Serving at Dhammagiri in the late eighties and early nineties has imprinted itself as the most rewarding experience in my memory. It was then, after the huge crowd of meditators—especially from the West—who had flocked in for the winter period, had already disappeared, that only about a dozen of us, mostly Pāli-students, used to stay on for longer periods.
In those days a lot of Dhamma-service was still being done by westerners. Aside from regular ongoing duties like early morning gong, hall duty, food service and gardening, there were always sudden and emergent odd jobs. The regular Indian paid staff took care of management, registration, cleaning and kitchen work.
The most pleasant of all was the post-monsoon period when nature bloomed forth with all its might, competing with the sound of frogs and crickets and the songs of birds.
At times, during the morning hours after Group Sittings, melodious chanting issued forth from the Teacher’s residence. Sometimes we noticed that it suddenly stopped, got repeated changed altogether and then was repeated all over again. Thrilled, those who were working on the Shanti-Pathar paused quietly, eager to listen—trying to catch what was going on. We wondered what we were hearing—was it Hindi-Dohas or Pāli-Gāthās? We finally came to know through Dr. Panth1 that Goenkaji was composing verses to express his gratitude and devotion towards the Buddha—verses that later were to be called Buddhasahassanāmāvalī2. Goenkaji had by then selected these 210 verses from his much larger collection of verses, Buddhaguṇāgathāvalī3.
A few years later, when I met Tandonji4 at Dhamma Salila for the first 45-day Pāli Workshop, he firmly suggested5 that under his guidance I was to translate the text, create a vocabulary, and transfer it into digital format. Parallel to this, he was also eager that I was to teach him how to prepare, save and edit documents in Word as well as send e-mails from an account he already had6. So we met regularly after 9:30 p.m. in front of an ancient Indian computer7 that he had managed to get from somewhere and that allowed writing files only on floppy. In this way we tried to prepare a document improving on what I had noted down by hand during the day. Additionally, challenged by common power outages, at times we just sat there silently or talking by candlelight or torchlight until it was clear that, at least for that night, there would be no power recovery.
So, naturally, by the end of that period we hadn’t gotten even to half of the work we had hoped for and we decided that I would continue by myself and send him the floppy after I finished it. As Edith and I were also touring, it took about another eight months or so until I was ready to send him the result. After another two years, Tandonji finally finished going through the translation himself with the help of Chaudariji; and he returned to me the completed and approved version ready for print.
It is now far over a decade that this very file has lingered—being moved to different folders and making its journey through various new versions of laptops. I finally decided to add some more notes to the vocabulary (in brackets) that highlight the compounds to make them more obvious to the reader. I am extremely grateful to Pariyatti that they now are making the Buddhasahassanāmāvalī available in the present form.
If the reader, while reading these inspiring verses of S.N. Goenka, recites them with the proper pronunciation8 and with the right understanding, he or she will certainly greatly benefit and gain inspiration9. As Goenkaji himself has pointed out in the Foreword to the first edition: “Thinking thus, the auspicious resolution arose in my mind to compose Buddhasahassanāmā, so that while reciting it, along with the knowledge of the innumerable Pāli synonyms of the Buddha, meditators will remember the qualities of the Buddha and develop gratitude towards him, resulting in rapture in the mind and thrill in the body, which will strengthen their practice of Vipassana meditation.”
With all my gratitude to my teachers S.N. Goenka and S.N.Tandon.
May all merits be shared with all!
1 - Dr. Ravindra Panth has been director of VRI (Vipassana Research Institute) during those years.
2 - First published during the Buddhamahostav of November 1998, and available in seven scripts from VRI.
3 - This 163-page book, published by VRI in 1999, is available in Devanagari, Roman, and Burmese scripts.
4 - S.N. Tandon was the first teacher appointed by S.N. Goenka to teach Pāli.
5 - With his typical waggish smile he concluded, “We should share the merits of doing this, isn’t it?”
6 - Previously all his e-mails were dictated by him and sent by a helper; but now he (Tandonji must have been in his seventies then) was eager to do everything by himself: “Either you can learn or sit and rust, isn’t it!”
7 - The first meeting he opened, pointing to his special liking to certain numbers: “We will have one strong determination! What adhiṭṭhāna we will have? We will not go to bed later than 11.11 p.m.”
8 - Please refer to the notes on pronunciation mentioned in: Exploring the sacred, ancient path in the original words of the Buddha - a short introduction and guide to Pāli pronunciation and Pāli grammar, page 7. When pronouncing Pāli, proper care has to be given to the use of throat, mouth, and the movement and touch of the tongue and lips, in order to produce the melodious, sonorous euphony that Pāli requires. Special emphasis should be given to proper pronunciation and differentiation especially between retroflex and dentals, rather identical but different in sound. These are the main principles that were maintained through the ages.
9 - Someone who has visited sacred places of the Buddha may have encountered pilgrims from all kind of nations expressing refuge in Pāli to the triple gem: ‘Buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi; Dhammaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi; Sanghaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi’ and must have observed the different ways of articulation. There is no way to define which English-pronunciation may be more correct for example, American, British, or Australian or any of the other pronunciations of English that exist being a world language. In the same way, with the wider spread and usage of Pāli through the world of today the same recitations may sound different according to the national background and mother tongue of the person who recites the texts. Therefore maintaining the above mentioned principles as emphasized in the previous footnote will be all the more crucial. An upright follower of the path, who undertakes to read and recite any texts, should meticulously perform such a task by not only using proper and careful pronunciation but also aspire to perfect understanding and remain deeply respectful and full of awareness within, being careful to ensure that such paying of respects does not become a mere ritual!