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Learning Sanskrit and Pali

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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@AndrejDelany

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Thank you, I am new to posting in forums, so I have much to learn.

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No worries at all :slight_smile: That’s why we moderators are here, to help smooth things along. :slight_smile:

with Metta

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Yes, I am grateful for that.

Dear Andrej,

If we look at the traditional way of learning Pāli in Myanmar, we see that they don’t learn Sanskrit, but instead, they learn traditional Pāli grammars (like Kaccāyana, Rūpasiddhi, etc.). This could be a possibility if you don’t want to learn Sanskrit, but would like to become proficient in Pāli. The only difficulty is a scarcity of resources in English language. These grammars are written in Pāli, and it is surely a barrier for a beginner. But there are few translations of Kaccāyana, with the latest being one done by A.Thitzana with notes, and a guide for using the grammar for actual language learning.
Very recently I had to write an essay about the traditional Pāli learning where I demonstrate its value. Should you like, you can read it here S Piyadassi coursework essay.docx - Google Drive

On the other hand, should you choose to learn Sanskrit (which is much more complicated than Pāli) I would recommend The Cambridge Introduction to Sanskrit by A. M. Ruppel. He gives good tips on how to connect countless declension and conjugation paradigms, and makes their memorization easier.

Good luck with whatever you choose!

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Just to note, this isn’t the case; until modern times (the 1950s Nalanda edition), Pali was never written in Devanagari. The script doesn’t really matter, it is just for the convenience of people learning it. It’s worth mentioning, though, due to the persistent efforts of Hindutva fundamentalists on Wikipedia to present Pali in Devanagari.

But as others have said, I wouldn’t worry too much, the main key is persistence and care, whatever means you choose, you’ll make it in the end.

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Oh wow! I can totally see that.

What was the most common script in which Pali was found then? Sinhala?

I think I have heard quite a few people say that Pali and Sanskrit are similar and yes, saw the terms right next to each other on Wikipedia - and also in the Pali learning books often have Pali in both the Sanskrit and Romanized script - I think based on all of these I assumed that it must have been the case. Thank you for pointing it out!

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