On Saturday 17 October, the Director of Nalanda Institute Achariya Tan Siang Chye gave the last lecture of the BPS 303 – Certificate in Buddhist Studies course at Nalanda Centre. The topic was on the “Historical Development of Buddhist Texts and Scriptures”. Before passing away, the Buddha declared to his His disciples that, “the Dhamma and Vinaya (doctrine and discipline) I have set forth and laid down for you shall be your teacher after I am gone…” Thus, the Buddha did not appoint a successor but enshrined the Dhamma-vinaya as the guiding principle in one’s practice and quest for liberation.
The Pāli term ‘Sangāyana’ can be translated as rehearsal or communal chanting. The purpose of a Sangāyana is to accurately preserve the original teachings of the Buddha. The reciters’ duty is to rehearse, examine, and review the Canon so that no parts of which are added, omitted or altered, and any such deviations were to be rectified. Throughout history, there had been six such formal occasions where the entire Pāli Canon was rehearsed and authenticated.
The Pāli Language was derived from a Prakrit (folks’ dialect) of Magādha in ancient India. Its grammar is similar to those of Sanskrit and Latin. Pāli was chosen as the language to rehearse and record the Buddhist teachings at the First Rehearsal (Sangāyana) in 543 BCE. Pāli is unique among languages in that it is not used for any other purpose except to record Buddhist doctrines. Thus the meanings of its words were not ‘corrupted’ by common usage or ‘evolution’ over time.