Pali Online School Gombrich portrait

Pali Online School

The next Pali Online School has been confirmed for Autumn with the following details:

A16 Course dates: 7 – 26 November 2016

Monday – Saturday: 9am – 1.30pm UTC  (for time conversion please visit

Cost: £750

(Members of the sangha may attend for £400)

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

The course only consists of live interaction between Professor Gombrich, the students and the Teaching Assistants.  The intensity of the course is what makes the course so successful and therefore live attendance at all classes is mandatory.

Booking.  Bookings are through the application form below (please scroll down) 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 us 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. The course requires a minimum of 10 to run, and has a maximum capacity of 24.

“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.   On most days, Prof. Gombrich will teach for the first 2 hours. Then, after a short coffee break, from 11.00 to 11.30 the students will be organised into twos and threes, and work together, while TAs will discuss with them any problems they have, revise what Prof Gombrich has just taught, and sometimes administer simple written exercises.

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

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.


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



  • 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)



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.  Payment is due upon successful registration and all payments are non-refundable.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

Q: I don’t know how to use Zoom. What should I do?
A: There are many tutorials online and it’s easy to learn.

Q: Why has the course gone up in price?
A: Last year we ran the online courses as an experiment.  We benefitted greatly from a number of volunteers who gave their time freely to ensure we found the best format. We need to ensure that everyone is recompensed for their work. Due to the intensive teaching on the course we have discovered that two assistants are needed to support the main teacher.

Also, the OCBS is now concentrating on teaching Pali, and providing opportunities for graduates of the course who wish to take their studies further, perhaps even to become teachers themselves. Income from the courses goes directly to ensuring that they continue in the future.  We are still operating the course at as low a price as possible, and are actively searching for funding to ensure we can keep costs down.We know that our course is still very good value when matched with comparable courses.

If the cost is prohibitive for you, then please contact

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: 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 1-3 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, we cannot provide detailed 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 24. Registration is now open for November.  Please fill out the form below and we will be in touch shortly after. It is recommended that you use your Gmail account if you have one, as we use Google Drive and Google Docs extensively throughout the course.

  • Please use a Gmail/Google connected email as we use Google Drive extensively to share materials during the course.
  • We shall probably make a recording of parts of this course. Are you happy for your image to appear on such a recording.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.