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Comments on "commentary" - Dhamma Wheel

Comments on "commentary"

A forum for members who wish to develop a deeper understanding of the Pali Canon and associated Commentaries, which for discussion purposes are both treated as authoritative.

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cjmacie
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Comments on "commentary"

Postby cjmacie » Mon Oct 24, 2016 11:51 am

Having made some comments myself around here recently using "commentary" in a rather broad, perhaps sloppy, sense*, in effect for any "interpretation"; and having noticed the excellent points being brought out in the current thread " 'some say…' " (), here's some potential clarification – extracted to a new thread to avoid hijacking another thread.

The status of my current understanding (open to correction):

Strictly speaking, a "commentary" (in the Pali Canon, in Confucian texts, Christian texts, etc.) is a work that follows some original text and, more or less line-by-line, trying to explain tries it in more detail. In the Pali tradition, these are called Atthakathā **. For instance the Majjhima Nikaya Atthakatha, (abbreviation MA) is "the" commentary on the Majjhima Nikaya. I believe "the" commentaries always treat basic texts in one of the three "baskets" (Tipitaka). For instance, Buddhaghosa's commentary on the Dhammasangani (1st book of Abhidhamma), the Atthasālinī, is titled in its English translation as "The Expositer" – commentary as exposition.

Then a "sub-commentary" (Pali "Tikā") is an exposition of a commentary, and hence, perhaps, of the original text. The official "sub-commentaries" I guess (haven't, yet, read any) each relate to one of the official canonical commentaries.

One sees this in the major subdivisions of the CST4.0 version of the Pali Canon:
1) Tipitaka – the "3 baskets"
2) Atthakathā – the commentaries, on (1)
3) Tikā – the sub-commentaries, on (2)
4) Añña "other" – e.g. the Visuddhimagga
Where both (2) and (3) have 3 subdivisions: "Sutta Pitaka", "Vinayapitaka", and "Abhidhamma Pitaka". (Why the second one runs the two words together beats me.)

One finds clear understanding of this organization occasionally. For instance, Pa Auk Sayadaw (in the interview in Richard Shankman's book on Samadhi), lists them in passing:
"People should trace back to the original suttas, the original commentaries and subcommentaries, and then to the Visuddhimagga, and only then will they understand the meanings."

There are also other (non Canonical) commentaries written by various authors down through the ages and into the present. For instance, the works (writings and transcribed talks) of Mahasi Sayadaw include 15 or so "Discourses" on individual sutta-s; though some of these include a lot more than just following the sutta text – e.g. his discourse on the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta. I've heard there is a commentary on the Vissudhimagga. I'm Not sure how books like the Abhidhammamattha-Sangaha (which B.Bodhi translated as "A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma") would be classified.

Then there's the term "the commentarial tradition", which it seems more diffuse, as people (including myself) use it a lot without defining exactly. Does it refer to a specific, well-defined body of texts? Or does it include an on-going tradition of glossing ancient texts – as, for example, both Mahasi Sayadaw's great "Treatise on Vipassana / Manual of Insight" and Daniel Ingram's "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha" might be considered modern commentaries on the Visuddhimagga.


* In "Suttas and Commentaries. Was: Bhante Jag - Euthanasia", I wrote:
"I suspect "commentary" automatically gets carried down in any tradition, as person-to-person transmission involves, almost by definition, "commentary" – more detailed explanation – by the teacher. The writings of Mun-Lee-Chah-etc, as well as those of the PaAuk or Mahasi Sayadaws are all "commentaries". "

** PTS Dictionary:
Attha – "… 3. sense, meaning,…"
kathā -- "… 5 explanation, exposition, in Attha-…"

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Maiev
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Re: Comments on "commentary"

Postby Maiev » Tue Oct 25, 2016 12:16 pm

Yes but reading individual suttas to check what is written in the commentaries while reading the commentaries is different than first reading the pali canon and then reading other books. To get the main idea of a book, you need to read it all not just individual pages. And after reading a book, you get a general idea about it. This was the purpose of my question. By reading other books, you first get exposed to the main idea of other books and get attached to that. That is why, in my opinion, it's good to start by reading the pali canon, get attached to the ideas of the pali canon and only then read other books to see if they are in accordance with it or not.

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