New book by Gombrich "Buddhism and Pali"


Did anyone already get to read Gombrich’s new book, and how did you find his arguments?


Sadly, it is not yet in Audible. But the blurb is captivating.


Yes, I read it. It’s a slim volume, and most of it is personal recollections and basic introduction. For someone with no idea of what Pali is and how it relates to Buddhism, it’s a good read.

The most interesting part is where he speaks of his hypothesis that Pali contains certain distinctive features that are best explained if it is the personal language used by the Buddha himself. This, of course, agrees with the traditional view, and disagrees with the modern consensus that Pali is a somewhat later dialect. However, I found his arguments for this to be pretty thin. It’s an interesting idea, and I’d like to see a more detailed argument.


Thanks for this assessment. I was wondering how deep the argument goes. After all the hypothesis that Pali is a later western (and artificial) language was brought forward by renowned linguists. I have some issues with that idea as well, but I guess you have to know your way around the ancient Indian dialects to make a valid statement.

In my recent dip into ancient Jainism I was looking up the acaranga sutra in the original Prakrit and found that it was much further away from Sanskrit than Pali (e.g. Pali attā I Sanskrit ātman I Gandhari atva I Prakrit aya). Shouldn’t the Prakrit be the closest to what the Buddha spoke? not sure about that…


What do the linguists think about the idea that Pali might be the language of Kosala, not Magadha? The sakyas had come under the rule of the Kosalans, so doesn’t that make more sense? Johannes Bronkhorst has developed the influential theory that Buddhism primarily emerges from the spiritual traditions of Greater Magadha, during a time when Brahminism and Sanskrit culture were nonexistent or negligible influences on the culture of the region. But even early Pali texts show the Buddha in frequent interaction with brahmins and the Buddha’s doctrine sometimes seems like self-consciously syncretized fusion of Brahmanic and Samana traditions. And it seems possible that Kosala, being somewhat further west, would have had more interaction with brahmins.


You might be interested in Cunningham’s original publication “Inscriptions of Asoka. Vol. I” from 1877. He has transcriptions of the texts in the different dialects and variations. My Indian dialect skills are close to zero, but maybe you can find something?


You know, it’s surprisingly difficult to find detailed argumentation on this point. From a previous thread we have a couple of papers:

If anyone knows anything else, please share!


It could be that the English philologists who have had such a powerful influence on Buddhist scholarship are building on probable analogies drawn from their knowledge of the history of their own language. I have been listening to a very interesting lecture series on the history of English, and the most recent lecture was about the challenges facing the famous early printer William Caxton as he attempted to produce books that could be read by a wide audience in a country where there was great regional dialectical difference in the vernacular. He had to produce his own fusion of these regional dialects to succeed.


Indeed, and this is why I’m a little skeptical of arguments that try to pin down Pali based on “peculiar” features of the language. Any language has odd features, little quirks that don’t sit well with the normal way of doing things.

Inspect the CSS that styles these words. The font weight (bold, regular, etc.) is determined by the property font-weight. The font family is set with font-family. The style (upright or italic) is determined by font-style. Special variants in the font are determined by font-variant. And the color is set by color. Wait, what? Why isn’t it font-color? Who knows! But at some time, someone decided to set the font color just with the key “color”, and that’s what we use.

Such quirks can, it is true, must have come from somewhere. But where? Quirks can arise in all kinds of ways. Without widespread, pervasive patterns, it is hard to know whether we’re just chasing rainbows. But “widespread patterns” means statistics, and it means comparative statistics, one language as opposed to a set of several others. Without such an approach, we are really left with one expert saying he finds something odd, and another expert saying he finds something else odd. But statistics are hard, and the workers are few.


Because the color applies to anything drawn in the foreground.
A “greater” consistency holds forth. :grin::innocent:
All the font- stuff is text specific.


This is a discussion between Prof Richard Gombrich and Dr Alexander Wynne about Prof Gombrich’s latest book “Buddhism and Pali”, published by Mudpie Books:


Gombrich also discusses the book in an interview available from New Books in Buddhist Studies.