“Frontiers of the Pāli Commentarial Studies” - Convocation Address by ProfessorToshiichi Endo at the 5th Convocation of IBC on 5 August 2012

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Convocation Address by ProfessorToshiichi Endo/ Photo by H.S.Seow

Venerable Wei Wu, Chairman of the Council of the International Buddhist College, Professor Charles Willemen, Rector of the International Buddhist College, Honorable members of the Sangha, Deans, Professors and members of both academic and administrative staff, Distinguished guests, Graduates, Students of IBC, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am deeply honoured to deliver the convocation address of the International Buddhist College today. I wholeheartedly thank you Venerable Wei Wu and Professor Charles Willemen to share in this moment of joy and celebration for all of you young graduates who are receiving degrees today; for your families and friends; and for teachers.

In the field of Pāli studies, one school of thought asserts that much has already been done while the other believes that only little has been done. The former is the school that places importance more on early Buddhist thought as reflected mainly in the Tipiṭaka, while the latter accepts the continuity of the Pāli tradition into further genres of literature such as the Aṭṭhakathā, Ṭīkā and beyond. Theravāda Buddhism gained its distinct identity not in early Buddhism but in the Commentarial period onwards. What people of the Theravāda countries believe and practice today is deeply rooted in the commentarial literature. In this context I speak today about the value of the commentarial studies for the understanding of Theravāda Buddhism in particular and Buddhism in general. Some of the frontiers in this field of studies will be our main focus today.

The studies of the Pāli commentaries began about 65 years ago. E.W.Adikaram of Sri Lanka discussed in his book ‘Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon’ (1946) some of their characteristics and gave 28 kinds of old sources utilized by the commentators such as Buddhaghosa for the editing and translation of the Pāli commentaries. This pioneering work had a great bearing not so much nationally but internationally.

Adikaram’s work was acknowledged in two works published in Germany and Japan almost simultaneously in early 1980s. Since their publications, much has been achieved in this field of studies especially in Japan with Sodo Mori still at the forefront. Younger scholars are quite active and new lines of inquiry into various aspects of the Pāli commentaries have yielded outstanding achievements.

In the field of translations in recent years, Peter Masefiled of Australia has contributed a few translations into English of commentaries such as the Udāna Commentary (2 vols., PTS, 1994-5), Vimāna Stories (PTS, 1989) and the Itivuttaka Commentary (PTS). Murakami and Oikawa translated into Japanese the Paramatthajotikā, the commentary to the Khuddakapāṭha and Suttanipāta in four volumes (1985-89). Naniwa translated into Japanese the Sammohavinodanītogether with its Mūlaṭīkā, its first translation into any modern language (2004). Fujimoto’s new translation (major stories) into Japanese is the Petavatthu-aṭṭhakathā (2006), while the latest in the field of translations into Japanese is Katsumoto’s first translation in any modern language of the Cariyāpiṭaka-aṭṭhakathā (2007). An’s translation into English of the Commentary to the Mahāparinibbāna-sutta in the Sumaṅgalavilāsinī is also a welcome addition. The latest in this series of translation is a translation into English of the Paṭhama-pārājika of the Samantapāsādikā as a part of the PhD thesis submitted and approved by the University of Kelaniya in 2011. Moreover, it is noteworthy that the entire Pāli commentaries of the Simon Hewavitana Bequest (SHB) editions were translated into the modern Sinhala language by a team of translators and were already published some years ago by the Buddhist Cultural Centre (BCC) of Sri Lankan, which, by the way, is now undertaking a modern translation series of the Ṭīkā literature into Sinhala. Though these concern only the translations of the Pāli commentaries in recent years, new translations of the Sutta-piṭaka into Japanese are also concurrently being undertaken by Pāli scholars in Japan, and the scholar at the forefront of such undertakings is Katayama of Komazawa University who has singlehandedly been translating the four major Nikāyas. The Pāli commentaries are a very useful aid for a better understanding even of the Tipiṭaka, and traditionally this use has been the mainstream.

Studies of Buddhist teachings and thought from a historical perspective as reflected in the Pāli commentaries have attracted several scholars in the world. The Pāli commentaries (mainly those on the Tipiṭaka) are a vast, almost unlimited, source of information and can therefore be mobilized collectively as the main source-material for such studies. A few Japanese have produced notable contribution in this field such as Oikawa (1998) based on his own translation of the Paramatthajotikā, Baba (2008) who studied a historical development of the ti-vijjā (three-knowledge) tradition and pointed out Buddhaghosa’s contribution toward the establishment of what is now called the ‘Theravāda System of Meditation.’

Almost exclusively dealt with by the Japanese Pāli scholars for the past couple of decades is the area known as the philological studies in the source references of the present Pāli commentaries, although such great scholars as I.B.Horner, Adikaram, and Lily de Silva made some sporadic studies in the past. T. Hayashi has been at the forefront in this field of studies in Japan and has produced several interesting findings. Studies of the source-materials for the present Pāli commentaries are still in progress and await further researches to be undertaken in the future.

The Pāli commentaries are a combination of the Tipiṭaka as the commented text and the commentary itself. Since some portions of the present texts of the Tipiṭaka lack their corresponding commentaries such as some sections of the Suttanipāta, Buddhavaṃsa, etc., the Pāli commentaries can be used for ‘text critique’ for the Tipiṭaka. This area should attract more attention by those interested in the Pāli commentarial studies. In addition, since the Pāli commentaries to the Tipiṭaka contain canonical words or phrases repeated and commented upon together with their meanings and extraneous information, if they are collected and compared with the existing PāliTipiṭaka, this would become a useful tool to reconstruct what the Tipiṭaka looked like in the 5th century or so when Buddhaghosa and the other commentators saw them.

Problems associated with the authorship of some of the present Pāli commentaries have been a great concern. Many scholars have attempted to establish particularly the authorships ascribed to Buddhaghosa and Dhammapāla – the major issue of Dhammapāla is whether or not the commentator Dhammapāla is the same as the sub-commentator Dhammapāla. Among the Japanese in recent years, Hayashi dealt with the authorship of the Atthasālinī (1997 & 1999) adopting a methodology different from Bapat’s and even of O.H.Pind (1992). Sasaki (1997) has also studied the text in comparison with the Samantapāsādikā and has brought to our notice that there exists a contradictory textual fact between them. It is hoped that further research in this field would be undertaken by young and upcoming scholars with their fresh imagination and approaches.

Comparative studies between the Pāli commentaries and texts of the Northern sects including the Chinese Āgama translations are another area of interest. In the past a comparison between the Chinese Āgama texts and the PāliNikāyas was the main focus. Scholars generally believed that what was common to each other’s tradition belonged to an older stratum that existed before the initial schism of the Saṅgha and differences were a newer stratum developed independent of each other. Recent findings however show that some ideas and passages in the Chinese Āgama translations belonging to the newer stratum can in fact be found in the present Pāli commentaries. This implies some textual developments in India between the Pāli tradition and the northern sects as in the case of the Chinese Āgama texts.

Baba’s study mentioned above has opened a new horizon in the use of the Pāli commentaries for the study even of Indian Buddhism. He describes Buddhaghhosa’s role in the Visuddhimagga as a philosophical innovator who set a standard for the ‘Theravāda Meditation System’ as a response to some of the doctrinal controversies taking place among schools of Buddhist thought in India at that time. Yamagiwa (1996) and Sasaki (2002) investigated the Samantapāsādikā in comparison with the 6 available Vinaya texts in Pāli and Chinese. They have found that certain Vinaya rules not recorded in the PāliVinaya but in its commentary have some correspondences in the other Chinese Vinaya texts. They are of the view that the Samantapāsādikā must be included in the list of Vinaya texts to carry out comparative studies among the Vinaya texts of different sects.

Perhaps the latest addition to a possible area of studies using the present Pāli commentaries is comparative studies with Mahāyāna texts. This has become increasingly important as such texts as the Bodhisattvabhūmi of the Yogācārabhūmi can be found cited specially in the commentator Dhammapāla’sCariyāpiṭaka-aṭṭhakathā. In this field of research pioneered by Sodo Mori in 1993 and 1999, the latest addition is Katsumoto’s papers (2005, 2006).

Studies of the Pāli commentaries have entered into a new height where different frontiers are discovered and researched today. Though our focus today has been on researches undertaken mainly by Japanese Buddhist scholars, some important works are also being produced by scholars in the west, though very limited in number. It is hoped that a good number of Buddhist scholars, particularly young ones, will become interested in the subject and make collective efforts to further enhance the studies of the Pāli commentaries in every possible way.

Today is the day you experience two great feelings not many people can share- your graduation from the college recalling hard work of your studies in the past and joy and happiness you shared with your classmates and teachers together, and a sense of uncertainty but with full of hope for the future. I sincerely congratulate all of the graduates today on your great achievements and pray that the blessings of your teachers, parents and friends, and of this College be with you, protecting and safeguarding you, as you set out into the world today.

Thank you.