Reminder from last issue:
Indian Buddhism after the Buddha's Nirvana
Buddhism in Sanskrit and Pali
The Three Treasuries of Sutras, Vinaya and Shastras were compiled in ancient India in the languages of Pali and Sanskrit. The people of India called themselves the descendants of the god Brahma, and their language was called the language of Brahma, or Sanskrit. Pali was the vernacular used in the kingdom of Magadha when the Buddha was in the world. As the Buddha traveled around, he expounded the Sutras and spoke the Dharma in this vernacular. It is a pity that Pali is no longer known widely in India. This is because in ancient India, people preferred to memorize the Sutras and books and pass them down orally, and didn't stress written records. Now Buddhist Sutras are the only means left for preserving this language.
Around 300 B.C., King Asoka of India became a devoted believer of Buddhism. He not only made it flourish in his own country, but sent many missionaries and delegations to other places to widely propagate Buddhism. Moreover, around 200 B.C. King Kanishka was instrumental in spreading Buddhism, thus enabling it to spread outwards.
In its development outside of India, Buddhism divided into two main streams: one flowed north, passing through Central Asia to China and Tibet, then to Korea, Japan, Vietnam and other countries; this was the Northern Transmission of Mahayana Buddhism, whose Sutras were originally recorded in Sanskrit. The other flowed south, first to Ceylon and then to Southeast Asian countries such as Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos; this was Southern Transmission of the Theravada teachings in Pali.
If we compare Pali, the sacred language of the Southern Transmission, with Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Northern Transmission, we find that Sanskrit is more elegant. Pali has less tonal variation, and its grammar is simpler than that of Sanskrit. Pali was one of the most colloquial languages.
To be continued