I noticed just another conjecture from EBT group to which venerable Dhammanado had given an answer.
There is an idea proposed by some that the Pali commentaries have a crucial role in establishing our earliest readings of the Pali texts. The argument is that all our manuscripts are much later than the commentaries. In cases, therefore, where a commentarial reading is unambiguous, it provides our earliest independent witness for the text.
Now, clearly there is something to this. The commentaries are sometimes invaluable in establishing both the reading and the meaning of the Pali text. But we can sometimes get the impression that somehow we can reconstitute “the” text before the commentators, which would then become the authoritative source.
This idea is dubious on many grounds, …
The commentaries only comment on a few words. How much of the text, exactly, is commented on? Well, let’s do a very rough count, based on the sutta I happen to be translating right now, DN 18 Janavasabha. The text has close to 3000 words. The commentary comments on about 126 words. That’s about 4%. The meaningful percentage is somewhat higher than that, for many words are repeated. Still, it’s only a small fraction of the text.
…In establishing the Pali text, commentaries are occasionally helpful as a reference, but that’s all.
I think this seriously underestimates the proportion.
Janavasabha being the 18th sutta in the DN, it’s not really a very good choice for this sort of calculation. Buddhaghosa doesn’t like to repeat himself and so when he has defined a term once in the course of a commentary he won’t usually define any subsequent occurrences of it in later suttas except where it’s being used in a different sense. And so to get an accurate picture it would be better to look at the first sutta in each nikāya.
In the case of the
Brahmajāla, when we eliminate all the duplicates we’re left with 1353 words. The commentary defines 710 of them. So that’s already 52%. But actually it would be considerably more than this, for many of the words are merely the same lexeme occurring in different cases:
While others are the same noun followed by different numerals:
And yet others are conjunctions, personal and demonstrative pronouns, etc. that seldom need defining. Eliminate all these and I believe the figure might well rise to 70% or more.
These are the figures that I get by applying the search method I mentioned in my last post to the whole Tipiṭaka, minus most of the KN. For the KN I’ve omitted all the books in verse, except the Jataka, because too many of the commentaries’ glosses are for words in the commentarial stories rather than the canonical verses.
The first figure is the number of ‘unique’ words in the mūlapāḷi and the second the number of definienda in the atthakathā. For the former I first removed all the variant readings, since the atthakathā will only be commenting on one of them. Bearing in mind the great number of repetitions of a single word in different numbers and grammatical cases, I suspect the first figure would be more accurate if it were reduced by about a third; for now I’ve left it as it is.
Vinaya Pitaka 31563/6809 = 22%
Digha Nikaya 17374/6347 = 37%
Majjhima Nikaya 21662/8594 = 40%
Samyutta Nikaya 23058/7447 = 32%
Anguttara Nikaya 25481/9663 = 38%
Udana 4287/2359 = 55%
Itivuttaka 3330/1743 = 52%
Jataka 25947/12781 = 49%
Niddesa 18380/6906 = 38%
Patisambhidamagga 8498/4489 = 53%
Dhammasangani 2574/784 = 30%
Vibhanga 5850/1722 = 29%
Dhatukatha 826/133 = 16%
Puggalapannatti 2524/673 = 27%
Kathavatthu 6900/741 = 11%
Yamaka 1279/232 = 18%
Patthana 4692/491 = 10%
Can you give more about this and the digested meaning?
It’s a discussion of what proportion of the words in the suttas are commented on by the Commentaries, and how useful, therefore, the Commentaries might be in detecting possible transmission errors or reconciling variants in the versions of the Suttas that we now have. Much more detail in the actual posts.
There is an idea proposed by some that the Pali commentaries have a crucial role in establishing our earliest readings of the Pali texts. The argument is that all our manuscripts are much later than the commentaries. In cases, therefore, where a...
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As you presumably know, Ven Dhammanando has an extensive knowledge of the Theravada Abhidhamma and Commentaries.