Grace Burford's Ideas


Peace and Greetings:
I don’t know if anyone here is familiar with Dr. Grace Burford’s book from back in the 90’s, Desire, Death and Goodness. In a nutshell, her premise was that the “normative values” of the Atthakavagga were at odds with those of the Nikayas generally and the later Theravadin exegesis of the text specifically. As I remember, there was quite a bit of blowback from scholars: I don’t remember any positive responses at the time to what she was saying. Does anyone know which scholars responded to her? I remember Paul Fuller addresses her thesis in Notion of Ditthi, but there were others. Can anyone help? Thank you.
(And, if anyone had a view on the topic, please, you’d be more than welcome to express it.)


K.R. Norman has a response. The article was informative, but I didn’t find it very convincing. Nor Fuller’s.

There is an article by Premasari that is much more sympathetic to the kinds of views Burford defends, although I can’t recall if it precedes her work or responds to it.

There is an article by Eviatar Schulman that deals with the Atthavagga and I’m certain discusses Buford. It deals with the interpretive problem by arguing that since the work is in verse it is “not concerned with doctrine”, which I think is wildly implausible.

Also, Alexander Wynne’s recent lectures on Buddhist meditation deal with the Atthavagga and Parsyanavagga at great length.


Thank you for your kind reply.
I’ve actually read quite a few of the responses, but it was years ago. I’m looking for them now, but I couldn’t remember who said what. But I do remember the “work in verse” argument (as well as not being terribly impressed by it either).
Anyhow, thank you! I will start looking for the articles.

(Keeping in mind that she may have overstated or oversimplified the case, I do think Dr. Burford was probably just way ahead of her time.)


Actually, that’s what’s rekindled my interest in Grace Burford’s ideas. Wynne is actually just restating (a much more guarded, jhana-specific, surgically precise version of) Burford’s theories.