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Where is the language of ordination in Pali defined?

There’s a passage somewhere that goes into detail in the language of how to pronounce the specifics of the ordination procedure, explaining exactly how to pronounce it, and which variants are considered valid, etc. Does anyone know where to find this passage (or passages?) And if possible, is there a translation?

Thanks! (Calling Ven @Dhammanando !)

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I believe that the earliest of such passages may be in the commentary to the parivara:

https://tipitaka.org/romn/cscd/vin02a4.att17.xml

Yes, bhante, that’s the one. I don’t know of any English translation, but the Vinaya commentary’s prescriptions are summarised in the Vinayamukha’s account of kammavācāvipatti. I don’t have a copy to hand but I guess it would be in volume three.

Edit

It seems I do in fact have a copy on my mobile phone. In the English translation it’s volume III pp. 8-13.

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Thanks! It sems Internet Archive has only vols 1 and 2. All three volumes can be downloaded here:

For convenience, I’ll upload the relevant pages from Vinayamukha Vol 3. They mostly translate and explain the content of the Parivara, with some interesting remarks by the author, especially his conclusion.




Venerable, I’m curious about the specifics of this. For example, there’s no mention of mixing up voiced and unvoiced consonants, or retroflex for that matter, yet these are among the most common mispronunciations these days. Perhaps the examples were drawn from the kinds of mistakes they heard around them, in ancient Sinhala, or perhaps it was defined against the Mahaviharin’s ancient rivals, the Mahasanghikas with their hybrid Sanskrit.

Apparently there’s a current debate in Thailand, some Vinaya experts say if these criteria aren’t met, ordinations are invalid. Which would mean that there aren’t any valid Thai ordinations, because, at the least, they commonly pronounce unaspirated as aspirated. The author of the Vinayamukha seems to recognize this and, while praising the effort it takes to pronounce correctly, warns against excessive “pride” in one’s own group.

I tend to agree: I’d love it if we had more effort in correct Pali pronunciation, but at the same time, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to get it right.

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I think it’s unrealistic to expect that validity of ordination comes down to right pronunciation, especially on a language that is basically dead. We know the meaning is more important. The Buddha allowed us to learn the Dhamma in our own language, does it make sense to say that this means the Vinaya transactions must be in Pali?

Even the Pali language scholars said that Prakit, the language spoken by the Buddha maybe different from Pali.

And then there’s the different pronunciation from Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka Sangha. If one can be rendered invalid from incorrect pronunciation, is that not an insult and indirect pointing to other countries that: we don’t recognise the ordinations at other countries.

My teacher resort to having 3 different versions of chants at ordination ceremonies, so that no one could accuse invalid ordination. Is that the standard practise worldwide?

Indeed. the Tibetans and Chinese have used their own languages for centuries, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Also a good point. If we insist that the exact pronunciation of Pali is essential for valid ordination, it’s possible that even the first generations of students had invalid ordination.

Imagine getting in the Tardis and going back to the hills of Magadha 2500 years ago, and attending an ordination. There they all are, Sāriputta as preceptor, and around all the great monks. So inspiring! The appointed monk begins the recitation.

sunātu me bhaṁte saṁghe

You look around. Hello! Does no-one see the problem? Sure of yourself, you clear your throat and say, “Ahh, excuse me gentlemen, it’s saṅgho.”

Their response:

No, not always. In Thailand I’ve never heard of it, at least in the forest tradition everyone just chants normally, there’s no training or expectation as to pronunciation at all. In Sri Lanka, some Nikayas will recite twice, with niggahita pronounced as m and ng. Just to be sure!

The best guide for this is, in my view, in Parajika 1, where the language of disrobal is discussed. Clearly the intent of the whole passage is that it is comprehension that matters. Surely the same principle should apply for ordination.

If you renounce the training in an Indo-Aryan language to a non-Indo-Aryan speaker who doesn’t understand you, the training isn’t renounced.
Ariyakena milakkhassa santike sikkhaṁ paccakkhāti, so ca na paṭivijānāti, apaccakkhātā hoti sikkhā.
If you renounce the training in a non-Indo-Aryan language to an Indo-Aryan speaker who doesn’t understand you, the training isn’t renounced.
Milakkhakena ariyassa santike sikkhaṁ paccakkhāti, so ca na paṭivijānāti, apaccakkhātā hoti sikkhā.
If you renounce the training in an Indo-Aryan language to an Indo-Aryan speaker who doesn’t understand you, the training isn’t renounced.
Ariyakena ariyassa santike sikkhaṁ paccakkhāti, so ca na paṭivijānāti, apaccakkhātā hoti sikkhā.
If you renounce the training in a non-Indo-Aryan language to a non-Indo-Aryan speaker who doesn’t understand you, the training isn’t renounced.
Milakkhakena milakkhassa santike sikkhaṁ paccakkhāti, so ca na paṭivijānāti, apaccakkhātā hoti sikkhā.

Brahmali uses “Indian” and “foreign” for ariyaka and milakkha, but I disagree. Milakkha refers to Indian people using non Indo-Aryan languages, such as Dravidian or Munda, etc. If anything, the Indo-Aryans were foreigners (although they had already arrived centuries before.)

One interesting implication of this is that it confirms that not all members of the early Sangha spoke Indo-Aryan languages, at least not natively.

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FWIW, Spoken Sinhala does not have aspirates although the historical aspirated letters are still used in writing (one of the headaches for native speakers when trying to spell). I can’t find anything on line that says when it happened, but I think it was over 1000 years ago. Not sure how that matches up with the commentary you are talking about. Retroflex consonants ṭ and ḍ are still used in spoken Sinhala, however the distinction between n and ṇ as well as ḷ and l has been completely lost in spoken Sinhala but not written (an even more major headache for native speakers trying to spell things correctly).

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In the preparations for my ordination, I had pronounciation training and an expectation that I’d chant in the Dhammayut style. But I ordained at a city temple in Bangkok, not in the forest, so that may account for my experience.