Studying Pāli can be very beneficial to meditators as improved knowledge of the direct words of the Buddha can help one develop a greater understanding of the theoretical aspect of Dhamma, and inspiration to keep practicing.
This is something that Goenkaji emphasized during his life and also corresponds with the feedback we have received from participants of the various residential Pāli workshops Pariyatti has helped facilitate over the years. Pariyatti’s Pāli workshops are open for old students of S.N. Goenka, who practice Vipassana meditation regularly.
Recently two Pāli workshops were held in Latin America in the Spanish language; 15 students participated in an introductory workshop in Mexico, and 12 students in Costa Rica. The usual length of introductory workshops is eight or nine days, but these were held over six-day periods; fitting in with the schedule of the rental locations. Teacher Adriana Patiño had been very accommodating and had adjusted the schedule accordingly.
Karim, organizer and participant (of the workshop in Costa Rica) said he felt very fortunate to have been able to participate, and that the workshop had indeed been very inspiring to him. He mentioned that his experience had been much deeper than he had anticipated; not dissimilar to that of a deep silent Vipassana retreat.
"It's interesting to reflect on the fact that, most probably, this is the first time in history that a group of meditators learned and studied Pāli in Central America. It is an unprecedented and joyous occasion in the spread of Dhamma," Karim said.
The course commenced with a short introduction followed by the history of the Pāli language and the Tipitaka, and an introduction to basic grammar and pronunciation. The language system seemed very methodical to Karim, and he likened learning the proper pronunciation to a “systematic exploration of sound and phonetics”.
Karim explained that Pāli uses a combination of sounds; guttural, palatal, dental, and nasal sounds. The different sounds are created at different points of articulation in the vocal tract. This happens by placing the tongue in different positions—with a point of contact at the back of the oral cavity, against the palate or the back of the upper teeth for example.
In Pāli several consonants exist in slight variations. They can be followed by an ‘h’ (‘th’, ‘kh’), or doubled (‘gg’). Sounds like ‘th’ or ‘kh’ are aspirated in Pāli, which means the are pronounced on an exhalation of the breath.
Although Karim said some sounds definitely found resemblance in Spanish, in general he had found it quite challenging to pronounce all of the different nuances of the language correctly. “We are not used to these [different] placements of the tongue, the variation in length of the vowels and the aspirated or double consonants. It was very sweet to witness everybody getting closer to the right pronunciation as the days passed.”
What followed was “the sweetest part” of the course and the one that “left the deepest impression”. Karim referred here to the exercise of chanting with awareness, or “meditative recitation” and said it was quite a complex process.
"First you have to study and understand the meaning of each word, and attempt to pronounce them correctly at the proper tempo. That alone requires you to stay very present. On top of that you need to know how to chant properly. The entire process is very meditative. I am mostly grateful for this experience,” said Karim.
Among the texts that the participants learned to chant were the opening formalities of a 10-day Vipassana course which include the precepts, the surrender and the request of Dhamma, as well as the Karaniya and the Mangala Sutta (chanted by Goenkaji on Day 3 and Day 9 of a 10-day course).
Morning chanting recordings S.N. Goenka
Listen to the participants of the workshop in Costa Rica recite Pāli in a short video on Facebook:
Pāli courses cannot take place at a Vipassana Meditation Center, as centers are dedicated to the practice of Vipassana only. An old student kindly donated the use of her holiday property in the hills of Temecula, California- providing a very suitable off-center location for our workshops in the USA. The locations in other countries are carefully chosen as well, and the boutique hotel in Costa Rica with it’s mountain views was certainly conducive to an atmosphere of meditation and study. “It was ideal,” Karim said, “there was a river running on the property, and plenty of space to study and walk.”
The upcoming workshop in Poland will take place at a wonderful personal development/retreat center, with cottages surrounded by lots of trees; the location in Israel is even more unique: a quaint Desert Inn in a town built on the cliffs of a massive crater in the Negev Desert.
Upcoming Pāli Workshops (2019)
Introductory (Poland 🇵🇱): November 19 - December 1, 2019 (Klaus Nothnagel)
Introductory (Israel 🇮🇱): February 19 - 24, 2020 (Klaus Nothnagel)
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