Why study Sanskrit?

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Re: Why study Sanskrit?

Postby Tom » Tue Oct 15, 2013 3:31 pm

JKhedrup wrote:Are there any Sanskrit study programs that train students using primarily Buddhist texts in Western countries?


All the good Universities, Harvard, Chicago, Columbia etc. generally include both Buddhist and Non-Buddhist texts. In any case to really go deep into certain Buddhist texts it is extremely helpful to understand Nyāya and other Indian philosophical schools directly from their own texts.
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Re: Why study Sanskrit?

Postby Malcolm » Tue Oct 15, 2013 3:36 pm

Indrajala wrote:
yegyal wrote:Actually, I've never met a Tibetan scholar-practitioner that didn't think studying Sanskrit was worthwhile.


I've seldom met anyone from the Himalayas who thought the study of Sanskrit was important and pursued it even at an elementary level. I've met a few, sure, but they're exceptions.



As Khedrup mentions, Lama Migmar reads Sanskrit with fluency; so does Lama Pema, another Sakya graduate of Varanasi. Students at Sakya College, on the other hand, do not study so much Sanskrit.

Those Tibetans seriously interested in Indian Buddhist texts make the effort. But your average Geshe, Lama, Khenpo, probably not.

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Re: Why study Sanskrit?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 15, 2013 3:38 pm

Malcolm wrote:If you are never going to read a sutra or saśtra from the bka' 'gyur or btan 'gyur, his point might have merit, otherwise? Not so smart.


I almost wonder if his opinion represents the majority.

Like I said, aside from scholars and eminent practitioners, most Tibetan monks I've met don't seem to value Sanskrit.

Mind you, the same can be said about Chinese monks as well. They'll recite and even memorize mistranslitered and outdated renditions of Sanskrit dhāraṇīs without knowing what they really mean, let alone having any sense of what the proper pronunciation would be.

In modern Mandarin for instance the Heart Sutra mantra reads:

jiēdì, jiēdì, bōluó jiēdì, bōluósēng jiēdì, pútí suōpóhē

However, it seems assumed that just reciting it as is somehow conveys benefits.
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Re: Why study Sanskrit?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Oct 15, 2013 3:38 pm

Sorry my bad! My alma mater is UofT and when I was in Toronto in the Summer I spoke to a friend of mine who studied Sanskrit there, and all he mentioned were Classical Indian "Hindu" treatises.

I am very interested in several of the Indian schools of thought outside Buddhism, Samkhya for example.
But if a practitioner in one of the Tibetan lineages were to ask me, should I learn Sanskrit or Tibetan, I would still recommend Tibetan. If he or she was a Chan practitioner, I would probably recommend Classical Chinese.

If one was practicing in the Thai Theravada tradition, I would recommend Pali over Thai. But that is because Theravada Buddhism is still very much transmitted in the Pali language. All of the essential Paritta, the Sanghakamas etc. are conducted in Pali.

For whatever reason, this never happened in the Mahayana countries. And the liturgies, texts and Monastic Sanghakama rituals are conducted in the Tibetan, Chinese etc.

Though I know Classical Chinese is sometimes considered the "Latin" of Viet Namese Buddhism.
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Re: Why study Sanskrit?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 15, 2013 3:41 pm

Malcolm wrote:Those Tibetans seriously interested in Indian Buddhist texts make the effort. But your average Geshe, Lama, Khenpo, probably not.

M


That's unfortunate, isn't it? A scholar with the title of Geshe or Khenpo, and they don't adequately study the ancestral language of their textual tradition(s).

Meanwhile, western academics involved in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism as a matter of principle and common sense would be expected to have reading knowledge of Sanskrit and Tibetan, at least in decent institutions.
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Re: Why study Sanskrit?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Oct 15, 2013 3:48 pm

But I would argue that the best scholars of those institutions study the material in more depth and in a livelier environment, considering the context of monastic debate.

Also, academic study of the Buddhist texts is greatly hindered from a practice perspective by the necessarily atheistic template of research at the modern universities. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for critical academic studies and find them fascinating and informative reading, but I don't think a poor practitioner thinking of enrolling in an expensive university program for "their practice" would find it the best go.

That's unfortunate, isn't it? A scholar with the title of Geshe or Khenpo, and they don't adequately study the ancestral language of their textual tradition(s).


I still think the classical Tibetan and Chinese traditions are very much "living" traditions. For whatever reasons, the Mahayana world is not like the Theravada world where Pali is the scholastic lingua franca. The Tibetans still manage to have a pretty good degree of scholarship and a wide variety of viewpoints on difficult topics within their own language.

Where I do see the gap, though, is in the knowledge of "outside tenants". Jamyang Shaypa's "Great Exposition of Tenants" for example includes some very mistaken interpretations of Indian schools of Sanatana Dharma. Perhaps with Sanskrit scholarship such misunderstandings would have been less rife.
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Re: Why study Sanskrit?

Postby Tom » Tue Oct 15, 2013 3:49 pm

JKhedrup wrote: if a practitioner in one of the Tibetan lineages were to ask me, should I learn Sanskrit or Tibetan, I would still recommend Tibetan


I would as well.

I would also suggest for a practitioner that they then go on to learn spoken Tibetan rather than Sanskrit. This is provided they have a close relationship with a Tibetan lama and are not interested in translating texts. It you want to translate texts from the Indian Buddhist tradition then it is better to add Sanskrit.
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Re: Why study Sanskrit?

Postby dzoki » Wed Oct 16, 2013 10:31 pm

I believe a key to successful mastering of language is immersion, it is a pity that this is almost impossible for Sanskrit nowadays, I would so love to learn it. Yeah there are Sanskrit speakers in India, but I doubt they wold accept me into their household easily. Studying language just from books and teachers who often are not native speakers is I think putting many people off. Who knows, maybe that is also why those Tibetan khenpos, geshes etc. are not too proficient in Sanskrit.
As for the reason to learn it apart from the reasons that have been mentioned, I think of it as a gateway to other Indian languages, such as Hindi, Bengali, Nepali etc. which is quite useful when one travels to India and Nepal.
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Re: Why study Sanskrit?

Postby Alfredo » Thu Oct 17, 2013 1:47 am

I have not studied Sanskrit, but I admire those who do. Some scholars manage to study all the relevant languages, but few of us are so fortunate / talented / industrious, so we do what we can. It's okay to specialize. That said, most Buddhist Studies people do study Sanskrit in addition to whatever their normal canonical language is (Pali, Chinese, Tibetan), unless they take a strictly anthropological approach and go straight to Sinhalese or Newari or what have you. It depends on your program. Doctoral programs also normally require a smattering of research languages such as German, French, or Japanese. So the default combo is Sanskrit, another canonical language, plus two research languages; or for anthropologists, a language of fieldwork, plus research languages. Remember--you're allowed to collaborate with other people who know languages you don't!
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Re: Why study Sanskrit?

Postby Huifeng » Thu Oct 17, 2013 2:40 am

"Why study Sanskrit?"

In order to get a little closer to the Dharma as expressed in language,
in order to get a little closer to the meaning,
in order to get a little closer to realization,
in order to be able to help others on the path.

No panacea, but helpful nonetheless.
That's my take. By no means the only one.

~~ Huifeng
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