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Too much Pali

Re: "Sex, money and monkhood don't mix", (Opinion, May 12). Your columnist Sanitsuda Ekachai writes, " A monk's education focuses only on rote-learning of the ancient Pali texts, forsaking spiritual training and the goal of monkhood -- spiritual liberation." This is a point I have been stressing throughout the 18 years that I have been a monk in Thailand.

I was ordained to stay at my current temple because the then abbot was a fluent English speaker. He also had a PhD in Pali scholarship. However, after a couple of years he was driven out because of sexual misconduct. The meditation centre was then closed down never to reopen.

I cannot understand the high status with which Pali is held in Thailand considering there is no connection between the historical Buddha and the Pali language. Most historians in the early 20th century dated his lifetime as c.563 BCE to 483 BCE. But according to Wikipedia, "The earliest samples of Pali discovered are inscriptions believed to date from the 5th to 8th Century located in mainland Southeast Asia."

The Buddha taught people of all social levels from kings and queens to humble craftsmen. He was able to do this because he spoke using the common dialects of the Ganges River Basin where he spent most of his active years.

Yet we have a situation in modern Thailand where monks chant Buddhist teachings in Pali to congregations of laypeople who haven't a clue as to their meaning. In fact the vast majority of monks have no understanding either. A Thai monk once complained to me, during evening chanting, that "At least you get an English translation in your Pali chanting book, whereas we get no such translation in our Thai books."

If one visits the museum at Chiang Mai's Wat Ket Karam there is a notice outside written by the current, or former, abbot bemoaning the fact that young people today are not interested in learning about the Buddha's teachings. He blames this on the fact that this is because the Dhamma is being taught using a foreign language ie Pali.

The Buddha went to great lengths to teach so as to be clearly understood by one and all. The fact that his dhamma has become ritualised and twisted into ceremonial usage is completely contrary to the very nature of the dhamma itself. So long as this ethos remains, it should come as no surprise that examples of errant monks persist! This is because a monk is judged and valued not by his behaviour, compassion, wisdom and adherence to the teachings of the Buddha, but rather by his Pali scholarship!


West Bank woes

Re: "Palestinians honour slain journalist", (BP, May 13).

Now, the world must do something about the repression of the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. I have written, and I thank the Bangkok Post for publishing my letters about the appalling situation there. Maybe America will do something, well overdue, about the number of murders of Palestinians. Maybe the murder of yet another journalist will get through to the president of the US, and he will say enough is enough. The chaotic scenes shown on TV will prompt the compassionate people of the world to demand a thorough probe of what was a murder. Another one.


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