The play of the teaching in the life of the sana: Sararthadi pani in eighteenth-century Sri Lanka

Blackburn, Anne

     The study explores the place of commentarial practice in eighteenth-century Sri Lanka, arguing that an adequate historical consideration of such practices requires that scholars consider the reception--as well as the composition--of commentary. Analyzing the symbolic significance of commentaries in the cultural politics of the Kandyan Kingdom, and the ways in which commentarial composition allowed a single author--Valivita Saranamkara--to articulate a distinctive perspective on Buddhist monastic practice, the dissertation goes on to examine the reception of commentarial content from three perspectives: monastic reading, trained preaching and listening. The discussion of preaching and commentary focuses on the role of vernacular commentary in trained preaching, and the implications of this role for a new and inclusive Buddhist textual community.
     In the course of the dissertation, the author also argues against conventional analyses of Buddhist decline and revival, suggesting a more agentive and rhetorically sensitive perspective: negotiating monasticism. This aspect of the work has implications for the study of the textual sources which have long been central to studies of Theravada Buddhism: authoritative Pali literature is analyzed from a rhetorical perspective, rather than as a transparent historical description of "early" Buddhism.
     By focusing on a single commentary, Sarartjadipani/--a sutra sannaya composed for a collection of paritta texts used in protective and devotional practices--the dissertation provides a new perspective on the place of such practices in the competitive discourse on monasticism characteristic of mid-eighteenth-century Sri Lanka.
     The author argues that her perspective on the extended ingenuity of commentarial practice, with its focus on reception as well as composition, as well as her revision of the decline-revival paradigm, has implications for studies outside the cultural sphere of Buddhist South and Southeast Asia. In addition, the study suggests new directions for the field of Buddhist Studies: that the notion of "traditional" Buddhism be reconsidered from perspectives which emphasize historical particularity and variability; that continuities bridge "traditional" and "modern" Buddhism; that attention to individual personalities enhances historical treatments of Buddhism; and that engagement with the Buddhist literary world is an important aspect of training scholarly historical imagination.

Reynolds, Frank