I can’t believe I’m getting close to the 2 month anniversary since I started learning Pali.
So now I have reached the stage of a fully developed Dunning Kruger syndrome - I am now conceited (and foolish enough) to believe I can write my own textbook on learning Pali.
Why am I bothering? I have been steadily getting frustrated with all the other textbooks - they don’t seem to teach me the way I would like to be taught (which is Everything, Everywhere, All At Once). Some textbooks take a whole book to cover the grammar - I prefer to get an overview right up front so I can start reading almost immediately. Textbooks also focus on the vocabulary and introducing lots of words I am not sure I’ll need. These days it’s easy to lookup an electronic dictionary so I prefer just to learn as I go along. Lastly a lot of textbooks either cover too much detail, or not enough detail. I want a textbook that just teaches enough to get me started, but provide a comprehensive overview, not just bits and pieces.
And lastly, there is an adage “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, learn. Those who can’t learn, teach.”
I started reading Kaccāyana about three weeks ago and decided that it contained all the information I need, but it was very hard to navigate and full of complex rules. So I initially started writing “An Idiot’s Guide to Kaccāyana” but quickly realised it was morphing into something quite different. I am still using Kaccāyana as my primary source of reference, but at the end of the day the structure and most of the explanatory text is mine. I also developed a notation style for marking up Pali sentences with grammatical tags. All the hard and complex stuff will be moved to appendices. The textbook is also focused on learning how to read Pali, and much less on being able to write or speak it, so my focus isn’t on teaching the finer points of grammar or how to do all the right transformations to conjugate a verb or decline a noun.
This currently represents about two week’s worth of effort. Actually, about 50% of it was written in the first 2-3 days in a bout of inspiration, and 80% in a week. The rest of the time has been spent getting the Introduction and Chapter 1 to a reasonable state that I can share with others.
The work is open source, so if you wish to contribute, by all means view the source code and create a pull request. I aim to release weekly updates until I am happy with it (or die, whichever comes sooner).
What would I like from you? At present, just read Chapters 0 and 1 and let me know what you think. The other chapters and appendices are mostly skeleton. If you have feedback on the structure, I will also be interested. Be constructive, and honest.
Some questions you may already have which I have prepared answers:
You are just a beginner! What would you know? How can I trust a single thing you say?
Yes, I am just a beginner. That’s why I need your feedback on the content. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, there are plenty of other textbooks. This one probably wasn’t written for you.
You use strange terms I can’t relate to and don’t correspond to other textbooks.
Yes, that is by intention. Read the Introduction. Again, if you don’t like it, move along.
Did you use ChatGPT to write the book?
No. I am not a big fan of modern technology, and AI in particular. I have grave concerns about the ethics and the bias of AI models, as well as the accuracy of any content produced. So, for better or worse, any mistakes or omissions you will find is my fault.
Do you actually have a life? Do you get any sleep?
Surprisingly, yes to both. I am not working on the book every day. Since I started writing, I have attended three birthday parties (including my own) plus other events, I still do my regular cycling (indoors and outdoors), and I have watched about a dozen movies and listened to lots of vinyl records (one of my vices - I bought a few dozen at a record fair last weekend). I try and get at least 8 hours of sleep every night.
Have you attained enlightenment? Or were you a Pali teacher in your past life?
Ha ha, not yet (I think I would know if I did). I can’t recall many past lives, or being a teacher (of any subject). I do have lucid dreams and have partial control over my subconscious, so I get it to learn Pali on my behalf when I sleep. Often I wake up, I have good ideas on what to include in the textbook, so the day is mostly spent typing rather than thinking.