Pali Online School Gombrich portrait

Pali Online School

Thank you to everyone who has attended the Pali Online School over the last months.  They have been a great success.  We are now planning the best way to take this forward, and will post details as they become available.  The Pali Reading Club will continue, and there will be an Advanced Pali Course run in Oxford this August.

We are currently planning to run the next Pali Online School in November.  More details will be posted in August.

We are leaving  up the information on the operation of the Pali Online School for reference.


We are offering an online version of the Pali Summer School. We are calling it the Pali Online School, which is not your typical online course. It is taught by 100% live instruction, there are no pre-recorded materials.

The course only consists of live interaction between Professor Gombrich, the students and the Teaching Assistant(s).

Please spread the word so that those unable to travel to Oxford may experience the excitement of this intensive language course in their own homes.

The intensity of the course is what makes the course so successful and therefore live attendance at all classes is mandatory.

“I found Prof. Gombrich not only immensely knowledgeable, but also very well organised, presenting a set of materials consisting of what we really needed to know in an order to have a good go at translating a variety of passages from the suttas. There’s as much skill in knowing what to leave out or only touch on as in knowing what to include! He is very clear in delivery and provides very helpful (and patient) explanations. When translating, he seemed to pick out straightforward meanings that were well informed by his knowledge of Indian society and culture at the time. And he’s very humorous too. :-)” Paul Trafford (click here for full review)

“Having studied with him at the 2011 Pali Summer School, I can attest to his engaging and direct method and the success that his students experience in reading Pali after a short period of instruction. Students from a variety of backgrounds including academics, interested practitioners, and monastics, traveled from around the world (quite literally) to spend two weeks in Oxford for this class.” – Justin Whitaker (click here for full review)


The following details come from Professor Gombrich:

Aim. At the end of the course you should be able, using the normal aids available, i.e. dictionaries, grammars and translations, slowly to read a Pali canonical text and understand it for yourself.

Is this really possible? I devised the course and have already given it many times with great success.  Pali can be learnt in less than a month because the aim is only to read it, not to write or speak it – though you do learn to pronounce it and recite a few chants.  There is also much less emphasis on memorisation than in a traditional course: why memorise things you can easily look up?

Who may attend? Anyone who is genuinely interested and prepared to work hard.  There are no academic prerequisites.  There are no exams, and no certificates are issued.

Method. Accordingly, the course is built on learning how to use the Pali-English Dictionary published by the Pali Text Society.  The course begins with learning Pali alphabetical order, and throughout the course each pupil is constantly using the Dictionary.  It is advisable to begin this before the course starts. Tables of the main grammatical forms are supplied and, again, students constantly consult them for themselves, until they become familiar.

Throughout the course, teachers and students connect together via video conference and share the screen and the course materials.  Students are urged to keep asking questions, and to work in cooperation.

Organisation. On the first day students will introduce themselves, and then we shall survey the grammatical terms and principles you need to understand for the course.  Though anyone who has already studied Latin, Greek or Sanskrit will probably be familiar with much of this material, experience suggests that nothing is lost by asking everyone to attend.

The rest of the course is extremely intensive.  It is cumulative, so that to miss a lesson is disastrous.  The one rigid rule is that no one may miss a class. You will find a precise timetable below .  There might be small adjustments to the schedule.

The course runs for 3 weeks and 2 days.

Besides the Pali language, the course will discuss the Pali canon and many questions concerning the Buddha’s teaching and our evidence for it.

Practical Arrangements. The course will take place 100% online. I am afraid that a computer, high speed internet and basic ability to use email, Skype and a web browser are needed.

My tuition and the course materials are provided free, but we have to pay for some teaching, IT  and admin expenses. The cost of the course is £500.

Booking.  Bookings are through the application below and we will require payment for the course before it starts. When applying, please supply full contact details, including telephone and postal address, and let me know your highest educational qualification. We shall also need to know whether you have learned Pali, Sanskrit or any other language(s) previously. The closing date for applications is 14 calendar days before the course start date. However, since enrolment is restricted to about 14 pupils, the course is usually fully booked long before the closing date.

Note: we would prefer to be paid by cheque, made out to  “Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies”,  and sent to the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford OX2 6UD. If this is not possible then the second best option is via our PayPal account. In this case we kindly ask that you also cover the transaction fee of approximately £20. If that is not possible either please contact for further details.

Dates & Times

 To be announced.  Courses run for 4 hours a day, six days a week for three weeks.


In our experience students need to devote an additional 1-3 hours to homework and revision every day outside of class time depending on how much experience with foreign languages and grammar they have.


  • Skype, Google Hangouts and Zoom for voice and screen sharing
  • pair-work for peer-to-peer learning and teaching
  • Professor and TA working with pairs and individuals


  • To be anounced.



  • Preferably no previous knowledge of Pāli
  • Knowledge of other languages helpful but not required


  • Ability to use email, Google Drive, Zoom and a web browser
  • Knowledge and ability to copy files, install applications, register via online forms
  • Computer and web camera
  • Both desktop and laptop are acceptable, however tablets will not work (we have tested them)
  • Microphone and earphones with decent sound quality
  • High speed internet


The only material that is an absolute must for the course is the Pali-English dictionary, however, there is a free version available online. For links to the paper and electronic version see below. We also suggest two optional books, because neither of them is a necessity for any of the course work. Those with the means and the intent to keep up their Pali studies after the course may wish to get their own copies.

  1. Pali-English Dictionary by Rhys Davids and Stede, affectionately called the PED
    – you can buy the paper version from the Pali Text Society
    – many people prefer to use the on-line version, which also has the advantage of being free
  2. An Introduction to Pali by A.K. Warder (Optional)
  3. A Pali Grammar by Wilhelm Geiger, revised by K.R. Norman (Optional)

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do I have to be a Buddhist to attend?
A: No.

Q: I don’t know how to use Skype or Google Hangouts. What should I do?
A: Learn how to use them. There are many tutorials online and it’s easy to learn.

Q: I don’t know any foreign languages. May I apply?
A: Yes.

Q: I know Pāli and/or Sanskrit already. May I apply?
A: You may, but please understand that this course is aimed at absolute beginners, so you may be disappointed.

Q: Why is the course so expensive/so cheap?
A: We have been criticized for charging too little money for the course. Given that all classes are delivered live, that there is personal attention given to each student and that I am offering my own time for free we think the course is very cheap, especially in comparison with other online and in-person courses.

After teaching Sanskrit, Pali and related subjects at Oxford University for 39 years, I took mandatory retirement in 2004 on reaching the age of 67. The University is under great financial pressure and it seemed unlikely that anyone would be appointed after me to carry on my teaching of Pali and of early Buddhism. I therefore decided to found the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies – OCBS – to carry on this tradition. The University has no financial responsibility for us and I had to found it with my own money. Ever since then, fundraising has had to be my main concern. I started from the idealistic position that a subject like Buddhism should be taught without fees, but I have had to face the fact that in our society that is not tenable.

In fact the funding that this course will provide is vital for the OCBS. So thank you for your generosity and your understanding in advance.

Q: Is this a pre-recorded class?
A: No. All sessions and all interactions are live.

Q: I would love to attend but my schedule would only allow me to attend part of the schedule. May I attend?
A: I am afraid not. All classes are mandatory and build upon each other so missing even one class can have a detrimental effect.

Q: The class schedule is very intensive. Why? Will you make a less intensive one?
A: Experience tells us that the more intensive the course, the better the results. When given in Oxford, it is for 6 hours a day of classroom teaching plus some homework. This online course is already a compromise, in that the schedule tries to accommodate people who are committed to a work/family schedule. That said, after this initial intensive course we do offer a less intensive weekly Pali Reading Club.

Q: Will there be any homework? If yes, how much?
A: We find that most students need to spend 2-3 hours daily on homework. That is, revision, redoing exercises, pre-reading materials for the next day, collecting and researching their questions and so on. It is of vital importance to reserve this time in advance so one’s daily schedule can accommodate it.

Q: I am not too tech-savvy. Will you provide technical support?
A: We provide a technical dry-run the week before the course starts. However, as we are all volunteer staff we cannot provide technical support one-on-one, unfortunately. It is your responsibility before the course starts to get familiar with Google Drive, Google Docs and Zoom. Fortunately there is excellent documentation available for all of them for all possible platforms, and Google and YouTube contain many many tutorials on how to use them so you should be able to catch up pretty quickly.


First come first served. In each course places are limited to about 20. Registration will re-open when the new dates are confirmed. It is recommended that you use your Gmail account if you have one, as we use Google Drive and Goode Docs extensively throughout the course.