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Introduction to the Pāḷi literature of Myanmar

In studying the age of the Pāḷi literature of Myanmar, we should

consider when Buddhism was introduced into Myanmar.

According to the chronicles of kings (Rājavaṃsa) and histories, it

can be believed that Buddhism arrived in Myanmar since even during the
time of the Buddha himself. However, this still demands some solid
evidence. In conformity with some archaeological findings, the arrival of
Buddhism in Myanmar dates back to the early centuries of Christian era
and they are also nothing else, but the golden plate inscriptions found in
1897 A.D at Khinbhakone and Maungkankone near Hmawzar in Pyay
district. The characters inscribed on them are the form of Kadamba
scripts well-known in south India in the fifth century A.D. It is, therefore,
presumed that these golden plate inscriptions were probably inscribed as
early as 500 A.D. The texts written on them are: - a Pāḷi verse beginning
with ‘yedhamma hetuppabhavā’ from the Vinaya Piṭaka, the four Nikāyas,
some of Abhidhamma texts such as ‘Cattāro iddhipādā, cattāro
sammappadhānā’ etc., and the virtues of the triple Gem beginning with
‘Itipi so bhagavā arahaṃ.’ As these texts were inscribed in Pāḷi, it is
evident that the Pāḷi language also arrived in Myanmar since the early
centuries of Christian era.

Although the arrival of the Pāḷi language in Myanmar goes back to

such an early period, we find it difficult to assume safely that it was
highly developed during the days of Pyu and Mon before Bagan period.
We are told by the chronicles of kings (Rājavaṃsa) that king Manuhā (12
A. D) of Thahton possessed some set of Tipiṭaka. If so, he must surely
have had some commentaries and sub-commentaries as well and if they
would have been available, the then scholars must certainly have
composed some treaties in Pāḷi depending on them. However, it seems
probable that those treaties were just not handed down to the later
generations because they disappeared all by the nature of
impermanence. The total disappearance of them even along with their
titles must be regarded as a loss to the Pāḷi literature of Myanmar.

But, although we have not inherited the early Myanmar-Pāḷi-literary

heritage, we have, as the dependability for the history of the Pāḷi
literature, such expositions as Ganthavaṃsa, Thathanalinkara Sartan
(Essay on the Lineage of Buddha Sāsanā) and Pitakatthamaing (History of
Tipiṭaka) together with a number of Pāḷi treatises that have appeared
since the period of Bagan.

According to Pitakatthmaing, of these, it is

Manudamathatkyanhaung, which is the first Pāḷi work in the land of
Myanmar. It is said that this was composed in Māgadha by the three
great persons - Pyuminhti, Sakka and a certain ascetic during the reign
of Pyuminhti, who ascended the throne in 164 Myanmar era.

Addition to these, the stone inscriptions of Myazaydi and of

Shwegugyiphayar are milestones of the early Pāḷi literature of Myanmar
and they are easily available today. Between them, Myazaydi inscription
was inscribed by the year king Kyansit of Bagan passed away. this was
carved in four languages – Pāḷi, Myanmar, Mon and Pyu. We can see in
the side of Pāḷi that this was written only in verse. Considering those Pāḷi
verses, we can assess the quality of the Pāḷi literature of Bagan period.
Indeed, all Pāḷi verses in it accord with the grammatical system as well as
the rules of prosody. Similarly, the Pāḷi inscription carved in
Shwegugyiphayar built by the king Alaungsithu also contains all excellent
Pāḷi verses with the elegant writing. Its important feature, unlike
Myazaydi inscription, is that therein, he did not mention in plain what he
wanted to, but embellished the king’s vow of becoming a Buddha with
about one hundred verses. It is more significant that it states, at the end,
three verses in Sanskrit bearing the dates on which the construction of
Shwegugyiphayar commenced and completed respectively.

During the period of Bagan itself, there appeared a Pāḷi work which
the whole nation of Myanmar should be proud of. It is a grammatical work
known as Saddanīti composed by Ashin Aggavaṃsa and this is not a
supplementary work to the Kaccāyana as it consists of its own Suttas and
Udāharaṇas. In so doing, the author wrote it only after studying
repeatedly back and front the Sanskrit works available in his day,
together with the Canonical texts, commentaries, sub-commentaries and
other treatises. Therefore, too, it is rich in Udāharaṇas from the Canon,
commentaries and sub-commentaries, a number of (grammatical)
aspects from many Sanskrit works and the critical analyses of those
aspects. It is found that in making quotations, he just made preference
for what is worthy of example or not without considering their size small
or big. We can see in a place he quoted even a little Sanskrit work called
Ekakkharakosa just comprising 32 stanzas.

Saddanīti is divided into three divisions – Padamālā, Dhātumālā and

Suttamālā and explained there grammatical points of the Pāḷi literature
extensively and so, there has not yet appeared a single Pāḷi grammatical
work as comprehensive as this up to now. When Sinhalese monks who
considered themselves as Pāḷi grammatical masters being second to
none, saw and studied it, they could not but speak in praise of Ashin
Aggavaṃsa, its author, for his immense knowledge. Thathanalinkara
Sartan states that Ashin Aggavaṃsa composed it in 516 Myanmar era
and if it is true, he must have been a great one living during the reign of
the king Alaungsithu.

After that, there came out many of the Pāḷi treatises, mostly
grammatical works throughout the period of Bagan. Considering the
grand grammatical works such as Kaccāyana, Moggalāna and Saddanīti,
they are known as Saddange (little grammar book). Out of them,
Saddatthabedacintā, Kaccāyanasāra, Kārikā, etc., are the most popular.

Addition to the grammatical treatises, Buddhist other expositions

also came into being. Among them, Nāmacāradīpaka and
Vinayaguḷhattha composed by the Thera Chappada and
Mahābodhivaṃsa Ṭīkā written by Paunglaungshin Kassapa are well-
known. Thathanalinkara Sartan (118-9) says that Suttaniddesa and
Sakhepavaṇṇanāṭikā were also written by the Thera Chappada of Bagan.
If it is factual, both of them can also be regarded as the treatises of the
Bagan period.

In that day and age, not only did learning the Pāḷi literature flourish
in the community of the monks, but in lay people such as the king and so
on. Therefore, the king Kyaswar, who is well-known in the chronicle of
Myanmar to be expert in Piṭaka was able to write Paramatthabindu and
Saddbindu and Thanpyin minister Thanpyinṭīkā called Nyāssppadīkā that
is an explanation of Nyāsa.
It is found that Niththayas also begun to appear since the period of
Bagan. Of course, Pitakatthamaing mentions that Ashin Guṇvaṭaṃsakā
composed Niththayas on three texts of Dighanikāya and that he was
offered a monastery in Bagan by the prince Gunnantara, who governed
two towns- Nyaungyan and Thagara, born of Sawmyathla, Myaukthardaw,
and Yazathu, a younger brother of the king Sawmonnit, who ascended
the throne in Bagan in 1990 Myanmar era, the later period of Bagan.

After Bagan period, during the times of Sagaing, Pinya, Innwa and
Hanthawady, too, the Pāḷi literature was highly developed. Out of the Pāḷi
works that appeared in those days, the well-known treatises run as
follows:- (1) Nettivibhāvinīṭīkā by Ashin Saddhammapāla, (2)
Sirimahādhammarājaguru, Pārājikan Yojana, and Abhidhamma Yojanas
by Ashin Nyanakitti, (3) Kaccāyanvaṇṇanā and Vācakopadesa, little
Grammar by Ashin Mahāvijitāvī, (4) Saddasāratthajālinī, little Grammar,
by Ashin Nāgita Thera known as Sudwinpyit Sayadaw, (5) Abhidhan Ṭīkā
by Caturingabala Amat, minister of Pinya, (6) Maṇisāramañjusā Ṭīkā,
Maṇidīpaṭīkā, Ganthābharaṇa and Jātaka Ṭīkā by Ashin Ariyavaṃsa, (7)
Payaikkyi Ṭīkā by Ashin Tejosāra of Sagain, (8) Dhātukathāṭīkāvaṇṇanā
by Sayadaw Ashin Tilokaguru, (9) Ekakkharakosa by Ashin
Saddhammakittivara, (10)Vinayalinkāra Ṭīkā by Taunphilar Sayadaw and
(11) Madhusāratthadīpanī called Madhuṭīkā by Ashin Mahānāma Therea
in the period of Hanthavady, and so forth.

In those periods, there appeared not only Pāḷi treatises, but also
works in mixture of Pāḷi and Myanmar, and Myanmar literature based on
Pāḷi. Among them that appeared in those days, some well-known
treatises are as follows:- (1) Vinipāḷidaw Nitthaya and Atthakaṭṭhakathā
Nitthayas by Shweumin Sayadaw, (2) Nettipāḷidaw Nitthaya by Ashin
Mahāsīlavaṃsa, (3) many of Saddakyinitthayas by Nankyaung Sayadaw
and Dakkhiṇāvan Sayadaw, (4) Ayakauk treatises such as Mātikā
ayakauk by such and such Sayadaws and (5) poetical works of Ashin
Mahāsīlavaṃsa and Ashin Mahāratthasāra, and so on.

It can be seen that during the same period, the Pāḷi-Nītis analogous
to the Sanskrit Nītis such as Cāṇkyanīti, came into being. Out of them
Lokanīti attributed to Caturiṅgabala Amatkyi and Mahārahanīti are well-
known to the people.

Afterwards, in Konbaung dynasty, too, the same typ of literature

developed and it is found that the Pāḷi works of high quality, like the
preceding ones, came into existence. They are:- Silakkhandhavagg
abhinava Tīkā and Nettimahāṭkā called Peṭakālankāra of Maunghtaung
Sayadaw, Niruttibhedasaṅgahasaddā by Sayadaw U Boke and
Khuddkapāṭhatīkā and Sambandhacintātīkā by Paṭhama Ngarkhon
Sayadaw and so on. Pācityādiyojanā by Phayargyi Sayadaw and
Kaṅkhāyojanā mahātīkā are also the famous Pāḷi works in the later part of
this period. It is also found that such works as Nitthaya, Ayakauk etc,
depending on the Pāḷi were more developed. They include Poksitkyan,
Nyatayakaukkyan, Yamaikkhetsit and Pahtanayakaukkyan of Taungdwin
Sayadaw Khingyipyaw, Rūpasiddhi-Nitthaya, Saddanītinitthaya, Bhikkhu-
Bhikkhunīpātimokkha-Khuddasikkhā Nitthaya and Nettihāratthadīpanī by
Sayadaw U Boke and Mātikā Ayakauk of Taungphilar Sayadaw.

Besides, during that very time there appeared a work named

Thathanalinkāra Sartan especially about the history of treatises and of
Buddhism in Myanmar by Mahadhamm- athinkyan, a royal counselor. On
the order of the Bawashinmintayagyi (Bagyidawphayar), who is the
founder of the fourth Yadanapura kingdom, Mahadhammathinkyan
Amatkyi wrote it in order to answer the question by
Thirimahanandathagyan, a confidential minister and so we can see it
explains Buddhist remarkable events from the first Saṃgha Council up to
the day of Bagyidawphayar. The very work was translated into Pāḷi by
Maungdaung Sayadaw Ashin Paññāsāmi in the period of Yadanabon, the
later part of Kaungbaung dynasty at the request of
Indāsabhavarañāṃsāmi Thera, formerly named Saraṇṅkara Thera, who
introduced Ramanya Nikāya into the island of Sinhalese (present Sri
Lanka) and an another Thera. It is a more comprehensive work sbout the
history of Buddhism because he translated it adding even the Buddhist
history of the period of king Mindon, the founder of the kingdom and
Mandalay city, the patron of the fifth Saṃgha council. It was also entitled
“Sāsanavaṃsappadīpikā.” And it is accessible to the overseas Pāḷi
scholars too, as it was written in Pāḷi and therefore, it is a worldwide Pāḷi
work of Myanmar they very often refer to regarding the history of
Buddhism and of Pāḷi literature.

In the same period, there appeared a separate Pāḷi grammar that

consists of its own Suttas and Udāharaṇas. It is Saddasaṅgaha written by
Yawatwinwan U Phohlain and we can see that it contains Sanskritised
usages because it relies heavily on a Sanskrit text named
Siddhantakomudī. It is also found that it, as being the work of Yawminkyi,
has decisive and clear decisions and analysis of aspects found in the
previous grammatical works. It has not become to be well-known to us for
it was not printed. This work is a separate Pāḷi grammar having appeared
in Yadanabon period and so Myanmar people should be proud of it.

Many of Gaṇṭhi and Vinicchaya treatises also appeared at this

period. Out of them, Pārājikan Gaṇṭhithit of Sayadaw U Thuta is a
renowned work. Among Niththayas of this period, Aṭṭhathalinī Aṭṭhakathā
Niththaya and Vithuddimagga Aṭṭhakathā Niththaya written by Pyay
Sayadaw have been famous until today.

Up to the present after this time, the Pāḷi literature has been
developed in Myanmar and so treatises on Pāḷi also have come into
existence. Out of the many, Paramatthadīpanī (in Pāḷi) of Ledi Sayadaw is
a world famous work and another celebrated work of him is Niruttidīpanī.
Many of his Dīpanīs written in Myanmar have brought about both
religious and secular benefits to the Buddhist monks as well as lay
followers until now. His Paramattha-dīpanī was followed by many
treatises such as Ankuraṭīkā of Talain Sayadaw and Vibhāviniyojanā of
Sayadaw Ashin Ñānindāsabha, ect. During this time, poetic works based
on Pāḷi were considerably developed. Among them, Magadaywalinkathit
of Manle Sayadaw can be regarded as the most comprehensive work for
it is full of a variety of knowledge both spiritual and secular and it is the
last bright leading light in the history of Myanmar poetic literature.

Hardly would this introduction cover thoroughly all works, besides

those above said, written by that and the other learned Sayadaws.
Therefore, the brief history of the Pāḷi literature must be just ended here.

This is the English translation of ‘Pāḷi Literature of Myanmar’ from

Introductions to the Tipiṭaka Pāḷi-Myanmar Dictionary (Vol. I and XI).