This talk is fascinating! John Peacock gives a really great history of the times Gotama lived in, and additionally he relates the importance of that history as context to how and what “the Buddha” taught. I have read some of the history of the time, and knew a little about the Indian class system and beliefs from the Vedas. But I found John related it better to the suttas we read in the Pali Canon, the context we have to keep in mind, and the context which apparently was lost in some translations.
Additionally, it was fascinating to hear, as it always is, how Pali words have been translated, often mistranslated, or simply defy accurate translation. What he was saying in particular about dukkha struck me. In fact, it’s changing my mind about the word and the use of Pali.
I have felt quite strongly that in secular Buddhism we should try to avoid Pali words, as few of us know any Pali, they seem strange and foreign, and they often confuse. Why not just say what you mean in English! I’ve heard a few arguments for the use of Pali from my friends and acquaintances in various Buddhist circles, and while they made good points, John Peacock’s talk drove the message home for me.
In favor of the argument for Pali usage regarding secular Buddhism is that we are learning more and more how previous translations from Pali into English have suffered in a number of ways. A big problem was that the first translators were looking at the Pali mainly through Christian filters, so they’d more likely see religious content and likely miss references to a non-theist view. In fact, John reads a passage from the sutta where he explains Gotama is actually making fun of the devas by putting them in the frame of dukkha and the way they have to go to him with questions. John feels it was likely a story Gotama told to make a point, but many have believed it literally. Over time other religious filters were added, confusing some of the material in similar ways.
John, Stephen Batchelor, and several people I know who are learning Pali have said repeatedly that Gotama was way more radical than The Buddha we have been handed through western writing. Perhaps early and religious scholars didn’t think Gotama’s dynamic, energic personality was important, yet we all know how personality can make a point. Without the personality, the gesture, the expression, the tone of voice, points can be lost.
I hope and suspect that over time we will get the privilege of reading new translations and commentaries on the suttas. To help towards that effort, we have created an area to ::Learn Pali Discussion Forum::. There is a list of resources there to get you started. Use the discussion area to ask questions, share your progress, help others, etc.
I’m eager to listen to the rest of the talks. I hope you’ll listen to the one above, comment here, ask questions, and have some dialogue about it. Then, if you enjoyed the above, delve into the five other talks in the series called Buddhism Before the Theravada.