|Should the Use of Pali be
Eschewed in Dhammaduta Work in the West?
U Sein Tun, I.C.S. (Retd.)
Being a broadcast talk from B.B.S. and first published in the' Light of Dhamma', Vol.VIII, No. 2, Union of Burma Buddha Sasana Council, 1961.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammasambuddhassa.
The remark has not infrequently been heard that the use of Pali words and Pali quotations in the work of disseminating the Buddha's teachings in the West is a hindrance to people newly inclined towards the Buddha Sasana, and that as such writers and speakers on the Buddha Dhamma should eschew the use or the introduction of Pali into their speeches and writings as much as possible. There are indications that this view is gaining ground not only among men and women doing Dhammaduta work in the West but also within the domestic frontiers of Buddhist countries. With the introduction and increased popularity of 'Western Education' in these Buddhist countries, hitched as this education is to all available forms of employment in the urban areas, Pali has not only become a strange language to the rising generation of young Buddhists, but there has developed an actual distaste for it in the minds of most youths who have been trained towards an enthusiasm only for the more conventionally utilitarian and fashionable objects which are called modern science
But, if the Buddha Sasana is to endure— if "Ciram Tithatu Saddhammo" (May the 'Doctrine of the good' endure for a longtime) is to become a reality—Pali must be preserved and an enthusiasm for it must be cultivated. Pali is the language of the Buddha in the sense that it is the language of the Tipitaka in which the Buddha's pristine teachings are enshrined. Anybody, therefore who is enthusiastic about the Buddha Dhamma— who wishes to get as near to the personality of the Buddha as he can—who wishes to imbibe as much of the spirit of the Buddha's teachings as is possible—must as a first step, develop an affinity (a love) for The language in which the Buddha's teachings in their oldest and most original forms are available for us moderns who comprise the posterity.
A distaste for Pali - for the Buddha's own language as it were - means in the least a subconscious distaste for the Buddha himself. If that sub-conscious tendency is suppressed by a conscious intellectual effort, yet that effort without the cultivation of the enthusiasm lacks an inner and more permanent realisation and thus the pursuit of the Buddha Dhamma is not likely to be more than ephemeral.
Pali is part and parcel of the Buddha Dhamma as we know it today. Therefore, if Pali disappears, the chances are that the Buddha Dhamma will also speedily disappear or will speedily become corrupted. The Buddha Dhamma still flourishes in its pristine purity within the various Theravadin countries today, because there exist within these countries an unbroken line of devoted and disciplined disciples of the Buddha, the Buddhist Sangha, who (as Sasanadayajja or caretakers of the Dhamma) have dedicated themselves strictly to the cause of preserving the Pali texts on the one hand and preventing unauthorised interpolations, and erroneous interpretations on the other.
It must be admitted that the task of disseminating Buddhist knowledge among a people is first best done in their own mother tongue if a hearing is to be obtained. To go and speak to a racial group about what is to them a strange and exotic way of life, with the intention of inducing them to adopt that way of life, in a language which they do not understand. and which may actually alienate their feelings, is to invite failure from the very beginning.
But, the Buddha Dhamma, if it is a religion, is not a religion that seeks converts for the purpose of obtaining converts alone. Nor is it a religion whose adherents would or should feet happy about going no further than securing converts or so-called converts. The Buddha Dhamma is no more than a teaching that indicates the way to Nibbana, and it differs from the other teachings in this fact alone. If there are apparent differences of spirit and approach in regard to charity, morality, goodwill and the other lower stages of effort and observance between the
Buddha Dhamma and the other teachings, they are the outcome of the unparalleled nature of the Buddhist aim, Nibbana. Nibbana transcends explanation either in conventional language or other modes of conventional illustration. But it is so unique in experience and so worthy of attainment from the Buddha's point of view that it merits an attempt to tell the world that it exists, and to induce all those who have the seeds of willing ness in them to try to attain it Ehipassiko (come and see yourself personally) is one of the six qualities of the Dhamma. No dissemination of the Buddha Dhamma is therefore complete, or worthy of the task. without the attempt to instill the worthiness of Nibbana as the ultimate goal and final aim.
Unique individuals who are Future Buddhas form the resolution to attain Buddhahood for the sole purpose of showing the way to Nibbana, and not merely to make men more moral, nor merely to cultivate more loving-kindness, nor merely to develop their physical and mental powers. In a world where morality is at a discount, where metta is a rare quality, where mental distraction is a common trait, to try to disseminate sila, metta and samadhi, are highly worthy acts, but if the work is to stop there, or if the work cannot be carried further until the aim of Nibbana can be presented, there is no special need for the world to know the Buddha Dhamma.
The world would not be a fit place for the habitation of human beings if there were a lack of teachers and leaders of men ready and able to show what constitute right modes of conduct. Such leaders appear from time to time, and from place to place, according to circumstance. In the world today, there are many worthy movements, even if no account is taken of the established religions such as Christianity, Mohammedanism, Hinduism. and Confucianism. If it were merely a case for the improvement of moral behaviour of love and goodwill, and of worldly mental development, then Buddhists, as humanitarians, have their work cut out for them in their own home countries, their own home towns, and their own home villages. They would be rendering better service to their fellowmen if they began their work at home and confined themselves to that sphere. It is because the Buddha Dhamma offers the unique goal of Nibbana that the justification for the propagation of the Buddha's doctrines to the world arises, and Buddhists carrying out the work of Buddha's ambassadors would fail in the sole purpose of their tasks if they omit to present the path to Nibbana.
And Nibbana can be appreciated only by those people whose minds are already attuned to a certain extent towards Nibbana, both intellectually and emotionally. The real Buddha Dhamma-Nibbana and the Path to Nibbana—are not easy doctrines to propagate. The majority of mankind are not ready to accept them. That is why the Buddha said, "Dullabha saddha sampatti" (It is difficult indeed to acquire a fullness of faith in the 'doctrine of the good'). There are (or there may be) in every country one in a hundred, or one in a thousand, or one in a million, who are ready to receive the message of the Buddha, and who but await the opportunity. If these can be found, and the message conveyed, the aim is fulfilled. It would not make the task of picking out these rare individuals any the easier if ready concessions are to be made to popular or mass feelings and thus make the 'rare' indistinguishable from the 'common'.
A reasonable principle that emerges from these arguments is that even though the propagation of the Buddha Dhamma is undertaken in the initial stages through the medium of English or any other local language, Pali should be judiciously introduced from quite an early stage, and the increased use of it should be gradually developed so that an affinity for the Buddha's language is evolved and perpetuated.
Here in Burma, we teach our children the "Itipi so bhagava"* which enumerates the Nine Supreme Qualities of the Buddha, from quite an early age. We teach them the "Svakhato hhagavata dhammo" which enumerates the Six Supreme Qualities of the Dhamma, and the "Suppatipanno bhagavato savakasangho" which enumerates the Nine Supreme Qualities of the Sangha, all in Pali. We teach them set formulas whereby to request for and establish themselves in the Ti-sarana (Triple Gem) and the Sila (Morality). These are the minimum Pali that every Burma Buddhist youth knows. The practice has waned to some extent in urban families of English education with a liking for western modes of habit in recent years, and according as it has declined so have signs of estrangement, distaste, and even disrespect for the visible emblems of the Buddha Sasana appeared.
In large numbers of cases, a knowledge of the Pali stanzas is not even accompanied by a knowledge of their translations. From the intellectual point of view, the difference between a parrot-like repetition and a knowledge of the meanings in conventional language appears significant and important. But what is important is to acquire an inner realisation of the Dhamma, a realisation that can only come through specific practice. An intellectual grasp may form part of that practice, but an intellectual grasp by itself does not lead very far on the Path to Nibbana. What seems to be more important is the acquisition of an initial affinity for the Buddha Dhamma, an affinity that will serve as the motivating agent to higher efforts which the Dhamma teaches.
There is a Pali word called 'Saddha' which is very important. It has been translated into English as 'faith' or 'belief'. Buddhists are not satisfied. They insist that the Buddhist meaning of 'saddha' is very different from the 'faith' engendered by the adherents of the other religions.I have met Buddhists who have stoutly maintained that the Buddhist variety of 'Saddha' is 'faith accompanied by wisdom', though it appeared to me all the time that the stalwarts of this interpretation lacked the very wisdom that they said was a necessary part of the Buddhist 'saddha.' Buddhists do not like to admit that the faith they have in the Buddha, His teachings, and His disciples, is not different from the faith of the followers of the other religions. Yet there are millions who call themselves Buddhist, whose faith in the Buddha is not different, and who throughout their lives never transcend, nor have attempted to transcend, the stage of blind faith. If it be said that in the Buddha Sasana it is possible to acquire a faith accompanied by wisdom, they would be nearer the truth. But an adequate idea of the Buddhist concept of 'Saddha' and its different stages cannot be attempted in a few words. Yet this is what many Buddhists propagating the Buddha Dhamma in foreign lands appear to be still doing.
'Saddha' is important because the Buddha said in the Sangiti Sutta of the Pathika vagga Digha Nikaya:**
Panna padhani yangani, idhavuso bhikkhu saddho hoti, saddhati Tathagatassa bodhim, itipi so bhagava, araham sammasambuddho, vijjacaranasampanno, sugato, lokavidhu, anuttaro, purisadammasarathi, satthadevamanussanam, buddho bhagava, etc.
(These are five essential qualities of effort. First, faith in the Tathagatha, faith in His Wisdom that penetrates the truth, faith that he is an Arahat, etc.)
The faith that the Buddha mentioned here is in the initial stages necessarily of the order of blind faith. But it is not static. It can and must be developed until nana or wisdom arises. This is not the place here to enter into a lengthy dissertation into the various stages of faith mentioned in the Pali Texts. It has been introduced here to show the subtle and unique shades of meaning possessed by many Pali words. How then can the propagators of the Buddha Dhamma expect a clear and adequate comprehension of the unparalleled Buddhist concepts if they are to acquiesce easily to the nana vippayutta*** inclinations of would-be Buddhists, who if they persist would never transcend the stage of being pseudo-Buddhists?
"Ciram Tithatu Saddhammo"
(May the 'Doctrine of the good' endure for a a long time!)
* See Nanamoli's Visuddhimagga, p. 206, et. seq.
See the Light of the Dhamma, Vol. VIII, No. 1, p. 27.
** Digha Nikaya, Pathika-vagga Pali, 10, Sangiti Sutta, p. 198, 6th Syn. Edn.
***nana-vippayutta : Disconnected from knowledge.