On ‘bāhirasattha’ (S. bāhyaśāstra): The śāstras of Outsiders

June 11, 2012

The genre ‘bāhirasattha’ (S. bāhyaśāstra) is found fairly often in Sri Lankan works as an ancillary to ‘tepitaka‘, religious scriptures . For instance, in the 12th century Hatthavanagallavihāravaṃsa, a youth (kumāraka) is made to learn the scriptures (tepitaka) and ‘bāhirasattha’.[1] Also  in his Dambulla inscription, Nissaṅka Malla states that he encouraged the study of the scriptures and ‘bāhirasattha’. GUNAWARDANA translates the latter as ‘extraneous śāstras’ and understands the term ‘bāhira’ as simply referring to non-canonical literature.[2]   It is possible, however, that this term also had ideological connotations. For instance, Buddhaghosa uses a similar expression ‘bāhiraka’  in the Samantāpasādikā (Sp) to refer to non-Theravādin literature:

One should check that a sutta conforms to the orthodox sutta (suttānuloma). If it conforms and agrees [with the orthodox sutta], and if one perceives that the received canonical text was compiled at the third council, it should be accepted. [However,] if one does not perceive this, [and] if it does not conform and agree [with the orthodox sutta], it is a sutta of Outsiders (bāhirakasutta), or it is a poem or it is something else. One should not accept a contemptible sutta that has been received from either the Secret Vessantara, the Secret vinaya or the Vedalla [piṭaka]. One should determine that [the sutta] is only an orthodox sutta. [3]

In this discussion, the term ‘bāhirakasutta’ clearly refers to the literature of other Buddhist sects. This is confirmed by Sāriputta’s gloss of the term in his commentary (Sd-ṭ), where he states that ‘the [term] bāhirakasutta’ [refers to] suttas of the members of the Mahāsaṅghikanikāya, such as the Secret Vessantara, that were not compiled at the third council.’[4] Therefore, the use of the term ‘bāhirasattha’ may not simply refer to non-canonical śāstras but could also refer to śāstras of non-Theravādin origin. In this regard, the frequent use of the term ‘bāhirasattha’ in these later Pali works may be symptomatic of an increasing engagement of the Lankan sangha with other non-Theravādin sects at the turn of the second millennium .


[1] Att 2.10,2.

[2] GUNAWARDANA 1979: 160-161.

[3] Sd Ee 1.232.

suttaṃ suttānulome otāretabbaṃ. sace otarati sameti, tisso saṅgītiyo ārūḷhaṃ pāḷiāgataṃ paññāyati, gahetabbaṃ. no ce tathā paññāyati na otarati na sameti, bāhirakasuttaṃ vā hoti siloko vā aññaṃ vā. gārayhasuttaṃ guḷhavessantaraguḷhavinayavedallādīnaṃ aññatarato āgataṃ, na gahetabbaṃ. suttānulomasmiṃ yeva ṭhātabbaṃ.

[4] Sd-ṭ Be 2.47.

bāhirakasuttan ti tisso saṅgītiyo anāruḷhaguḷhavessantarādīni mahāsaṅghikanikāyavāsīnaṃ suttāni.


puruṣārtha – Human values?

June 3, 2012

In any introduction to premodern South Asian thought, at some point we  come across the idea of the puruṣārthas or human values. Characterised as the goals of human life, these values are four, viz. moral value (dharma), prosperity (artha), proclivity (kāma) and liberation (mokṣa). I was just flicking through Dharmakīrti’s Nyāyabindu and in his first sūtra he justifies the investigation of knowledge as follows:

samyagjñānapūrvikā sarvapuruṣārthasiddhir iti tad vyutpādyate.

The accomplishment (siddhi) of all human values (puruṣārtha) is preceded by correct knowledge, thus this [knowledge] is to be investigated.

However, in his commentary on the term ‘puruṣārtha’, Dharmottara defines artha (value) in terms of that which is exceptionable (heya) and that which is acceptable (upādeya). According to Dharmottara, by excepting what is exceptionable and by accepting what is acceptable, we can accomplish the puruṣārthas. [puruṣasyārthaḥ. arthataḥ ity arthaḥ. kāmayata iti yāvat. heyo ‘rtha upādeyo vā. heyo hy artho hātum iṣyate. upādeyo ‘py upādātum. na ca heyopādeyābhyām anyo  rāśir asti. upekṣaṇīyo ‘py anupādeyatvād dheya eva. yasya siddhir hānam upādānaṃ ca. hetunibandhanā hi siddhir utpattir ucyate. jñānanibandhanā tu siddhir anuṣṭhānam. heyasya hānam anuṣṭhānam. upādeyasya copādānam. tato heyopādeyayor hānopādānalakṣaṇānuṣṭhitiḥ siddhir ity ucyate.]

I was just wondering how the definition of puruṣārtha as heya and upādeya relates to the four-fold classification of the puruṣārthas. Any thoughts on this issue are more than welcome!


Introduction to the Study of Religion: Two New, Essential Books

May 8, 2012

RODRIGUES, Hillary and John S. HARDING. Introduction to the Study of Religion. Oxford: Routledge, 2009.

HARDING, John S. and Hillary RODRIGUES. The Study of Religion: A Reader. Oxford: Routledge, 2012.


Transmission of Indic Traditions to Southeast Asia

May 8, 2012

I have just found this excellent bibliography – ‘BASIC BIBLIOGRAPHY ON THE TRANSMISSION OF INDIC TRADITIONS TO S.E. ASIA AND THEIR SURVIVALS’ – written by Tim Lubin.


Introduction to the Religions of South Asia

March 24, 2012

I have just devised a new course “Introduction to the Religions of South Asia“. Feel free to download the course by clicking the link above. I would greatly appreciate any feedback. The outline is as follows:

This course provides a history of the pre-modern religious traditions of South Asia. By treating the religions of South Asia together, and not in isolation, this course aims to illustrate the cross-fertilisation of ideas, beliefs and practices among the religions of the region. In addition, the historical developments of each religious tradition are introduced alongside typological studies of various doctrines and practices. By combining both historical and typological methods in this way, the students will be able to situate the major religious traditions in South Asia historically, while also gaining a familiarity with the doctrinal and cultural backgrounds of these traditions.


Sri Lanka Journals Online

March 22, 2012

Charles Hallisey has just posted a very useful resource on the American Institute of Sri Lankan Studies’ mailing list. Sri Lanka Journals Online is digitalising journals published in Sri Lanka in order to provide the world greater access to Sri Lankan scholarship.While the arts and humanities are not adequately represented, there are a few gems worth reading. For instance, Sandagomi Coperehewa’s article “Colonialism and Problems of Language Policy: Formulation of a Colonial Language Policy in Sri Lanka” (Sri Lankan Journal of Advanced Social Studies) is well worth a read. My favourite journal so far though has to be the Journal of the Coconut Research Institute of Sri Lanka!


Magical Language or Legal Language?

March 19, 2012

I have just read some comments made by von Hinüber (SII 13/14 1987) that the Theravada Buddhist care for the pronunciation of Pali in the ritual sphere can be understood as a legalistic transformation of the old magical and ritual concerns of Vedic Brahmanism. This dichotomy between magical and legal made me think of Mauss’ distinction between the two in his Esquisse d’une théorie générale de la magie:

“Les pratiques traditionnelles avec lesquelles les actes magiques peuvent être confondus sont : les actes juridiques, les techniques, les rites religieux. On a rattaché à la magie le système de l’obligation juridique, pour la raison que, de part et d’autre, il y a des mots et des gestes qui obligent et qui lient, des formes solennelles. Mais si, souvent, les actes juridiques
ont un caractère rituel, si le contrat, les serments, l’ordalie, sont par certains côtés sacramentaires, c’est qu’ils sont mélangés à des rites, sans être tels par eux-mêmes. Dans la mesure où ils ont une efficacité particulière, où ils font plus que d’établir des relations contractuelles entre des êtres, ils ne sont pas juridiques, mais magiques ou religieux.” (p.11)

I can’t help feeling that both von Hinüber and Mauss are creating a false distinction between the two, since legal language does have a creative function beyond the act of judicial administration. For instance, in a Pali ordination ritual, while the ritual formulae merely set out the practicalities of ordination, such as asking whether the ordinand has parental permission etc., the form of the ritual clearly has a purpose beyond the articulation of information. It contains rhythm, repetition and, for the ordinand, is often incomprehensible. Its form divorces it from worldly language and it attains a register that induces a sense of awe in the ordinand due to its strangeness. It is this parasemantic coercion of the ordinand that I would still classify as magical.

This distinction between meaning and form in legal language has also been recognised in modern studies of legal linguistics. For instance, Mattila (2006) in his Comparative Legal Linguistics has observed that part of the coercive power within legal language has to do with its “magical character”. He states:

“It is the legal order that gives the meaning of a speech act to words expressed orally or to a signed document: in this way, it links rights and obligations to those words or to that document. When we say ‘B has made a rental agreement’, this sentence expresses an institutional fact, that is , a fact that  can be perceived by interpreting the behaviour of B in the light of a constitutive rule concerning the entry into force of a rental agreement. In the final analysis, it is the supernatural power of the Word that stands in the background of the effects of a speech act. That is clearly visible in the fact that ritual expressions were once of great importance in realizing speech acts: if, in Ancient Rome or in medieval England, the claimant made even a small mistake in reciting  the required form of action, then he lost the case. Equally, without the word spondeo [‘I promise’] being pronounced, a contract of stipulatio character did not arise under Roman law.” (p.32)

Perhaps, then, “magico-legal” would be a better description of Pali ritual formulae?


How is the Pali Canon a Sacred Text? Exploring Answers from 12th Century Sri Lanka and 18th Century Burma

February 29, 2012

The recording of my recent talk given at the Oxford Centre of Buddhist Studies is now online here.


Update on Current Projects

February 15, 2012

I thought I would use today’s post to go over some of the projects I am currently working on. At the moment, I am in the last few months of writing up my PhD thesis “Buddhism and Grammar in Twelfth Century Sri Lanka”, though, as always, I am finding time to work on/procrastinate with some other projects that interest me.

I am in the middle of translating a medieval Pali poem called the “Telakaṭāhagāthā” (Lit. The Cauldron of Oil Verses) alongside my dear friend Aleix Ruiz Falqués. This poem has been fantastic to translate and I hope Aleix and I can push on, write a lengthy introduction, and find a publisher for this work before September.

In addition, I have begun work on creating a comprehensive Pali reader for intermediate students of Pali, one that will include prose, poetry, commentarial, and sub-commentarial literature. It will aim to introduce the student of Pali to the various styles of Pali found across its long history. In addition, I hope to write a short grammar of Pali that will accompany this reader.

A good Pali reader has been long desired by students. I enjoyed carrying Dines Andersen’s A Pali Reader  (1917) for most of my time as an undergraduate  and I must have read it countless times. However, the passages Andersen chooses are not representative of the huge diversity of language found in the canon and also commentarial literature is ignored. Much the same can be said for the recent Buddhavacana: A Pali Reader by Glenn Wallis (2010). The latter work has been recently reviewed in Buddhist Studies Review (28.2 2011) by Tomoyuki Kono.


Lesser-known Books in Buddhist Studies #1

February 15, 2012

I would like to start a series of posts about lesser-known publications in Buddhist Studies that I have found stimulating, innovative or challenging. Through these posts I hope to draw more attention to works that I believe provide new direction to the field of Buddhist Studies. The first work (in two volumes) I would like to introduce is “Sacerdotal Succession of Sri Lankan Buddhist Monks” by Kapila P. Vimaladharma:

Vimaladharma, Kapila P. Sacerdotal Succession of Sri Lankan Buddhist Monks. Vol. 1-2. Kandy: Varuni Publishers, 2003.

In these first two volumes of a planned five-volume series on sacerdotal succession, Vimaladharma explores the ordination lineages since 1753 of the Malwatte and Asigiriya fraternities, two sub-divisions of the Siyam Nikaya order of Sri Lankan Buddhism. In tracing these monastic ordination lineages, Vimaladharma is able to map with great accuracy the movements and activities of the monks of these orders, while also tracing their relationship to social, religious and political power structures.  This innovative use of  archival records of monastic lineages provides an incredibly rich picture of the development of the monastic sangha during this period.

A review of the work by Prof. Anuradha Seneviratne can be found here.