Gethin on Gombrich, ‘What the Buddha Thought’

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Sources useful for dating this discourse include the 2,year-old Pali Canon, a 1,year-old Buddhist commentary, and more recent scholarship regarding these verses. While none of these sources can lead to an incontrovertible conclusion as to this discourse’s origins, they allow one to understand analytically some of the strengths and weaknesses of various hypotheses.

According to the texts, during the Buddha’s lifetime, discourses were memorized and recited with a complete recitation of all recalled discourses occurring soon after his death. For centuries afterwards, this oral tradition was systematically perpetuated by monastics.

The oldest Buddhist manuscripts yet discovered are written on birch bark and were found in pots at Ghandara, miraculously dating to first half of the 1st century CE.

They accept information given in one of these texts that the Buddha, a man called Gotama, died at the age of 80 or thereabouts ; most of them hold that he died in about BC, but those who care about such matters mostly accept modern scholarship when it says that he died in about BC. The texts, they believe, were composed orally and for the first few centuries preserved orally. Other Buddhist traditions take different views.

For various reasons they propose a very diverse range of dates for the lifetime of the Buddha. They also note that several other versions of the same texts, composed in different Indian languages, are known to have existed; some are lost, but several fairly full versions have survived in Chinese translations. Though the Chinese translations are mostly dated within the Christian era , we have no solid clues to the dates of the composition of their Indian originals.

On the basis that they consider the dating of the Buddha to have no credible basis, in recent years many scholars, particularly in America, have held the view that there may never have been such an individual as Gotama Buddha. They claim that even if there was, we know virtually nothing about him. He discusses how texts were composed and preserved in the society in which the Buddha lived, where there was no writing.

The villagers with whom the Buddha interacted must have grown up using local dialects. These dialects must have been related, with no clear boundaries between them, since the institutions of administration and education which create such boundaries were lacking. The Buddha needed to understand the users of those dialects and in turn to be understood by them, and this need led him, perhaps unconsciously, to develop a composite dialect containing a great many variants.

They have believed it, however, without any awareness of the difficulties it involves. To give just one example: it is surely remarkable that without writing, let alone any more modern technology for recording speech, all these texts could be accurately preserved for centuries.

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Richard F. What the Buddha Thought. London: Equinox Pub. Richard Gombrich writes, he says, out of exasperation and admiration. What is perhaps slightly surprising about this book, given the rhetoric, is that the account it offers of what the Buddha taught is, albeit with some significant qualifications, not so different in substance from what I, studying as an undergraduate in the late s, was brought up to believe the Buddha taught. Gombrich is surely right to see the five- khandha theory as representing something more like an analysis of how the mind processes experiences than a list of the constituents of an individual being–an analysis of how things work, rather than of what exists.

Yet the Pali Abhidhamma literature can be read not so much as missing this point as Gombrich suggests at p. First is his emphasis on demonstrating that the genesis of Buddhist ideas is best understood as a response to the pre-existing system of thought promulgated in specifically brahmanical texts. The brahmanical background to early Buddhist thought is something that Gombrich has been exploring in his writings for twenty years.

The present book revisits and summarizes many of the arguments found in his earlier publications. As Johannes Bronkhorst has recently argued, other models for the evolution of Indian religious ideas in the first millennium BCE are possible.

Dating in Pali

The dialect used by the Buddha himself when instructing his disciples is unknown and irretrievably lost. The oldest Buddhist language, which can be traced by reconstruction, is Buddhist Middle Indic, a lingua franca that developed much later than the lifetime of the Buddha. None of these changes were far-reaching, although they seem to have continued well into the sixteenth century, if not later.

Consequently, it is linguistically the oldest form of Buddhist scriptures known. This, of course, does not mean that other scriptures in different younger languages or translations necessarily preserve only later developments of Buddhist thought and tradition. This early oral tradition has left obvious traces in the written literature, particularly in the numerous formulas typical of oral composition, which were used to facilitate memorization.

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To browse Academia. Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Download Free PDF. Eugen Ciurtin. This book is a masterwork of scholarship and a milestone for Pali and Buddhist Studies.

One hint can be gleaned from the dating of the Abhidhamma – set by scholars at about years after the Buddha’s death. From that time on, the suttas seem to.

It teaches, in other words, that the world is an illusory reflection of ultimate, undifferentiated mind and that this truth suddenly becomes an inner realization in concentrated meditation. The thought of the Lankavatara-sutra is reflected in the Yogachara school and provides some of the philosophical background of Zen. The sutra was first translated into Chinese in the 5th century and has been the subject of many treatises and commentaries. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica Encyclopaedia Britannica’s editors oversee subject areas in which they have extensive knowledge, whether from years of experience gained by working on that content or via study for an advanced degree See Article History. This article was most recently revised and updated by Matt Stefon , Assistant Editor.

Chronology Of The Pali Canon

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the first two, containing the name of the King and the date, The date of the Inscription I read as that an era called Samvatsara was in use in Bactrian Pali.

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Vol. I of the Critical Pali Dictionary (Copenhagen ). Additional and up-to- date information will be available in the new bibliography which is planned.

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If so, you might feel a jolt of recognition upon seeing a Buddhist thangka painting by the Nepalese Master Buddha Lama. Although Buddhist principles like mindfulness have filtered into mainstream Western culture, other key tenets might not be as well-known. According to Buddhist cosmology, life is suffering experienced within the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

monastery, and shrine) dating to the fourth or fifth century. The discovery of the fifth-century Golden Pali Text in the Pyu city of Sri Ksetra shows that Pyu monks.

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The Dharma— A Refuge Without Credentials

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access. Adikaram, E. Gunasena, Colombo: originally published

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A quick glance through the pages of the Pali Text Society’s publications catalog should be enough to convince anyone that there is much more to classical Pali literature than the Tipitaka alone. Intermingled with the familiar Nikayas, Vinaya texts, and Abhidhamma are scores of titles with long, scarcely-pronounceable Pali names. Although many western students of Buddhism may be unacquainted with these works indeed, most have never been translated into English , these books have for centuries played a crucial role in the development of Buddhist thought and practice across Asia and, ultimately, the West.

In fact, in some countries they are as deeply treasured as the suttas themselves. But what are these ancient books, and what relevance do they have to the western student of Buddhism in the 21 st century? Although complete answers to these questions lie well beyond the range of my abilities, I hope that this short document will provide enough of a road map to help orient the interested student as he or she sets out to explore this vast corpus of important Buddhist literature.

This article is in two parts.

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