additions or no additions must probably be speculation.

Two Brahmins come to the Buddha, want to introduce a Vedic component for the way the Buddha’s teachings are presented. The Buddha calls them moghapurisā, rejects their proposal, and puts in place an official offence for those who would do it. That clearly bears a negative attitude towards the very thing that was proposed, which happened to be something Vedic. That has nothing to do with tribal thinking. It is an observation of the obvious, at least to me. Generally speaking, exhibiting a stance against tradition from the outset and not granting valid points if they make them can also come across as being tribal, I find. It is not that uncommon.

That’s alright; I just wanted to mention that such theses of respected scholars are around.

What I am saying is that it is the same language throughout the canon and its commentaries. English isn’t a homogenous language for that matter, incorporating so many foreign elements, but it is homogenous across different contexts, such as one book dealing with law and the other being Harry Potter. In this example, there are differences on many levels, but no one would say they are written in different languages. Something analogous applies to Pāḷi.

To say “not by anyone” is definitely not correct. That may apply to the notion that the entire canon was recited as such in its present form, word for word, but not to the fact that such an event never was conducted, in whatever form. See this part from Wikipedia (haven’t had time to dig into the literature itself now again, but I have read it elsewhere and know there are others):

On the other hand, archaeologist Louis Finot, Indologist E. E. Obermiller and to some extent Indologist Nalinaksha Dutt thought the account of the First Council was authentic, because of the correspondences between the Pāli texts and the Sanskrit traditions. Indologist Richard Gombrich meanwhile holds that “large parts of the Pali Canon” do date back to the first council.

You also wrote:

I don’t agree on this one. The canon is full of passages that require explanation. Nearly every word is capable of receiving clarification in so many ways. Just one very obvious example:

Having slain [one’s] mother and two warrior kings,
[and] having slain the kingdom with its treasurer,
a Brahmin proceeds untroubled (The Buddha, Dhp 294).

Mātaraṃ pitaraṃ hantvā, rājāno dve ca khattiye.
Raṭṭhaṃ sānucaraṃ hantvā, anīgho yāti brāhmaṇo.

This verse obviously requires explanation, and I don’t see much if any reason to doubt that students at the Buddha’s time would have asked their teachers or the Buddha himself about it. But again, this is just one example.

Why not first acknowledge what Buddhaghosa got right and what obviously speaks for the traditional account? I don’t think that’s fair and that any evidence will convince you of the contrary of what you believe now. I have presented a number of highly plausible claims. You haven’t acknowledged a single one. So, I’ll leave our discussion with that.

It appears to me that your way of understanding it is that the Buddha was opposed to anything Vedic (and Sanskrit) if it were to be used as part of Buddhism. That sounds like you are attributing such ideological motivation or tribalism to the Buddha.

Your argument is that Pali in any case was closer to early-Vedic than even Classical Sanskrit, so if the Buddha were arguing in favour of Pali [a language which IMO didnt exist in his time, which in turn you’re trying to equate to a fictional Magadhabhāsā (which also IMO didnt exist), as well as to the Buddha’s own native idiom] he would not be ideologically arguing against Vedic (assuming as you do that Pali was as a whole closer, than Classical Sanskrit, to Vedic). Vedic was the Buddha’s ancestral language - and the ancestral language of almost all the people living in Magadha and all the other Mahajanapadas (except perhaps Yona and Kamboja) at that time. Such a notion of Vedic being considered ideologically brahmanical by the Buddha would be an anachronistic misconception.

As I said this account may even have been an interpolation into the Theravada vinaya (there is also the question as to whether the whole Theravāda Vinaya itself arises from the Buddha’s time or not).

The negative attitude you’ve mentioned (and the exact words used) is common to most of the vinaya prohibitions - it is not unique to this particular prohibition - the vocabulary is identical to hundreds of other prohibitions. It doesnt sound like a general aversion to Vedic being associated with himself or with Buddhism.

Stereotyping Buddhism with Prakrit and Pali and with common people - and making a imagined binary opposition with Sanskrit and Vedic culturally with Brahmins, caste system etc is a sort of binary stereotypical thinking - it tries to frame history in a particular ideological perspective and interpret every other fact through that stereotypical lens. I therefore challenge such stereotypical notions so people who take such preconceived assumptions for granted will be forced to re-examine their validity when faced with a less-stereotypical interpretation.

So there is incongruence and a certain level of implausibility in your arguments when you say Pali and Early-Buddhism are both close to and ideologically opposed to Vedic - and I generally dont agree with your reliance on authority figures (such as taking medieval commentarial & modern-academic speculation and interpretations as being an authentic historical record of the Buddha’s time and doctrines). I don’t prefer adopting arguments made by authority figures (or their imaginary consensus) uncritically - without knowing for myself how they reached such conclusions.

That is the case with all ancient texts - it is we that need commentarial explanations (as we are far removed from the time, place and culture of early-Buddhism) . But if you read modern literature (say a fiction or non-fiction book published in 2000 CE) in your native language, you wouldnt need commentaries to explain that book - would you? Your need for a commentary to understand the canon does not mean that someone living in the time and place of the Buddha would also equally need them.

Commentaries are not like oral clarifications of meanings of individual verses by teachers/senior monks. Canonical commentaries are generally codified and systematised treatises that argue for or against the views of specific traditions. They generally have a polemical intent and dont exist simply to clarify difficult part. You can read more about Indian commentarial methods and traditions from this book - Scholastic Sanskrit: A Manual for Students by Gary A. Tubb

Pali is Pali, no one is arguing that the different stages of Pali are not Pali.

However it is not homogeneous. As I said (and you perhaps disagree with this) - there was no unbroken-dialectal-continuity of Pali from stage 1 to stage 4 (as per Geiger’s classification above). Pali was not a uniform spoken language evolving naturally and dialectally across time and space. What at surface level appears to be Pali is under that surface a different language - the underlying spoken language in my opinion is a form of Old-Indo-Aryan.

Pali is an artificial construct based mainly on the epigraphic prakrit of the early inscriptions which early-Buddhists adopted initially to write down their canon (my opinion, but again you may disagree) - the 4 stages of Pali are not homogeneous, because the spoken languages underlying the 4 stages of Pali were not identical (or spoken by a single Pali ethnicity). In other words, a Canonical-Pali speaking ethnicity has never existed historically anywhere in mainland India (in my understanding).

Even at the earliest stage (the Gāthā-poetry stage), as Geiger says, there is a lot of linguistic heterogenity i.e. it is clearly not the same kind of language that exists in the prose suttas of the canon. I do not accept the argument that the linguistic archaisms of the Gāthā dialect are required for metrical reasons (as some people speculate) - as that would be like modern English poets using some archaic Middle-English or Old-English words for the sake of poetic metre. That would be a very odd thing to do when composing poetry. Classical Sanskrit poets dont use archaic Vedic vocabulary in their poetry to suit the metre - so that is not a valid argument to use for explaining the lexical and phonetic heterogenity of Gāthic Pali.

The appropriate inference to make (in my opinion) is either that the gāthā poetry originates about a century or more earlier to the prose suttas, and the prose suttas are from a later period (which would account for the phonetic and grammatical archaisms of the gāthās) - or that the prose suttas were also originally in the language of the gāthā poetry but were later artificially homogenised. My view lies between one of these two, or a mix of these two possibilities. In any case I take the gāthā poetry as a more authentic record of the earliest form of early-Buddhism than the prose suttas - due to the fact that the language and wording hasnt been tampered with as much, relative to the prose (i.e. they weren’t artificially homogenized like the prose).

You say English isn’t a homogeneous language either - but that is an apples to oranges comparison - what we expect Pali to have are one spelling per word - not two or three or four spellings for a lot of words.

Noun declensions cannot normally have multiple word forms for each declension - but they do in Pali (there are also homonyms i.e. the same word form used in multiple declensions). Latin doesn’t have such multiple spellings or homonyms for most inflections, AncientGreek doesnt have them, Sanskrit (Classical or Vedic) doesn’t have them either - and they are all highly inflecting Indo-European languages like Pali. Pali has such forms. A single inflecting language wont show so much confusion and alternative forms naturally. See

The Pali phonetic and grammatical heterogenity in the example above is a striking contrast to the chronologically stable and consistent declensions of the same word (puruṣa) in Early Vedic (Saṃhitā texts), Middle-Vedic (Brāhmaṇa & Āraṇyaka texts), Upaniṣads, hundreds of Classical Sanskrit texts, and its sub-varieties such as Sutra Sanskrit (of the various Śrauta-sūtras, Gṛhya-sūtras, Sulba-sūtras, Dharma-sūtras etc associated with each Veda-śākhā), Epic Sanskrit (of the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata), Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit texts, Jain Sanskrit texts etc :

Masculine Singular Dual Plural
Nominative puruṣaḥ puruṣau puruṣāḥ
Vocative puruṣa puruṣau puruṣāḥ
Accusative puruṣam puruṣau puruṣān
Instrumental puruṣeṇa puruṣābhyām puruṣaiḥ
Dative puruṣāya puruṣābhyām puruṣebhyaḥ
Ablative puruṣāt puruṣābhyām puruṣebhyaḥ
Genitive puruṣasya puruṣayoḥ puruṣāṇām
Locative puruṣe puruṣayoḥ puruṣeṣu

Apart from these in many cases the Pali spellings dont always follow the expected sound-laws of Pali. I mentioned several dissimilar consonant clusters, (for example, see here) that exist in Pali but shouldn’t, as they violate normative Pali phonetics & sound-laws.

Besides, back in the Buddha’s era, the world was not as globalised as it is now, the Indo-Aryan speakers were not as exposed to such a diversity of cultures and languages that modern speakers of English are exposed to. Pali would not have naturally acquired such a linguistic diversity that you associate with globalised English.

Most of the heterogenity in early-Pali (in my opinion) arises from

  1. a general non-adherence to pre-existing grammatical and phonetic standards (i.e. the phonetic and grammatical standards that apply to and characterise Early-Vedic, Middle and Late-Vedic / Classical Sanskrit), and
  2. an attempt at artificial phonetic & grammatical simplification from Old-Indo-Aryan to make it suitable for easy writing in the early Brahmi and early-Kharoshthi scripts, and
  3. An attempt to approximate the epigraphic language of the early inscriptions, by adopting their orthographic & morphophonetic norms in the Pali canon.

So this unique sort of heterogenity was not mainly dialectal in nature - i.e. it doesn’t arise from a mix of dialects. It arises from a mix of the 3 causes mentioned above. However genuine dialectal differences also do exist in Canonical Pali, but they are a relatively minor issue (and similar dialectal differences exist within Classical sanskrit of the same period too) - so dialectalism is not the core distinguishing factor between Classical Sanskrit and Pali.

But I’m not talking about the possible historicity of ‘any such event’ (in whatever form). We can speculate whether such a council was held, who called for it to be held, when and where it was held, who attended or didnt attend, what was discussed or not discussed, what decisions were made, etc. All those issues would be educated guesses at best - because we dont have any eyewitness or early description about it in any extant literature.

I’m speaking specifically about the the description of the first council narrated in the commentarial texts - and the idea that a full canon (as we have it now) along with full commentaries - all existed in our Pāli and was recited in that council by specific named elder monks like Ānanda, Upāli etc - this narrative is undoubtedly a figment of the commentator’s imagination and is ahistorical. Nobody to my knowledge accepts the commentarial narrative as an accurate and exact depiction of history. The names you mentioned, like archaeologist Louis Finot, Indologist E. E. Obermiller, are 19th and early 20th century scholars who died over 100 years ago. Is anybody still citing those early scholars that you talk about or their reliance on the commentarial account as being true?

I am happy to accept Buddhaghosa as the voice of the Srilankan Theravada tradition (or even the whole Theravada tradition since the 6th century CE). I am happy to accept that what Buddhaghosa says is what the Theravadins of his time considered real and traditional.

But if you want me to accept that Buddhaghosa and the Theravada tradition (as per its commentaries), and the Pali language, are representative of Buddhism as a whole or the history of Buddhism and the Buddha as a whole - I can’t agree with that conclusion. Buddhaghosa and the Theravada tradition present their own perspective and beliefs of early Buddhism. Historically the Pali canon originates within the world of early-Buddhism (but not pre-sectarian early Buddhism). The Pali canon already shows a Theravada slant in some parts - and the fact that it doesnt show any variation in language i.e. it doesnt show anybody (not even Vedic Brahmins) as speaking in Sanskrit - and it converts all early Vedic deity names and Ṛṣi names to Pāli - means that it is not a 100% authentic representation of the time and culture of the Buddha. I have my doubts if the Pāli canon is even depicting historical early Buddhism 100% accurately, but its depiction of non-Buddhist traditions is decidedly inaccurate and one-sided.

So the Theravada commentaries only speak for the beliefs and traditions of the mid-1st millenium CE Theravada tradition. Most of the Pali canon only speaks of the circa 3rd or 2nd century BCE world of the Pali tradition of early Buddhism. Neither of them can be treated as a 100% authentic (or even 90% authentic) voice of the historical Buddha - in my personal opinion. I acknowledge you have a different view about this - and our views may not meet for the foreseeable future - but that’s OK.

I dont consider many of them plausible - they are opinions I have already seen before in the arguments of others - I have processed them mentally and find them untenable for various reasons (as I have explained above in detail).

I come from an Indian cultural background, and I have an immersive emic understanding of my native culture and its historical bearings. I speak and understand several modern Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages. I speak a modern version of Sanskrit, and I work on historical Sanskrit and Pali original texts, and I read frequently about the other Prakrits and early inscriptions as well. My perspectives on certain issues are informed by this cultural background - and I am not as much reliant on academic arguments for my understanding of my culture and its history as you may probably be.

If theories put forth by academia dont convince me, I am able to argue based on my emic understanding of Indian culture, history and historical literature. If you have a similar cultural and linguistic background as me - we may probably have an agreement or come to similar views of historical issues - but on the other hand, you now have your own unique perspectives based on your studies of Pali texts and reliance on secondary and tertiary research - my objective is not to change your thinking but offer my perspectives (and see where the similarities and differences in our thinking lie). I completely acknowedge your take on things (and I respect your knowledge of Pali and Buddhism) and thank you for sharing your perspectives and understanding - but if I dont accept your logic, beliefs or interpretation of facts, we should let that be.

Thanks! Sure, I can let that stand. I just noticed how some likely accurate positions were passed over just to bring up other potential issues. Fine to bring them up, but I felt the acknowledgement of some valid points was missing at the same time. Anyway, thanks for sharing your perspectives, some of them which I find quite interesting.

Apologies if that is the case, which ones are they? Perhaps I will need to read them again.

Never mind, no hard feelings. :slight_smile:

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For me, the closest English word to kusala is “good”. They not perfectly congruent in meaning, but close enough.