A New Critical Edition of the Pali Canon?

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A New Critical Edition of the Pali Canon?

Postby Sylvester » Thu Jun 20, 2013 2:57 am

From the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies -

Report on Dhammachai Tipiṭaka Project March 2013

by Richard Gombrich

Except for a very few scholars, few people either know or care that no critical edition of the Pali Canon has ever been produced. If you believe, as I do, that the Pali Canon is the best source, and will probably always remain the best source, for the teachings of the Buddha (which is not to say that it simply reproduces those teachings), it is rather astonishing that there has been no serious effort to establish its texts as accurately as possible.

For about 2,000 years this collection of Pali texts has been transmitted in Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. For most of the period the transmission has been through palm leaf manuscripts, though hardly any manuscripts now survive which are even five centuries old. Recently there have also been printed editions, and some of these have now been reproduced electronically. The transmission follows four more or less national traditions, those of Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia and Laos (the latter including what is now much of northern Thailand). These traditions are close to each other, close enough to put it beyond doubt that they stem from one original recension; it would therefore seem that the task of a critical edition would be to establish the text of that recension. However, the issue is not so simple and one has to make a choice of precisely what to aim at. Probably the best choice available is to aim to reconstitute the text known to Buddhaghosa in Sri Lanka in the fifth century AD.

The two editions of the text most widely used in modern times have been those published in roman script by the Pali Text Society and the text printed by the Sixth Buddhist Council, begun in 1956 in Burma to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the Enlightenment; the latter is also on CD. The PTS version is based on a very few manuscripts, almost all from Sri Lanka and Burma; the Burmese text sticks to readings in the Burmese tradition.

It was therefore a milestone in the history of Buddhist studies – perhaps I should say of Buddhism itself – when in April 2010 Wat Phra Dhammakāya (Thai: Dhammachai), situated near Bangkok, launched a project to produce a critical edition of the Tipiṭika. The plan is first to produce a version printed in roman script, then to print it in all the regional scripts of Theravāda Buddhism, to put all these online, and also to publish facsimile editions of particularly good manuscripts. The manuscripts themselves are digitised and stored.

The first editor-in-chief has been Prof. G.A. Somaratne, from Sri Lanka. Under him the project employed a large number of monks, mostly from Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand, who collected, photographed, digitised and copied many manuscripts (initially 45), and began to create a database of their readings. An international Advisory Board of scholars was appointed, and met for the first time in June 2011 for a day of discussion with those working on the project. They brought many problems into focus and offered tentative solutions; Prof. Oskar von Hinüber summarised these in writing. As a result, the editorial team was enhanced in February 2012 by Dr. Alex Wynne, who joined as Assistant Co-Director. The number of manuscripts considered was reduced to 19, selected to represent the four script traditions, and the number of copyists was correspondingly reduced. After Dr. Wynne’s arrival production became much faster, and within a year the project printed the first third of the Dīgha Nikāya, the Sīlakkhandhavagga, and reconvened the Editorial Board to discuss it. They met the editorial staff on 22nd February. Dr. Wynne spent several hours taking those present through a variety of issues for advice. Members of the Board expressed surprise and delight at the progress made.

Since both Prof. Somaratne and Dr. Wynne have been my pupils at Oxford and have learnt about editing Pali texts from me, I naturally take an almost paternal interest in the project and feel proud that my pupils have achieved so much.

To mark the occasion, Wat Phra Dhammakāya held a one-day conference on the day after the Advisory Board meeting: “The Transmission of Dhamma from the Buddha’s time to the Present Day”. Four members of the Advisory Board were invited to lecture. I spoke on the oral transmission; Prof. von Hinüber on the manuscript tradition; Prof. Rupert Gethin on printed editions; and Prof. Masahiro Shimoda on “The Dhamma in the Digital Age”. To round off the conference several of us formed a panel to answer questions from the audience.

The project aims to complete its work in about 15 years. This may be impossibly ambitious. Wat Phra Dhammakāya has pledged to find the finance; but the greatest difficulty will probably be finding and keeping enough skilled editorial staff. At the moment there are only two scholars there qualified to take editorial decisions. I have recommended, privately, that they already start considering the problem of succession and training younger scholars who will be able to take over.


http://ocbs.org/news-ocbsmain-88/270-oc ... 13?start=2

This is going to be a super-major enterprise and will far surpass the PTS editions of the Canon, in terms of the numbers of MSS consulted. Project completion date is anticipated to be 2027. The Sīlakkhandhavagga of the Dīgha Nikāya has been printed and it would be interesting to see how it maps onto the the 4 major editions we are familiar with, ie Ceylonese, Siam, Burmese (6th Council) and PTS, and whether more variant readings have been annotated. Sadly, no news if and when the digitised database will be available for subscription or study. All previous "snippets" online have disappeared.

An early controversy surrounding this project was the Dhammakaya sponsorhip. That pertained to rumours that the Dhammakaya editors were looking for variant readings that suggest a "self" theory in the texts. :stirthepot:
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Re: A New Critical Edition of the Pali Canon?

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Jun 20, 2013 7:01 am

Sounds good. However, serious translators such as Bhikkhu Bodhi already make use of PTS, Burmese, and Sri Lankan versions.

:anjali:
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Re: A New Critical Edition of the Pali Canon?

Postby Sylvester » Thu Jun 20, 2013 7:19 am

Hee hee. That's true, but I suspect this critical edition will become the "One Ring" to rule them all. I only hope Dr Wynne's academic mettle proves strong enough to stand up to any bias.

With luck, it will be more open than the 6th Council edition at VRI, which does take note of some variant readings.
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Re: A New Critical Edition of the Pali Canon?

Postby gavesako » Thu Jun 20, 2013 12:29 pm

ยิ่งลักษณ์ ปราศรัย จะสังคยานาคำสอนของพระพุทธเจ้า 010754
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HOHGd_tWE0

In this video from Yingluck Shinawatra's election campaign (Pheua Thai party) she says that they will also do a new Sangayana of the Tipitaka (purification of the Pali texts) and make Thailand the world centre of Buddhism. Is there any connection with Dhammakaya's new Tipitaka project to revise the Pali texts? Maybe... given the support given by the Yingluck government to various Dhammakaya projects.

One comment in Thai which says that the last Sangayana of the Tipitaka was under King Rama I and if Yingluck wants to do it again, is she going to become some kind of world Buddhist leader or what?


If you read about history of Buddhism in S.E. Asia, many kings and governments in the past have done similar things to "purify the Sasana" and gain political legitimation as the Patrons on Buddhism. A modern example is the year 1956 when countries like Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand used the occasion (2500 years, Buddha Jayanti) to claim to be the "world Buddhist center". So this is nothing new or strange...
See http://www.lakehouse.lk/mi​hintalava/sasana03.htm
http://www.dailynews.lk/20​04/12/22/fea06.html
http://www.thaibuddhism.ne​t/maha_tham.htm


The case of Burma is interesting:
"In January 1948, U Nu became the first prime minister of the newly independent Union of Burma. He espoused a political ideology that blended Buddhism and socialism. In essence, it was based on the theory that a national community could be built only if the individual members were able to overcome their own selfish interests. ...
In 1950, U Nu created a Buddhist Sasana Council whose purpose was to propagate Buddhism and supervise monks. He appointed a minister of religious affairs and ordered government departments to dismiss civil servants thirty minutes early so that they could meditate. In the manner of King Asoka and later Southeast Asian Buddhist monarchs, he called a sangha council to purify the dhamma and produce a new redaction of the Pali canon (Tipitaka). For that council he constructed a large stupa and assembly hall at the cost of six million U.S. dollars."

Buddhism and the State
http://beta.muse.jhu.edu/books/97814384 ... 2526-7.pdf
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: A New Critical Edition of the Pali Canon?

Postby Sylvester » Fri Jun 21, 2013 1:27 am

Bhante

The comparison of the "6th" council to Rama I's council looks reasonable. Both happened after tremendous political change and handover of power. However, I wonder if the council called in Rama's case was not also intended to build up some good kamma to dilute the regicide of his predecessor? Hmm, perhaps coming full circle, now that Thaksin's clan might be doing something to bring Taksin's curse on the dynasty to fruition....

I think (leaving aside all suspicions of a Dhammakaya conspiracy or a Thaksin plot), what catalysed the interest in a new critical edition of the texts was the discovery of hitherto unseen hordes of manuscripts in the North, the former Lanna stronghold. Pop into Google and you'll find a flurry of academic output on these finds, ranging from textual analyses, orthography, manuscript production techniques etc etc. Here's a nice summary from Oskar Von Hinüber, also on the Dhammachai advisory board -

http://www.siamese-heritage.org/jsspdf/ ... ailand.pdf

The Thai (or the Lannas) can now claim to have the oldest dated Pali manuscript; perhaps this source of national pride was one of the motivators?
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Re: A New Critical Edition of the Pali Canon?

Postby gavesako » Fri Jun 21, 2013 5:24 am

It actually fits together quite well, the Thaksin clan being from Chiang Mai and having their stronghold up there. Traditionally there is a high respect for Pali scholarship in northern Thailand and it is not regarded as separate from the meditation tradition (even the new bhikkhunis in Chom Thong are very serious about studying Suttas and Abhidhamma together with Vinaya and meditation techniques). This, of course, can be taken advantage of by the Dhammakaya sect which is based in Bangkok and rather alien to the north, but it making inroads pretty much everywhere now due to its financial power.
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Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: A New Critical Edition of the Pali Canon?

Postby pulga » Sat Jul 13, 2013 12:25 am

The first editor-in-chief has been Prof. G.A. Somaratne, from Sri Lanka. Under him the project employed a large number of monks, mostly from Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand, who collected, photographed, digitised and copied many manuscripts.....


I don't know what the story is behind it, but I noticed that Prof. Somaratne's edition of Samyutta-nikaya Vol. I (PTS - 1998) only went through a single printing. The PTS has since reverted to printing Feer's edition. That despite the fact that their Index to the Samyutta Nikaya utilizes Somaratne's edition in its indexing.
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Re: A New Critical Edition of the Pali Canon?

Postby Ajatashatru » Tue Jul 23, 2013 6:15 pm

What is all of yours opinion on the Palicanon.org website? How do you rate the translations?

Thanks
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