The work provides a comprehensive, analytical and critical study
of the Pali commentaries written by Buddhadatta. Buddhaghosa and Dhammapala who occupied a prominent place in the world of
Buddhism. Buddhaghosa was regarded as the greatest commentator and the brightest star in the firmament of Buddhism. The study is devised to help the understanding of the commentaries so as to bring out a clear idea and the sense of each and every passage which has been handled so far in these commentaries. It also attempts to mention opinions, views, comments and observations of these Pali scholars stated above. In this book, for the first time, we get a true picture of the Pali commentaries. Its principal aim is to encourage the lover of knowledge to embark upon his quest with full intensity.
It is remarkable for its scholarly exposition. It presents lively
discussion of the Pali commentaries. The richness of ideas, given
in a convincing style, attracts readers of all shades. It is a book of
valuable information and should be deemed a welcome addition to the literature on the subject. This is a laudable attempt to give the history and development of the Pali commentaries which has no doubt enhanced the usefulness of this work.
Consisting of four chapters, the work in its introduction gives
the significance of the term Atthakatha and also describes the origin and growth of the commentaries. Its aim is to show that some of the Pali commentaries were written on the basis of the earlier Sinhalese commentaries like the Maha-Atthakatha and the Porana- Atthakatha. The work provides a detailed account of special characteristics of the Pali commentaries and then gives a critical analysis of the Pali commentaters' aim and object to popularise the doctrinal teachings in a systematic way. The second chapter, in its discussion, presents an authoritative, up-to-date and compendious account of the life and works of the three great Pali commentators stated above. It then enumerates their works. It is based on all available materials and is written in a most elegant, sober and lucid style. The author tries his best not only to show his profound scholarship and critical acumen but also demonstrates a scrupulous regard for historical truth, accuracy of facts and impartiality of judgement. The third chapter then deals with the outline of the contents of the works of the great Pali scholars. Basing his study on original writings and other records, the author has given a very exhaustive and critical account of these works. This chapter will be of interest not only to specialists in the field of Pali literature and language but also to a general readership concerned with Buddhist history and religion. The fourth chapter is an attempt at bringing out a clear idea of the historical and geographical importance of the Pali commentaries and other interesting topics. The present study, therefore, not only refers to Buddhism but also provides an account of the political and geographical history and also other valuable matters. It is meant to show the importance of the Pali commentaries as well as their contribution to the Buddhist world not only to the advanced scholars but also to the people in general who have practically no knowledge in Buddhism. The work is no doubt a valuable contribution to the vast field of Buddhism. The present work is of great utility for the students of Pali language and literature. The merit of the book has been enhanced by preface,
abbreviations and an exhaustive bibliography. It will undoubtedly
appeal to both general readers and scholarly readers who are
interested in Buddhism. It is a notable addition to the published
works on Buddhism. It is hoped that this addition will meet the
long- felt requirement of the students of Buddhism and the general reader alike.
I express my deepest gratitude to Dr. Sukumar Sengupta, Ex-
Reader in the Department of Pali, Calcutta University, for his
suggestions in this book. I must thank Prof. Dilip Kumar Roy, in
the Department of Museology, Prof. Dr. Anil Chandra Pal in the
Department of Archaeology, Dr. Dipak Ranjan Das, Reader in the
Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Dr. Asha Das,
Reader in the Department of Pali, and Prof. Dr. Mrinal Kanti
Gangopadhyaya in the Department of Sanskrit of the University of
Calcutta for taking personal interest in my book. My thanks are
also due to my sisters Mrs. Nirmala Hazra and Mrs. Ramala Kumar, my brother Mr. Subodh Kumar Hazra, my niece Mrs. Pratima Haldar, her husband Mr. Pranab Kumar Haldar, and my another niece Mrs. Malaya Paul for their keen interest in the publication of this book. My thanks are also due to the Librarian, Central University Library, Calcutta University and the Librarian, the Asiatic Society Library, Calcutta, for helping me to use books in these libraries.
Origin and growth of the commentaries - what is Atthakatha
Commentarial type of literature in the Pali Canonical Text
(Nikayas)-Naddesa Commentarial expositions in the Digha and
Majjhima Nikayas some of the Pali commentaries based on the
earlier Sinhalese commentaries like Maha-Atthakatha, Porana-
Atthamatha, etc. Special characteristics of the Pali commentories, as different from those (Tika or Bhasya) on the Sanskrit Texts aim
and object of the Pali commentators to popularise the doctrinal
teachings ample use of stories Dhammapada - Atthakatha and the
Jatakattha - katha.
The atthakathas means the "explanations of the meaning" or
"commentaries. They can be mentioned as exegetical treatises on the texts of the Pali canon. It is to be noted here that their main object is to give in a clear way explanations of difficult words and points of doctrine that are found in the texts. "The Atthakathas, as we know, are exegetical treatises on the Texts of the Pali Canon. Their main object is, therefore, to explain difficult words and abstruse points of doctrine that occur in the Texts and also to give additional explanatory information wherever .It was deemed necessary". B.C. Law not only gives the meaning of the atthakathas, commentaries, but also refers to their origin and growth. He describes, "According to Indian tradition, a commentary means reading new meanings back into old texts according to one's own education and outlook. It explains the words and judgements of others as accurately and faithfully as possible; and this remark applies to all commentaries, Sanskrit as well as Pali. The commentary or bhasya, as it is called in Sanskrit, implies, as suggested by the great Sanskrit poet Magha in his famous Kavya, Sisupalabadha', an application of a condensed utterance or expression which is rich in meaning and significance:
Suvistarataravacobhasyabhuta bhavantu me-; (ii. 24);
but at the same time an element of originality is also implied by
its definitions as given by Bharata in his lexicography. "Those who
are versed in the bhasyas call that a bhasya wherein the meaning
of a condensed saying (sutra) is presented in words that follow the texts and where, moreover, the own words of the commentator himself are given"
"Sutrartho varnyate yatra padaih sutratl saribhih
Svapadani ca varnyante bhasyam bhasyavudoviduh
Iti Lingadisamgrabatikayam Bharatah (Sabdakalpadruma).
The need for an accurate interpretation of the Buddha's words
which formed the guiding principle of life and action of the members of the Sangha, was felt from the very first, even during the life time of the Master. There was at that time the advantage of referring a disputed question for solution to the master himself and therein we can trace the first stage in the origin of the Buddhistic comments. The Buddhist and Jain texts tell us that the itinerant teachers of the time wandered about in the country, engaging themselves wherever they stopped in serious discussions on matters relating to religion, philosophy, ethics, morals, and polity. Discussions about the interpretation of the abstruse utterances of the great teachers were frequent and the raison d'etre of the development of the Buddhist literature, particularly of the commentaries, is to be traced in these discussions. There are numerous interesting passages in the
Tripitaka telling us how from time to time contemporary events
suggested manifold topics of discussion among the bhikkhus, or how their peace was disturbed by grave doubts calling for explanations either from the Buddha himself or from his disciples whenever an interested sophist spoke vehemently in many ways in dispraise of the Buddha, the Doctrine, and the Order (Digha, I); whenever another such sophist misinterpreted the Buddha's opinion (Majjhima, vol. III, pp. 207-8), whenever a furious discussion broke out in any contemporary brotherhood (Majjhima, vol. II, Samagama Sutta), or whenever a bhikkhu behaved improperly, the bhikkhus generally assembled under the pavilion to discuss the subject or were exhorted by the Buddha or by his disciples to safeguard their interests by presenting a strong defence of their case. The Digha and Majjhima Nikayas contain many illuminating expositions of the Buddha, e.g., mahakammavibhanga, the Salayatanavibhanga (Majjhima, vol. III,
pp. 207-222) etc. Then we have from Thera Sariputta, the chief
disciple of the Buddha, a body of expositions of the four Aryan
truths, the Saccavibhanga, We have also to consider other ranowned and profoundly learned disciples of the Buddha, among whom were some women, who in their own way helped forward the process of development of the commentaries.Mahakaccayana wrote some exegetical works like Kaccayanagandha,Mahaniruttigandho, etc. We have similar contributions from Mahakotthita, Moggallana, Ananda,
Dhammadinna, and Khema, but it is needless to multiply instances. There is another class of ancient Buddhist literature, the poranas, of which our knowledge is at present based only upon some extracts in the attbakathas. We are told in the Gandbavamsa that those who are Porana-cariya are also Atthakathacariya, or teachers who wrote the atthakathas, and were evidently the earliest contributions to the commentary literature. A number of quotations made by Buddhaghosa
may be found in his works concerning the views of the poranas.
It shall be noted here that the poranas do not represent a consistent school of philosophical thought. Each teacher must have been responsible for himself alone, and it is hopeless to discover any organic connection among the numerous short and long passages attributed to the poranas in Buddhaghosa's writings ..... "
B. C. Law gives further an account of the origin and development
of Buddhist commentaries. He describes. According to Indian
tradition, a commentary means reading new meanings back into old texts according to one's own education and outlook. It explains the words and judgments of others as accurately and faithfully as possible and this remark applies to all commentaries, Sanskrit, as well as Pali. The commentary or bhasya, as it is called in Sanskrit, implies, of course, an amplification of a condensed utterance or expression which is rich in meaning and significance as the great Sanskrit poet, Magha, says in his famous Kavya; but at the same time there is always an element of originality as the definition given by Bharata in his lexicography shows :- "Those who are versed in the Bhasyas call that a Bhasya wherein the meaning of a condensed saying (sutra) is presented in words that follow the text and where moreover, the own words of the commentator himself are given".
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