[Buddha-l] liturgical languages

curt curt at cola.iges.org
Sun May 1 15:51:31 MDT 2005

I think I have learned a thing or three from this thread - but
I don't want to be too sweeping in my generalizations
(rather I would like to be just sweeping enough).

(1) The general practice in Buddhism has been to utilize
a liturgical language for some significant part of the chanting
that is done. Two liturgical languages are especially widely
used: Pali and Chinese. Quite possibly Tibetan should also
be listed as the liturgical language of Northern Buddhism/
Tantric Buddhism. Pali is used throughout the Theravadin
world, and Chinese is used throughout East Asia.

(2) The use of liturgical languages is accompanied by instruction
in the meaning of what is being chanted. Translations of the
material are allowed - in fact the idea that they should not be
allowed has probably never occurred to anyone. The use of
liturgical languages in Buddhism does not appear to in any
way be intended to obfuscate the teachings of Buddhism or to
prevent people from studying these teachings in their native

(3) Some chanting is also done in the vernacular - and the
vernacular is of course used for Dharma talks and other forms
of instruction (including the above mentioned instruction
on the meaning of what is chanted in the liturgical language).

- Curt

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