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Major contributor to revival of international Buddhist studies, DhammaWeb NewsMajor contributor to revival of international Buddhist studies
Prof. Y Karunadasa , http://www.dailynews.lk

Untitled Document

Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera:

Major contributor to revival of international Buddhist studies

One hundredth death anniversary today:

Prof. Y Karunadasa

If we are to properly appraise the international dimension of Venerable Sumangala Nayaka Thera’s contribution to Pali and Buddhist studies, it is necessary to acquaint ourselves first with knowledge of how modern academic studies in Buddhism began. As we all know, in the continent of Asia today there are three main Buddhist traditions which coincide with three main geographical regions.


Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera

The first is Theravada Buddhism which prevails in South and South-East Asia (Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Kambojia and Laos). The second is Vajrayana Buddhism which prevails in North Asia (the Himalayan Region and Mongolia). The third is Mahayana Buddhism which prevails in East Asia (Mainland China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan).

Each of the three Buddhist traditions has as its literary base a Buddhist Canon of its own, the first in Pali, the second in Tibetan and the third in Chinese. Interaction and mutual influence between the three Buddhist traditions, one cannot completely rule out. However, it would not be incorrect to say that until modern times they developed in comparative isolation.

Modern scholars

What we call modern academic studies in Buddhism can be said to begin when this isolationism broke down and the literary sources belonging to the three major Buddhist traditions in Asia came to the attention of modern scholars. The process began in the first quarter of the 19th century when literary works of each tradition came to be discovered one after the other.

Sanskrit Buddhist studies

Among those literary sources the first that came to the attention of modern scholars were Sanskrit works belonging to the Mahayana. This was made possible by the distribution in the libraries of Calcutta, London and Paris of a large number of manuscripts which were collected from Nepal by B. H. Hodgson, the British Resident of the country, during the years 1821-1841.

Among these manuscripts were some of the most important Mahayana Sutras such as Karandavyuha, Vajrasuci, Lamkavatara, Saddharmapundarika and many versions of the Prajnaparamita Sutras.

One of the earliest to do research on these materials was Eugene Burnoff from France. His ‘Lotus de la Bonne Loi’, the French translation of the Saddharmapundarika Sutra published in 1852 was the first rendering into a European language of a Buddhist literary work. It was some seven years earlier that Eugene Burnoff wrote his well-known History of Indian Buddhism, which secured his place as the founder of modern Buddhist scholarship in the West.

The Nepalese manuscripts which thus led to the beginning of modern studies in Buddhism came to the attention of the Indian scholars as well. In the 1870’s Rajendra Lal Mitra and Hara Prasad Sastri made a catalogue of the Buddhist manuscripts in the libraries in Nepal and this helped to bring out critical editions and annotated translations of a large number of Mahayana works.

The field of Sanskrit Buddhist studies became further enlarged by the discovery in Central Asia of no less than 26 texts of the Central Asian Sanskrit Buddhist Canon and manuscripts remains of many other Buddhist works. Along with this must be mentioned the Gilgit Manuscripts discovered by Nalinaksha Dutt and which he published in eight volumes.

The credit of pioneering modern studies in Tibetan Buddhism should go to Csoma de Koros, a native of Transylvania. For it was his Analysis of the Kanjur published in Asiatic Researches, Vol. 20, 1936 that drew the attention of modern scholars to Tibetan Buddhism.

Two years earlier he published a Tibetan Grammar and a Tibetan Dictionary which greatly facilitated the study of Tibetan language. Another pioneer of Tibetan studies was Sarath Chandra Das from India. He collected a great deal of material from the ancient libraries of Sakya and Samaya monasteries in Lhasa and prepared a Tibetan-English Dictionary. Csoma’s Analysis of the Kanjur was translated into French with numerous additions by Leon Feer in 1891 and this has helped to establish Tibetan studies on a firmer footing.

This was followed by the Index to the Tanjur published by Laloir (Paris, 1933). The Tibetan Tripitaka is now available in five editions, the latest being the Peking Edition prepared under the supervision of D.T. Suzuki.

Modern studies in Chinese Buddhism could be said to begin with the publication in 1883 of Bunyin Nanjio’s Catalogue of the Chinese Tripitaka. It was based on the Dragon Edition of the Tripitaka brought out during the reign of Emperor Chien-Lung (1735-96). Nanjio’s catalogue opened up the biggest collection of Buddhist literary works presented in a single language but containing within itself the teachings of almost all schools of Buddhist thought.

International expeditions

A new edition of the Chinese Tripitakas, Taisho-shin-shir-Daizokyo, running to some eighty-five volumes, was made available during the years 1918-1925, with Junjiro Takakusu as its Chief Editor. Based upon this edition were published two Japanese translations. One is Kokuyaku Issaikyo in 150 volumes and the other, Kokuyaku Daizokyo in 28 volumes.

Among the catalogues of the Chinese Tripitaka published during the last one hundred years the most famous is the one we referred to earlier, Buyui Nanjio’s Catalogue published in 1883. Among others are Table du Taisho-Issaiykyo published in Tokyo in 1931 and G. Ono’s Bussho Kaisetsu Daiitun, which is a Dictionary of the Buddhist Bibliography in twelve volumes (1933-35). Together with this must be mentioned the Hobogirin, an encyclopaedic dictionary of Buddhism after the Chinese and Japanese sources, which was started in 1929 under the direction of Sylvain Levi and Takakusu.

The latest addition to the field of Buddhist studies was the discovery of the priceless Buddhist manuscripts and artifacts of the lost civilization of Central Asia. Central Asia’s greatest legacy to Buddhist studies is the vast collection of manuscripts which were discovered in different parts of the region through a series of international expeditions, explorations and excavations.

Oldest manuscript

The manuscripts discovered in Central Asia are either of original Sanskrit texts or of their translations into indigenous languages and dialects. Among the languages into which Buddhist texts were translated were: (1) Kuchean, also called Tokharian A, an Indo-Europeon language spoken in the Northern edge of the Tarim Basin and its sister language (2) Karashahrian or Tokhorian B, which was the language of ancient Agnidesa, (3) Nordarsh or Khotanese, also called Saka and North-Aryan, which was another Indo-European language spoken in the Tarim Basin, (4) Sogdian, an Iranian language of the region around Samarikand and (5) Uighur, an old Turkish dialect derived from Syriac and written in an Aramaic alphabet.

Among the manuscript remains discovered in Central Asia the most important were the fragments of no less than 26 texts of the Buddhist Canon in Sanskrit. Among others were the Udanavarga of Dharmatrata, which is the Sarvastivada version of the Dhammapada, Kalpanamanditika of Kumaralata, the only available work belonging to the Sautrantika School of Buddhism, Satapancasatatika and Sariputraprakarana of Asvaghosa.

One priceless discovery from Central Asia is a recession of the Prakrit Dhammapada in the Kharosthi script. It is said to be the oldest manuscript now extant of any Indian text and the only literary text written in North Western dialect of the Gandhara region.

It is against this background that we need to understand how Pali Buddhist literary sources came to the attention of modern scholars and the contribution made by Venerable Sumangala Nayaka Thera towards its success.

Pali Text Society

The translation of the Mahavamsa into English by George Turnour in 1837 and of the Dhammapada into Latin by Fausboll ten years later were the first important attempts by European scholars to introduce Pali literature to the West. However, it was some ten years earlier that Eugene Burnoff and Christian Lassen published their famous introduction to Pali, ‘Un Essay sur le Palie’ which paved the way for Pali studies in the West.

However, it was due to the role played by Venerable Sumangala Nayaka Thera that Pali and Theravada Buddhist studies assumed a more international dimension embracing Japan, India and the continents of Europe and America. It is well-known that Professor Rhys Davids, who established the Pali Text Society of London and thus paved the way for an unprecedented resurgence in Pali and Theravada Buddhist studies, learnt Pali with Venerable Sumangala Nayaka Thera, who was then the chief incumbent of the Vidyodaya College. After his return to England in 1881, Professor Rhys Davids was invited to give Hibbert Lectures in the U.S.A. and it was as a result of these lectures that the Harvard Oriental Series was initiated by the University of Harvard.

World religions

It was on the invitation of the Pali Text Society that a number of illustrious Pali scholars such as V. Trenckner, R. Chalmers, K.E. Neumann, Leon Feer, F.L. Woodward, R. Morris and E. Hardy edited and translated both Pali canonical and exegetical works.

It is also to the credit of the Pali Text Society, which is located in Oxford now, that we have Romanized editions of all the Pali Buddhist canonical texts, the post-canonical and pre-commentarial works such as the Petakopadesa, as well as Pali commentaries, sub-commentaries and the Abhidhamma compendiums of the medieval period.

Chizen Akanuma (1884-1937), the first-ever Japanese Professor of Pali Buddhism perfected his knowledge of Pali under the guidance of Venerable Nanissara Thera of the Vidyodaya Pirivena. Chizen Akanuma is well-known for the Comparative Catalogue of Chinese Agamas and Pali Nikayas (1929) and The Dictionary of Proper Names of Indian Buddhism (1931).

Pali and Theravada Buddhist studies in the sub-continent of India too, is, to a great extent, associated with Venerable Sumangala Nayaka Thera. Satish Chandra Vidyabhusan, an illustrious Sanskritist who specialized in Indian Logic came to Sri Lanka in 1910 and studied for six months with our Venerable Nayaka Thera. An equally illustrious Indian scholar was Venerable Dharmananda Kosambi. He came to Sri Lanka several times and in 1902 he became a Samanera and learnt Pali with our Nayaka Thera.

Venerable Dharmananda became the first-ever Professor of Pali at Fergusson College in Poona. In this capacity he was able to produce a number of eminent scholars and it is through these scholars that the Pali language came to be taught in schools and colleges of the Deccan.

Venerable Bhikkhu Dharmananda Kosambi was also instrumental in getting a large number of Pali texts published as Devanagari editions. Later when he served for some time at the National University of Gujarat which was founded by Mahatma Gandhi, he published several Buddhist texts in Marathi and Gujarati. One such text was the Suttanipata which he translated into Marathi. His Navanita-tika on the Abhidhammatthasangaha and Dipika on the Visuddhimagga are two distinct contributions to the study of Theravada Abhidhamma.

Theravada version of Buddhism

What has been observed so far brings into focus the role played, both directly and indirectly, by Venerable Sumangala Nayaka Thera in initiating and promoting Pali and Theavada Buddhist studies in several countries in the world.

His position in this regard is on par with those whose initial work paved the way for a resurgence of studies relating to Sanskrit Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism. It is when we look at the scenario in this light that we can understand the international dimension of Venerable Nayaka Thera’s contribution to Pali and Theravada Buddhist Studies.

In concluding this appraisal of our Nayaka Thera’s contribution to Pali and Buddhist studies, there is another thing that needs mention here. It is well-known that Anagarika Dhammapala was the main spokesman for Buddhism at the Parliament of Religions held in USA in 1893.

What is less known, however, is that a paper prepared by our venerable Nayaka Thera, under the title Orthodox Southern Buddhism was also read at one of the sessions of the Parliament of World Religions.

The Theravada was based on the, namely the Pali own was had their own corpus of Buddhist literature. Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism the region which includes Sri Lanka and four countries in South-East Asia. The Buddhism that prevails in these countries is called Theravada Buddhism, Theravada or Southern.

It is also called Pali Buddhism because both its canonical and exegetical works are written in Pali. What makes Theravada Buddhism different from all other schools of Buddhist thought is that it seeks to interpret the word of the Buddha in the light of its own Abhidhamma. It may be mentioned here in parenthesis that both in preserving and disseminating the Theravada version of Buddhism it was our country that played the leading role.

For as we all know, it was in Sri Lanka that all the commentaries, sub-commentaries, compendiums and other expository works related to the Pali Buddhist Canon were compiled before they found their way to the neighbouring Buddhist countries in South East Asia.

The second geographical zone which corresponds to another major Buddhist tradition is the Himalayan Region (Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim) and Mongolia. The Buddhism that developed in this region could be called Tibetan Buddhism because it is mainly based on the teachings embodied in the Tibetan Tripitaka, the Mongolian version of the Tripitaka being a rendering from the Tibetan.