Author Topic: What Was/Were the Original Language/s of Buddhism?  (Read 3151 times)

Offline mysticmorn

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What Was/Were the Original Language/s of Buddhism?
« on: January 30, 2015, 12:05:34 am »
I have two questions. What languages did the Buddha teach in?

and: What is the language of the earliest recorded scriptures that we know of?  Were Pali and Gandhari contemporaneous? Might the earliest sutras have been written in Gandhari or some other language/dialect?

Offline Rahul

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Re: What Was/Were the Original Language/s of Buddhism?
« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2017, 08:02:38 pm »
In Buddha's region in ancient times, two languages were popular: Sanskrit and Pali. Sanskrit literally means the 'sophisticated', it had relatively difficult and complex pronunciations and was primarily used by the elites of the society the priests and the warriors/rulers. Whereas with relatively simplified or rather crude pronunciations, Pali was the language of the laymen: craftsmen, farmers, servants, traders, ... It must be noted that Pali was understood well by all ranks of  the society, including the nobles, but the nobles differentiated themselves by speaking the elite language - Sanskrit.

Although Sanskrit was the language of choice for literature, philosophy and other disciplines of knowledge, Buddha chose to preach in Pali to make the knowledge accessible to the laymen.

Buddha spoke Pali, taught in Pali his whole life, early disciples of Buddha spoke Pali, and the first Buddhist scriptures were written in Pali. When Buddhism reached Gandhar (present day Afghanistan), the scriptures were translated into Gandhari.

Gandhari and Pali had been contemporaneous, but original Tipitaka were written in Pali.

Some disciples of Buddha had suggested him to compose Vedic style metered verses in Sanskrit to incorporate his teachings. (This was the prevalent style in Vedas and the rest of the philosophical works of that time). But Buddha strictly denied it for the sole reason that he wanted his teachings to be easily understood  by and accessible to the laymen. Vedic literature might be highly sophisticated from literary point of view, but it was highly poetic, open to interpretations, difficult to understand, and required familiarity with certain literary styles/genres in order to study and interpret them. Buddha, on the other hand, chose to teach in plain Pali language, and Tipitaka, too, are written in prose style, rather than a poetic/artistic style.

From literary point of view, linguists have high regard of the Vedic literature, and they often criticize Tipitaka as 'insipid' or 'plain'. But that was not Buddha's or his disciples' purpose to create a work of literary art anyways...


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