[1/7] 南傳佛教研究中的“經典”與“理性”問題

[Bilingual, Chinese & English]



Problems of “Canon” and “Reason” in Theravāda Studies:

Cultural Anthropology Encounters the Pali Canon (巴利文大藏經), From Cambodia to Yunnan




This article addresses fundamental misconceptions about the Pali canon (巴利文 大藏经) that are currently vitiating academic discourse (beyond the narrow definition of “Buddhist Studies” or “Religious Studies”) demonstrating that the ancient texts can enrich our understanding of contemporary cultural phenomena. This broaches (i) the structure and historical sequence of the texts that now comprise the Pali canon, (ii) the precedence that has been ascribed to some of these texts (often incorrectly) by both Western and Asian scholars, and (iii) the struggle of anthropologists (as a discipline) to deal with the burden of history and comparative philology that intersects with their fieldwork in the Theravāda context (from Cambodia to Yunnan). Ongoing debates amongst social researchers are reconsidered in the context of recent centuries of research, and are also contrasted to indigenous debates arising from the codification and preservation of the Theravāda textual tradition by religious authorities.



本文旨在解決對大藏經的基本認識誤區(如今已危害到了學術論文),並提供正面實例來說明古代文本能夠豐富對當代文化現象的理解。這可視為我先期拙作《巴利文的消失, 一個實用的指南》(下稱“指南”)之續篇,在“指南”中我再次提供給學者們“一種實踐指導”,來運用這些歷史來源;另一方面,亦可視為是我近期在柬埔寨演講論文之序文,其中告誡歐洲學界在南傳佛教研究中的紕漏,以及亞洲學界目前繼承該遺產所將遇到的困難(題為《佛教之另一面》(The Opposite of Buddhism,仍在同行評閱中)。在這三篇文章裡,我設想自己處在一個時代末的歷史交界處,這一時期研究南傳佛教的歐洲學者人數超過了亞洲,而接下來的時期亞洲學者數將超過歐洲。



§1. The study of the most ancient written records of the Buddhist religion is both internally contentious, and disputed in its application to the study of contemporary Buddhism (in the fieldwork of anthropology and other disciplines). The vast majority of academics who publish studies of Theravāda Cultures cannot offer comparative references to the primary source material of the Theravāda Canon and cannot read Pali, i.e., the ancient language this canon is written in; nevertheless, cultural studies do not hesitate to make comparative judgements that contrast contemporary practices to canonical ideals. This is a problem that hampers many of the best studies written by researchers with long and distinguished careers; for younger scholars, the effect can be quite baffling, because they neither have direct access to ancient texts, nor can they easily survey representative examples of modern cultural practices. Comparative statements that relate something known to something unknown will inevitably misrepresent both.

This essay attempts to address fundamental misconceptions about the canon (that are currently vitiating academic discourse) while offering positive examples of the ways that the ancient texts can enrich our understanding of contemporary cultural phenomena. This could be considered a sequel to my earlier work titled Bālì Wén De Xiāo Shī Yī Ge Shí Yòng De Zhǐ Nán (巴利文的消失 一個實用的指南) in that I am again providing scholars with “a practical guide” to using these historical sources; in another aspect, this could be considered a sequel to a more recent essay that I delivered as a lecture in Cambodia warning about the shortcomings of European scholarship on Theravāda Buddhism, and the difficulties that Asian scholars will have as they now inherit this legacy (titled, The Opposite of Buddhism, and still in peer review). In all three essays, I imagine myself on the historical margin marking the end of an era wherein European scholars of Theravāda Buddhism outnumbered the Asian scholars, and the start of an era wherein the Asian scholars will outnumber the Europeans.

In the next 100 years, I expect there will be more Chinese-language scholars of Theravāda Buddhism than Europeans. In this era, Yunnan could have a unique role as the one area of China where Theravāda is an indigenous tradition, and where the adjacent traditions of Southeast Asia are readily available for Chinese researchers of both ancient texts and contemporary cultures. Whereas Taiwan’s unique importance in the last 100 years has been widely acclaimed in Buddhist Studies, this paper may raise the question of what its role will be in the next 100 years, indicating that new research into the Pali canon is requisite to further progress in the field.

[This is part 1 of 7, click to link back to the index of chapters.]