Theravada commentaries

From Dhamma Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Theravada Commentaries, known in Pali as: Atthakatha (Pali for explanation, commentary) refers to Pali language Theravadin Buddhist commentaries to the canonical Theravadin Tipitaka. These commentaries give the traditional interpretations of the scriptures. The major commentaries were based on earlier ones, now lost, in Old Sinhalese, which were written down at the same time as the Canon, in the last century BCE. Some material in the commentaries is found in canonical texts of other schools of Buddhism, suggesting an early common source.

As with the Canon itself, the contents of collected editions of the Theravadin commentaries, compiled from the fourth century CE onwards, vary between editions. The minimal collection, found in the Thai edition (1992) includes the following (Skilling 2002).

  • Twelve commentaries ascribed to Buddhaghosa: commentary on the Vinaya Pitaka; one each on the Digha Nikaya, Majjhima Nikaya, Samyutta Nikaya and Anguttara Nikaya; four on Khuddaka Nikaya books; and three on the Abhidhamma Pitaka.
  • Commentaries by Dhammapala on seven books of the Khuddaka Nikaya.
  • Four commentaries by various authors on four other books of the Khuddaka Nikaya.

In addition, the following are included in one or both of the other two editions: the Burmese Chatthasangayana edition (a list of contents can be found in Thein Han 1981) and the Sinhalese Simon Hewavitarne Bequest edition.

  • Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga, a systematic presentation of the traditional teaching; the commentaries on the first four nikayas refer to this for the material it details. In both Sinhalese (Mori et al. 1994) and Burmese
  • The Patimokkha (Pruitt & Norman 2001, page xxxvi) and its commentary Kankhavitarani, ascribed to Buddhaghosa
  • Commentary by Dhammapala on the Nettipakarana, a work sometimes included in the canon
  • Vinayasangaha, a selection of passages from Samantapasadika arranged topically by Sariputta in the twelfth century (Crosby 2006)
  • Saratthasamuccaya, commentary on the Paritta. In Sinhalese (Malalasekera 1938).


The commentator Dhammapala's date is uncertain. He wrote after Buddhaghosa, and probably no later than the tenth century. His Khuddaka Nikaya commentaries are Paramatthadipani comprising

  • Udana-atthakatha regarding the Udana.
  • Itivuttaka-atthakatha regarding the Itivuttaka.
  • Vimanavatthu-atthakatha regarding the Vimanavatthu.
  • Petavatthu-atthakatha regarding the Petavatthu.
  • Theragatha-atthakatha regarding the Theragatha.
  • Therigatha-atthakatha regarding the Therigatha.
  • Cariyapitaka-atthakatha regarding the Cariyapitaka.

Other commentaries

Other Khuddaka Nikaya commentaries are

  • Saddhammapajotika by Upasena regarding the Niddesa.
  • Saddhammappakasini by Mahanama regarding the Patisambhidamagga.
  • Visuddhajanavilasini by an unknown author regarding the Apadana.
  • Madhuratthavilasini attributed to Buddhadatta regarding the Buddhavamsa.

Three books are included in some editions of the Khuddaka Nikaya: Nettipakarana, Petakopadesa and Milindapañha. Of these only the Nettipakarana has a commentary in any standard edition.


The subcommentaries (tika, ṭīkā) are commentaries on the commentaries on the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism. They continue the commentaries' development of the traditional interpretation of the scriptures. The official Burmese collected edition contains the following texts:

  • Paramatthamanjusa, tika by Dhammapala on Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga; scholars have not yet settled which Dhammapala this is
  • Three tikas on the Samantapasadika, commentary on the Vinaya Pitaka:
o Tika by Vajirabuddhi
o Saratthadipani by Sariputta (12th century)
o Vimativinodani by Kassapa (13th century)
  • Two tikas on the Kankhavitarani, commentary on the Patimokkha
  • Tikas by Dhammapala on Buddhaghosa's Sumangalavilasini, Papancasudani and Saratthapakasini, commentaries on the Digha, Majjhima and Samyutta Nikayas; it is generally considered by scholars that this is a different Dhammapala from the one who wrote commentaries
  • Visuddha(jana)vilasini by Nanabhivamsa, head of the Burmese sangha, about 1800; a new partial tika on the Sumangalavilasini, covering only the first volume of the Digha
  • Saratthamanjusa by Sariputta on Buddhaghosa's Manorathapurani on the Anguttara Nikaya
  • Nettitika on Dhammapala's commentary on the Netti
  • Nettivibhavini by a 16th century Burmese author whose name is given in different manuscripts as Saddhamma-, Samanta- or Sambandha-pala; this is not a new tika on the Netti commentary, but a new commentary on the Netti itself
  • Mulatika by Ananda on the commentaries on the Abhidhamma Pitaka
  • Anutika on the Mulatika

There are other tikas without this official recognition, some printed, some surviving in manuscript, some apparently lost. The name tika is also applied to commentaries on all non-canonical works, such as the Mahavamsa. There are also some subcommentaries in vernacular languages.

Extracts from some of these works have been translated, usually along with translations of commentaries.

Two extremes by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Bhikkhu Bodhi from an interview with Inquiring Mind:

"To be brief, I would say there are two extreme attitudes one could take to the commentaries. One, often adopted by orthodox Theravadins, is to regard them as being absolutely authoritative almost on a par with the suttas. The other is to disregard them completely and claim they represent 'a different take on the Dhamma.' I find that a prudent middle ground is to consult the commentaries and use them, but without clinging to them. Their interpretations are often illuminating, but we should also recognize that they represent a specific systematization of the early teaching. They are by no means necessitated by the early teaching, and on some points even seem to be in tension with it."

See also