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
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
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.