U Nandisena is a Theravada Buddhist monk from Argentina, currently living and working in Mexico (as far as I know). He is the author of a major Spanish translation of the Dhammapada, a direct translation Pali-Spanish (something REALLY praiseworthy).
|U Nandisena in action: he is not only a grammarian. Presenting Lecture cum Meditation on "Forgiving"|
He is one of the few (?) western monks ho has taken the trouble of learning traditional Pāli and Sanskrit grammar. Actually, he learned it under the Burmese master U Silananda (author of The Four Foundations of Mindfulness) in California. A product of his grammar lessons with U Silananda is this book, a compilation of Pali roots and their meanings in English and Spanish. As a Spanish speaker/reader, I must say the Spanish translations sound sometimes a bit forced, but that might be because the author is from America and I am not used to some expressions. For instance:
aka – moving crookedly / ir torcidamente
That (“ir torcidamente”) is never used in Spanish. No one “goes crookedly” anywhere, except snakes and rivers, maybe, and therefore we should translate “serpentear” (there is no such a verb in English, but would it be one, I’m sure Silananda would have used it, and Nandisena, following quite slavishly the English translation, would have used “serpentear” or something like this). If we want look up this word and see how it is used in the Tipiṭaka, we are bound to failure. The root aka is NEVER used in the Tipiṭaka. Why on earth, then, should Ven. U Nandisena include this “Pali” root, and many others that are never found in the Tipiṭaka, in his book? Answer: They belong to the Pālidhātumañjusā. OK. Accepted. But they are not Pali roots. They are Sanskrit roots, and Theravada monks just mimicked the list (as it is well known). So the whole purpose of Silananda/Nandisena’s book is basically a petitio principii. They want to compare Pali and Sanskrit roots, but actually some so-called roots in Pali are not Pali, but Sankrit. They are, as Michael Coulson would put it, “grammatical fictions”. So there should be no surprise in finding similarities.
Now, I go to the point. It is really interesting to see a Buddhist monk worshiping grammar, as Ven. U Silananda does in his preface, and as many others do, indeed. They are amazed at the precision of the traditional methodology (which is not a Buddhist product). Since the beginning of the Second Millenium A.D., Theravada Buddhism has assimilated Sanskrit culture in such a manner, that not only they adopted grammar as one of the “Tipiṭakaṅgas” (my coinage) but they also worship grammar in a very brahmanical (I mean formalist, ritualist) style. Of course, I’m very pleased with that. Or say, I have nothing against it.
One more aspect is that a set of grammars was published as part of the Sixth Buddhist Council in Yangon (chaṭṭhasaṅgāyana). That says something of the higher status of grammar in present Theravada Buddhism. Grammar has become canonical, like the Jatakas.
|U Silananda Sayadaw|
The last thing I would like to highlight is that Silananda/Nandisena’s book is for free, in the internet, and also distributed as a paperback, for free. Why? The answer is in the book itself: because it is “A Dhammadāna for free distribution only” (See back cover of the book, in the PDF). I find it amazing that grammar is considered Dhamma. I guess it is because, theoretically, it explains the language of the Buddha, but I have already pointed out that many verbs in the Pali Dhātupāṭha are gramatical fictions (or non-fictions, if you prefer, but that does not change the reality).
Moreover, despite my modest critique, the book, as an enterprise, is really praiseworthy. I can only say sādhu, sādhu, sādhu.