Sunday, 25 October 2015
On the Importance of Not Learning Sanskrit
thanks for your interest in our Master Program in Buddhist Studies which has several tracks, among them tracks for Japanese and Indian Buddhism.
As our Program has a strong philological orientation you will need to prove solid language skills in either Japanese or Sanskrit. Generally our Master students have gone through 4 years of intensive language training in their Bachelor.
If you you are interested in the Master Program in more detail, please let me know about your work done so far in Sanskrit or, in case you are interested in the track "Japan", contact my colleague …
Best wishes from _____,
I have had something like 10 years of experience working on Pali (and my work in that field is well-known, partly because I produced educational materials as a by-product of my own research, and these materials are now used by other students of Pali). However, I have zero experience
with Sanskrit, and I actively intend to never study Sanskrit. So, if the Indian side of your program works entirely on Sanskrit (not on Pali), then it is of no interest to me.
[The rest of the correspondence follows below.]
Again, please refer to my C.V. for a very brief outline of my work on Pali and its links to Southeast Asian languages. I provided an interview to a Hong Kong magazine about my research, that provides a somewhat more conversational account, here:
Various articles on mine on the Pali canon are available on the internet, and a few have been translated into Chinese:
As an indirect sign of the peculiar sort of impact I've had on Pali studies (for better and worse), you can scroll down to the bottom of this website (listing resources for students learning Pali), and you'll see that quite a few links lead to my past work (of one kind or another). So, in this way, I've become well-known within the peculiar sub-culture of Palicists.
[Note: incidentally, I have no idea who made that website, but apparently he/she is a fan of my work.]
Needless to say, of course, I am one of an even smaller minority who have combined expertise in both ancient Pali and modern Laos/Yunnan/Cambodia/Thailand. If I now succeed in learning Japanese, I'll be part of an even smaller minority with combined expertise in Japan, etc. etc.
> If you you are interested in the Master Program in more detail, please let me know about your work
> done so far in Sanskrit or, in case you are interested in the track "Japan", contact my colleague…
Well, I am currently learning Japanese, in a formal (university) program, etc.
With thanks again for your time and interest,
Dear Mr Mazard,
yes, we read Pali from time to time but our course work is mainly based on the study of Sanskrit. It is, however, hard to understand for me why you "actively intend to never study Sanskrit." It is a beautiful language and shares many features with Pali.
With best wishes,
> yes, we read Pali from time to time but our course work is mainly based
> on the study of Sanskrit. It is, however, hard to understand for me why
> you "actively intend to never study Sanskrit." It is a beautiful language
> and shares many features with Pali.
Please understand that it is a well-informed choice.
I do not know if you have had time to read my C.V., however, I began studying Pali at U. of Toronto, when A.K. Warder was present, but in his retirement (I met and interviewed him, and I have a few anecdotes about him in my work). I met Bhikkhu Bodhi at the monastery he retired to in the U.S.A.; I also stayed in the monastery he made famous in Sri Lanka, with the monks who replaced him. During the course of my years of studying Pali I met everyone in the discipline I had ever wanted to meet (e.g., Gombrich, Filliozat, M. Cone, etc.), in both Asia and Europe. I received advice from all of these people.
Relative to the standard set for anyone at the start of the first year of their M.A., I have an extraordinarily robust background in Buddhism, including fieldwork, philology, history, politics, etc., and work on both ancient languages and modern ones.
For some genuinely boring examples of "hard work" on the language of Pali itself, please refer to the two files with "Vyākaraṇa" in the titles, attached to this message.
I have known (personally) many men with diplomas in Sanskrit, both specialists in Hindu-Sanskrit and Buddhist-Sanskrit, and in some cases I have known these men for many years.
With all of this experience (plus many years of hard work learning to communicate in modern languages such as Laotian, Cambodian, etc., and now Japanese, etc.), I am now 37 years old. I have a two-year-old daughter. (1) I do not see any reason to learn Sanskrit, and (2) I do not believe that the study of Sanskrit could lead to any possible employment for myself.
There are already many, many specialists in Sanskrit. I do not want to become another Sanskrit specialist.
For a parallel example, _____ Univ. (_____, U.S.A.) actually invited me to join their graduate-studies program (as I was recommended by a certain Chinese professor of Buddhism, who is fairly famous/influential), but they did so with the caveat that they expected me to learn Tibetan. Likewise, I have absolutely no intention of learning Tibetan: there are already many, many Tibetan scholars (whereas I believe that there are nearly-zero persons with my own background/expertise).
Please consider how truly sad it is for a university to respond to someone with my background (as stated in my C.V.) with the statement that the only way they can advance is to start at level 1 in Tibetan. Is there absolutely no value to my expertise (for a department in Buddhist studies) aside from starting on page 1, chapter 1, of "intro to Tibetan", simply because that would be more convenient for the institution? From my perspective, with Sanskrit, the question is very much parallel.
If your program genuinely can only admit students who specialize in Sanskrit, that is unfortunate. I can only ask you to look at my C.V. and past work seriously, and reconsider.
From my perspective, in looking at your program, it is not clear at all how it could lead to any employment for me in the next 10 years. As I stated: I am not a teenager, and I am not an enthusiastic beginner. I am an experienced, disciplined researcher, with a two-year-old daughter.
I wish I could tell you that the world of academic Buddhist Studies is crowded with graduate students who are far more capable of independent research than I am. My experience is the opposite: it is extremely rare to meet anyone in the field who has demonstrated the ability to conduct independent fieldwork, research, etc., and I have demonstrated this (despite extremely difficult circumstances in Cambodia, Laos, Yunnan, etc.).
I have already sacrificed all of my own research-interests to learn Japanese, because of the failures of western academia (not to mention Thai academia, etc.) in my own area of prior expertise. I am not going to learn Sanskrit.