It has been just said that Atthakatha is the most popular and standard term used as a name to exegetical literature in Pali. Besides it, the terms used as name to such literature are Vibhanga (descriptive exposition), Niddesa (exposition), Veyyakarana (explanation), Vannana (description), Atthavannana (description of Meaning), Atthasamvannana (description of meaning fully), Tika (gloss), Anutika (subgloss) etc. The Vibhanga type of exegetical literature is, no doubt, very ancient as it is, if not all of them, then at least some of them were incorporated in the canonical literature very likely during the life time of the Buddha himself. For example, the Sutta-vibhanga, the commentary on the Patimokkha, comprises two books of the Vinayapitaka, namely Parajika, and Pacittiya, was assimilated in the Pali Canon at the very inception of Buddhism. Similar is the case with Niddesaliterature. At least Mahaniddesa and Cullaniddesa, the former being the exposition of the Atthakavagga and the latter that of the Uragavagga and Parayanavagga of the Suttanipata, have long ago found a place in the canon. One of the nine divisions (Nava-Anga-Nine limbs) of the Pali canon is Veyyuakarana. The Brahamajalasutta, the first sutta of the Dighanikaya, designates itself as Veyyakarana at the end. Further some of the Athakathas assigned to Buddhaghosa are named Vannana, Atthavannana and Atthasamvannana. Tika and Anutika were written much later than the commentarial literature already mentioned.
Thus what we intend to emphasize is that the lineage of the exegetical literature of the Theravada Buddhism, which starts right from the lifetime of the Buddha, was Pursued and cultivated in the Buddhist Viharas for a pretty long time. Naturally, marked with vast differences in methodology, style and technique of treatment, the exegetical literature contains a number of Strata, which are named according to the group or time to which they belong. Thus Vibhanga, Niddesa, Veyyakarana, Vannana, Attavannana, Atthasamvannana, Tika, Anutika etc. are the terms which were coined by the commentators from time to time to name their respective works.
So far as the origin of the commentarial literature is concerned, it led us to the fact that the need for an accurate interpretation of the Buddha's teachings which formed the guiding principle of life and action of the members of the Sangha was felt from the very beginning while the Master was alive. During the life time of the Buddha there was the advantage of referring a disputed question for solution to the master himself (and herein we met with the first stage in the origin of the comments). But after his Parinibbana, the chief and revered disciples were used to be approached for dispelling the disputes and their comments must have been considered decisive and authentic and hence they were no doubt preserved orally by the disciples from generation to generation. When the commentaries were compiled these oral comments were embodied in the great Atthakathas of Sinhala, which been quoted by Buddhaghosa in his commentaries.
Needles to say that many scholars have extensively studied the various aspects of the exegetical literature from different points of view till date and the result of their studies have seen the light of the day as learned papers and monographs. However, the only independent work on the commentarial literature, which deserves mention, is The Life and Works of Buddhaghosa by B. c. Law. Though this work is a pioneering endeavour towards tracing the origin and development of commentarial literature, but it also has left some gaps. Therefore, a book covering all aspects of commentarial literature in Pali discussing, holding or refuting the issues already in the field, or giving new theories with convincing arguments based on concrete proofs, illustrations and dispassionate conclusion remained a desideratum.
Against this backdrop, the present work, as an outcome of a in-depth analysis of the available primary and secondary sources of the commentarial literatures attempts to bridge, some of these gaps to the maximum possible extent.
The book consists of five chapters. The first chapter, which is an introduction to the work, besides, advocating the view that the need for explanation must have been felt from the time human beings began to communicate their thought to one another, an effort has been made to trace the origin of the exegetical literature in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Pali, the three languages of prime importance in ancient Indian tradition. Their standard and most popular types of such literature being Bhasya, Nijjutti and Atthakatha respectively. The other type of expository literature in Sanskrit is known as Tika, Panjika, Kasika, Vivarana, Kaumudi and Vrtti. Bhasya is generally a commentary of an original text, as well as a commentary on another commentary.
So for as the Jaina Commentarial Literature is concerned the Nijjutti (concise mnemonic verse commentary) on the Agama texts is the earliest and most important. Next to Nijjutti comes Bhasya, a new type of commentarial literature written in Prakrit prose, peculiar to the Jaina literature. Bhasya is also known as Gaha and Cunni as Paribhasa. Next comes Tika, a sub-commentary in Sanskrit on almost every Agamic text, besides Tikas on non-Agamic texts as well.
The second chapter deals with the sources of Pali Atthakathas which are fourfold (a) Sinhala Atthakatha, (b) The Poranas (c) The Acariyaparampara and (d) The elders and the Scholiasts of the Island. The Sinhala Atthakathas were the main source of information to the trio of commentatours-Buddhadatta, Buddhaghosa and Dhammapala. The chapter begins with a list of Sinhala Atthakathas followed by their detailed discussion. The views of the Poranas, which also form a very significant and authoritative source of information, follow next. The Poranas, who are often referred to simply as Poranas, are also mentioned as Poranacariya or Poranakattheras or Pubbacariyas etc., or was there any written treatise in the name of the Poranas etc.?- from which the commentators cited their views or versions, remains unsolved. The third source, the Acariyaparampara comes next. Two lists of the Acariyas are Acariyaparampara comes next. Two lists of the Acariyas are cited, the first by Buddhadatta and the second by Buddhaghosa in the commentaries on the Buddhavamsa and the Vinaya respectively. It appears from the lists that the Acariyas of the first list were experts in the Suttanta, whereas those of the second in the Vinaya. The commentators, with a view to substantiate their own exposition, often take recourse to the views of Srilankan elders and scholiasts contemporary with them. Thus Buddhghosa often quoted their views in confirmation of his own exposition or in comparison or in contrast or in distinction to comment and discussion of the issues in other sources. Efforts have been made to illustrate the aforesaid observation with concrete examples.
The extant Pali cannon is ascribed to the Buddha. But when perused it does not give the impression as such. For example the Theragatha and Therigatha contain the feelings and experiences of the prominent disciples of the Buddha, so also the Apadanas. The Vibhangas of the Vinaya Pitaka are undoubtly commentaries on the two Patimokkhas. Similarly the Kathavatthu, the fifth book of the Abhidhamma, is the work of Moggaliputta Tissa, the President of the Third Buddhist Council. Besides, such instances are also available in the first four Nikayas in sufficient number. Thus it is quite apparent that contributions made by the disciples of the Buddha, both immediate and distant, to the pitakas as interpretatory literature, are substantial. Accordingly, the third chapter discusses such literature along with their contributions under the caption "Early Commentators and Their Commentaries."
The fourth chapter is titled as Pali Atthakathakaras and their Atthakathas. In this context it is to be borne in mind that in Pali literature the tern atthakatha stands for the expository literature on a specific text, for example, Samantapasadika nama Vinayatthakatha, Sumangalavilasini nama Dighanikayatthakatha etc. As such Pali atthakatha literature is quite distinct form the interpretatory literature already referred to. Naturally this chapter deals with the trio of Atthakathakaras and their Atthakathas from all possible points of view in considerable detail.
The outcomes of the studies have been summarized in the fifth chapter, the Conclusion. The chapter starts with a brief note on the origin and development of the exegetical literature in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Pali discussed in the first chapter as Introduction. In this context the special nature of the Pali Atthakatha literature distinct from interpretatory literature in pali is also referred to. Then comes the trio of Commentators whose style of writing commentaries are more or less the same. So far as commentaries ascribed to Buddhadatta and Dhammapala are concerned, there is no controversy. But there are susceptible differences of opinion among scholars are regards the works of Buddhaghosa. An effort has been made to examine the problem to the best of one's capacity dispassionately. Here ends the work.
Since this book aims to cover all the written or compiled exegetical literatures till sixth century AD, therefore, the exegetical literatures developed between seventh and seventeenth century AD do not find mention in it. Most of the citations of original Pali texts are from Nalanda Editions. But the page numbers of Roman Editions have intentionally been given for the convenience of a wider readership. Through out this work an attempt has been made to quote the relevant portions o original Pali texts with their English translations in order to provide the readers a ready reference.
The present work has been able to reach its final stage with the help, guidance and supervision of a number of scholars of the field. Now I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my obligations and indebtedness to them. I am grateful to Prof. Sanghasen Singh, Former Professor and Head, Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Delhi, Delhi, for his stimulating Studies, University of Delhi, Delhi, for his stimulating inspiration towards completion of this work. I owe sincere gratitude towards Prof. K. T. S. Sarao, Professor and Head, Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Delhi, Delhi, for his analytical and critical suggestions throughout the course of this study. I am deeply thankful to Dr. Bimalendra Kumar, Reader, Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies, BHU, Varanasi, Dr. Ramesh Prasad, Senior Lecturer, Department of pali and Theravada, Sampurnand Sanskrit University, Varanasi whose friendly and brotherly advise helped me a lot during the progress of this work. I am also thankful to Dr. Balmiki Prasad, Dr. Sunil Kumar Sudhanshu and my younger brother Dr. Rakesh Ranjan, Assistant Professor, Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana for their help and encouragement. Thank are also put on record for all my friends and colleagues who have helped me in one or the other way.
I owe sincere gratitude to all the authors and editors whose work have been cited in this study.
Sincere thanks are also put on record for my colleagues in the department for their all possible academic support. I must pay regards to my parents especially to my father, Dr. N. K. Prasad, Former Director, Research Institute of Prakrit Jainology and Ahimsa, Vaishali, Bihar, without whose co-operation it would not have been possible for me to complete the work in the present form. Last but not the least, I will be failing in my duty if I do not acknowledge the help rendered to me by my wife Nishi by letting me free from all domestic chores.
There might have been some drawbacks and imperfections in this work. In all humility, I owe to them. Critical suggestions and comments by the readers would further enrich this work.
From the Jacket
The Pali canons evince many types of exegetical literature. The two Vibhangas of the Vinayapitaka are undoubtedly commentaries on the Patimokkhas. Likewise the Niddesasare the exposition on certain Vaggas are the Suttanipata, the fifth book of the Khuddakanikaya.Thera and Therigathas, the eighth and the ninth books of the Khuddakanikaya contain feelings and experiences of some the direct disciples of the Buddha. Similar is the fate of Apadana, which describes the previous lives of some of the direct disciples of the Lord Buddha. Besides, the first four Nikayas are also replete with such instances. So also, the Abhidhammapitaka is not an exception to it. The Kathavatthu, the fifth book of the Abhidhammapitaka, is the work of Moggaliputta Tissa, the president of the third Buddhist Council.
In the light of the above, this book attempts to discuss " the origin and development of Buddhist Commentaries embodying exegesis, interpretaries and explanation of the teachings of the sage of the sage of the Sakyas." The book is divided into five chapters. The first chapter traces in brief the origin and nature of exegetical literature in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Pali, the ancient Indian religious literature. The second chapter discusses the sources of the Atthakatha literature in Pali. Chapter three is devoted to interpretatory literature including their interpretaters. The fourth Chapter seeks to deal with the commentators (Atthakathakaras) of the Pali Tipitaka with their works, while the last sums up and meets the issues raised in the previous chapters.
An alumni of the University of Delhi Dr. Rajesh Ranjan in currently on the faculty of Guru Gobind Singh Department of Religious Studies in Punjabi University, Patiala. Dr. Ranjan, Besides, Presenting papers in several national and international seminars and conferences has to his credit more than a dozen of research papers and articles on vital aspects of and Buddhist Studies published in various journals of repute.
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