‘Prākrit’ – the ancient dialect of the medieval ‘ārayan’ tribe in India
Asian scholar like Sathienphong Wannapok suggests that there are at least five local dialects used shortly before and during the time of the Buddha called ‘paň᷂cavidhā bhāsā’ = the group of five [dialects] - mahāraṥat᷂harī (the dialect of mahāraṥt᷂ha people), ṥaorasenī (the dialect of the surasenese), māgadhī (the dialect of the kingdom of Magadha), pracaya (the dialect of eastern tribe), and avan᷂tī (the dialect of the kingdom of Avan᷂tī). In those medieval dialects of the ārayan tribe in ancient India, evidently there is no assertion of pālī’s existence – not even in a form of legend of mythology.
Thus, this suggestion constitutes the identical assumptions of prominent Western scholars like subhūtithera, Sir Monier Monier, Williams Stede and Rhys Davids in which they presumed that pālī is not a proper name of any language. Eventually, the general interpretations are, presumably, ‘edge’, ‘line’, ‘row’, ‘canal-moat’, ‘bridge’, ‘edge of the ear’, or even ‘ear’, ‘a cooking pot’, and ‘measuring standard’. Therefore, if it is implied that the special meaning of the word pālī is ‘important scriptures, and/or primary scripter’, then any dialects or languages which are used to preserve the Buddha’s teaching can be called ‘pālī’.
Additionally, speaking of which, there have been proper and systematic studies and researches through Buddhist scriptures and texts for the last two centuries by both Western and Eastern scholars. Of all those prestige consequences and discoveries, at least 4 categories of texts and scriptures have been officially classified. Some of us may already have learnt about them but some have no clue – here they are;
- Primary source (pat᷂hamabhūmi) the pālī scripture
- ondary source (dutiyabhūmi) – the at᷂t᷂hagāthā or van᷂n᷂anā scripture (commentary)
- Third class source (tatiyabhūmi) - the ‘t᷂īka’ scripture (sun-commentary)
- Fourth class source (catut᷂thabhūmi) – the ‘anut᷂īkā' scripture (sub-subcommentary)
These sorts of scriptures are categorized and, undoubtedly, authorized their class according to particular conditions involved in geographical, historical contexts and linguistic features in which they are discovered. There is no fault to assert that pālī scripture was produced earlier in India in around some two centuries after the extinction of the Buddha. Although there is no an actual fact to state that it was spoken by the Buddha, still it is the oldest of all scriptures so far. The others have been, all over Buddhist traditions, produces by wise Buddhist monks or scholars to comment or clarify those teachings – the easiest way to say is to simplify them, make easy to understand the doctrine.
Therefore, Buddhist scriptures and text, on the one hand, are quite individual and unique. Each tradition has their own scripture, or we can assume that each tradition has their own ‘Buddhism’ and ‘belief’ which leads to different ritual and monastic practices. Therefore, I could not agree more with Donal S. Lopez Jr. who states that “ It seems that perhaps once each decade someone has the audacity to produce a new collection of Buddhist work in English [and other language]…One might seek geographical representation. Other the course of many centuries after the death of the Buddha, his words and his image made their way from India to the nations now named Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Tibet, Mongolia, and later to Europe, the Americas and Australia.” (Buddhist Scriptures: Introduction) And still they are enormous about of texts and scriptures that have not been discovered which could be ‘ācariyamati’ (views of the masters) and ‘keciācāriyā’ (comments on Buddhist accounts of some monks).
Thus, in summary for today discussion, all those sorts of mentioned scripture can be called ‘pālī’ if it means ‘scriptures which preserve the teaching of the Buddha.’