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Buddhist Publication Society
Kandy • Sri Lanka
BPS Online Edition © (2008)
Digital Transcription Source: BPS Transcription Project
For free distribution. This work may be republished, reformatted, reprinted and redistributed in any medium. However, any such republication and redistribution is to be made available to the public on a free and unrestricted basis, and translations and other derivative works are to be clearly marked as such.
In Memoriam Mrs. Lakshmi R. Goonasekere
Buddhist Commentarial Literature
Tradition regarding the Atthakatha
Sinhala and Dravidian Commentaries
Other sources of the Pali Commentaries
List of Pali Commentaries
The ancient commentaries to the Pali Canon have made such an important contribution to the understanding of the canonical scriptures of Theravada Buddhism, that information about them will be welcome to an earnest student of the Dhamma. The Publishers therefore greatly appreciate the permission that was kindly granted to reproduce in The Wheel series a very informative article on the Commentaries (atthakatha) written by the late Mrs. Lakshmi R. Goonesekere and printed in Vol. II, Fasc. 2 of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism (publ. by the Government of Ceylon).
The contributions made by the commentaries are both to the letter and the meaning of the scriptures. Variant readings of the Pali texts have been recorded in the commentaries and the meaning of words is established either by definition or by synonyms or kindred and related terms which circumscribe the respective range of meanings. This proves helpful, for instance, with such words and terms the meaning of which in the Pali language differs from Sanskrit usage. The high degree of exegetical reliability of the commentaries is largely based on a perfect mastery of the canonical texts commanded by those ancient commentators. This enabled them to take into consideration all the different contexts in which the respective terms or doctrinal passages occur. Shades of meaning of words or terms are illustrated by quotations from the canonical texts; also where doctrinal statements in the commented text are concerned, their full significance is sometimes strikingly illuminated by the quotation of a kindred text in the commentary. Such widening and illumination of significance is also achieved by another feature of the commentarial method: the commentaries often express in terms of Abhidhamma categories what in the commented texts is stated in the conventional language of the Suttas. This also serves to illustrate the doctrinal coherence of Sutta and Abhidhamma.
In the Suttas, there are a few texts and textual passages which would remain largely unintelligible without the commentarial explanations. One typical example is the first Discourse of the Majjhima Nikaya, the Mulapariyaya Sutta, of which so far no entirely satisfactory translation exists, due to the fact that the translators did not make use, or not full use, of the commentarial explanations to that difficult text.
The commentarial literature also contains large sections giving full directions for the practice of the several subjects of meditation (kammatthana), which in the Suttas are explained only very briefly and sometimes just mentioned by names and classifications only. Detailed treatment of meditative practices appears either in the Sutta commentaries themselves or reference is made there to the full exposition in Acariya Buddhaghosa’s “Path of Purification” (Visuddhimagga), which, on its part, is based on the same ancient exegetical material used for the Venerable Buddhaghosa’s Sutta commentaries. Part of that material may well go back to oral tradition handed on since the earliest days of the Teaching.
Held against all these and many other benefits that may be derived from a study of the Pali commentaries, the weaknesses which a modern reader may find in that type of Pali literature are comparatively insignificant and can, to a great part, he ascribed to the different requirements of the time in which and for which the commentaries had been composed. Speaking, e.g., of the vast story material in the commentaries, by far the larger part of it is of great interest and value even today; but there are also a good many stories which judged by modern standards will be felt as rather naive and pointless, full of pious exaggerations and (often stereotyped) miraculous elements. Such stories may have served as edifying sermons on a popular level and can be safely ignored by a modern reader. As often in exegetical literature, there is also a good deal of “over-explaining,” while on the other hand there is sometimes a blank on textual passages where one would have wished for clarification of information. Both the excessiveness and the omissions in commenting may again be due to the fact that the commentaries or their sources very probably go back as far as 1500 or 2000 years and more. Passages or phrases in the Pali texts for which we should welcome further explication must have been fully understood without it by the contemporaries of the Buddha and their near successors. With the passing of centuries not only modes of expression but the texture of thought undergo change. What was readily understood by the audience for whose benefit the commentaries were composed may be obscure or difficult for us while what seems extremely simple and obvious to the present day reader was far from being so to them. Thus the features that appear to our eyes as defects are the natural results of a gradual change in outlook, and are themselves a witness to the great antiquity of these writings.
All these shortcomings are, as we mentioned before, amply compensated for by the great help which can be derived from the commentaries for a correct understanding of the canonical Pali texts. Their great exegetical value can be gathered from the Sutta editions of The Wheel series, where many extracts from the commentaries are incorporated in the explanatory notes. The Translation Series of the Pali Text Society also has many references to the commentaries.
A number of complete commentarial texts, large and small, have been published in English translations, and in concluding these preparatory remarks we shall give a list of them for the benefit of those who wish to acquaint themselves directly with the style and method of the commentaries. 
As a short specimen, there is the complete commentary to “The Greater Discourse on Voidness” (MN 122), appended to the translation of that text by the Venerable Ñanamoli Thera (The Wheel No. 87).
A very instructive commentary of much greater length deals with the Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10), translated with excerpts from the sub-commentary in The Way of Mindfulness, by Soma Thera (published by the Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy.)
The 9th Discourse of the Majjhima-Nikaya (Sammaditthi Sutta), together with its commentary, was issued by the same translator: Right Understanding, tr. by Soma Thera (Colombo 1946, Bauddha Sahitya Sabha). 
The extensive commentary to a separate small work of the Sutta Pitaka, the Khuddakapatha appears in Minor Readings and Illustrator, tr. by Nanamoli Thera (London 1960, Pali Text Society).
The commentary to the first book of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, Dhammasangani, is The Expositor (Atthasalini), tr. by Maung Tin (2 vols., 556 pp., Pali Text Society).
A small selection of short stories and anecdotes found in the Sutta commentaries appeared in The Wheel series (No. 59), Stories of Old, Gathered from the Pali Commentaries (30 pp). Outside of the Sutta commentaries, there is the rich treasury of stories to the Dhammapada in Buddhist Legends, tr. by E.W. Burlinghame (3 vols, 1114 pp., Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press). It may be added that also the ’Birth stories,’ the Jatakas, in their prose narrative, are regarded as Commentary (atthakatha), as only the verses are considered to be canonical.
Complete sets of the original Pali text of all commentaries (atthakatha) have been published, in Roman script by the Pali Text Society, London, in Sinhala script by the Simon Hewavitarne Bequest (Maha Bodhi Society of Ceylon, Colombo) and in Burmese script, edited by the Sixth Council (Chattha Sangayana) and published by the Union of Burma Buddha Sasana Council, Rangoon.
This article was written by Mrs. Lakshmi R. Goonesekere, when she was an Assistant Editor of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism during 1957 to 1965. The article appeared in Volume II (pp. 335–352) of the Encyclopaedia and is re-printed with the permission of the Editor.
Born on 14th January, 1929, daughter of Muhandiram and Mrs. Alex S. Lamabadusuriya of Colombo, in a devout Buddhist family, she received her early education in Buddhist schools and colleges at Matara, Kandy, Panadura, and Colombo, where she distinguished herself in her studies and obtained annually the respective form and other subject prizes.
At her Higher School Certificate Examination she gained a first division with distinctions in Pali and Sanskrit in 1946. She entered the University of Ceylon from Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo, being awarded an Exhibition. At her First in Arts Examination in 1947 she was awarded another Exhibition and also the Waidyasekera Memorial Prize for Pali. She graduated in 1950 in Pali, Economics and Indian History, obtaining a second class. She taught for a short time at Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo, and in 1951 joined the Department of Income Tax as an Assistant Assessor. In 1954 she married Raja K. W. Goonesekere and went abroad shortly afterwards.
Her association with the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism dates from March 1957 when she was appointed an Assistant Editor, and she remained devoted to this noble project until death took her away suddenly on the day after Vesak, on 16th May, 1965. She was only 36 years old.
She was a very conscientious member of the staff, always ready to do her part in the work in her calm and efficient manner. Her whole life may be summed up in those two great beautiful mental factors, Hiri and Ottappa, conscientiousness or internal devotion to duty, added to painstaking adherence to rules and regulations, which form the cadre of our social and official life.
The article here reproduced was one of her earliest contributions to the Encyclopaedia and shows the scholarly approach which is characteristic of all her writings. The Encyclopaedia stands enriched by her efforts and contributed articles, which number well over 800.
May she reap the reward of her learning, of her devotion to duty and of her attachment to the teachings of the Buddha, and may she obtain the Peace of Deliverance.
This reprint is offered as a Dhammadana in her memory by her husband and relations.
The word atthakatha is a general term, meaning exposition of the sense (attha = attha, Skt. artha), explanation, commentary.  Although atthakatha could refer to all commentarial literature, as it did during the Anuradhapura period (3rd century B. C.—10th century A. C.) when it had even a wider application and included all literary works other than the Tipitaka, today it is used when referring to the commentaries on the Tipitaka.  They are the expository treatises on the different texts of the Pali canon, each text having its own commentary. Their main purpose being to interpret the Buddha’s teachings, they not only explain difficult words grammatically and lexically but also contain explanations and expositions of the Buddha’s doctrine. Commentators have often digressed in the course of their explanations and various narratives and episodes have found their way into the commentaries making them rich in material not only for the religious history but also for the secular history of ancient India and Ceylon. The atthakatha extant today are the works of Buddhaghosa and other commentators who translated into Pali the then existing Sinhala atthakatha which, in turn, were translations from the original Pali.
The Ceylonese tradition regarding the atthakatha is that they were composed (in Pali, it is to be presumed) at the First Council (Sangiti) and rehearsed at the two following Councils. They were introduced to Ceylon by Mahinda who also, it is said, translated them into Sinhala. The earliest record of this tradition is contained in the introduction in Buddhaghosa’s commentaries.  It recurs in the accounts of Buddhaghosa contained in the Mahavamsa  and the Saddhammasangaha.  According to the Dipavamsa  and the Mahavamsa,  the commentaries (the Sinhala version, it is to be inferred) were put into writing in Ceylon along with the Pali canon in the reign of Vattagamani Abhaya in the first century B. C. The Mahavamsa,  and Saddhammasangaha  further state that, at the time of Buddhaghosa, the atthakatha (the original Pali) had disappeared in India. It is not known how far this statement was correct, but the original Pali atthakatha were not recorded in writing and no trace of them exists today. As will be seen, the Sinhala atthakatha put into writing in Vattagamani Abhaya’s time have also disappeared.
This tradition regarding the origin of the atthakatha may be accepted with certain modifications. It is hardly conceivable that the original versions of the Pali commentaries as we find them today were fixed at the First Council soon after the death of the Buddha. But, it is very likely that certain abstruse points in the doctrine and ambiguous terms were the topics of discussion at the time of the First Council and that definite expositions and meanings to be attached to these were agreed upon. These interpretations would have formed the basis of commentaries of later times. With the development of heretical views and the growth of schisms in the Sangha, at the Second and Third Councils, the elders who assembled there would have continued this process of interpretation of the Buddha’s teachings. The commentaries that Mahinda is said to have brought to Ceylon, along with the canon, probably consisted of the expositions as laid down at the Third Council which had just been concluded.  These were not the work of one single author but of the community of monks. After Mahinda arrived in Ceylon and lived there, he transmitted these in the Sinhala language, and they came to be known as the Sihala-atthakatha. The atthakatha thus introduced by Mahinda received extensive treatment and further, development at the hands of the Ceylonese monks, and it was this commentarial literature that Buddhaghosa and others later translated into Pali.
A later tradition contained in the tikas (sub-commentaries) attempts to attribute the commentaries to the Buddha himself.  While it would be impossible to think of the present version of the commentaries as Buddha-vacana, the Buddha’s own words, the origins of the atthakatha may well be traced to the time of the Buddha himself. It has been remarked that “the need for an accurate interpretation of the Buddha’s words which formed the guiding principle of the life and action of the members of the Sangha was felt from the very first, even while the Master was living. Of course, there was at that time the advantage of referring a disputed question for solution to the Master himself and herein we meet with the first stage in the origin of the Buddhist comments.”  The writer goes on to describe how at the various religious centres of the time serious discussions on matters relating to religion, philosophy, ethics, morals and polity took place and the raison d’etre of the commentaries is to be treated to these discussions.
The earliest beginnings of exegetical literature can be traced to the canon itself. They are in the nature of answers to questions. There are numerous instances in the nikayas where the Buddha (and in his absence his leading disciples) are approached for clarification of various doctrinal points. The result is a detailed exposition of the point raised. Examples of such expositions by the Buddha are to be found in the Mahakammavibhanga Sutta,  Kotthika Sutta,  Sivaka Sutta,  Aggivacchagotta Sutta,  and Sallekha Sutta.  The Buddha himself had recognised the ability of some of his disciples to explain in detail what he preached in brief. He had declared Mahakaccana to be the foremost in this respect.  Instances of such expositions by Mahakaccana are to be found in the Haliddaka sutta  and the Madhupindika Sutta.  When Maha-Kaccana’s explanation is referred back to the Buddha he asks the monks to bear it in mind as the best that could have been given. There are numerous instances of expositions by other disciples, too. 
The development of exegetical activity can best be traced in the Vinaya Pitaka. First, there were the rules or laws, the Patimokkha which had to be observed by the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. In the Sutta-Vibhanga not only is a verbal commentary of the text of each rule given, but also an account of the incident which led to its promulgation. A still further development is seen in the Mahavagga and Cullavagga, where much more than a series of offences is found. Passages of commentarial nature and fragments of commentaries can also be traced throughout the nikayas. The Udana and Suttanipata, for example, contain prose passages which are in the nature of commentaries. The Atthuddharo, the last part of the Dhammasangani, is a kind of commentary on one of its sections, the Nikkhepakanda, and is in fact termed Atthakathakanda (commentarial division) in the Atthasalini.  The last portion of the Nikkhepakanda itself is worded in the phraseology of a commentary. There is a fragment of a commentary at the end of the Vibhanga, too. The culmination of this process is reached in the Niddesa which is wholly a canonical commentary on the Atthaka and Parayana Vaggas of the Suttanipata. According to Mrs. Rhys Davids,  “As these older incorporated commentaries are varied both in form and in method, it is evident that commentaries of different kinds had a very early beginning. And the probability is very great that the tradition is not so far wrong when it tells us that commentaries on all the principal canonical books were handed down in schools of the Order along with the texts themselves.” This statement is qualified by the observation that this does not mean that all the commentaries were so handed down in all the schools, nor that each of them was exactly the same in each of the schools where it was taught.
Sihalatthakatha was the name given to the Sinhala translations of the commentaries Mahinda had introduced to Ceylon.  Certain verses were, however, left unchanged in Pali. Although none of the Sinhala commentaries have come down to us, information regarding them can be gleaned from the Pali commentaries which displaced them, and from later works. 
The atthakatha referred to are: (1) Maha-atthakatha or Mula-atthakatha, also referred to as Atthakatha, (2) Uttaravihara-atthakatha, (3) Maha-paccariya-atthakatha, (4) Kurundi-atthakatha, (5) Andhakatthakatha, (6) Sankhepatthakatha, (7) Agamatthakatha, (8) Poranatthakatha, (9) Pubbopadesatthakatha, or Pubbatthakatha, (10) Vinayatthakatha, (11) Suttantatthakatha, (12) Abhidhammatthakatha, (13) Sihalamatikatthakatha, (14) Dighatthakatha, (15) Majjhimatthakatha, (16) Samyuttatthakatha, (17) Anguttaratthakatha, (18) Jatakatthakatha and (19) Vibhangappakaranassa Sihalatthakatha.
Mahinda would have introduced the traditional commentaries, but during the centuries that followed his arrival commentaries had developed, and at the time Buddhaghosa arrived in the island, i.e. in the early fifth century, there were commentaries belonging to different schools. The most important of them and the one on which Buddhaghosa relied most was the Maha-atthakatha or Mula-atthakatha,  the commentary of the Mahavihara, the orthodox and traditional school in Ceylon. This is expressly named as the foundation for Buddhaghosa’s commentaries on the Vinaya  and the first four nikayas.  Quotations from it are also found in other commentaries.  The Uttaravihara-atthakatha belonged to the Uttaravihara or the Abhayagirivihara, the school which was the rival of Mahavihara. This does not appear to have been even consulted by the Pali commentators as no mention of it is made by them. It is referred to, however, in the Vamsatthappakasini where its variant readings from the Maha-atthakatha are given.  There were also the Mahapaccari and the Kurundi-atthakatha which, as stated in the Samantapasadika,  were also written in Sinhala. According to the Saddhammasangaha,  while the Maha-atthakatha was the traditional commentary fixed at the first Council and introduced to Ceylon and translated into Sinhala by Mahinda, the Mahapaccari and Kurundi-atthakatha originated in Ceylon. The Mahapaccari was so-called because it was composed on a raft in Ceylon, and the Kurundi was named after Kurundavelu-vihara in Ceylon where it was composed.  We do not know to which school they belonged.  The Andhaka-atthakatha was very likely written in the Andhaka (Andhra) language. It may have belonged to the Andhaka school of south India as Buddhaghosa more often than not rejects its views.  The Sankhepa-atthakatha or ’Short Commentary,’ quoted in the Samantapasadika, if it is to be accepted as written in south India,  was probably also the product of a south Indian school. The Cullapaccari, mentioned in the Vajirabuddhitika,  was probably an abridgement of the Mahapaccari.
The scope of these different atthakatha seems to have been varied. The Maha-atthakatha appears to have dealt with all three sections of the canon since it furnished material for commentaries on all three Pitakas.  The Uttaravihara-atthakatha was the corresponding commentary of the Uttara-vihara and probably its scope was as extensive. The contents of these two commentaries were not restricted to the canon, but also dealt with the history of Buddhism and the history of Ceylon. 
The Mahapaccari and Kurundi-atthakatha were much more restricted in their scope. Copious references are made from them in the Samantapasadika  and they are quoted once each in the other Vinaya commentary of Kankhavitarani.  In the introduction to the Samantapasadika they are expressly mentioned among the sources for that work. These references and the fact that they are not quoted in any of the other Pali commentaries would lead one to conclude that they dealt chiefly with the Vinaya. According to the Saddhamma-sangaha,  the Samantapasadika was based on the Kurundi-atthakatha, the commentaries on the first four nikayas on the Maha-atthakatha and the Atthasalini and Sammohavinodani on the Mahapaccari. While this would confirm that the Kurundi dealt mainly with the Vinaya, it would extend the contents of the Mahapaccari to the Abhidhamma. The Andhaka-atthakatha and the Sankhepa-atthakatha are referred to only in the Samantapasadika and this would indicate that they dealt with the Vinaya, either solely or as part of their contents.
Apart from these, three other groups of atthakatha are mentioned as sources of the Pali commentaries. They are the Agamatthakatha, the Poranatthakatha and the Pubbopadesatthakatha or Pubbatthakatha. The Agamatthakatha are referred to as sources only in the Abhidhamma commentaries of the Atthasalini (in the introduction) and the Puggalapaññatti-atthakatha (in the epilogue).  Although they are not referred to in the sutta commentaries, their name would indicate that they probably dealt with the agamas or nikayas, apart from abhidhamma. Though these appear to have been very extensive works, they cannot be identified with the Maha-atthakatha as the two are mentioned side-by-side in the Atthasalini.  The Poranatthakatha is referred to both in the singular  and plural.  These were followed by Dhammapala in all his seven commentaries  and by Buddhadatta in his Madhuratthavilasini  and in the Sammohavinodani.  Different theories have been put forward regarding the nature and identity of the Poranatthakatha.  From the above reference it is clear that the Poranatthakatha dealt at least with the sutta and abhidhamma and thus it was a very extensive commentary. The name would suggest that it was also a very old commentary. The fact that Poranatthakatha and Maha-atthakatha have nowhere been quoted as two separate works, and the fact that those commentators following the Poranatthakatha-naya (’the method of the ancient commentary’) also add that they were writing in the Mahavihara tradition make it very plausible that the Poranatthakatha, ’the ancient commentary’, was synonymous with the Maha-atthakatha which most likely was the oldest commentary.  The Pubbopadesatthakatha, or the Pubbatthakatha, followed by Upasena and Mahanama, as mentioned by them in almost identical words in the introduction and the epilogue in their commentaries, the Saddhammapajjotika and the Saddhammappakasini, would also appear to be only another name for the Maha-atthakatha.
References are also made in the body of the Pali commentaries to various specific atthakatha, the names of which would suggest that they dealt with specific sections of the canon. Such are the Majjjhimatthakatha, Samyuttatthakatha and Anguttaratthakatha mentioned in the Visuddhimagga,  and the Digha-atthakatha referred to in the Sumangalavilasini.  The Suttanta-atthakatha also quoted in the Visuddhimagga  may have been the collective name for these commentaries. Reference is also made to an Abhidhammatthakatha,  Jatakatthakatha,  a Sihalamatikatthakatha  and a Vibhangappakaranassa Sihalatthakatha.  It is not known whether they were independent commentaries or parts of a major commentary.
It is noteworthy that the commentaries on the four nikayas with the exception of the Digha-atthakatha are mentioned only in the Visuddhimagga and not in the corresponding Pali commentaries on the nikayas. It has been suggested  that these four would have been the components of the Agamatthakatha and that when Buddhaghosa quotes from the atthakatha in his commentaries on the nikayas, he would be quoting not from the Maha-atthakatha but from the corresponding Sinhala commentary. This, however, would limit the quotations from the Maha-atthakatha only to those instances where it is specifically named. But the paucity of references to Maha-atthakatha in these commentaries (with the exception of Samantapasadika) does not support such a view. It would seem more likely that these commentaries individually specified were all sections of the Maha-atthakatha, or in the alternative were drawn from it, and thus by the word atthakatha in the Pali commentary would be indicated the corresponding commentary of the Maha-atthakatha. On the same analogy, the Abhidhammatthakatha, Jatakatthakatha, Sihalamatikatthakatha and Vibhangappakaranassa-sihalatthakatha were probably also parts of the Maha-atthakatha rather than independent commentaries. ’Atthakatha’ in the Vamsatthappakasini, too, would clearly refer to the Maha-atthakatha as the word is used side-by-side with Uttaravihara-atthakatha.
The Visuddhimagga also refers to the Vinayatthakatha sometimes in the singular  and sometimes in the plural.  It has been suggested that there may have been more than one commentary on the Vinaya and that the most important of them would have been called the Vinayatthakatha.  This view is plausible as the commonest cause of disagreement in the Sangha was over the interpretation of the Vinaya rules and this could naturally have given rise to several atthakatha on the Vinaya.
The different Sinhala atthakatha have been cited often in the Pali commentaries as authority for particular views, but they do not always speak in the same voice. However, they appear to disagree on matters of detail rather than on major doctrinal points. The Maha-atthakatha, the Mahapaccari and the Kurundi are constantly quoted in the Samantapasadika and less often the Andhaka-atthakatha and the Sankhepa-atthakatha. Sometimes the Mahapaccari and the Kurundi agree with each other  and sometimes they differ.  Often the Maha-atthakatha differs from one or other of the other commentaries.  There are occasions when the Mahapaccari and the Kurundi differ from each other as also from the Maha-atthakatha.  At times they agree with each other but differ from the Maha-atthakatha.  In other instances the Maha-atthakatha agrees with one but they both differ from the other.  The Sankhepa-atthakatha, though it often follows the view of the Mahapaccari, occasionally differs from it.  Although Buddhaghosa generally accepts the view of the Maha-atthakatha, there are times when the Mahapaccari and the others are preferred to it.  Most often the Andhaka-atthakatha stands by itself and its view, when not corroborated by the other atthakathas is rejected. 
In the Atthasalini, a difference in view between the Maha-atthakatha and the Agamatthakatha;  and in the Visuddhimagga between the Vinayatthakatha and the Suttantatthakatha  and Majjhimatthakatha  is recorded. But all these differences relate to details. Likewise, differences in the Maha-atthakatha and the Uttaravihara-atthakatha are recorded in the Vamsatthappakasini. 
The commentaries continued to be expanded and developed upon, even after they were recorded in writing in the first century B. C. The period of growth and development can be fixed from the incidents and historical events referred to in the commentaries. Buddhaghosa does not bring the events down to his day, so that it may be assumed that the last of the events recorded in his commentaries were also found in the Sinhala originals. The fact that stories about India, which can be dated (with very few exceptions of references that could be expected of a writer in Ceylon),  relate to a period not later than Asoka in the third century B. C.,  would incidentally confirm the tradition that the commentaries were introduced to Ceylon by Mahinda. The events after that are, in the main, set in Ceylon. Of the kings of Ceylon, events in whose reigns are discussed, the latest is Vasabha (67-111A.C.).  Moreover, it has been shown  that in the introduction to the Samantapasadika  Buddhaghosa in his list of Vinaya teachers from Mahinda up to ’the present day’ (yava ajjatana) does not include theras who lived after the lst century A. C. This would indicate that the Sinhala commentaries, in the main, ceased to develop after this time. However, it cannot be concluded that they took the final shape at this time, for there are occasional references to events and persons even after this date, e. g. to Rudradaman, second century A. C.  and Mahasena (275–301 A.C.).  There may have been sporadic additions down to the time of Buddhaghosa.
The Sinhala commentaries, which may be regarded as the earliest literary works in Ceylon, have been lost and no trace of them now exists. It has not been ascertained when exactly they disappeared. In the Buddhaghosuppatti it is stated that when Buddhaghosa completed his task of translating the commentaries into Pali, the Sangharaja caused the works of Mahinda to be piled up and burnt.  But there is evidence for the existence of these commentaries long after this date and this episode may be considered as one more of the legends in the Buddhaghosuppatti. The references in the Mahavamsa to the recitation of the canon together with the commentaries  would not prove the existence of the Sinhala commentaries at these periods, as atthakatha could equally refer to the Pali commentaries. However, quotations from the Sinhala atthakatha in the works of later authors would prove their existence at the time these book Digha-atthakatha were written, and they would appear to have been available till about the thirteenth century.  It is not known how or when they finally disappeared. Just as Pali replaced Sinhala as the literary language at this time, so the Sinhala commentaries were superseded by the Pali commentaries which in addition were used more extensively. Buddhaghosa himself says, in the introduction to the Samantapasadika,  that the commentary written in Sinhala was of no benefit to the bhikkhus outside Ceylon and therefore he was rendering it into Pali.
Apart from the specific quotations from the different atthakatha, Buddhaghosa makes use of several other authorities which show a close connection with the atthakatha. In fact, it is quite possible that some of them were found incorporated in the Sinhala commentaries. The various authorities cited are a clue to the philosophical and literary activity of the time and it would have been only surprising if the commentaries had remained static.
Two terms closely connected with atthakatha were atthakathika and atthakathacariya. “Those who studied and handed down the atthakatha were known as the atthakathikas.  By the other term were generally understood the teachers (acariya), responsible for the compilation of the atthakatha. Buddhaghosa holds the atthakathacariyas in high esteem and says that they knew the intentions of the Buddha and that, therefore, their word should he taken as authority”.  The views of these atthakathacariyas are scattered throughout the commentaries. Quotations from them are given, often in prose and sometimes in verse.  The opinion of the acariyas  is also sometimes quoted. This referred to the opinion of great teachers like Mahapaduma.  The authority of Acariyanam samanatthakatha (similar expositions of the teachers) is often cited as opposed to the views of the Vitandavadins (unorthodox sectarians). 
The commentaries contain numerous quotations from the porana (ancients), most often in verse  but sometimes in prose,  which for the most part are introduced with words tenahu porana, ’therefore the ancients say.’ The frequency of these quotations and the manner in which they are introduced show that they formed a very important and authoritative source of the commentaries on all the three Pitakas. It is not known whether Buddhaghosa found them already included in the Sinhala commentaries. Closely associated with the porana were the poranacariya and the pubbacariya whose views are also contained in the Pali commentaries.  There were also the poranakatthera  whose opinions are regarded with less authority than the foregoing. The relationship between these has not been definitely established and various views have been expressed. Some have identified the porana with the poranatthakatha while others do not agree with this. 
The Pali commentaries have also made fairly wide use of the traditions handed down by the bhanaka (’the reciters’). Differences in views between the different bhanakas have been recorded.  As in the case of the quotations from the porana it is not known whether the views of the bhanakas were already found in the Sinhala commentaries or, alternatively, in what form they were available. There are also references to the different views held by the vinayadharas and the suttantikas.  The view of the abhidhammikas is also recorded.  The derivation of words by the akkharacintakas, the grammarians, is given with the alternative derivation of the atthakathacariyas.  ’Monks living beyond the sea’ (parasamuddavasi), presumably Indian, have also had their share of contribution to religious discussion. Their views are recorded in the Papañcasudani.  Apart from these opinions of groups of monks and teachers, the individual views of certain eminent bhikkhus, who had a specialised knowledge of the canon, have also found their way into the commentaries. They were, undoubtedly, greatly respected bhikkhus, for their views to have assumed such importance. Among the individual opinions recorded are those of Digabhanaka Tipitaka Mahasiva,  Tipitaka Culabhaya,  Tipitaka Culanaga,  Tipitaka Maha-Dhammarakkhita,  Moravapivasi Mahadatta  and Mahasiva thera. 
Buddhaghosa has also quoted from definite texts. The most frequent and copious quotations are from the canonical texts themselves and are found throughout the commentaries. The extra-canonical Pali works quoted are the Milindapañha,  Petakopadesa,  Nettippakarana  and the Dipavamsa. 
The Pali commentaries are to be dated from the first half of the fifth century A.C.  According to the Mahavamsa account (ch. xxxvii), Buddhaghosa came to Ceylon in the time of king Mahanama (406-28 A. C.). Buddhaghosa is the only commentator known to the Mahavamsa and all the commentaries are Attr. to him, but this is undoubtedly an exaggerated account of his achievements.  Buddhaghosa was no doubt by far the greatest commentator and the author of the most important commentaries, but there were others who continued the task of translating the Sinhala commentaries begun by him. Buddhadatta was an elder contemporary of Buddhaghosa. The most important commentator after Buddhaghosa was Dhammapala, the author of seven commentaries on books of the Khuddaka Nikaya whose talent and ability were almost equal to that of Buddhaghosa. He was followed by Upasena, Mahanama and others.  The period of the later commentators cannot be definitely ascertained, but it may be surmised that the Pali commentaries, begun in the first half of the fifth century, were completed by the end of the next century. 
A list of the Pali commentaries with their authors is here inserted. In this list, Buddhaghosa’s name has been marked with an asterisk where his authorship had been generally accepted but doubts have been expressed in recent times.
||Attr. to Buddhaghosa
||Attr. to Buddhaghosa |
||Attr. to Buddhaghosa |
||Attr. to Buddhaghosa |
|(13) Apadana||Visuddhajanavilasini||Not known |
The chronological order in which the different commentaries were compiled cannot be definitely ascertained because of mutual references in the works. However, this is not so in all cases and some works are clearly presupposed by others. The Visuddhimagga was undoubtedly Buddhaghosa’s first work, for, while it does not refer to any of his other works, it is frequently quoted in them. Of the two Vinaya commentaries, the Samantapasadika was written before the Kankhavitarani. The Sumangalavilasini was the first of the Nikaya commentaries and next came the Papañcasudani. Of the commentaries in the Abhidhamma, the Atthasalini and the Sammohavinodani were the earliest. The Sammohavinodani is referred to (without any counter-references) in the Papañcasudani, Saratthappakasini and Manorathapurani. The earliest commentary of the Khuddaka Nikaya was perhaps the Jatakatthakatha. The Dhammapadatthakatha was written before the Thera-Therigatha commentaries and the Vimanavatthu-atthakatha and Petavatthu-atthakatha. Of the last two, the Vimanavatthu-atthakatha came earlier. The Apadana-atthakatha was among the last of the commentaries. 
While these Pali commentaries drew their material from the Sinhala and Dravidian commentaries, they were not verbatim translations of them. This is quite evident from the manner in which the Pali commentaries have been compiled. Such expressions as Maha-atthakathayam saram adaya, Mula-atthakathayam saram adaya, Poranatthakathanam saram adaya (having taken the essence of …) in the epilogues of certain commentaries  where the source has been indicated, would suggest that the Pali commentaries were not mere translations of the corresponding Sinhala commentaries. The work of Buddhaghosa and others appears to have been to make a critical study not only of the different Sinhala and Dravidian commentaries, but also other sources of material, such as the canon and various traditions and opinions, and, to make a new commentary in Pali in the light of all the material available. The commentarial interpretation is often compared with the canonical, and where it disagrees it is rejected.  Even the narratives and episodes in the Pali commentaries do not always seem to have been taken from the Sinhala commentaries. Burlingame has discussed  how stories in the commentaries, including prose stories in the Jataka-atthakatha, are to a great extent not translations from the Sinhala, but borrowings from and adaptations of pre-existing Pali material. Sten Konow has pointed out  that while some of the narratives in the Ceylonese commentaries and the chronicles are of Ceylon origin, others can be traced to a distinct Indian origin. Buddhaghosa’s quotations from the Dipavamsa, a work generally dated after the Sinhala commentaries,  would show that he was not merely translating the original commentaries, but was making use of other available material, too, in compiling his own commentaries.
Not much original thought is shown in the Pali commentaries. Buddhaghosa does not appear to have had a free hand in his works. According to the Mahavamsa account, Buddhaghosa did not come to Ceylon on an invitation and as such he probably had to follow the instructions of the Mahavihara elders. In the majority of the commentaries, in the epilogue, the commentators have pledged their allegiance to the Mahavihara tradition. Under the circumstances, not much originality is to be expected of the Pali commentators. In the introductory verses to the Samantapasadika Buddhaghosa gives the method he adopts in his work: “In commencing this commentary, I shall, having embodied therein the Maha-atthakatha without excluding any proper meaning from the decisions contained in the Mahapaccari, as also in the famous Kurundi and other commentaries, and including the opinions of the elders, perform my task well … From these (Sinhala) commentaries after casting off the language, condensing detailed accounts, including authoritative decisions and without over-stepping any Pali idiom (I shall proceed to compose) …” It is in the introductions to the nikaya commentaries that he sheds further light: “And now rejecting the Sinhala language, adopting the graceful language that accords so well with the order of the text, not contradicting the faultless conclusions of the Elders of the priesthood who dwell at the Great Monastery … and to the end that religion may long endure, I proceed to expound the meaning of my text, omitting all unnecessary repetitions.”
It is quite clear that he was confined in his writings to the Mahavihara tradition and also that not all the material in the Sinhala commentaries has been included in the Pali commentaries. An example of this is found in the Samantapasadika where Buddhaghosa says that the Maha-atthakatha contained detailed accounts on certain subjects, but he does not proceed to include them.  Apart from expressing his opinion on rare occasions where there was no proclaimed opinion, with the note ayam pana me attano mati (’but this is my own opinion’), Buddhaghosa does not seem to have added any original material of his own. This is clear from his list of the Vinaya teachers up to ’the present day’ (yava ajjatana) in the Samantapasadika (a reference already noted) which he does not bring up to his day but stops at the first century A.C. apparently as he found in Sinhala commentaries. This might also explain why he has not referred to such an important event as the bringing of the Tooth Relic to Ceylon. The Sinhala commentaries which were closed before this event would not have referred to it and thus it did not find a place in the Pali commentaries either. The fact that image worship, which had become quite common in Buddhaghosa’s time, is hardly mentioned in the Pali commentaries, too, is probably to be explained in the same manner. 
There are different derivations of the same word in different contexts  and some show the commentator’s proficiency in the Sanskrit language  while there are etymological errors in others.  The Sinhala and Dravidian commentaries would have received treatment at the hands of teachers, both learned and otherwise, and these inconsistencies are probably to be Attr. to them. These found their way into the Pali commentaries and Buddhaghosa possibly did not consider it his responsibility to correct them. His task was not to write original commentaries but to render the existing ones into Pali, making use of all the available material. Buddhaghosa’s work was that of an editor-translator, but he seems to have performed his task so efficiently and with such discretion and authority, that now he is regarded more or less as the author of the commentaries. 
In the course of the development of the Sinhala atthakatha, certain deviations from the canonical literature are to be noticed and these are repeated in the Pali commentaries.  Firstly, there were instances where the atthakatha contained readings different from the text, though in some instances the differences were very slight. Such instances are found in the Jatakatthakatha.  There are marked differences, however, in the Buddhavamsa-atthakatha, which contains some stanzas not found in the text and omits others found in the text.  These instances are so many that it has been suggested  that the Buddhavamsa commented upon is not the text as we have it today and that it has received many additional verses in Ceylon. There are also instances where the commentatorial view differs from that of the text.  More frequent are instances where the canonical material has been elaborated upon. This is particularly noticeable in the biographical accounts of the Buddha. The narratives in connection with the conception and birth of the Sakyamuni contained in the Mahapadana Sutta of the Digha-Nikaya  and the Acchariyabbhuta-dhamma Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya  appear in their respective commentaries in a greatly detailed and exaggerated form.  The four guardian gods who, in the canonical accounts, protect the bodhisatta at conception are increased to 40,000 in the commentary. The extra details are sometimes given under the heading sambahulavara (manifold section) which the commentator states has not come down in the text.  Sometimes, an attempt is made to give the stamp of the authority of Buddhavacana to the new material in the commentaries with a note that it was said by the Buddha, though it has not been included in the text.  A new subject that is discussed in the commentaries is the pañca-antaradhanani (five disappearances) that would follow at the end of the Sasana.  Certain terms, too, acquired in the commentaries distinct derivations unknown to the canon. 
Differences are also seen between the different commentaries themselves. These no doubt have been taken over from the Sinhalese and Dravidian commentaries. The Pali commentators themselves have pointed out some of them.  The inconsistencies in the derivations of words (sometimes in the same commentary) have already been noted. There are numerous instances where accounts of the same episode in the different atthakatha differ as regards details.  Sometimes differences between the commentaries are seen in the definition of words.  However, all these disagreements are with regard to details and no major discrepancies are found.
Most commentaries have been given special names, like Samantapasadika Sumangalavilasini, etc., while a few are merely named after the work they comment on, such as the Dhammapadatthakatha and the Jatakatthakatha. All the commentaries have a prologue in verse, followed often by an introduction in prose of varying length (which in the Samantapasadika and Atthasalini runs to several pages), and an epilogue, followed by a colophon, indicating authorship. In Buddhaghosa’s commentaries to the first four nikayas, the prologue is almost identical and the epilogue also contains similar verses. Dhammapala’s works, too, show little variation in the prologue and epilogue. Verses in common also occur in these sections in the commentaries of Upasena and Mahanama.
In the prologue, the author usually pays homage to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, gives a brief note on the text he is commenting on and proceeds to give the method he proposes to adopt in translating. Excerpts from Buddhaghosa’s works have already been quoted. Often the source of the work and the tradition followed are indicated in either the prologue or the epilogue of the commentary. In addition to this is sometimes disclosed the name of the person at whose request the work was undertaken. In the epilogue, too, is often stated why the work has been so named. Additional information, such as the name of the reigning king (usually referred to by title only) and the place where the work was compiled, is contained in the epilogues of certain works.  The colophons which are worded in almost identical language give some meagre information about the author.
The prose introduction generally gives a literary history of the work, though much more than this is discussed in the longer introductions. In the commentary proper the commentators appear to have followed a fairly systematic method. The work is dealt with section by section, e.g., sutta or gatha as the case may be, to which very often a special introduction is given on how, when and by whom it was spoken, and on the places and persons named in it.  The text is then commented upon, every word or phrase considered doubtful being explained philologically and exegetically. In certain commentaries like the Dhammapadatthakatha and Jatakatthakatha, the actual exegesis of the words of the text is restricted to only a few paragraphs, while the introduction is very long and forms the bulk of the commentary. In the explanation of a word, the various interpretations as also the various derivations are given. A striking example is the eightfold derivation of the word ’Tathagata’ found repeated in many commentaries.  The different views of the derivation of proper names are also recorded.  Sometimes, the word is broken up into different letters and a fanciful interpretation is given.  In the course of explanation, similes are used to make the meaning clearer. To illustrate a point, factual examples are given. It is in the course of such explanation that so much extraneous matter has crept into the commentaries. In illustration of a point, often the commentator is not satisfied with one example but gives a series of them as in the case of the explanation of samsaggajata, occurring in several commentaries, where instances of many bhikkhus who had come to grief are given. 
It has already been discussed how the different views of various authorities, like the atthakatha, the poranas and the bhanakas have been quoted. There is a passage in the Sumangalavilasini  where the relative values of the authorities, sutta, suttanuloma, acariyavada and attano-mati, are discussed. Acariyavada is identified with atthakatha. Of these, sutta is the most authoritative and should not be rejected, for it would be like rejecting the Buddha himself. The other three are to be accepted only if they agree with ’sutta.’ In the Atthasalini, the reader is warned about the reliability of a statement which is not supported by the text or commentary.  Sometimes the different versions are introduced as the palinaya, or pakarananaya and atthakathanaya:  ’the methods of the canonical texts, of the treatises and of the commentaries.’ At times, the alternative interpretation is introduced without naming the sources as, for instance, aparo nayo or keci vadanti or apare …’ti.  Quotations from texts often from the canon are also given without naming the source with the words vuttam hi etam (it has been said).  Later commentaries have borrowed from the earlier ones.  Very often the reader is referred to explanations in the earlier works.  Repetitions are also avoided by such expressions as sesam uttanatiham eva (the rest is clear in meaning).  However, in spite of these attempts at cutting down repetitions, numerous instances are found in the commentaries where various narratives and episodes are repeated sometimes in the same wording, sometimes slightly differently.  As has been pointed out earlier, in the definitions and derivations of words and the narratives common to different commentarries too, slight deviations are also noticed.
In language, style and method the atthakatha show an advance on canonical commentaries and post-canonical works like the Nettippakarana, Petakopadesa and Milindapañha. “In place of the archaic, stilted sometimes halting sutta speech, almost puritanical in its simplicity …” we find in the commentaries “… a language rich in its vocabulary, flexible in its use, elegant in structure, often intricate in the verbiage of its constructions and capable of expressing all the ideas that the human mind had then conceived. Sonorous, long-winded sentences took the place of the direct, simple composition of the suttas.”  Striking examples of such involved and long sentences, with protracted similes, are found in the Samantapasadika  and the Jatakatthakatha.  The commentarial language can also be distinguished from the canonical language in its use of unusually long compounds and certain peculiar abstract formations.  But, the language and the style of all the commentaries are not uniform, varying with the author and also with the contents and subject matter dealt with. It is precisely for this reason that Buddhaghosa’s authorship of the Dhammapadatthakatha and the Jatakatthakatha is doubted, because of the difference in language and style from the works which are undoubtedly his.
The commentaries reflect the capabilities of their authors. Buddhaghosa is the author of the most important commentaries and is undoubtedly the commentator par excellence. Dhammapala comes very close to him and, had he not come after Buddhaghosa, he might have written the commentaries on the greater works that Buddhaghosa did. They both show considerable talent, “great learning, much exegetical skill and a good deal of sound judgment.”  There is much in common between Buddhaghosa and Dhammapala. They hold “very similar views … they have the same method of exegesis; they have reached the same stage in philological and etymological science and they both have the same lack of any knowledge of the simplest rules of the higher criticism.”  The works of the other commentators that followed are inferior to the work of the two great commentators.
The contents of the atthakatha are, as only to be expected, related to the texts they are interpreting and much information regarding the subjects dealt with in the texts is to be found in the commentaries, which greatly aid the understanding of the texts. Words of doubtful meaning are clarified and explained in detail. This is particularly seen in the Abhidhamma commentaries which contain dissertations of certain Abhidhamma concepts like khandha, ayatana, dhatu (dealt with more especially in the Dhatukathapakaranatthakatha, pp. 3 ff.) and the paccaya, towards the elucidation of which the buik of the Patthanappakaranatthakatha is devoted. The philosophical ideas contained in the canon are found in a more intelligible and systematic form in the commentaries. In the words of Mrs. C. Rhys Davids when she speaks of Buddhaghosa, “… to me his work is not only highly suggestive, but also a mine of historic interest. To put it aside is to lose the historical perspective of the course of Buddhist philosophy.” 
While a very few commentaries, like the Dhatukathapakaranatthakatha and the Patthanappakaranatthakatha strictly adhere to the subject of the text and contain no digressions, most commentaries have, in the course of their explanations, incorporated various episodes, narratives, fables and legends, whereby the commentators have unknowingly given us much information on the social, philosophical and religious history of ancient India and Ceylon. Much geographical data and glimpses of political history are also contained in them. While some commentaries like the Dhammapadatthakatha, Jatakatthakatha and Dhammapala’s Paramatthadipani are rich in material for the social and economic history of Buddhist India, most of Buddhaghosa’s commentaries and the later ones, while containing material relating to India, throw a flood of light on the religious and secular history of Ceylon for centuries after Buddhism was introduced into the island. The history of Buddhism in Ceylon, the development of the monastery, the growth of worship and ritual and the history of the Sangha can all be traced from the information furnished in them.
The atthakatha greatly supplement the scattered canonical information regarding the life of the Buddha. In several commentaries biographical accounts are found, the most important of them being in the Nidanakatha of the Jatakatthakatha. The Buddhavamsatthakatha  gives a list of places where the Buddha stayed during the first twenty years of his preaching before he settled down at Savatthi. The Samantapasadika  refers to the Buddha’s three visits to Ceylon. The origins of the Buddha legend, which can be traced in the canon, developed in the commentaries. An attempt is made in the Saratthappakasini to make the Buddha supernatural, when he is made to appear as not being subject to the signs of old age.  Accounts of previous Buddhas are contained in the Buddhavamsatthakatha. While the Therigatha-atthakatha, the Therigatha-atthakatha, and sections of the Manorathapurani directly deal with the biographies of the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis in the Buddha’s time, material about the Buddha’s leading disciples and lay followers is scattered throughout the commentaries. The Navangasatthusasana (ninefold division of the canon) has been explained in many works.  The six heretical teachers are also referred to.  The formation of schisms in the Sangha, the growth of the eighteen schools as also the six post-Asokan schools are dealt with and their views discussed in the Kathavatthuppakaranatthakatha. The ten heretical sects in Asoka’s time are named.  Views of the unorthodox sectarians, referred to as Vitandavadins are found throughout the commentaries.  The development in the Sangha of specialist monks, the Vinayadharas and Dhammakathikas, and their disputes are recorded.  The two ideals for the bhikkhu, the ganthadhura (duty of study, chosen by those who are young) and the vipassanadhura (duty of meditation, chosen by those who enter the Sangha in their old age) are mentioned.  The Vimanavatthu-atthakatha and the Petavatthu-atthakatha are the main source of material for the Buddhist idea of heaven and hell.
Much of the social and economic life of the people of ancient India can be reconstructed from the information found in such commentaries as the Dhammapadatthakatha, Jatakatthakatha, Vimanavatthu-atthakatha and Petavatthu-atthakatha. There were villages of particular castes like the Brahmanagama and the Candalagama,  and sometimes various craftsmen grouped themselves in villages (vaddhakigama, kammaragama),  or at times in streets (dantakaraviti, rajakavithi, pesakaravithi).  Some villages were very large.  Slavery existed and the usual price quoted for a slave is 100 kahapanas.  There is evidence of polygamy. Often a man with a barren wife takes another in the hope of issue.  Frequent references are made to courtesans.  A woman was so religious that she hired the village courtesan to attend on her non-Buddhist husband for a fortnight while she was engaged in religious activity.  People often gathered at festivals; some of which continued throughout the night.  Women used perfume, wore garlands and jewellery.  Sometimes men, too, used ornaments, perfume and garlands.  There were high roads from Kusinara to Pava,  from Pataliputta to the old north-west frontier  (now West Pakistan), and traders plied in caravans encountering much danger.  The more enterprising among them engaged in trade overseas.  Two of the ancient ports were Bharukacca and Gambhira.  The setthi (merchant, banker, treasurer) was an important person in the village.  The existence of guilds (seni) is indicated.  Coins and measures used are also mentioned.  In certain districts in South India the dead were not cremated but buried, and after a period the bones were dug up, washed and smeared with scents.  Takkasila was the great centre of learning which drew students from distant places. 
Information regarding tribes like the Vajjis and the Licchavis  and kings, contemporaneous with the Buddha, like Bimbisara, Ajatasattu and Pasenadi,  are found scattered. References are also made to later kings, like Asoka and Rudradaman. 
Accounts of places in India, like the Himalayas, the Anotatta Lake, and rivers like the Ganges are contained in certain works. 
Buddhaghosa’s commentaries are very rich in material about the religious conditions in Ceylon. The bhanakas, who had originated in India as the reciters of the various sections of the canon, developed in Ceylon into different schools of interpretation. Much information is available regarding the more illustrious monks such as Dighabhanaka Abhaya, Tipitaka Culabhaya, Maliyadeva, Dighabhanaka Tipitaka Mahasiva, Tipitaka Culanaga and others,  who came to be regarded as authorities on the canon. Accounts of diligent monks who strove and attained arahantship in spite of difficulties  and, in other instances, monks who were deluded that they were arahants but were found out,  are also mentioned. According to the commentaries, at one time arhants were very common in Ceylon. 
Accounts of monks who yield to temptation and fall off their religious life are also met with.  An instance of a dispute between the Mahavihara and Abhayagiri faction over a point in the Vinaya is recorded.  In the prologue of the Jatakatthakatha, reference is made to a bhikkhu of the Mahisasaka school. There was a disagreement between the Pamsukulikas and Dhammakathikas as to whether learning (pariyatti) or practice (patipatti) was more important and it was decided in favour of pariyatti.  As seen from this reference, the ascendancy of Sutta over Vinaya took place after the disturbance in the country and the dangers the religion faced in the time of Vattagamani Abhaya. There were various religious centres, such as Cetiyapabbata and Cittalapabbata.  The development of the idea of worship can be traced. The sacred bodhi tree and the Mahathupa became objects of popular worship.  Great festivals were held at the Mahathupa to which people came from distant places, beautifully dressed.  Instances are related where the offering of flowers at the cetiya is rewarded with birth in heaven  and the joy of a monk experienced after sweeping the courtyard of the cetiya leads to arahantship.  Offerings of lighted lamps to the cetiya are also referred to.  The destruction of a cetiya or bodhi tree was a grave crime. The bodhi tree was held very sacred and a branch could be cut only under very special circumstances.  The preaching of the Dhamma was common.  The preaching of the Ariyavamsa drew crowds from far and near.  Another festival was that of Giribhandapuja.  The efficacy of chanting of parittas is discussed.  The bringing of the collar bone relic to Ceylon is related,  but no mention is made of the tooth relic. Reference is also made to images containing relics,  but no image houses are mentioned. An account of how the relics would disappear at the end of the sasana is contained in several commentaries.  The changes in the life of the monk and the development of the monastery can also be traced. The original rules were relaxed and the monk could practise medicine under certain circumstances.  (Vasabha’s queen was cured by a medicine prescribed, though not directly, by Mahapaduma).  Monasteries could hold land  and sometimes slaves were given to monasteries by kings.  Incidentally, slaves could not be ordained unless they were freed.  In Dutthagamani’s time there were many learned bhikkhus,  while in Saddhatissa’s time there was general laxity in the Sangha.  Accounts of various deities, like Sakka, Vissakamma and Yama are to be found.  References to other religious practices are also made. 
There is much less information regarding social conditions in Ceylon than those of India. Glimpses of village life can however be obtained.  A list of household utensils and articles used is found in the Kankhavitarani.  There were rest halls in ancient Ceylon.  Instances of extreme piety among the laity are recorded.  At least one street, named after a caste (kevattavithi), is mentioned.  The king employed an officer to read out his edicts.  There were also highly learned people among the laity.  People engaged in cattle breeding  and worked in sugar mills.  There were tax-collectors employed by the king.  Coins and measures in use are discussed.  A port often referred to is Jambukola.  Communications between India and Ceylon were kept up. Ceylonese monks went to India in times of difficulty  or in search of knowledge  and Indian monks came to Ceylon on pilgrimage.  In fact, they too have made their contribution to commentarial literature. 
The piety of kings like Dutthagamani and Saddhatissa, Bhatiya and Kutakanna is often discussed.  Other royal figures like Mahanaga Coranaga, Vasabha and Mahasena are referred to.  References are also made to political figures, like the Tamil minister Dighajantu.  Historical events, such as the revolt of brahman Tissa and the famine in the time of Vattagamani Abhaya are also recorded.  At this time, the Sangha experienced much suffering. The Mahaniddesa was known only by one bhikkhu and he happened to be immoral.  Bhikkhus fled to the Malaya district and many of them died of starvation. Others went to India and returned only after the famine. 
A number of places in Ceylon, centres of learning, like the Mahavihara, the most important of them, and others like Tissamaharama, Tuladharapabbata, Kaladighavapi-dvara-vihara and Mandalarama,  shrines, like Mariccavatti-vihara, Nagadipa, Kalyani  and villages, like Vattakalaka and Setambangana  are mentioned.
The commentaries record instances of additions to the canon in Ceylon. In the Sumangalavilasini  it is said that the verses beginning with ’atthadonam cakkhumato sariram’ in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta were added in Ceylon. According to the Suttanipatatthakatha  the Maha-atthakatha did not comment on the last two verses of the Kokalika Sutta of the Suttanipata. It has been suggested that this may indicate that these two verses were added in Ceylon.  There is also an instance where a sutta is given a new name in the commentary. 
The atthakatha occupy a very important place in the literature of Ceylon, as also in Buddhist literature. The Sinhala commentaries, which are now lost, may be said to have been the earliest literary works of the Island. The Pali atthakatha were among the earliest works in Pali to be written in Ceylon.  Buddhaghosa and his successors gave an impetus to the Pali language and paved the way for the literature that followed. The Sinhala atthakatha provided the material for much of the literature in Ceylon. Of the two chronicles, the Mahavamsa (if not also the Dipavamsa)  was directly based on the Sinhala atthakatha and many of the later works were to a greater or lesser extent dependent on them. The influence of the Dhammapadatthakatha and the Jatakatthakatha is seen on Western literature as well as on Burmese literature.
The atthakatha are very important for the study of Buddhism. They are essential for a proper understanding and critical study of texts. They are indispensable for a knowledge of the development of the doctrine and the history of Buddhism and the Sangha. These atthakatha, which are exegetical treatises on the canonical texts, were themselves commented upon in the sub-commentaries called the tika. The tika were in turn followed by further sub-commentaries, called anutika. At least one of them, the anutika on the mulatika, was still further commented upon in the madhutika
Since this was written several other translations of commentaries have been published by the P.T.S., i.e., the Buddhavamsa commentary tr. by I.B. Horner, the Udana Commentary tr. by Peter Masefield, the Therigatha commentary tr. by William Pruitt, the Petavatthu and Vimanavatthu commentaries tr. by Peter Masefield, and the Samantapasadika Bahiranidana tr. by N.A. Jayawickrama.
The BPS has published Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations of the Brahmajala Sutta (DN 1), Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2), and Mulapariyaya Sutta (MN 1) together with their commentaries and subcommentaries, respectively as The All Embracing Net of Views, The Fruits of Recluseship, and The Root of Existence. [Back]
Atthappakasanattham atthakatha adito vasisatehi Pañcahi yasangita ca anusangita ca paccha pi. Sihaladipam pana abhata’tha vasina Maha-mahindena,Thapita Sihalabhasaya dipavasinam atthaya.
“For explaining the meaning, the Commentary was originally recited by the 500 Masters (i.e. the Arahats assembled at the First Council) and was later rehearsed (at the two following Councils). Then it was brought to the island of the Sinhalese by the great Mahinda, the master (of Dhamma), and was rendered into the Sinhala language for the benefit of the island dwellers.”
Verses 6 and 7, Intr. in D-a, M-a, S-a, A-a See also verse intr. in Dhs-a. [Back]
Revata tells Buddhaghosa:
Palimattam idhanitam natthi atthakatha idha,
Tathicariyavadaca bhinnarupa na vijjare. Sihalatthakatha suddha Mahindena matimata Sangitattayam arulham sammasambuddhadesitam Sariputtadigitañ ca kathamaggam samekkhiya kata Sihalabhasaya Sihalesu pavattati.
“The text alone has been handed down here (in Jambudipa), there is no commentary here. Neither have we the deviating systems of the teachers. The commentary in the Sinhala tongue is faultless. The wise Mahinda who tested the tradition laid before the three Councils as it was preached by the Perfectly Enlightened One and taught by Sariputta and the others, wrote it in the Sinhala tongue and it is spread among the Sinhalas.” Mhv xxxvi, 227-9. [Back]