Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

2
The Hīnayᾱna (Theravᾱda) Tradition of Textual Scholarship

FOR the growth of the tradition of textual scholarship in Buddhism, we have to turn to Saṅgha history of the earliest chapter, when the monks, settled in their ᾱvᾱsas, were trying to systematize and conserve a literary heritage they much cherished--the current Buddha- legends. These had begun to be composed perhaps within half a century of the Founder's decease and were indefinitely continued, purporting to recall traditions of the Founder and his teachings.

An industry of editing these legends and making texts out of them seems to have grown up in the primitive monk-settlement-captioning, classifying, grouping all their diverse contents into discourses, formularies, moral precepts, rules for monks, etc. Out of this effort stemmed the earliest scripture of Buddhism to be adopted by the Theravᾱda School. Out of it, also resulted the standardized division of a Buddhist canon into Sutta, Vinaya and Abhidhamma and of its contents into nine literary forms (Navaṅga).

In the larger monk-settlements there were small specialist-groups of recognized status concerned with different division of this work-- the Vinayadharas dealing with the Vinaya, the Suttantikas with the 'longer discourses' and the Mᾱtikᾱdharas with the formularies. Thus came into existence a considerable body of definitive texts, intended to be learnt, understood and memorized. Out of these in later times different sects made their respective canonical recensions. To prevent the faith from falling into confusion, it was deemed necessary to preserve the purity of the texts.

All this industry was prior to the practice of writing: the texts, thus edited and settled, were imparted by word of mouth and were to be retained in memory. They contain different kinds of aid to memory-set word-orders, conventional and repetitive epithets, stereotyped fixed-worded descriptions, memoria technica, etc. The texts used to be delivered sometimes in solo recitation1 and occasionally in joint congregational recital called SaṅGīti (chanting together).2 A class of professional reciters called Bhᾱṇakas arose from this practice.

____________________
1
e.g. Soṇa's solo recitation of the Aṭṭhakavagga. See Mahᾱvaga, V. 13, 9.
2
e.g. the congregational recital led by Sᾱriputta described in the Saṅgīti Suttanta of the Dīgha Nikᾱya.

-249-

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