A Recognised Independent Centre of the University of Oxford
Pali is the language of the Tipiṭaka, known in English as the Pali Canon. This huge collection of texts is our main source for the teachings of early Buddhism, indeed of the Buddha himself. For Theravada Buddhists it is the functional equivalent of the Bible for Christians.
The Buddha lived when writing was not in use in ancient India, so we cannot precisely judge the accuracy of the claim that the texts in the Pali Canon report his very words; scholars disagree about it. However, we can be sure of two things: that those texts have a far better claim to reflect the Buddha’s ideas than any other set of texts; and that their language, Pali, while it does not exactly reflect the Buddha’s own speech, comes closer to doing so than any other language in which substantial texts survive.
Studying Pali, should therefore be a top priority for anyone with a serious interest in the Buddha’s teaching or in the history of Buddhism, which is the mass of ideas and practices which have sprung from that teaching. It is a great tragedy that Pali is so little studied or understood today. Outside the societies with a long tradition of Theravada Buddhism, in Sri Lanka and SE Asia, there are hardly any (less than 5?) university posts in the world devoted to Pali; and even in the Theravada countries most of those who study it are monks with little interest in scholarly inquiry.
Oxford’s undergraduate course in Sanskrit included a Pali option as long ago as the 1880s. We believe that this was the first undergraduate curriculum to feature Pali in the West. Ever since it has fostered the continuing tradition of Pali scholarship in Britain, supporting the work of the Pali Text Society, which Prof. Gombrich, founder of the OCBS, served as President. For many years, while he was Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford, he took responsibility for the Pali teaching, and he also supervised many doctoral theses in Pali and Buddhist studies, until his retirement in 2004. Since then, Pali has depended on part-time teachers who do not hold posts at the University, and the situation is precarious.
The University, in a recent review, requested that the
Centre support the Numata Chair of Buddhist Studies (Professor Zacchetti) in securing
funds for a lectureship to support his activities at Oxford. In consultation with Professor Zacchetti the
Centre is running a campaign for a lectureship in Early Buddhism.
If you would like to discuss further the funding of this post please contact
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The Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies
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