As the Pali Text Society began issuing editions and translations of the Pali Canon and Commentaries in quick succession, Rhys Davids conceived the idea of the compilation of an exhaustive dictionary of Pali, based on the voluminous basic material that was being brought to light. The work took more than twenty years of devoted labour, but before his death in 1922, Rhys Davids had the satisfaction of seeing its first volume published. In four volumes, issued over 1921-25, the Dictionary contains every Pali word, with its Sanskrit root identified and meanings given in English. Carrying over 1,50,000 textual references, the work holds the field, even today, as the best Pali-English Dictionary.
About the Author:
THOMAS WILLIAM RHYS DAVIDS (1843-1922) was the foremost and most active exponent of the study of Pali and Buddhism in England. Rhys Davids studied Sanskrit at Breslau under Stenzler.
In 1882 he was appointed Professor of Pali in the University College, London. He was the Founder-Chairman of the Pali Text Society (1881), through which, by the time he passed away at the age of 80, he had published most of the basic texts and commentaries in Pali Buddhism, in about 25,000 pages.
Rhys Davids played an active part in founding, in 1902, the British Academy, and later the School of Oriental Studies, London. He was also the President of the India Society from its inception in 1910 till his death in 1922.
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 Pall Dictionary, he only had at his command a few pages of the canonical Pall books. Since then, owing mainly to the persistent labors 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 endeavored 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 5th and yth 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 Pall, 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 neighbors 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 Dathavasa, the Saddhammopayana, and the Mahabodhivaxjsa, 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 Pall. 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 Pall verses, so at the end we have these scarcely intelligible memo- titer 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 Magadhi. What exactly did they mean by that? They could not be referring to the Magadhi 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 ‘Magadhi’ contains none of the peculiar characteristics we associate with the Magadhi 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 installment of such a dictionary.
The merits and demerits of the work will be sufficiently plain even from the first fascicules. 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’ P 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 Muller and Fausboll). 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. Rilvs 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 Dictionary:
Prof. STEN Konow. Words beginning with S or H. (Published in F P T S. 1909 and 1907 revised by Prof. Dr. D. Andersen.
Dr. Mabesl H Bode B, Bh and M.Prof. Durousekke J.Dr. W.H.D Rouse C-N
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 judgement 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 other or found in the indexes. For all this work the users of the Dictionary will have to that 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 Ravarian Academy has awarded to Dr. Stede a personal grant of 3100 marks for his works on this dictionary.
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