Aruna Gamage

Buddhaghosa as Exegete: Divergence and Authority in Theravāda Commentaries

Through a detailed analysis of the Pāli commentaries attributed to Buddhaghosa, this study examines the strategies implemented by the commentator in articulating the Mahāvihāra doctrinal tenets vis-à-vis non-Mahāvihāra views as well as in resolving apparent intertextual tensions within the Pāli canon. As this study reveals, Buddhaghosa demonstrates an excellent command of several recensions of the canon as well as a variety of early commentaries. His exegetical practice is especially helpful in understanding many of the intricacies of the Pāli canon. Many of his glosses on the canon may be compared to analyses employed in semantics and pragmatics, in the field of linguistics, while some of his hermeneutic principles are reminiscent of those developed in Europe. Without expressing his personal opinion, he frequently attempts to establish the Mahāvihāra tenets or so-called ācariyavāda (‘opinions of the Masters’) when commenting on the Pāli canon. Many of these tenets reveal new doctrinal orientations. Sometimes, he amends and paraphrases citations to suit his position.

When presenting the Mahāvihāra critique of particular doctrinal themes in contrast to those of opponent schools, Buddhaghosa as a rule follows several steps. In such cases, he applies pioneering and creative exegetical principles. This study assesses the reliability and doctrinal significance of those principles. The last chapter of this dissertation analyses three dissenting views held by the opponent termed vitaṇḍavādin. In particular, it examines the dialogic debates opposing those vitaṇḍavādins to the Mahāvihāra standpoint, which emerged on three soteriological goals found in the Pāli canon, along with Buddhaghosa’s assessment of these views.

This study also uncovers important evidence for understanding Buddhaghosa’s attitude towards the ‘margins’ of the Pāli canon by elucidating references to and categorisations of extra-canonical and ‘apocryphal’ scriptures appearing in the Pāli commentaries.


Studia Indologica Universitatis Halensis | Volume 35
1st edition
hardback edition
ISBN 978-3-86977-268-4

(not yet published)