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Elementary Pāli


Admission requirements



Pāli, a Middle Indo-Aryan language closely related to Sanskrit, is the language of the Buddhist canon of the Theravāda traditions of Sri Lanka, India and Southeast Asia. It has also long been used by the Theravāda Buddhists as a language of literary composition and scholarship. The Pāli canon is the only Buddhist canon extant in its entirety in an Indian language, and thus forms an essential source for our understanding of the early history of Buddhist literature and ideologies in South and Southeast Asia.

This course provides an introduction to the grammar of the Pāli language. Students are introduced to the phonology, morphology and syntax of Pāli and learn the accompanying terminology. Subjects that are dealt with include phonology, declension, conjugation, and verbal and nominal composition. The course is taught with reference to the textbook A New Course in Reading Pāli (by James W. Gair and W. S. Karunatillake) which contains exercises of readings drawn from original Pāli Buddhist texts. The exercises should be prepared by students in advance of each class and constitute the primary means through which the grammar is brought into practice during class. There are two two-hourly classes each week. The course requires active preparation and participation. Attendance of the classes is compulsory. In addition there is a one-hour response meeting every two weeks.

At the end of the course students will attain an overview of the Pāli grammatical system and will be able to independently translate and analyze simple sentences and passages from the Pāli canon. Through engaging with canonical materials during the reading exercises, students will gain a familiarity with some basic Buddhist terminology, concepts and ways of thought. No knowledge of Sanskrit is required, although students who have completed Sanskrit 1 may find the grammar and exercises easier at first.

Course objectives

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to demonstrate:

  • A clear understanding of basic Pāli grammar, in particular paradigms of declension and conjugation

  • Knowledge of the accompanying grammatical terminology

  • Knowledge of basic Pāli vocabulary

  • Ability to translate simple sentences and passages from the Pāli canon into English, with the help of a dictionary


Tuesday, 08-09-2015, 17:15-18:45 room LIPSIUS / 204
Tuesday, 15-09-2015 – 13-10-2015, 17:15-18:45 LIPSIUS / 030
Tuesday, 27-10-2015 – 08-12-2015, 17:15-18:45 LIPSIUS / 030
Thursday, 10-09-2015 – 15-10-2015,17:15-18:45 LIPSIUS / 235C
Thursday, 29-10-2015 – 29-10-2015, 17:15-18:45 LIPSIUS / 235B
Thursday, 05-11-2015 – 19-11-2015, 17:15-18:45 LIPSIUS / 235C
Thursday, 03-12-2015 – 10-12-2015, 17:15-18:45 LIPSIUS / 235C

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and participation are obligatory. Classes missed for a good reason (to the discretion of the conveners and to be discussed BEFORE the class takes place) will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course load

  • Classes (13×4), feedback hours (6×1) and exams (2×2): 62 hours

  • Preparation and revision of exercises, learning paradigms: 138 hours

  • Revision and preparation for exams: 80 hours
    Total: 280 hours (10 EC x 28 hours)

Assessment method

2 written examinations (w), covering respectively declension and conjugation:
1) at the end of the first block (40%)
2) at the end of the second block (60%)

The individual exams cannot be retaken. If the average of both exams is 5.49 or lower there is one opportunity for a resit of the entire course (100%).

The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.



Reading list

  • Gair, James W. and W. S. Karunatillake. A New Course in Reading Pāli: Entering the Word of the Buddha. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1998.

  • Collins, Steven. A Pali Grammar for Students. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2006.

  • von Hinüber, Oskar. A Handbook of Pāli Literature. Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1996.

Further literature will be supplied in electronic form during the course.


Students are required to register through uSis.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

(Studeren à la carte is not possible for this course.)


Dhr Wu Juan:


Other Buddhism related courses

At BA-level
Fall Semester
Anthropology and Buddhism in Asia
Buddhism through Stories
Buddhist Art
Culture of Tibet
Introduction to Buddhism
Japanse religies en boeddhisme
Virtue, Vice and Depravity: Buddhist and Contemporary Accounts
Iconography of South and Southeast Asia
Tibetan 1

Spring Semester
Architecture: The Temple and the Stupa
Chinese Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism
Tibet: State and Society
Sacred Biography in Buddhism and Jainism
Tibetan 2
Indian Philosophy

At MA-level
Buddhism and Social Justice
Reading Buddhist Scriptures
Virtue, Vice and Depravity: Buddhist and Contemporary Accounts

Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).