Friday, February 27, 2015

Did the Buddha speak Sanskrit? No!

Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly (COMMENTARY)
The Buddha came from the Central Asia, which later became Bactria. See

The Buddha, wandering ascetic (WQ)
If the question were, Did Prince Siddhartha know Sanskrit, then the answer is that the very well-educated royal (from a foreign land west of India in what is now Central Asia, Afghanistan, once known as Scythia or the Middle Country between East and West) must have.

But Sanskrit was preserved and used not by ordinary people, but the Brahmin priest elites who promoted it, their interpretation of the Vedas, and the caste system which they placed themselves at the top of. Prince Siddhartha and his family clan, the Shakyans, were not Brahmins, were not priests, and were not much interested in spirituality. That as well as many administrative functions could be left to Brahmin intellectuals in their service. Kings ruled, and Brahmins were counselors, accountants, and chaplains in the royal (kshatriya) service.

Walking pose, Thailand (Nippon_newfie)
The ascetic Siddhartha did not leave home and travel to the East (to mahajanapadas like Magadha, Kasi, and Kosala) to become a temple priest. He went there to become a nomadic wandering ascetic from another anti-Vedic, anti-Brahminical shramana ("shaman," "wandering ascetic") school rising up to challenge the authority of the old and staid brahmana movement. Unless conversing, arguing, or publicly debating with Brahmins, there would be no reason for Siddhartha or, later, the Buddha to speak Sanskrit. Yet, the Brahmins were very interesting in undermining the Buddha-Dharma.

And even while he was alive and teaching, they tried to co-opt his teachings and methods. After his final nirvana, they went all out to subsume Buddhism under the banner of Vedic Brahmanism and much later the organized Hinduism. But the Buddha and so many Buddhist teachings had run exactly counter to old Vedic and Brahminical assumptions and long held sacred teachings. The Buddha was not a Hindu, not born a Hindu (there was no Hinduism yet in existence, and he was most certainly not a Brahmin or aligned with the Brahmins. But because the Brahmins eventually succeeded in co-opting Buddhism and the figure of the Buddha (as an incarnation of the god Vishnu), Chinese Buddhism and other Mahayana traditions think that Buddhism was originally taught in Sanskrit and originally was just a kind of revival of the ancient Vedic religion of the very ancient Indus Valley Civilization.

Indian Buddhaghosa writing in Sri Lanka
What did the Buddha speak? He would have spoken various related languages -- Magadhi, Pali-Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the popular tongues of the many lands and territories he visited. There is only one exclusively Buddhist language, and it is not Sanskrit but its cognate Pali (what we interpret as a super-simplified Sanskrit but spoken by many more people, like common Aramaic compared to priestly Hebrew). Some of the oldest Buddhist texts are recorded in the spoken Pali tongue, which does not have an alphabet. It uses other alphabets, such as Sinhalese (from the island off the southern tip of the subcontinent). Sri Lanka, where Sinhalese is spoken, is where the most famous Indian Buddhist scholar-monk and commentator Ven. Buddhaghosa went to learn, record, and compile two massive Buddhist meditation manuals, the early Path of Freedom (Vimuttimagga) and the more refined and expanded Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga), the former preserved by the Chinese, and the later preserved by South and Southeast Asian Buddhists.

Ancient Pali dictionary
The earliest Buddhist texts (palm leaf scrolls) yet discovered must have been recorded in a regional Buddhist language. Indeed, those texts are not in Sanskrit but in a local language called Gandhari from Central Asia -- what today we generally call the 'stans:

Ancient Gandhara (Afghanistan, at the foothills of the Himalayan range known as the Hindu Kush, and Pakistan), Uzbekistan, Tajykistan, Kazakhstan, Sistan, Balochistan, and so on.

Maverick Dr. Ranajit Pal realized that Siddhartha was not from Nepal but from Afghanistan, the ancient Shakya-land (Greek Scythia) with one of its capitals at Kapilavatthu (Kapilavastu, near Bamiyan). And what is often forgotten is that many of the Buddha's earliest disciples were Brahmins who certainly spoke Sanskrit and would have spoken and memorized the teachings in that scholarly idiom as well as the Buddha's Prakrit, a form of the Magadha language, Magadha being the state where the Buddha mostly lived.

His two chief male disciples, Ven. Sariputra and Ven. Maha Moggalana, were Brahmins. At least one of his chief female disciples, Ven. Khema and Ven. Uppalavana, may also have been. And more importantly the monk who turned the Buddha's Dharma (spiritual teachings) into a formal "religion," Ven. Maha Kassapa, was a Brahmin. Brahmins would have spread the Buddha-Dharma and with it remnants of their own earlier views, the language and concerns of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization and its ancient Knowledge Books (Vedas).

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