Spelling Paali language in Roman characters

Some readers may wonder how I’ve been spelling Paali words and even by the way I spell my second name. I’ve been using the Velthuis method of writing Paali language using the Roman character set.

Sometimes I write in a hurry and don’t check the Paali spelling so maybe there are spelling mistakes in some previous blogs.  Sometimes I spell Paali words in the common way that doesn’t recognise diacriticals, though usually this is when I’m quoting someone else or for some common words.  In most statements on this site I’ve used the Velthuis method.

For your convenience I have cut and pasted John Bullitt’s explanation of Velthuis method from the Access to Insight website.


Representing Pali diacritics using the Velthuis method
Some books and articles on Access to Insight contain substantial amounts of Pali text. Many of them use the Velthuis method [5] to represent romanized Pali’s accented characters (diacritics) that are not part of the standard roman and ASCII alphabets. In this scheme two basic rules are observed:

  1. Long vowels (those usually typeset with a macron (bar) above them) are doubled: aa ii uu
  2. For consonants, the diacritic mark precedes the letter it affects. Thus, the retroflex (cerebral) consonants (usually typeset with a dot underneath) are: .t .th .d .dh .n .l. The pure nasal (niggahiita) m, also typeset with a dot underneath, is .m. The guttural nasal (n with a dot above) is represented as “n . The palatal nasal (n with a tilde) is ~n.

For example: paa.naatipaataa verama.nii sikkhaa-pada.m samaadiyaami and itihida.m aayasmato ko.n.da~n~nassa a~n~na-ko.n.da~n~no’tveva naama.m ahosiiti.


You can read about alternative methods for writing Paali in Roman characters at Access to Insight.

Why does MK use Velthuis?
I chose to use Velthuis method in this blog because it does not require special fonts or software. One can use the standard Roman alphabet to display Paali words.  I have found a few Paali texts that attempt to use diacritical marks such as bars over long vowels but because the fonts are not available in the browser or operating system of the computer I was using at the time, many strange characters appeared mixed in the text, making it very difficult to read or understand. Sometimes these strange characters are even encoded into PDF files and are quite distracting.  Some people who are unfamiliar with Paali pronunciation, may attempt to pronounce Paali with a short “a” sound and incorrectly say “pallee.”

Velthuis is the most fail-safe method.  I encourage everyone to become familiar with it.

Wat Pa Nanachat – International Forest Monastery

I came to Ubon Ratchathani for a short visit to the International Forest Monastery (Wat Pa Nanachat). Despite 27 years visiting Thailand this is the first time I’ve been to this famous monastery. I am glad to have finally made it.  

The community at the monastery is preparing for an important meeting of senior monks (Thera) from the international network of forest monasteries (in the tradition of Ajahn Chah). This meeting is due to begin next week. I met briefly with the “Guest Monk” – who has the duty of anwering queries from temporary visitors such as myself. Ven. Nyaniko Bhikkhu told me he ordained at Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood, California, United States seven years ago.

This trip helped to straighten out some misconceptions I previously held about Wat Pa Nanachat/International Forest Monastery and the international network.

I had previously assumed that the views of Ajahn Brahm from Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth, Australia and Ven. Sujato from Santi Forest Monastery, New South Wales, were representative of the entire forest monastery network.  When living in Australia, I did not wish to visit either of these Australian monasteries due to controversial views expressed by Ajahn Brahm and Ven. Sujato. This was despite living close to both monasteries at various times during the past 15 years. Ven. Nyaniko told me that both Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sugato have chosen to leave the network for the time being. I did not pursue the details of this break nor ask questions about what may be the cause etc. I found out belatedly after returning to Bangkok. It seems that Ajahn Brahm and Ven. Sugato may have hurt the network as a whole. Maybe one day they may both reconsider their views, apologise and return to the network.

I felt relieved to hear that the forest monastery tradition is open to many different Buddhist meditation practices including Mahasi method vipassana.

I also apologised to Ven. Nyaniko for previously considering Ajahn Chah monks to be overly obsessed with vinaya (monk’s disciplinary rules) and the outward appearance of monastic life with insufficient focus on meditation and spiritual attainment.   I realised many years ago that this was incorrect and was glad to be able to apologise face to face with Ven. Nyaniko as a representative of the Ajahn Chah lineage. Another reason for relief.

Wat Pa Nanachat has a very peaceful atmosphere and seems to be a delightful place to ordain and live the monastic life. I visited on Tuesday morning and spoke with Ven. Nyaniko and again on Wednesday morning to donate flowers, fruit and soy milk. It was Uposotha day on Wednesday so I undertook 8 precepts and listened to a wonderful Dhamma talk in Thai by Ajahn Jayasaro, who appears in many excellent videos you may download from Dhammatube. The talk was about the four divine abodes:

  • Metta – loving-kindness
  • Karuna – compassion
  • Mudita – sympathetic joy
  • Upekkha – equanimity

The talk focused mainly on Metta and Upekkha. I was previously familiar with the four divine abodes and enjoyed listening to Ajahn Jayasaro deliver the talk in fluent Thai. He spoke Thai and delivered the Dhamma talk more competently than most Thai monks I’ve heard. I prefer a structure, cause and effect, small amount of repetition and some illustrative similes. Ajahn Jayasaro delivered all these very well.  [In response to a request from one of the students I met at Wat Mahadhatu last week, I plan to write a blog article on the four divine abodes soon.]

On Monday evening, I left Bangkok on an overnight train and arrived in Ubon Ratchathani on Tuesday morning (yesterday).  I began writing this at an Internet cafe in Ubon near the Warin Markets.  The returning train departed Ubon around 18:30 Wednesday evening and arrived in Bangkok around 06:00 Thursday morning. I paid for second class air con. sleeper, lower bunk. It is fairly comfortable though if the bed was another 10cm longer it would be a better fit. I stayed last night at the Pathumrat Hotel. I booked it via Agoda and got a big discount. The room was very comfortable and way above my usual standard of accomodation. I had air con. TV, ensuite, a fridge and so on.

At the Ubon train station just before boarding, I met Brian Johnson, a fellow Dhamma tourist, who had just finished a 2 or 3 week (not sure of the length of time) period living at Wat Pa Nanachat. I didn’t notice him when I was there. He is a few months older than me and we boarded the train and swapped stories about our Dhamma experiences. It was one of those rare moments when I felt as though I’d met a long lost brother. We talked fast and four hours passed quickly before a train official said it was time to sleep and go to our separate carriages. I hope to meet Brian again one day or at least to have e-mail contact from time to time. Brian has a website with useful information about the teachings of Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw. I encourage readers to check it out. www.paauk.org I promised Brian I would post an article about Dhammanusari and Saddhanusari before I fly to India on 3 December.

Ten Bases for Meritorious Deeds

The following list of ten bases for meritorious deeds (pu~n~nakiriyavathu) shows ten ways to develop wholesome kamma for the sense sphere (kammavacarakuala.m).

I strongly recommend everyone memorise this list and make strenuous efforts to put the list into practice. This will be for your benefit now and for a long time into the future.

  1. Daana – giving generously and freely to worthy recipients such as virtuous monastics
  2. Siila – ethical conduct; keeping at least five precepts every day and regularly observing
    8 precepts on Uposatha days (about once a week)
  3. Bhavanaa – mental development through meditation either vipassana-insight meditation or samatha-concentration meditation
  4. Apacaayana – reverence and respect for elders, parents, teachers, monastics, officials and so forth; recognising the importance of their senior or guiding role
  5. Veyaavacca – service for promoting the Dhamma, assisting others to do meritorious deeds
  6. Patidaana – sharing merit with others while undertaking meritorious deeds oneself
  7. Pattaanumodana – rejoicing in others’ meritorious deeds; congratulating them and being happy with them during their meritorious conduct
  8. Dhammasavana – hearing the Dhamma or reading the Dhamma
  9. Dhammadesanaa – teaching the Dhamma either by speech or writing
  10. Ditthijukamavasena – straightening out one’s views, studying Dhamma to be sure that one understands the Dhamma correctly (also sometimes spelled: ditth’uju-kamma)

Comparing Tipitaka Versions

Generally, I prefer the translations prepared by Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi over those by Venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu, available on Access to Insight. Sometimes, this comes down to a preference for translating technical terms such as pa~n~naa as either ‘wisdom’ or ‘discernment’. Nevertheless, I have found that reading Ven. Thanissaro’s translations with their varient technical terms, sometimes provokes a new insight that might have been passed over where I to simply read Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation once again. The different translations can sometimes highlight something subtle. So I recommend students of the Dhamma reading English translations, to read several different translations in order to maximise their possibility for deeper understanding. Even better would be if students could study Paali and learn to translate some of their favourite discourses themselves. In this way students begin to understand the nuances of Paali and grow in appreciation of the profoundity of the Suttas.

In an ideal world perhaps there might be some way to switch back and forth between the Paali, the English and other languages. I have seen some discourses translated by Piya Tan on Dharma Farer. where he has prepared multilinear translations. He has the Paali on one line, the verbatim English translation on the next line and idiomatic English on the third line. This sort of translation text is very useful for students learning Paali. Maybe, it would be even better to conveniently consult Paali, several variant English translations and several variant Thai translations and even Chinese Agamas with their specific English translations for comparison. I imagine several computer screens side by side or even one very large screen with all these windows showing the various versions. Maybe I could click on one or two versions to show three or four versions with its own line one above the other as they go through the discourse I am studying. An option to be able to listen to excerpts of the text being studied in the relevant language (Paali, Mandarin, English, Thai, Burmese, Singhalese, Sanskrit, Hindi etc.).

I don’t have resources or even the various electronic versions of the above texts to achieve that vision. I sometimes read an online Thai translation of the Buddhist Paali Canon – Tipitaka. This is excellent because it also has Thai translations of the commentary text – Atthakatha ready for reading too. The commentaries are not conveniently available in reliable English translations.

I can’t read Myanmar/Burmese, Singhalese, Vietnamese, Lao, Cambodian, Mon, Lanna etc. so translations into these languages are inaccessible to me. I studied Mandarin Chinese at university but that was twenty years ago and I’ve hardly used it in the meantime. I hope one day, Buddhist scholars may have access to tools like this in the near future.

All of the above could be seen as unweildly and perhaps as academic overload. Buddhism is not merely an intellectual or philosophical exercise. Study should definitely be balanced with practical application of the Dhamma though daily mindfulness and intense meditation practice.

Portable Media Player

I bought a Cowon iaudio S9 portable media player about three weeks ago. I bought it to listen to discourses and Dhamma lectures while commuting to and from work and to take with me travelling later.

I previously was able to read translations of discourses such as The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikaaya Translated by Bhikkhu Naanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi. Most of the time I was able to concentrate deeply on the text and not notice the noisy chatter. Now instead of reading, I listen to Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi lectures.

I’ve downloaded all 120 odd lectures by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi on the Majjhima Nikaaya from the Bodhi Monastery website. I’m up to lecture 37 already. These lectures are great. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi has done an excellent job. He has structured the course in such a way that beginners can follow the series and gradually learn the concepts and terms of Theravada Buddhism. I recommend everyone do this. Although I am not a beginner, I am learning a lot from listening to the lectures and thinking about the Dhamma. In my daily life, I don’t have anyone nearby to talk about the Dhamma with, so reading and listening and reflecting on the Dhamma by myself are the main modes of study. I was telling a work colleague about Buddhism the other day and found my speech tone drifted into the same style as Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s lectures.

I downloaded many Dhamma talks by various Sayadaws and other venerable monks from the Dhamma Seed website. I already listened to many of Ven. Bhante Gunaratna’s Dhamma talks from that site.

I also downloaded many videos from Dhammatube on Veoh.com and Youtube.com and converted them with Jetaudio to play on the portable media player. I particularly like Ven. Bhante Gunaratana, Ven. Nagita and Ven. Dhammavuddho. There are many interesting videos there.

This media player can also display ascii text files so I’ve converted many HTML and other files into txt format so I can read them from the media player. I downloaded a lot of Dhamma talks in text and mp3 format from the Bhavana Society website (monstery where Ven. Bhante Gunaratana usually resides). I am hoping that later the firmware for the player (currently it is 2.09) will be updated to allow reading text in landscape mode.

Dhamma Study Database

After work now while waiting for the savings to accrue and the date for my departure to Myanmar, I read and transcribe the essential suttas or portions of suttas that have inspired me so far and seem to be rich in meaning. It is hard to say this bit is more valuable than that bit. It is a personal choice. I am not trying to do this for anyone but myself. Though there are some pieces that I like to share so I post these texts on this blog.

I’ve been using Zotero as the database to store my notes. I type the discourses or portions of discourses into Zotero and tag them with locations, disciple names, deva names, layperson names and themes, similes etc. In this way, I can come back and find things or look for similar themes in the various collections – nikaaya.

I looked around for a database application and found they would be difficult (for me) to code. I don’t currently own Microsoft Access though I’m familiar with how it works and have developed databases with it for my public service jobs in the past. I would prefer an open source – non proprietary database. I tried OpenOffice Base but it is a bit limited and I’m not skilled enough to use it well. Although I said I prefer open source I looked at QSR NVivo as a possibility. It has excellent text analysis and tagging tools. I trained in NVivo 2 while studying at the ANU and analysed fieldwork interviews using it. Unfortunately for me it is very expensive. NVivo would be excellent but probably not good for sharing the analysis. I suppose in the back of my mind is the thought: ‘I should be sharing this’. So much for just doing it for myself.

I wondered about going simple and not doing any of this on computers. One extreme to another. I thought I should just learn Paali and then commit to memory those sutta that are most relevant to me and those recommended by excellent teachers who I have confidence in. This is essentially what committed early Buddhists would have done in the pre-literate days. Now I am nearly 50 years old and my memory muscles are underdeveloped compared with the pre-literate early Buddhists. Maybe I need to rely on some books, some use of weak memory and some use of electronic devices such as a laptop.

Bhikkhu Bodhi

Present day students of the Dhamma using English language translations owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi. May he live long and be free from suffering.

I once had a large and eclectic collection of books. Once I decided I was going to focus on the spiritual life, I gave away most of those books. I now own about eight books and most have either been translated by Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi or edited by him. Of course, Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi is but one of a long line of Buddhist scholars (mostly monks) going back 2,500 years who have sincerely preserved and transmitted the Dhamma. It is wonderful and amazing that we can access this material right now. I feel enormously privileged.