The Language of the Buddha

Pali Basics 

When we study the suttas, we are studying the Buddha’s teachings.  The collection of these teachings are called the ‘Pali Canon.’  But what is Pali, and  how much of it should we know?

Pali 101
A Special Offering by Stephen Sas 

Whether you aspire to be fluent in Pali, or just want to learn a few words here and there, any study of Pali will enrich your Buddhist practice and understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.  No prior experience in Pali, Sanskrit or any other language (aside from English) is required.  This is a rare opportunity to get a glimpse of the language used by the actual Buddha in his explication of his own enlightenment and teachings. 

Students will be able to begin reading parts of the Pali canon themselves by the end of the course.


Pali–the language of the people

“The Buddha was continuously traveling through a large area of north-eastern India, and as he moved from village to village he had to communicate in a large range of dialects. So presumably he had to work out for his own use something which would serve as a kind of lingua franca.”


“My theory, then, is that Pali reflects the idiosyncratic language used by the Buddha as he toured northeast India and communicated with a population ranging from brahmins to untouchables.  [His followers] were also concerned to retain as best they could the precise characteristics of their teacher’s language as preserved by their oral tradition. They did so by retaining the language that their teacher had created for them as an analogue to Sanskrit.”


Richard Gombrich, Buddhism and Pali, 2018, pp. 78, 84-85.
An Introduction to Pali 
What is Pali? – Its relationship to other Indo-European Languages-
The Pali Alphabet – The idea of Conjugation and Declension – Nominative and Accusative

Review of Nominative and Accusative Cases 

Structure and Layout of the Pali Canon – Two uses of the Instrumental Case – Ablative Case

Review – Dative and Genitive Case

Introduction to the Absolutive form of verbs

Locative and Vocative case

A look at the Four Great References
Introduction to the Absolutive, or Indeclinable Participle

The Absolutive and Infinitive Forms of Verbs

Full conjugation of present tense in 3 persons, singular and plural
Personal pronouns
Introduction to Gair & Karunatillake

Final Class on Pali Primer

G&K Lesson:  The grammar and syntax of going for refuge
Initial Readings from the Anguttara Nikaya
Does Pali use punctuation?

Gair and Karunatillake Lesson 1 -Initial Readings

The usage of ca and vā
The four right strivings

Gair and Karunatillake Lesson 1 –  Further Readings

The word ‘anuyogo’ and the idiom ‘cittaṃ pariyādāya tiṭṭhati’ explained
Looking up words in the dictionary – several resources
A first look at Lesson 2, verses from the Dhammapada

Gair and Karunatillake Lesson 2 – Initial Readings

The Dhammapada – Intro to Pali verse
Uses of the Infinitive
Equational Sentences
Accusative of time
The correlative construction

Gair and Karunatillake Lesson 2 –  Further Readings

Various kinds of demonstrative pronouns
Relative and demonstrative clauses
Assaji’s verse to Sariputta
Different ways nouns become adjectives
picture of young monks walking towards classes in an outdoor hallway

Gair & Karunatillake Lesson 3- Initial Readings 

Interrogative Pronouns
Two verbs ‘to be’: atthi and bhavati
The Optative mood
The Present Participle

Gair & Karunatillake Lesson 3- Initial Readings (continued)

Continuing with the Optative
The Imperative
yasmā…tasmā constructions
the use of ‘sakkā’

Gair & Karunatillake Lesson 3- Further Readings
More readings from the Anguttara Nikaka
The First Noble Truth

Gair & Karunatillake Lesson 4- Initial Readings
Pali numbers
The number 1 in singular and plural!
Two meanings of the verb bhāsati


Gair & Karunatillake Lesson 4- Initial Readings
Pronouns in the feminine
Some new forms of the Optative
Genitive of Fear

Gair & Karunatillake Lesson 4- Initial and Further Readings
The -māna form of a present participle
The noun ‘go’ for cow
Various types of assemblies


Gair & Karunatillake Lesson 4- Further Readings
Various types of assemblies
Readings from the Dhammapada
the terms ‘etadagga’, ‘atthaññu’, ‘dhammaññu’, etc

Gair & Karunatillake Lesson 4- Further, Lesson 5- Initial Readings
the ‘wheel turning monarch’
the full declension of personal pronouns/ enclitic forms
-vant and -mant nouns and adjectives
the vocative ‘bho’
the idomatic phrase, ‘etaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati’



Gair & Karunatillake Lesson 5- Initial Readings
What is a brahmin?
More readings from the Dhammapada
Using Duroiselle’s Pāli Grammar
‘akubbato’ and ‘sakubbato’
excerpts from the Maṅgala Sutta