SuttaCentral

Learning Sanskrit and Pali

Hello friends,
When one is serious about the path and wants to learn Pali quite well as a life long project is it beneficial to learn Sanskrit also, to understand the roots of the words better?
Or is it better to focus only on Pali?
What are your views on this topic?
With metta

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Hello @AndrejDelany,

I guess it depends. Personally, I decided to take the long and slow road of learning pali form the sutta’s.

I am still just starting (I’m about 18 month in :D) and I have just the morning and evening puja’s and the 3 cardinal sutta.

I’ve started the girimananda sutta and aim to have it all done within 6 month. Not that it’s challenging me, but as I stated above - the slow road is a deliberate choice. Read the same sutta once or twice a day over and over, without making an effort to remember any of it.

Back to your question now. I think learning pali (well) is plenty enough, and you possibly will pick up some sanskrit with it, but I am not sure there’ s a direct benefit to learning two languages at once, but I could be well mistaken there.

Anyhow, I wanted to offer some feedback here. Whether it is useful or not is another story :wink: .

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Thanks for your answer.
Do you mean you learn pali just by reading suttas? How do you manage to learn the vocabulary and grammar? Or maybe I misunderstood you a bit.

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I mean to learn pali, yes.

Taking a very slow path though :D.

There is plenty of vocabulary available in the suttas, and I guess it’s the one that maters most there. Grammar is ssomething you pick up as a child without thinking about it. You only study it at school so you know how it works, but you don’t need to learn grammar to know when a sentence is well formed or not.

So, I kind of was bouncing on the life-long part of your message.

Because eventually, I’m sure I’ll have a good grasp of pali, first at an idiomatic level, and later on at the grammar and vocabulary level, but I am making sure I’m going in for the long term and not rushing to learn too much too fast (i.e. not rushing to perform something or acquire).

But that’s a very personal take, not necessarily something I would push onto others!

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Hi Andrej,

I’ve studied and taught Sanskrit as well as other Old and Middle Indo-Iranian languages at universities and I’d give the following general answer:

Beneficial? Yes.
Necessary? No.

Much of course depends on where your interest in the Pali language lies, what your goals are, and how you intend to study the language.

In Western universities, knowledge of Sanskrit was traditionally a prerequisite to studying Pali, although many institutions nowadays have thankfully relaxed their rules in this regard (they need all the students they can get!).

If you’re interested in learning Pali, and have the opportunity, then I’d say just go for it!

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@sukha Awesome, what you said makes sense to me.

@Leon
Ok, thanks for your answer.

It’s depends on what canon thats you read. If you mostly read Pali canon, sure it will help you to better understand. :grin:

Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi advised me:

a) if you wish to only learn from and understand the Pali sources, learning Pali is sufficient.

b) if you wish to translate the Pali sources, learning both Sanskrit and Pali is necessary.

c) if you wish to go the second route, learning Sanskrit first will significantly help learn Pali, but learning Pali first would not help as significantly to learn Sanskrit - thus it would be recommended to learn Sanskrit first.

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@Jhindra, pali canon.

@SeriousFun136
Ok, great, thanks for your answer.

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@SeriousFun136 When one learns sanskrit first, I guess learning the devanagari alphabet is not important, or is it?

It’s not important initially as there are plenty of good Sanskrit textbooks that use romanized script. But having acquired some mastery of the grammar, if you haven’t also learned the Devanagari script you’ll be rather limited as to the texts available for you to read. That being so, it’s probably a good idea to learn a few Devanagari letters each week right from the start.

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Again, it would depend on your purpose.

If you wish to be able to translate texts, learning Sanskrit first would be a good idea.

If you wish to be able to translate texts that are written in Devanagiri script, learning the devanagari alphabet would be important.

I was told that Pali does not actually have a script/alphabet. It is a language without a script/alphabet.

It seems most commonly conveyed in either a simplified Devanagari script or romanized script.

If you are hoping to translate texts from Pali written in a simplified Devanagari script, perhaps learning the Sanskrit Devanagiri script/alphabet would be a good idea.

Perhaps Bhante #sujato can also share his insights regarding how to best learn these languages if you are interested in translation work.

Your post has inspired me to write my own post asking some questions that I myself still have about how exactly to go about learning these classical languages. Hopefully they prove helpful for you as well: Learn Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali - Resource Recommendations?

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Sanskrit and Pali have been, and continue to be, written in quite a wide variety of regional scripts. I wouldn’t get too hung up on the issue: learn Devanagari or any other script if you wish or if your course requires it. If not, you can stick with Roman transcription and pick up other scripts down the line.

If you intend to go down the autodidact route, my initial advice would be to select one course book (e.g. Coulson’s Teach Yourself Sanskrit, Warder’s Introduction to Pali) and stick with it from the first to last page. Complete all the exercises and don’t progress to the next section until you have memorised all the vocabulary, declensions, inflections that have been covered so far and clearly understand any new grammatical concepts that have been introduced.
Daily effort is key - it is much better to do 15-20 mins per day than 1.5 hours once a week.

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For beginning Pali, I recommend DeSilva’s Primer

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Ok, thank you.

Thank you.

I am from Austria, so I will learn from the best book that’s available in german language.

I have a german Pali book, that seems to be a good one. It’s easier for me in my native language.

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