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Home Newsletters So-Wide Space September 2011 - report

So-Wide Space September 2011 - report

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So-Wide Space September 2011
Report from Richard Gombrich
New critical edition of the Tipitaka
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Report from Richard Gombrich

I am having a busy summer.

In late June I attended the 16th congress of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (IABS), which meets once every three years. The hosts this time were Dharma Drum Buddhist College in Taiwan (President: Ven. Prof. Hui Min Bhikshu). The hospitality and organization were impeccable. Participants were housed in five hotels and shuttled to and from the conference by bus. The College provided main meals – vegan, of course. Well over a hundred volunteers, carefully trained, were always on hand to assist.

There were 102 panels, spread over five and a half days, and some five hundred papers. (precision is impossible because some speakers failed to show up.) Only those giving papers were listed , so I have to guess the total number of participants: about 750?

Obviously no individual could do more than sample the offerings. Here I shall only remark that while one expected a conference held in Taiwan to emphasise Far Eastern, especially Chinese, Buddhism and this was indeed so, the dearth of Theravada was surprising. No panel was devoted either to Pali or to Theravada. Less than half a dozen papers used Pali sources, and the few papers on Theravadin topics were mostly on culture (e.g., art history, Jātaka performance). Moreover, while I could not identify every name, I believe that no paper was given by anyone who currently teaches in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Laos or Kampuchea, nor did any member of the Thai Sangha speak. India too was poorly represented. I am absolutely sure that the organizers had no bias against Theravadin topics or scholars, so I wonder how this startling imbalance is to be explained. I intend to comment further in the first issue of the forthcoming Oxford Journal of Buddhist Studies.

At the conference I made the gratifying discovery that at the previous conference, in 2008, which I had been unable to attend, I was given honorary life membership of the IABS for services to Buddhist studies. Since I do not know whom to thank, I record my gratitude here.

In less than two months I have given three intensive Pali courses. The first, which I labeled “intermediate” but turned out to be quite advanced, I held by request for three former pupils in my intensive introductory course. I feel rewarded when pupils at that course maintain and improve their Pali. For four and a half days we met in my house, mostly to read the AlagaddūpamaSutta of the MajjhimaNikāya and its entire commentary. Reading certain passages of the commentary helped me to understand why no one has ever translated the whole of it – indeed, why so little work has been done on it.

On 31 July the Ven Dr Dhammasami and I travelled to Budapest, where we then taught for six full days at the summer school of the Dharma Gate Buddhist College. I taught Pali all morning, and then again for over an hour in the late afternoon; earlier in the afternoon the Ven Dhammasami held a vipassanā class. I found the experience most enjoyable and rewarding. Only eight people attended my class, but instead of quantity I had quality: the Rector, János Jelen, and three of the College teachers took the course.

I had no idea how I could compress my usual twelve-day introductory course into six days. Not only did the time seem absurdly short, but since most of my pupils also attended the vipassanā class, and some also had other duties, they had no time to do homework. Would they get enough Pali for it to stick? I soon realized that it was going to work. I attribute this not only to the eagerness and intelligence of the class, but also to the fact that every Hungarian is taught grammar throughout primary school. How deprived we are in Britain!

The College was in crisis because recent legislation had suddenly removed their government funding and over half the staff had to lose their jobs virtually overnight. Even so, they spared no effort or expense to make me welcome, and I left with an extremely positive impression of the College ethos.

On 13 August I began my Pali Summer School, an intensive introduction to Pali. This is the eighth time I have taught the course and the fourth year running that it has been at Oxford Brookes University. As usual, Dr Tomoyuki Kono has been the assistant teacher. This was the first time that I have taught the introduction to basic grammar myself. I restrict the number of pupils to 14, but keep a waiting list. That is lucky, because this year no fewer than 4 people dropped out at very short notice; but I was able to fill their places. As usual, wide ranges of age, nationality and experience were represented.

There is no objective measure of the success of the course; to judge it I have to rely on pupils’ reactions and my own feelings.Though I am getting older and inevitably less sprightly, this may well be counterbalanced by experience, and I dare to hope that the course gets a little better every year.



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