Buddhist Studies in Honour of Hammalava Saddhatissa.

Edited by Gatare Dhammapala. Richard Gombrich, and K. R. Norman

Reviewed by Tilakaratne, Asanga

Philosophy East and West
Vol. 37
1987.01
pp. 101-103

 

Copyright by University of Hawaii Press


 

p.101

 

The present volume is dedicated to one of the leading Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, who is also one of the pioneers among the Sri Lankan Buddhist clergy to introduce Buddhism to the Western world. It is better to let some of the contributors themselves speak of the Venerable Thera. On his personality, Russell Webb says:

To meet Venerable Dr. Saddhatissa is to enter into a calming atmosphere, where a basickindly spirit devoid of material considerations manifests itself. A serenity and warmth of feeling are ever displayed which must surely characterise the inner detachment of someone far advanced on the path of enlightenment. (p. 1)

On his academic credentials, Richard Gombrich says:

While his interests and accompli shments range far wider, a substantial part of the scholarly contributions of the Venerable Dr. Saddhatissa as both editor and expositor has been devoted to the interlocked topic of Buddhist ethics and the Buddhist layman. This concern seems singularly appropriate in one whose life has been devoted both to scholarship and to making the Buddha's message available in the West.... (p. 91)

The Venerable Thera is one of the leading figures in the modern scholarship of Pali and Buddhism. It is, therefore, nothing but appropriate that the present felicitation volume contains contributions by, among others, such leading figures in Pali, Buddhism, and related disciplines as Walpola Rahula, Suresh Chandra Banerji, Andr`e Bareau, Jotiya Dherasekera, Richard Gombrich, Padmanabh S. Jaini, Etienne Lamotte, Trevor Ling, K. R. Norman, and Nandadeva Wijesekera.

 

P102

 

The volume starts with a eulogy to the Thera made by the student body of Vidyodaya Pirivena in the Sanskrit language. Among the contributions to the volume, two are appreciations by Russell Webb and Mahanama Karunaratne. W. B. Dorakumbura's "Selected Bibliography of Publications of Venerable Dr. Hammalava Saddhatissa up to 1983" is a valuable guide to those who are interested in studying Thera's wide range of interests. The rest of the corpus of the contributions can be divided roughly into three major categories, namely, the history of Buddhism and Buddhist culture, Pali and Sanskrit literature and language, and (Buddhist) doctrinal analyses. Considerations of space prevent me from commenting in detail on any of the interesting papers in the volume. Nevertheless, quite a few papers warrant at least brief comments. Among the papers that are in the first category, Andr`e Bareau's paper tries to locate the date of the compilation of the Mahaagovinda-sutta of Diigha Nikaaya, and is certainly of high quality.

  In order to support his hypothesis that the Sutta "was composed a few years after the Council at Vaisaali and before the schism which separated the Mahaasanghikas from Sthaviras" (p. 39), he uses not only Pali sources but also Sanskrit and Chinese and other historical sources such as those available in Greek. It is a helpful study for those who are interested in the chronology of Pali Buddhism. Among the other interesting studies, those by Nandadeva Wijesekera and C. H. B. Raynolds are worth noting.

  In the second category, Lamotte's paper on Minor Canonical Texts adds to the utility of the volume for the student of early Buddhism. L. P. N. Perera's paper on the lower limit of the Canonical Vinaya Text is a serious study of the historical development of Vinaya. Basing his arguments on some internal evidences from the accounts of the Second Buddhist Council, he challenges the view (held by Rhys Davids, Oidenberg, Sukumar Dutt, and many others) "that the Vinaya Texts should have been finally settled prior to the Second Buddhist Council" (p. 203). As Perera rightly says, though "what has been arrived at has necessarily to be far from being definitive" (p. 208), his claim that Vinaya could be post-Second Council and pre-A`sokan definitely inspires further investigation. As the topics of the papers themselves would suggest, the studies admissible in this category are of considerable value for students of Pall and Buddhist Sanskrit literature. The rest of the papers in the volume can be placed roughly in the third category, which concerns issues relating to doctrinal analysis. The studies cover such areas as sociology, psychology, and philosophy. They discuss such topics from early Buddhism as Samatha and Vipassana and Brahma Vihaara to quite contemporary concerns, namely, Buddhist ethical concerns in the work of Martin Wickramasinghe. Out of these interesting papers, I would comment briefly on two of them, the one by Richard Gombrich and the one by Shanta Ratnayaka.     

  In his paper on the Brahminical background to Buddhist ethics, Gombrich tries to explain the apparent contradiction between the Buddhist interpretation of karman as intention and the practice of pu~n~na (or meritorious acts) in Buddhist societies. If karman is intention or if "all moral acts are essentially mental acts" (p. 91), how can there be so

 

P103

 

much emphasis on accumulating meritorious deeds among lay Buddhiststhis seems to be Gombrich's argument. The reason for this, according to him, is the influence of the Hindu dichotomy of the paths of works and knowledge (karman and j~naana), in which karman is always inferior to j~naana. Gombrich is right in maintaining that in Buddhism, unlike Hinduism, the path to Nirvaana is not one of hierarchical relationships in which one abandons the first at the second stage and the second at the third stage; but on the other hand, he is not right in denying that there is an element of a gradual progression in the path (see p. 94). Gombrich builds his argument on the assumption that, in Buddhism, "morality lies in intention" (p. 93). It is quite possible that he derives this assumption from the well-known statement (of the Anguttara Nikaya) "Cetanaham Bhikkhave kammam vadami" (Monks, I say, the intention is karman). Unfortunately, very often, only the first part of the passage is taken and the rest is ignored. The rest of the passage reads thus: "Cetayitva kammam karoti kayena vacaya manasa" (Having intended, (people) commit kamma by body, word, and mind). If Gombrich took the whole passage into consideration, perhaps he would not have given the same emphasis to his interpretation of karman as purely intentional. Thus, Gombrich's otherwise interesting analysis seems to be based on a not entirely correct understanding of one key aspect of the doctrine.

  Shanta Ratnayaka questions whether Whitehead is a neo-Buddhist and answers in the affirmative. Many students of the subject have been fascinated to find striking similarities between Buddhism and Whitehead, and in fact there are such similarities. Nevertheless, it is a matter of doubt whether we can go so far as to call him a neo-Buddhist. Ratnayaka sees three areas where Whitehead goes along with Buddhism, namely, in his understanding of life, the world, and God. Ratnayaka sees, with many others, that Whitehead rejects the Judeo-Christian concept of God. Now, Ratnayaka thinks that Buddhism too has a concept of God, and he is happy to call it 'Buddhist natural theology' (p. 224). Ratnayaka quotes K. N. Jayatilleke for his support. His quoting Jayatilleke can lead to a wrong impression. In fact, what the particular Sutta (which Jayatilleke has quoted) reports is that there had been such a false conception of a God among some people. If it is true that the Buddha has not denied the existence of a such being, and if that means that there can be such a being according to Buddhism as Ratnayaka seems to argue, it is apparent that this way of argument can lead to some absurd conclusions, for there are so many other things that the Buddha has not denied!

  However, the present volume contains some valuable contributions to the modern scholarship of pall, Buddhism, and related fields. One might not necessarily agree with the views represented by a group of scholars who have diverse approaches to Buddhism; nevertheless, one should not underestimate the importance of the present values of essays which represent the dynamic nature of current Buddhist studies.