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Whe I read the Pali Canon the BUddha seems to spend a lot of his time in parks in various locations. Often in the suttas these 'parks' are mentioned in the introduction to the text. For instance the Alagaddupama Sutta (The Water-Snake Simile) begins

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying in Savatthi, at Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's park

I've even read park keepers being mentioned in some sutta I've read. This as always struck me as achronistic. The notion of parks where the Buddha can spend time seems odd. If they were pieces of land owned by Kings and nobility I would have expected the translation to be rendered private gardens or the like. To me the word park gives the impression of some kind of public or communal ownership.

So what were the parks that existed 2500 years ago in India. Were there really pieces of land with some kind of common ownership that anyone could go to. Is it a translation issue and there are other possible translations to this that don't give the impression of a communal kind of ownership? Is it just me that finds this odd?

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Using Google to find a Pali version of the Alagaddupama Sutta , it starts,

Evaṃ me sutaṃ: ekaṃ samayaṃ bhagavā sāvatthiyaṃ viharati jetavane anāthapiṇḍikassa ārāme.

My first guess was that ārāme is the word you're looking to translate (because it's next to the word "anāthapiṇḍikassa").

Various online Pali dictionaries don't return a result when I try to look it up, but I guessed the reason for that is that ārāme is probably a (grammatical) declension of the word instead of the root.

Using this Criticial Pali Dictionary to search for ārām* (note using * "Truncation sign") returns 160 words. Using the 'Next' button to scroll down until the words begin with ārām (i.e. the right accents over the vowels) finds this definition ...

2ārāma, m. [ts.], a place of pleasure i. e. a pleasure grove, garden, or park in a monastery, or (as pars pro toto) a monastery itself (see SBE XIII p. 23, note 2; Geiger, Culture §§81, 175, 196);

... with a long list of references to places where the word is used.

In English a 'Park' isn't necessarily a municipal, public park: I imagine it might be a like a garden, but perhaps wilder (not all lawn and flower-beds), or a private wood. I expect it's reserved in some way (reserved for public use, or reserved for private use), not used for agriculture etc.

Similar/related/compound Pali words suggest it's used as a synonym for 'monastery', for example,

ārāma-gata, mfn., having gone to or being in a monastery

ārāma-dāna, n., giving of an ārāma

(not too surprising when monks dwell in a 'forest' instead of as 'householders').

It's also used in contexts which suggest it means delight and pleasure:

1ārāma, m. [ts.], delight, pleasure

ārāma-ramma, m(n)., the delightful, charming or beautiful abode of a monastery

I recommend you browse the other related compound words to see other ways in which it's used; for example some of the less common words include

ārāma-(p)patta, mfn., who has reached the park

ārāma-sīla, mfn., having the habit of going to a park

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Indeed, Anathapindika was an important lay disciple of the Buddha who was very wealthy and became a great benefactor of the Sangha. He bought the land from Prince Jeta and constructed a monastery there. You can read his story here.

After the meal, Anathapindika asked the Enlightened One if he might build a monastery for the Order in his hometown of Savatthi. The Buddha answered: "The Enlightened Ones love peaceful places." "I understand, O Master, I understand," answered Anathapindika, overjoyed with the acceptance of his offer. (SN 10.8 = Cv VI.4)

Once he arrived in Savatthi, he immediately searched for an appropriate location for the monastery. It had to be neither too close to the city, nor too far. The site should not be one that would be overrun by people in the daytime, nor should there be noise at night. It should be suitable for access by devoted visitors and also fit for those bent on seclusion. At last, in the chain of hills surrounding the city, he found a beautiful forest glade, ideal for the purpose. The area belonged to Prince Jeta, a son of King Pasenadi.

Anathapindika visited Prince Jeta in his palace and asked if the forest were for sale. The prince answered that the large tract of land was not for sale, not even for the appropriate price of eighteen million. "I will give you that much, right now," replied Anathapindika, but they were not able to come to terms and went to an arbitrator. The arbitrator ruled that the price should amount to as many gold pieces of the eighteen million as could be laid next to each other on the land. One this basis an agreement of sale was reached.

Anathapindika had many carts filled with gold coins, and had them spread out upon the site. Finally only one small patch of ground at the entrance remained bare. He gave the instructions that more gold be brought, but the Prince Jeta announced that he was prepared to build a mighty gate-tower on that spot at his own expense. This imposing bastion and gate protected the monastery from the outside world, shielded it from the noises of the road, and emphasized the dividing line between the realms of the sacred and the worldly. Anathapindika then spent another eighteen million for buildings and furnishings. He built individual cells, a meeting hall, a dining hall, storerooms, walkways, latrines, wells, and lotus ponds for bathing as well as a large surrounding wall. Thus the forest glade was transformed into a monastery and stood apart as a religious sanctuary. (Cv VI.4)

When everything had been completed, the Enlightened One, with his monks, came to Savatthi to take up the residence at the new monastery. On their arrival, Anathapindika invited them for an alms meal. After the meal he addressed the Buddha and asked: "How should I proceed with the offering of this Jetavana (Jeta's Grove)?" — "You may dedicate it to the Sangha of the four quarters, present and future." And so Anathapindika did.

The alms-meal for the monks was followed by a sumptuous celebration for the laity with gifts for everyone. This cost another eighteen million, so altogether Anathapindika spent fifty-four million on the headquarters for the Order. Therefore, he stands at the head of the benefactors. (AN 1.19)

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