Brough - The Language of the Buddhist Sanskrit Texts

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  • The Language of the Buddhist Sanskrit Texts

    John Brough

    Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 16, No. 2.(1954), pp. 351-375.

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    WHEN Buddhist works in Sanskrit were first introduced into Europe, it was at once obvious that the language of some of them as it appears in the manuscripts was, in comparison with Classical Sanskrit, frequently ungram- matical, and on occasion barbarously so. The immediate and natural reaction of scholars accustomed to the regularity of Sanskrit was to stigmatize these shortcomings, and to attempt to remove as many irregularities as possible by forcibly emending the text. I t was, however, very soon recognized that many of the seeming anomalies could not be abolished, and that they must be accepted as genuine in their own context. This was especially clear in the case of the verses of some of the older texts, where the metre often guaranteed non-Piiqinean forms ; and the language of these verses, variously called the Giithii- dialect, mixed Sanskrit, or hybrid Sanskrit, was recognized as something in its own right. The same courtesy was readily extended to the prose of the Mahi- vastu, which in places could only have been made to resemble Sanskrit by completely rewriting the text. The prose of the other texts, being in many ways virtually Sanskrit, took considerably longer to win the same recognition ; but for many years now it has been generally admitted that here also is a language which must be judged according to its own standards, and not exclusively by the canons of classical Sanskrit grammar.

    I t is possible, however, for an editor to accept all this in principle, and yet to be in serious doubt when trying to establish a text ; for unless he has a grammatical norm against which to measure his text, he is unable to apply the diagnostic test of grammatical abnormality, which in classical Sanskrit or in Latin would often provide the first hint that a passage is probably corrupt. Hitherto, editors have had to make shift with the classical grammar and dictionary, supplemented by their own memory of other Buddhist texts. But the lack of a systematic study of Buddhist Sanskrit has frequently resulted in over-correction by editors, and a considerable number of the published texts really require re-editing.

    In these circumstances it is a matter of great satisfaction to all who are con- cerned in this field that Professor Franklin Edgerton has now published a gram- mar and dictionary of Buddhist Sanskrit.1 This is a major work, the fruit of many years' careful study, and it must remain for a long time to come a vade mecum for future editors of Buddhist texts. Indeed, it is probably not an exaggeration to say that it may well determine for a generation the attitude of young editors towards their texts. For this reason I should like to discuss a number of questions arising out of the work in rather more detail than is customary in a review. But I would ask the reader to remember that, although some of these

    1 Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary ; and Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Reader. Yale University Press, 1953. See also below, p. 421.

    VOL. XVI. PART 2. 25



  • 352 J. BROUGH

    matters are important, the total of my criticism concerns only a relatively small part of the work ; and I should not wish it to be thought that I am in any way lacking in appreciation of the great value of the work as a whole, or in gratitude for the enormous labour bestowed by the author on his task. Rather, most of what I have to say is in the nature of a few additional footnotes and adjustments, together with a few suggestions to indicate a possible direction for future work in this field.

    Both Grammar and Dictionary are confined to reporting forms and words or meanings which do not occur in Classical Sanskrit. I t follows that a reader would get a most distorted picture of the language from reading only the Grammar, which, being a systematic collection of anomalies, is serviceable only to one who already knows the texts. There is of course no ground for complaint in this. I t is in the result primarily a grammar of the ' gathl ' language, and it cannot claim to provide a complete grammatical picture of the Buddhist Sanskrit texts as a whole. Indeed, it is doubtful whether an editor of a Buddhist Tantra, or a medieval verse Avadlna-text, would get very much direct help from the Grammar, although the Dictionary u~ould of course be valuable. The material is arranged in the Grammar according to the categories of classical Sanskrit, and while this procedure is satisfactory as providing a ready means of reference, it occasionally induces explanations which seem to me unjustified. For example, nouns ending in -a frequently occur in verses as plurals and the direct object of verbs ; and it would doubtless be sufficient to say of these that they are simply uninflected or stem forms (a situation which is admitted for the singular in 8.3 ff.),l and that their plurality and their status as direct object arise from the context. To say that they represent a metrical shortening of -a, which is itself a nominative plural used in the sense of the accusative, is to tie the grammar into quite unnecessary knots (8.94). In the same way it seems unnecessarily complicated to say that in anyatra karma sukrtad the form karma is an ablative of an a-stem for an la-stem, i.e, for *karmi(t), with metrical shortening of -a (8.9). The alternative explanation simply as a stem-form, admitted in 17.13, seems much to be preferred ; and it may perhaps be suggested that in instances like this the inflexion of sukrtad was felt to belong to the phrase as a whole.

    As already remarked, many of the published texts are badly edited, and Edgerton has supplemented them wherever possible by making full use of manuscript variants when these are reported by editors ; and in the course of the work he has many valuable corrections and emendations to suggest. While the work will naturally be very useful to those who simply wish to read and understand Buddhist Sanskrit, its chief value will undoubtedly lie in the fact that it will assist future editors to produce better editions ; and it is chiefly from the point of view of editors that the following is written.

    As we have noted, there has always been a tendency for editors to lean too much towards correct classical Sanskrit. Edgerton, in reaction against this,

    1 References in figures with no other indication are to the sections of the Grammar.





    goes to the other extreme, and in the preface to the Reader he propounds a principle for editors : ' Any non-Sanskritic form presented in the MSS. must, in general, be regarded as closer to the original form of the text than a " correct " Sanskrit variant '. The term ' non-Sanskritic '-which would cover all sorts of copyists' blunders-is modified a few lines later into ' Middle Indic or semi- Middle Indic '. Even this, however, seems to me to go much too far. On some occasions, which we shall note below, apparently middle-Indian forms can very easily result from scribal error ; and in some contexts (in the semi-kivya style, for example) any markedly non-Sanskrit form would be highly improbable. We shall return to this point later. Edgerton adds that this principle is not to be applied mechanically ; that the context, as well as variant manuscript readings, will vary from case to case, and each must be separately studied. My fear is that, from excessive reaction against earlier editions, editors may not take this caveat sufficiently to heart, and that we may have a crop of bad editions comparable to the notorious edition of the Xvayarnbhupuriqa, where the Brahman editor, considering that Buddhists could not be expected to write good Sanskrit, seems to have put into his text deliberately numerous copyists' errors from the manuscripts.

    It seems to me that Edgerton throughout rather underestimates the degree of accidental transmissional corruption which our texts may have suffered, and many of his notes seem to imply that at least the archetype of our manu- scripts must be correct, except in those places where more Sanskritic forms have been intentionally introduced. I t may be that an unreasoning confidence in the accuracy of the scribe's hand and eye is traditional in these studies ; for in 1916 we


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