It is somewhat hard to realize, seeing how important and valuable the work has
been, that when ROBERT CAESAR CHILDERS published, in 1872, the first volume of his
Pali Dictionary, he only had at his command a few pages of the canonical Pali books.
Since then, owing mainly to the persistent labours of the Pali Text Society, practically
the whole of these books, amounting to between ten and twelve thousand pages, have
been made available to scholars. These books had no authors. They are anthologies
which gradually grew up in the community. Their composition, as to the Vinaya and
the four Nikayas (with the possible exception of the supplements) was complete within
about a century of the Buddha's death; and the rest belong to the following century.
When scholars have leisure to collect and study the data to be found in this pre-Sanskrit literature, it will necessarily throw as much light on the history of ideas and
language as the study of such names and places as are mentioned in it (quite incidentally) has already thrown upon the political divisions, social customs, and economic
conditions of ancient India.
Some of these latter facts I have endeavoured to collect in my 'Buddhist India'
and perhaps the most salient discovery is the quite unexpected conclusion that, for
about two centuries (both before the Buddha's birth and after his death), the paramount power in India was Kosala — a kingdom stretching from Nepal on the North
to the Ganges on the South, and from the Ganges on the West to the territories
of the Vajjian confederacy on the East. In this, the most powerful kingdom in India;
there had naturally arisen a standard vernacular differing from the local forms of speech
just as standard English differs from the local (usually county) dialects. The Pali of the
canonical books is based on that standard Kosala vernacular as spoken in the 6thand
7th centuries B. C. It cannot be called the 'literary' form of that vernacular, for it was
not written at all till long afterwards. That vernacular was the mother tongue of the
Buddha. He was born in what is now Nepal, but was then a district under the suzerainty of Kosala and in one of the earliest Pali documents he is represented as calling
himself a Kosalan.
When, about a thousand years afterwards, some pandits in Ceylon began to write
in Pali, they wrote in a style strikingly different from that of the old texts. Part of
that difference is no doubt due simply to a greater power of fluent expression
unhampered by the necessity of constantly considering that the words composed had to be
learnt by heart. When the Sinhalese used Pali, they were so familiar with the method
of writing on palmleaves that the question of memorizing simply did not arise. It
came up again later. But none of the works belonging to this period were intended
to be learnt. They were intended to be read.
On the other hand they were for the most part reproductions of older material
that had, till then, been preserved in Sinhalese. Though the Sinhalese pandits were
writing in Pali, to them, of course, a dead language, they probably did their thinking
in their own mother tongue. Now they had had then, for many generations, so close
and intimate an intercourse with their Dravidian neighbours that Dravidian habits of
speech had crept into Sinhalese. It was inevitable that some of the peculiarities of
their own tongue, and especially these Dravidanisms, should have influenced their style
when they wrote in Pali. It will be for future scholars to ascertain exactly how far
this influence can be traced in the idioms and in the order of the arrangement of the
matter of these Ceylon Pali books of the fifth and sixth centuries A. D.
There is no evidence that the Sinhalese at that time knew Sanskrit. Some centuries
afterwards a few of them learnt the elements of classical Sanskrit and very proud
they were of it. They introduced the Sanskrit forms of Sinhalese words when writing
'high' Sinhalese. And the authors of such works as the Dathavansa, the Saddhammopayana, and the Mahabodhivansa, make use of Pali words derived from Sanskrit -
that is, they turned into Pali form certain Sanskrit words they found either in the
Amara-kosa, or in the course of their very limited reading, and used them as Pali.
It would be very desirable to have a list of such Pali words thus derived from Sanskrit.
It would not be a long one.
Here we come once more to the question of memory. From the 11th cent.
onwards it became a sort of fashion to write manuals in verse, or in prose and verse,
on such subjects as it was deemed expedient for novices to know. Just as the first
book written in Pali in Ceylon was a chain of memoriter verses strung together by
very indifferent Pali verses, so at the end we have these scarcely intelligible memoriter verses meant to be learned by heart by the pupils.
According to the traditions handed down among the Sinhalese, Pali, that is, the
language used in the texts, could also be called Māgadhī. What exactly did they
mean by that? They could not be referring to the Māgadhī of the Prakrit grammarians,
for the latter wrote some centuries afterwards. Could they have meant the dialect
spoken in Magadha at the date when they used the phrase, say, the sixth century A. D.?
That could only be if they had any exact knowledge of the different vernaculars of
North India at the time. For that there is no evidence, and it is in itself very
improbable. What they did mean is probably simply the language used by Asoka,
the king of Magadha. For their traditions also stated that the texts had been brought
to them officially by Asoka's son Mahinda; and not in writing, but in the memory
of Mahinda and his companions. Now we know something of the language of Asoka.
We have his edicts engraved in different parts of India, differing slightly in compliance with local varieties of speech. Disregarding these local differences, what is
left may be considered the language of head-quarters where these edicts were certainly drafted. This 'Māgadhī' contains none of the peculiar characteristics we associate
with the Māgadhī dialect. It is in fact a younger form of that standard Kosalan
lingua franca mentioned above.
Now it is very suggestive that we hear nothing of how the king of Magadha
became also king of Kosala. Had this happened quietly, by succession, the event
would have scarcely altered the relation of the languages of the two kingdoms. That
of the older and larger would still have retained its supremacy. So when the Scottish
dynasty succeeded to the English throne, the two languages remained distinct, but
English became more and more the standard.
However this may be, it has become of essential importance to have a Dictionary
of a language the history of whose literature is bound up with so many delicate and
interesting problems. The Pali Text Society, after long continued exertion and many
cruel rebuffs and disappointments is now at last in a position to offer to scholars the
first instalment of such a dictionary.
The merits and demerits of the work will be sufficiently plain even from the
first fasciculus. But one or two remarks are necessary to make the position of my
colleague and myself clear.
We have given throughout the Sanskrit roots corresponding to the Pali roots,
and have omitted the latter. It may be objected that this is a strange method to
use in a Pali dictionary, especially as the vernacular on which Pali is based had
never passed through the stage of Sanskrit. That may be so; and it may not be
possible, historically, that any Pali word in the canon could have been actually derived
from the corresponding Sanskrit word. Nevertheless the Sanskrit form, though arisen
quite independently, may throw light upon the Pali form; and as Pali roots have not
yet been adequately studied in Europe, the plan adopted will probably, at least for
the present, be more useful.
This work is essentially preliminary. There is a large number of words of which
we do not know the derivation. There is a still larger number of which the derivation
does not give the meaning, but rather the reverse. It is so in every living language.
Who could guess, from the derivation, the complicated meaning of such words as
'conscience', 'emotion', 'disposition'? The derivation would be as likely to mislead as
to guide. We have made much progress. No one needs now to use the one English
word 'desire' as a translation of sixteen distinct Pali words, no one of which means
precisely desire. Yet this was done in Vol. X of the Sacred Books of the East by
MAX MÜLLER and FAUSBÖLL 1 The same argument applies to as many concrete
words as abstract ones. Here again we claim to have made much advance. But in
either case, to wait for perfection would postpone the much needed dictionary to
the Greek kalends. It has therefore been decided to proceed as rapidly as possible
with the completion of this first edition, and to reserve the proceeds of the sale for
the eventual issue of a second edition which shall come nearer to our ideals of what
a Pali Dictionary should be.
We have to thank Mrs. STEDE for valuable help in copying out material noted
in my interleaved copy of Childers, and in collating indexes published by the Society;
Mrs. RHYS DAVIDS for revising certain articles on the technical terms of psychology
and philosophy; and the following scholars for kindly placing at our disposal the
material they had collected for the now abandoned scheme of an international Pali
Prof. STEN KONOW. Words beginning with S or H. (Published in J P T S. 1909
and 1907, revised by Prof. Dr. C ANDERSEN).
Dr. MABEL H. BODE. B, Bh and M.
Dr. W.H.D. ROUSE. C—Ñ
In this connection I should wish to refer to the work of Dr. EDMOND HARDY.
When he died he left a great deal of material; some of which has reached us in
time to be made available. He was giving his whole time, and all his enthusiasm to
the work, and had he lived the dictionary would probably have been finished before
the war. His loss was really the beginning of the end of the international undertaking.
Anybody familiar with this sort of work will know what care and patience, what
scholarly knowledge and judgment are involved in the collection of such material, in
the sorting, the sifting and final arrangement of it, in the adding of cross references,
in the consideration of etymological puzzles, in the comparison and correction of
various or faulty readings, and in the verification of references given by others, or
found in the indexes. For all this work the users of the Dictionary will have to
thank my colleague, Dr. WILLIAM STEDE. It may be interesting to notice here that
the total number of references to appear in this first edition of the new dictionary is
estimated to be between one hundred and fifty and one hundred and sixty thousand.
The Bavarian Academy has awarded to Dr. STEDE a personal grant of 3100 marks
for his work on this Dictionary.
Chipstead, Surrey. July, 1921.
T. W. RHYS DAVIDS.
1. See Mrs. RHYS DAVIDS in J R A S., 1898, p. 58.
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