Pali literature

Pali literature

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Pali literature is concerned mainly with Theravada
Theravada ; literally, "the Teaching of the Elders" or "the Ancient Teaching", is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It was founded in India...

Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

, of which Pali
- External links :* *...

 is the traditional language.


Main article: Pali Canon
Pāli Canon
The Pāli Canon is the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, as preserved in the Pāli language. It is the only completely surviving early Buddhist canon, and one of the first to be written down...

The earliest and most important Pali literature constitutes the Pali Canon, the scriptures of Theravada. These are mainly of Indian origin, and were written down in Ceylon in the last century BCE from oral tradition.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka became the headquarters of Theravada
Theravada ; literally, "the Teaching of the Elders" or "the Ancient Teaching", is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It was founded in India...

 for centuries, and most Pali literature in this period was written there, though some was also produced in outposts in south India. After a gap following the completion of the canon in which little or no Pali literature was produced, it restarted with the Dipavamsa
The Dipavamsa, or "Deepavamsa", is the oldest historical record of Sri Lanka.It means Chronicle of the Island. The chronicle is believe to be compiled from Atthakatha and other sources around the 3-4th century. Together with Mahavamsa, it is the source of many accounts of ancient history of Sri...

, a verse chronicle of Buddhism in India and Ceylon, followed by a similar, but longer, work, the Mahavamsa
The Mahavamsa is a historical poem written in the Pali language, of the kings of Sri Lanka...

. Then came Buddhaghosa
Bhadantācariya Buddhaghoṣa(Chinese: 覺音)was a 5th-century Indian Theravadin Buddhist commentator and scholar. His best-known work is the Visuddhimagga, or Path of Purification, a comprehensive summary and analysis of the Theravada understanding of the Buddha's path to liberation...

's Visuddhimagga
The Visuddhimagga , is the 'great treatise' on Theravada Buddhist doctrine written by Buddhaghosa approximately in 430 CE in Sri Lanka. A comprehensive manual condensing the theoretical and practical teaching of the Buddha, it is considered the most important Theravada text outside of the Tipitaka...

, which came to be regarded as the standard summary of the traditional interpretation of the scriptures, in the fourth or fifth century. Buddhaghosa also compiled commentaries on much of the Canon, work continued by his successors, who also produced subcommentaries
Subcommentaries, Theravada
The subcommentaries are commentaries on the commentaries on the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism. They continue the commentaries' development of the traditional interpretation of the scriptures...

 on many commentaries
Atthakatha refers to Pali-language Theravadin Buddhist commentaries to the canonical Theravadin Tipitaka. These commentaries give the traditional interpretations of the scriptures. The major commentaries were based on earlier ones, now lost, in Old Sinhalese, which were written down at the same...

, and sometimes even subsubcommentaries. There were also handbooks summarizing some aspects of the teachings, and other literature, all or nearly all concerned with Buddhism, at least ostensibly. From the early thirteenth century the writing af Pali literature in Ceylon went into a steep decline, though it never ceased entirely. Instead, Buddhist literature was written in Sinhalese.

Burma (also known as Myanmar)

From the fifteenth century onwards, Pali literature has been dominated by Burma, though some has also been written in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, as well as Ceylon. This Burmese literature has in turn been dominated by writings directly or indirectly concerned with the Abhidhamma Pitaka
Abhidhamma Pitaka
The Abhidhamma Pitaka is the last of the three pitakas constituting the Pali Canon, the scriptures of Theravāda Buddhism....

, the part of the Canon variously described as philosophy, psychology
Buddhism and psychology
Buddhism and psychology overlap in theory and in practice. Over the last century, three strands of interplay have evolved:* Descriptive phenomenology: Western and Buddhist scholars have found in Buddhist teachings a detailed introspective phenomenological psychology .* Psychotherapeutic meaning:...

, metaphysics etc.

External links

Further reading

  • Norman, K.R. Pali Literature, Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1983
  • Hinüber, Oscar v. Handbook of Pali Literature, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 1996
  • Warren (ed & tr), Buddhism in Translations, Harvard University Press, 1896
  • Malalasekera, G.P. The Pali Literature of Ceylon, Colombo 1928; Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, 1994 (see
  • Russell Webb (ed.) An Analysis of the Pali Canon, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy; 1975, 1991 (see
  • Wallis, Glenn, Buddhavacana: A Pali Reader(Onalaska, Wash: Pariyatti Press, 2011)