Dhammapala - Encyclopedia

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DHAMMAPALA, the name of one of the early disciples of the Buddha, and therefore constantly chosen as their name in religion by Buddhist novices on their entering the brotherhood. The most famous of the Bhikshus so named was the great commentator who lived in the latter half of the 5th century A.D. at the Badara Tittha Vihara, near the east coast of India, just a little south of where Madras now stands. It is to him we owe the commentaries on seven of the shorter canonical books, consisting almost entirely of verses, and also the commentary on the Netti, perhaps the oldest Pali work outside the canon. Extracts from the latter work, and the whole of three out of the seven others, have been published by the Pali Text Society. These works show great learning, exegetical skill and sound judgment. But as Dhammapala confines himself rigidly either to questions of the meaning of words, or to discussions of the ethical import of his texts, very little can be gathered from his writings of value for the social history of his time. For the right interpretation of the difficult texts on which he comments, they are indispensable. Though in all probability a Tamil by birth, he declares, in the opening lines of those of his works that have been edited, that he followed the tradition of the Great Minster at Anuradhapura in Ceylon, and the works themselves confirm this in every respect. Hsiian Tsang, the famous Chinese pilgrim, tells a quaint story of a Dhammapala of Kanchipura (the modern Konjevaram). He was a son of a high official, and betrothed to a daughter of the king, but escaped on the eve of the wedding feast, entered the order, and attained to reverence and distinction. It is most likely that this story, whether legendary or not (and Hsiian Tsang heard the story at Kanchipura nearly two centuries after the date of Dhammapala), referred to this author. But it may also refer, as Hsiian Tsang refers it, to another author of the same name. Other unpublished works, besides those mentioned above, have been ascribed to Dhammapala, but it is very doubtful whether they are really by him.


T.Watters, On Yuan Chwang (ed. Rhys Davids and Bushell, London, 1905), ii. 169, 228; Edmund Hardy in Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft (1898), pp. 97 foll.; Netti (ed. E. Hardy, London, Pali Text Society, 1902), especially the Introduction, passim; Theri Gatha Commentary, Peta Vatthu Commentary, and Vimana Vatthu Commentary, all three published by the Pali Text Society. (T. W. R. D.)

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