April 21, 2009

What Can I Learn about Buddhist Activism from Studying a Scriptural Language?

Upon the kind invitation of Joan Halifax Roshi, I wrote a little something for this week’s issue of the Upaya Newsletter, which you can read here. It’s a reflection on studying Pāḷi–the Middle-Indo Aryan dialect in which the earliest Buddhist texts are preserved–and how it has informed my social engagement as a Buddhist.  Here’s just a snippet:

…I learned that the origins of the Pāḷi language seem to have been in the vernacular, Prakrit languages of ancient India, and not in the elite Sanskrit languages that the orthodox Brahmins used. (The dialect went through a process of Sanskritization at some point, though.) This suggested a lot to me about the character of the historical Buddha.  It told me that he was a leveler-that he didn’t believe knowledge and awakening should be restricted to just a privileged few. And it was certainly consistent with the content of the suttas: That nobility was determined not by birth or by status, but by the practices of calm abiding, wisdom, and virtue-practices that could be undertaken by anyone at any moment.

Regular readers might be interested to know that I also tell a story about elephant journal favorite Judith SimmerBrown in my reflection.

Take a look at the whole thing here and please share your thoughts in the comments.

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