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Sunday, 8 July 2012





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Boon to students of Pali and Buddhism

There was a time when Sri Lanka, as the repository of Theravada Buddhism which is couched in the Pali language, was considered the centre par excellence for Pali studies. Due to numerous reasons, one of which is economic, Sri Lanka lost this place of pre-eminence in the field, and the study of Pali was almost lost in the consequent gloom accelerated by the change of educational policy.

However, it is much heartening to see that since recent times there appears a flicker again in this area of study and there are assured signs that this flicker will turn into a glimmer and will gradually become a resplendent light in the near future.

There are a number of young students of Pali, both among the clergy and laity, who are showing much enthusiasm, commitment and displaying signs of great potential. It is heartening to note that this young generation of scholars are fairly conversant in English giving them access to current knowledge. It is of paramount importance that these young enthusiasts should be well nursed, properly groomed and provided the environment to develop their potential.

It is when viewed in this background that the true significance of the appearance of quality texts written in English dealing with Pali studies becomes very clear. In the recent past there appeared a number of such texts, and these undoubtedly contributed in no small measure to kindle interest among the new young generation of students of Pali.

The most recent addition to this genre of texts is the "Dhammasangaho - An introduction to Pali Literature", com pompiled by two internationally reputed linguists namely, James W. Gair of Cornell University (USA) and W. S. Karunatillake of University of Kelaniya (Sri Lanka).

This is a companion text to their jointly compiled earlier work published under the title "A New Course in Reading Pali - Entering the Word of the Buddha". This earlier work was meant for the beginner, and the present work is described by the compiler themselves as, "a follow up extension" of the former and, hence naturally an advanced one aimed at students having same familiarity with Pali.

This accounts for the difference in format, the cited extracts, representative of different strata of Pali literature, beginning from the canon, and running through post-canonical and chronicle literature, and also for the omission of basic grammatical notes which is a feature found in the earlier work. Instead, there is a very extensive glossary running into 82 pages, some words grammatically annotated; and there is also a useful sandhi-analysis, running into six pages.

The selection of passages has been done very methodically, starting with biographical notes on the life of the Buddha highlighting such events as the birth, childhood and adolescence, renunciation, enlightenment, the first preaching etc.

The selections include extracts from suttas dealing with, the soul concept (atta), doctrine of dependent origination (Paticcasamuppada), doctrine of deeds, and consequences (kamma-vipaka), nature of reality, final freedom (Nibbana) and a host of other important subjects. The accounts about the three Buddhist councils are presented using extracts drawn out from the Sri Lankan chronicles.Diligent students reading these extracts would find them to be very authoritative textual sources regarding the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha, important landmarks in the history of Buddhism, succinct presentations about ethics and general moral etc.

The passages cited to bring out the fundamental teachings will be of much use to anyone who is interested in making a textual study of those subject areas such as dependent origination, deed and consequences, consciousness, five aggregates of clinging, nibbana etc.

The book is so well compiled that it can be described as a handbook of Pali literature meant to help the students to familiarise themselves with Buddhism in its many facets. Intelligent use of this compilation, along with its earlier companion, "A New Course of Reading Pali" will certainly contribute immensely to obtain a sound grounding in Pali and a very systematic understanding of the Triple Gem and the major doctrinal teachings of the Buddha.

The writer is a former Deputy Editor of Encyclopaedia of Buddhism.


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