Sarah on the Commentaries


In Dhammastudygroup, Yahoo Groups, Sarah Abbott wrote:

Dear Jagkrit & all,
S: Nothing was ‘written’ during the Buddha’s life of course, but commentaries
were given by disciples of the Buddha from the outset.

Here are some comments I’ve made before in earlier posts:

1. G.P. Malalsekera `The Pali Literature of Ceylon’, ….says that
“the need for an accurate interpretation of the Buddha’s words, which
formed the guiding principle of life and action of the members of the
Sangha, was felt from the very earliest days of the order. When the master was
alive there was always the possibility of referring disputed questions direct to
him. But even during the master’s lifetime – at the Buddhist centres formed at
various places under the leadership of one or other of the famous disciples –
discussions, friendly interviews, and analytical expositions used to take place,
and the raison d’etre of the commentaries is to be traced to these discussions.
Sometimes it happened that accounts of these discussions were duly reported to
the Teacher, and some of them were approved by him, and he would then ask the
monks to bear the particular expositions in mind as the best that could have
been given…..”
2. “The Elders had discussed the important terms at the First Council, and had
decided on the method of interpreting and teaching the more recondite

It seems that they were the utterances of disciples that had received particular
approval from the Buddha that were respected as much as the words of the Buddha
himself and became known as “Buddha vacana”.

“These formed the nucleus of the commentaries. Often, when the Buddha
preached a sermon in concise form on some aspect of the doctrine, the
monks used to repair to one of the chief disciples and get the points
explained in greater detail. Such was Maha-Kaccayana, for example, who was
foremost in reputation for his power in giving detailed expositions of what the
Buddha said in brief. ..”

3. I mentioned before that according to Buddhaghosa, the origin of the
Mahavihara commentarial tradition goes back to the time of the First
Coucil. The commentaries were, he writes:

“….rehearsed at the very outset, for the purpose of elucidating the
meaning, by the 500 (who were) endowed with self-mastery, and were
likewise rehearsed even afterwards were subsequently brought to the island of
the Sihalas by Maha-Mahinda (who was) endowed with self-mastery…”
4. Malalasekera continues (The Pali Literature of Ceylon);

“When later the text of the canon came to be compiled, arranged, and
edited, some of the expositions found their way into the Pitakas and were given
a permanent place therein. Thus we have the Sangiti-suttanta of the Digha
Nikaya, ascribed to Sariputta and forming a complete catechism of terms and
passages of exegetical nature. Such was also the Sacca-vibhanga (an exposition
of the four Noble Truths) of the Majjhima, which later found its proper place in
the second book of the Abhidhamma-Pitaka, and also the Madhu-pindika-sutta of
Maha-Kaccayana, included in the Majjhima Nikaya.

“It sometimes happened that for a proper understanding of the text,
explanations of a commentarial nature were quite essential; and in such cases
the commentary was naturally incorporated into the text and formed part of the
text itself…….Then there is the Niddesa, a whole book of commentary on texts
now included in the Sutta-nipata; and there are passages clearly of a
commentarial nature scattered throughout the

S: Just a few examples to indicate that the commentarial traditional stems from
the time of the Buddha.




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