Report by Richard Gombrich
Except for a very few scholars, few people either know or care that no critical edition of the Pali Canon has ever been produced. If you believe, as I do, that the Pali Canon is the best source, and will probably always remain the best source, for the teachings of the Buddha (which is not to say that it simply reproduces those teachings), it is rather astonishing that there has been no serious effort to establish its texts as accurately as possible.
For about 2,000 years this collection of Pali texts has been transmitted in Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. For most of the period the transmission has been through palm leaf manuscripts, though hardly any manuscripts now survive which are even five centuries old. Recently there have also been printed editions, and some of these have now been reproduced electronically. The transmission follows four more or less national traditions, those of Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia and Laos (the latter including what is now much of northern Thailand). These traditions are close to each other, close enough to put it beyond doubt that they stem from one original recension; it would therefore seem that the task of a critical edition would be to establish the text of that recension. However, the issue is not so simple and one has to make a choice of precisely what to aim at. Probably the best choice available is to aim to reconstitute the text known to Buddhaghosa in Sri Lanka in the fifth century AD.
Your subscription: Not interested any more? [UNSUBSCRIBE]