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Dhammasangani

Enumeration of Phenomena

Part III - On The Commentaries And The Importance Of The Atthasalini

It will be seen from Appendix I. that the last part of the text of our Manual is a supplement added to it by way of commentary, or rather of interpretation and digest. It is, perhaps, not surprising that so much of this kind of material has survived within the four corners of the Pitakas. We have the Old Commentary embedded in the Vinaya, and the Parivara added as a sort of supplementary examination paper to it. Then there is the Niddesa, a whole book of commentary, on texts now included in the Sutta Nipata, and there are passages clearly of a commentarial nature scattered through the Nikayas. Lastly, there is the interesting fragment of commentary tacked on to the Dhamma-Sangani itself (below, p. 357).

As these older incorporated commentaries are varied both in form and in method, it is evident that commentary of different kinds had a very early beginning. And the probability is very great that the tradition is not so far wrong, when it tells us that commentaries on all the principal canonical books were handed down in schools of the Order along with the texts themselves.

This is not to maintain that all of the Commentaries were so handed down in all the schools, nor that each of them was exactly the same in each of the schools where it was taught. But wherever Commentaries were so handed down, tradition tells us that they were compiled, and subsequently written, in the dialect of the district where the school was situated. From two places, one in India and the other in Ceylon, we have works purporting to give in Pali the substance of such ancient traditional comment as had been handed down in the local vernacular. One of these is the Atthasalini, Buddhaghosa's reconstruction, in Pali, of the Commentary on our present work, as handed down in Sinhalese at the school of the Great Monastery, the Maha Vihara at Anuradhapura in Ceylon.

The Maha Vansa, indeed, says (p. 251) that he wrote this work at Gaya, in North India, before he came to Anuradhapura. This, however, must be a mistake, if it refers to the work as we have it. For in that work he frequently quotes from and refers to another work which he certainly wrote after his arrival in Ceylon, namely, the Visuddhi Magga, and once or twice he refers to the Samanta Pasadika, which he also wrote in Ceylon.

The Sadhamma Sangaha[1] has two apparently inconsistent statements which suggest a solution. The first is that he wrote, at the Vihara at Gaya, a work called the "Uprising of Knowledge" (S'anodaya), and a Commentary on the Dhamma-Sangani, called the Atthasalini, and began to write one on the Parittas. Then it was that he was urged to go, and actually did go, to Ceylon to obtain better materials for his work. The second is that, after he had arrived there and had written seven other works, he then wrote the Atthasalini. When the same author makes two such statements as these, and in close conjunction, he may well mean to say that a work already written in the one place was revised or rewritten in the other.

Dhamma Kitti, the author of the Sadhamma Sangaha, adds the interesting fact that, in revising his Atthasalini, Buddhaghosa relied, not on the Maha Atthakatha in Sinhalese, but on another Commentary in that language called the Maha Paccari.

We know, namely, that at the time when Buddhaghosa wrote — that is, in the early part of the fifth century a.d. — the Commentaries handed down in the schools had been, at various times and places, already put together into treatises and written books in the native dialects. And we know the names of several of those then existing. These are :

  1. The Commentary of the dwellers in the "North Minster" — the Uttara Vihara — at Anuradhapura.[2]
  2. The Mula-, or Maha-Atthakatha, or simply "The Atthakatha", of the dwellers in the "Great Minster" — the Maha Vihara — also at Anuradhapura.[3]
  3. The Andha- Atthakatha, handed down at Kancipura (Congevaram), in South India.
  4. The Maha Paccari, or Great Eaft, said to be so called from its having been composed on a raft somewhere in Ceylon. [4]
  5. The Kurunda Atthakatha, so called because it was composed at the Kurundavelu Vihara in Ceylon.[5]
  6. The Sankhepa Atthakatha or Short Commentary, which, as being mentioned together with the Andha Commentary,[6] may possibly be also South Indian.

Buddhaghosa himself says in the introductory verses to the Atthasalini:[7]

' I will set forth, rejoicing in what I reveal, the explanation of the meaning of that Abhidhamma as it was chanted forth by Maha Kassapa and the rest (at the first Council), and re-chanted later (at the second Council) by the Arahats, and by Mahinda brought to this wondrous isle and turned into the language of the dwellers therein. Eejecting now the tongue of the men of Tambapanni[8] and turning it into that pure tongue which harmonizes with the texts [I will set it forth] showing the opinion of the dwellers in the Great Minster, undefiled by and unmixed with the views of the sects, and adducing also what ought to be adduced from the Nikayas and the Commentaries.'[9]

It would be most interesting if the book as we have it had been written at Gay a in North India, or even if we could discriminate between the portion there written and the additions or alterations made in Ceylon. But this we can no longer hope to do. The numerous stories of Ceylon Theras occurring in the book are almost certainly due to the author's residence in Ceylon. And we cannot be certain that these and the reference to his own book, written in Ceylon, are the only additions. We cannot, therefore, take the opinions expressed in the book as evidence of Buddhist opinion as held in Gaya. That may, in great part, be so. But we cannot tell in which part.

In the course of his work Buddhaghosa quotes often from the Nikayas without mentioning the source of his quotations ; and also from the Yibhanga[10] and the Maha Pakarana[11] (that is, the Patthana), giving their names. Besides these Pitaka texts, he quotes or refers to the following authorities :

  1. His own Samanta Pasadika, e.g., pp. 97, 98.
  2. His own Yisuddhi Magga, pp. 168, 183, 186, 187 (twice), 190, 198.[12]
  3. The Maha Atthakatha, pp. 80, 86, 107.
  4. The Atthakathacariya, pp. 85, 123, 217.
  5. The Atthakatha, pp. 108, 113, 188, 267, 313.
  6. The Atthakatha's, pp. 99, 188.
  7. The Agamatthakatha's, p. 86.[13]
  8. Acariyanam samanatthakatha, p. 90.
  9. Porana, pp. 84, 111, 291, 299, 813.
  10. The Thera (that is Nagasena), pp. 112, 121, 122.
  11. Nagasenatthera, p. 114.
  12. Ayasma Nagasena, p. 119.
  13. Ayasma Nagasenatthera, p. 142.
  14. Thera Nagasena, p. 120.
  15. Digha-bhanaka, pp. 151, 399 {cf. p. 407).
  16. Majjhima-bhanaka, p. 420.
  17. Yitanda-vadI, pp. 3, 90, 92, 241.
  18. Petaka, possibly Petakopadesa, p. 165.

I do not claim to have exhausted the passages in the Atthasalini quoted from these authorities, or to be able to define precisely each work — what, for instance, is the distinction between 5 and 6, and whether 4 was not identical with either. Nor is it clear who were the Porana or Ancients, though it seems likely, from the passages quoted, that they were Buddhist thinkers of an earlier age, but of a later date than that of our Manual, inasmuch as one of the citations shows that the "Door-theory" of cognition was already developed (see below, p. Ixviii., etc.). From the distinct references to 3 and to 7, it seems possible that the so-called "Great Commentary" (3) dealt not so much with any particular book, or group of books, as with the doctrines of the Pitakas in general.

The foregoing notes may prove useful when the times are ready for a full inquiry into the history of the Buddhist Commentaries.[14] With respect to the extent to which the Atthasalini itself has been quoted in the following pages, it may be judged that the scholastic teaching of eight centuries later is a very fallacious guide in the interpretation of original doctrines, and that we should but darken counsel if we sought light on Aristotle from mediaeval exegesis of the age of Duns Scotus.

Without admitting that the course of Buddhist and that of Western culture coincide sufficiently to warrant such a parallel, it may readily be granted that Buddhaghosa must not be accepted en bloc. The distance between the constructive genius of Gotama and his apostles as compared with the succeeding ages of epigoni needs no depreciatory criticism on the labours of the exegesists to make itself felt forcibly enough. Buddhaghosa's philology is doubtless crude, and he is apt to leave cruces unexplained, concerning which an Occidental is most in the dark.[15] Nevertheless, to me his work is not only highly suggestive, but also a mine of historic interest. To put it aside is to lose the historical perspective of the course of Buddhist philosophy.

It is to regard the age of Gotama and of his early Church as constituting a wondrous "freak" in the evolution of human ideas, instead of watching to see how the philosophical tradition implanted in that Church (itself based on earlier culture) had in the lapse of centuries been carefully handed down by the schools of Theras, the while the folklore that did duty for natural science had more or less fossilized, and the study of the conscious processes of the mind had been elaborated.

This is, however, a point of view that demands a fuller examination than can here be given it. I will now only maintain that it is even more suggestive to have at hand the best tradition of the Buddhist schools at the fulness of their maturity for the understanding of a work like the Dhamma-Sangani than for the study of the Dialogues. Our manual is itself a book of reference to earlier books, and presents us with many terms and formulae taken out of that setting of occasion and of discourse enshrined in which we meet them in the Nikayas. The great scholar who comments on them had those Nikayas, both as to letter and spirit, well pigeon-holed in memory, and cherished both with the most reverent loyalty. That this is so, as well as the fact that we are bred on a culture so different in mould and methods (let alone the circumstances of its development) from that inherited by him, must lend his interpretations an importance and a suggestiveness far greater than that which the writings of any Christian commentator on the Greek philosophy can possess for us.

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- Footnotes:

1.

Journal of the Pali Text Society, 1888, pp. 53, 56.

2.

J. P. T. S., 1882, pp. 115, 116. English in Tumour's Maha Vansa, pp. xxxvii, xxxviii.

3.

Sum." 180, 182 ; Sadhamma Sangaha, 55 ; M. B. V. 134-136.

4.

Papanca Sudani on M. ii. 13 ; Sadhamma Sangaha, 55.

5.

Sadhamma Sangaha, 55.

6.

Vijesinha in the J. E. A. S., 1870 (vol. v., New Series), p. 298.

7.

AsL, p. 1, ver. 13 et seq.

8.

Taprobane = Ceylon.

9.

Agamatthakathasu, perhaps 'from the commentaries on the Nikayas.' See note 5 below.

10.

For instance, pp. 165-170, 176, 178.

11.

For instance, pp. 7, 9, 87, 212, 409.

12.

The apparent references at pp. 195, 196 are not to the book.

13.

The reading in the printed text is agamanatthakathasu. But this is not intelligible. And as we have agamatthakathasu at p. 2, ver. 17, it is probable we must so' read also here, where the meaning clearly is ' m the commentaries on the Nikayas.'

14.

I may add that a Tika, or sub-commentary on the Atthasalini, written by a Siamese scholar, Nanakitti, of unknown date, was edited in Sinhalese characters by Koclagoda Pannasekhara of Kalutara, in Ceylon, and published there in 1890.

15.

Cf. Dr. Neumann in *Die Eeden Gotamo Buddhos,' p. XV et seq.


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