Buddhist Sanskrit in the Kalachakra Tantra

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This article by the distinguished scholar John Newman discusses the "inelegant" Sanskrit that buddhist tantras in general and the Kalachakra Tantra in particular were written in.Makes mention that Buddha himself taught in a common form of Sanskrit and encouraged his disciples to give teachings in a language that reaches people and not to worry about technicalities.And in the Kalachakra itself that very same point is explicitly made. So the objection to the "barbarisms" of tantric text may well be our own misunderstandings.

Transcript of Buddhist Sanskrit in the Kalachakra Tantra



CO-EDITORS-IN-CHIEF Gregory Schopen Indiana University Bloomington, Indiana, USA RogerJackson Fairfield University Fairfield, Connecticut, USA

EDITORS Peter N. Gregory University ofIllinois Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA Alexander W. Macdonald University de Pans X Nanterre, France Steven Collins Indiana University Bloomington, Indiana, USA Ernst Steinkellner University of Vienna Wien, Austria Jikido Takasaki University of Tokyo Tokyo,Japan Robert Thurman Amherst College Amherst, Massachusetts, USA

Volume 11


Number 1


I. ARTICLES 1. The Four Levels of PratityaSamutpada According to the Fa-hua hsiian i, by Carl Bielefeldt 7 2. On the Possibility of a Nonexistent Object of Consciousness: Sarvastivadin and Darstantika Theories, by Collett Cox 3j 3. Magical Upaya in the Vimalakirtinirdes'a-sutra, by Edward Hamlin gg 4. Buddhist Sanskrit in the Kalacakra Tantra, byJohn Newman j 23 5. Two New Fragments of Buddhist Sanskrit Manuscripts from Central Asia, by Richard Saloman and Collett Cox 1^1 6. Some Reflections on R.S.Y. Chi's Buddhist Formal Logic, by TomJ.F. Tillemans j 55

II. BOOK REVIEWS 1. Divine Revelation in Pali Buddhism, by Peter Mansfield (Charles Hallisey) 2. Studies in the Buddhist Art of South Asia, ed. A. K. Narain (Robert L. Brown) 3. Traditions ofMeditation in Chinese Buddhism, ed. Peter N. Gregory (Henrik H. Sorensen) LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS

173 ] 75 179 185

Buddhist Sanskrit in the Kalacakra Tantra

by John Newman

Vajrayana Buddhist texts were composed in at least three Indian languages: Sanskrit, Apabhramsa, and an East Indian dialect usually referred to as "Old Bengali." By far the greatest part of Vajrayana literature was written in Sanskrit, the lingua franca of pan-Indie culture. This is not surprisingthe Vajrayana, like Buddhism as a whole, developed among diverse linguistic communities, and it is only to be expected that Indian Vajrayana Buddhists used the common language of educated discourse to communicate their ideas. The Sanskrit of the Vajrayana literature, however, is not the Sanskrit of Panini. According to M. Winternitz: "The Sanskrit in which the [Buddhist] Tantras are written, is, as a rule, just as barbarous as their contents" (Winternitz 1933:401). The question remains as to the exact nature of this linguistic "barbarism"is it due simply to incompetence on the part of Vajrayana Buddhist authors, or does some other factor, such as Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, come into play here?1 Perhaps the earliest Western comment on the Sanskrit of a Vajrayana text is L. de la Valine Poussin's description of the language of Nagarjuna's Pancakrama: "11 est.. .redig^ en Sanscrit, dans une langue riche de termes techniques et de particularites grammaticales ou prosodiques, mais qui, du point de vue phontique, est correcte et n'exige pas les vastes connaissances et la surety de main que suppose l'edition du Lotus ou celle du Mahavastu" (de la Valine Poussin 1896:VII). In other words, the Sanskrit of the Pancakrama does not always follow Paninian norms, but it is not what we today would call Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, or Buddhist Arsa.2123



Some scholars reject the influence of Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit on the language of Vajrayana texts. D.L. Snellgrove, describing the Sanskrit of the Hevajra Tantra, says: "The language need not be graced by the term Buddhist Sanskrit. It is just bad Sanskrit" (Snellgrove 1959:xi). C.S. George, after a meticulous study of the first portion of the Can