Buddhavacana: A Pali Reader


About this Book



[From the Preface:] This Reader has three related goals. First, it aims to encourage the study of Buddhist canonical literature in Pali (pāḷi). While there are, of course, several canonical languages – Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, and Sanskrit–the Pali canon is exceptional. It is the repository of what I would like to call Classical Buddhism: the basic teachings, as far as we can determine, of Siddhattha Gotama (c. 480–400 BCE), the man we call the Buddha.


As such, the Pali canon constitutes the shared heritage of Buddhists everywhere and at all times. Buddhism, like everything else, has changed throughout history, is changing now, and will continue to change in the future. It is therefore all the more important that we, as students of Buddhism, not lose sight of the basic teachings of Siddhattha Gotama as recorded in the Pali canon. For, if the term
Buddhism is to mean anything at all, surely it must, at a minimum, be consonant with the teachings of Gotama. That Buddhism changes is inevitable. It would be irresponsible of us not to adapt, update, clarify, and modify ancient and ascetic teachings to fit the needs of our time and place. But it would be equally irresponsible for us to do so without a genuine understanding of what it is we are changing. I hope this Reader will contribute to such an understanding.


Second, the sixteen texts that comprise the Reader were chosen to provide the student with a reliable overview of Siddhattha Gotama's teachings. I make an argument for why these texts are particularly suited to that task in my Basic Teachings of the Buddha (New York: Random House, 2007). That book may be seen as a companion to the present one in that it contains in-depth commentaries on the texts given here in Pali. . . .


Finally, in including the texts that it does, the Reader aims to help create critics of Buddhism as it begins to take root in the West. Our word "critic" comes from the Greek term for someone who discerns and judges with care. So, it is hoped that modern-day Buddhist practitioners would carefully dissect, probe, and question tradition, and not simply accept the views of believers and teachers past and present. Being such a practitioner—a critical one—takes effort. It requires us to know the facts about our shared tradition—i.e., the principles of the Buddha's basic teachings—and to distinguish these teachings from the countless changes—additions, subtractions, compressions, expansions, innovations, and, yes, manipulations, mutations, distortions, and reversalsthat history has brought to these teachings.

Only then are we fit to judge.

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What the Critics Say


Glenn Wallis has compiled a comprehensive Pali reader intended to enable the earnest student to move directly into reading the Pali Nikayas...Those students who require fuller grammatical explanations may find that this approach demands a greater intuitive capacity for understanding a foreign language than they are endowed with. But those who have this intuitive gift will find that by the time they complete this book, they will be able to read virtually any sutta in the Nikayas.


—Bhikkhu Bodhi, Bodhi Monastery


Glenn Wallis's latest book, Buddhavacana: A Pali Reader, is a wonderful addition to the library of any Pāli language enthusiast. Anyone who has studied the vocabulary, sentence structure and word conjugation of the Pāli language and then gone directly to the full Pāli Canon to do translation work knows how daunting this effort can be. Dictionaries such as The Pali Text Society Pāli-English Dictionary are not only enormous in size, but one must find his or her way through the original Pāli alphabetical scheme to uncover the sought after Pāli terms.


Once the word is found, it is generally in a different form/conjugation than is reflected in the Sutta itself. Wallis has created a bridge for the Pāli student to make this leap of translation considerably less intimidating. By combining customized indices for each of 16 important Suttas, he has made the process of translation much more accessible. The translation experience with this arrangement is made easier by simplifying and explaining the complexities of the conjugated words within the Sutta combined with a clear and relevant English translation. Additionally, the book is written in a workbook format, allowing the student to make their notes and translations directly opposite the original Pāli.


Direct Pāli translation can be a very satisfying undertaking. There are nuances within the Pāli language that are not directly translatable into English. The sincere student who combines the practices taught by the Buddha with the words as spoken in their original form, will gain an insight into the teachings that is not otherwise directly accessible.


Glenn Wallis has given us a direct tool towards developing this deeper understanding of the words of the Buddha. I would highly recommend this to anyone that has an interest in learning the Pāli language, particularly if the student has the desire to eventually tackle their own translations of the broad array of other Suttas in the Pāli Canon.


—Reader Review, Pariyatti Newsletter