In general, which language or languages were the sutras compiled and was this the same language tha Shakyamuni spoke?


2 Answers 2


Shakyamuni Buddha spoke in a language known as Magadhi Prakrit. According to this article https://www.quora.com/What-language-did-Gautama-Buddha-speak-according-to-Indian-mythology-and-why-is-it-significant there are no written records in his language. Instead, they were later written down in Pali, Sinhalese, and Sanskrit.


Magadhi is Pali language in the spoken form at the time of the Buddha. Magadhi was a dialect spoken in the Maghadan area in the eastern part of North India and was thought likely to be a composite with features assembled from different geographical areas. Theravada Buddhists consider that Magadhi was probably the language preferred and used by the Buddha. It was this language that came to be developed and formalised as a written language, which we now call “Pali”.

Pali is a written language, but it has no special script. It should be noted that the Magadhi/Pali we have now may not be the full and accurate spoken language of those days and in fact, may not have been actually used in this present form.

Pali, (“Pali” means “text”), has a vocabulary that has special significance for the study of Buddhism, because its words have been well defined for the needs of the Buddha’s teachings, which no other language could successfully define.

Pali is the language of the Theravada Buddhist religion’s record of teachings, the “The Tripitaka” the Vinaya Pitaka (the collection of rules for Monks), the Sutta Pitaka (main body of collected teachings) and the Abidhamma Pitaka (a later addition to original teachings).

  • Would you say that Pali too, is the language of Mahayana buddhists since they are based on the same teachings Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 22:24
  • Mahayana has both Pali and Sanskrit. Other schools of Buddhism which emerged soon after the Buddha’s Parinibbana, used the classical language of India for the propagation of the Buddha’s teachings - Sanskrit. There is even a variety of Sanskrit called “Buddhist Sanskrit. For example, in Sanskrit, the word “Dharma” is “Dhamma” in Pali. “Karma”, in Sanskrit but in Pali it is “Kamma” - signifies the moral law as defined by the Buddha. Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 23:10
  • So would you say that if one were studying the sutras, Pali would be better to know, but if studying later texts, Sanskrit is better? Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 23:13
  • I do not want to comment on other schools of Buddhism when I do not even read the Abhidhamma - the third basket of the Tipitaka. So I will not say “NO” to anyone wanting to read and get to know the other schools or texts like the Abhidhamma. That is as long as they can become a “Sothapanna” (a Stream Entrant) before they pass on – as we have such a short time to live. Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 23:22

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