I need help finding academic sources on the philosophical arguments found in later Pali commentaries

I am aware that late Pali sources (the Atthakathas and Tikas, commentaries and sub-commentaries) contain much philosophical discussion. I am also under the impression that they do engage with the mainstream Indian tradition and discuss and debate with such views as Yogacara Idealism and Madhyamaka anti-foundationalism in defense of the Theravada schools philosophical view which defends a foundationalist metaphysical pluralism (in which ultimate reality is composed of many real dharmas).

However, it seems that this is quite an understudied field and I am having a real difficult time finding scholarly sources which discuss these ideas and the arguments that later Theravada scholars discussed. I am particularly interested in metaphysical issues, such as their defense of external world realism, their defense of svabhava and so forth. If anyone knows of any good sources that discuss these topics, I would really appreciate it!

I know this is not exactly EBT related so that’s why I watercoolered it! But I figured some one here might know something.


Early Buddhist Metaphysics” by Ronkin comes to mind, but it’s quite critical of Theravāda. I can’t think of any that are more positive. If you are looking for a defence of Buddhist realism and sabhāva outside of Theravāda then Ven. Saṃghabhadra’s Nyāyānusāra comes to mind, which critiques many unorthodox positions from the Vaibhāṣika point of view. One of those was the doctrine of dhammas being empty of sabhāva, and so was possibly aimed against Ven. Nāgārjuna and his followers. Sadly though there aren’t any full translations that I know of.


It is a frustrating lacuna. In Brill’s recent (2021) 350-page volume Buddhist Philosophy of Consciousness: Tradition and Dialogue, Theravada is mentioned on page 4 of the introduction… and then never again. :roll_eyes:

This footnote is the sum total of the engagement with the Pāḷi commentaries in Mark Siderits’ book on Buddhist Metaphysics:

There is Dipen Barua’s 2021 PhD thesis from HKU on the bhavaṅga-citta if that’s helpful…


It is! Like we have a huge literature here from the Polonnaruwa period (Anuruddha, Sumangala, Siddhattha, Sāriputta Thera, Mahākassapa of Dimbulagala and Moggallana Thera) and also from Burma in the Bagan period (Ariyavamsa, Acariya Dhammasenapati, Aggavamsa Thera, Capata (Saddhammajotipala), Saddhammasiri, Vimalabuddhi, Aggapandita and Dhammadassi.). There is no way there is no interesting philosophy here.

But when I look at the recent publication: The Routledge Handbook of Indian Buddhist Philosophy (Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy) (2022)

There is nothing on the Pali tradition past Buddhaghosa. I guess they just don’t consider these figures to be doing “Indian” philosophy because of geographical reasons? Or do they just not have scholars working on these people who wanted to contribute? Or, do they just not think these figures from later eras were doing philosophy that was interesting?

Either way, frustrating. :upside_down_face:

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There is a good 17500 page Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies that may perhaps have some of what you are looking for. The volumes published are:

Vol 1 - Bibliography,
Vol 2 - The Tradition of Nyaya-Vasesika up to Gangesa,
Vol 5 - Advaita Vedanta up to Samkara and his Pupils,
Vol 4 - Samkhya - A dualist tradition,
Vol 5 - The Philosophy of the Grammarians,
Vol 6 - Indian Philosophical A nalysis Nyaya-Vaisesika from Gangesa to Raghunatha Siromani,
Vol 7 - Abhidharma Buddhism To 150 A.D.,
Vol 8 - Buddhist Philosophy from 100 to 350 A.D.,
Vol 9 - Buddhist Philosophy from 350 to 600 A.D.,
Vol 10 - Jain Philosophy - Part I,
Vol 11 - Advaita Vedanta from 800 to 1200,
Vol 12 - Yoga - India’s Philosophy of Meditation,
Vol 13 - Nyaya-Vaisesika Philosophy from 1515 to 1660,
Vol 14 - Jain Philosophy Part II,
Vol 15 - Bhedabheda and Dvaitadvaita Systems,
Vol 16 - Philosophy of Purva-Mimamsa,
Vol 17 - Jain Philosophy Part- III,
Vol 18 - Dvaita Vedanta Philosophy,
Vol 19 - Acintyabhedhabheda Vaisnava Philosophy,
Vol 20 - Visistadvaita Vedanta,
Vol 21 - Buddhist Philosophy from 600 to 750 A.D.,
Vol 22 - Buddhist Philosophy from 750 Onward,
Vol 23 - Suddhadvaita Vedanta Philosophy,
Vol 24 - Kashmir Saiva Philosophy,
Vol 25 - Nyaya-Vaisesika in recent times

It’s a great question, and I agree it is a lacuna. There are few things to be found in Ven Bodhi’s translations of the commentaries, esp. DN 1 IIRC. Also some footnotes in Nyanamoli’s Vsm translation, eg. he notes where the subcommentary responds to Nagarjuna. I’m guessing that the secondary work in the field ignores it because of the lack of translations of primary texts.

Weird how so many people are always “everything has be in accord with the commentaries” but in the last 100 years have not actually translated any major commentaries or subcommentaries. :person_shrugging:


:face_with_monocle: I don’t think I have that one… I do have:

MN 1 Mulapariyaya Sutta Commentary - Bhikkhu Bodhi.pdf (4.4 MB)

And here is Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of the commentaries on DN 15 in case that’s of any use…

Perhaps Bhante @Dhammanando has something up his sleeve? :pray:

Oh yeah, I remember that!

Also, there is a recent source which discusses the Polonnaruwa period literature I found,

Rewriting Buddhism Pali Literature and Monastic Reform in Sri Lanka, 1157–1270, Alastair Gornall

It doesn’t really delve deep into philosophical issues as I would like though, a lot of it is mostly historical discussion, literary theory, grammar and so on.

There’s also Von Hinuber’s A Handbook of Pali literature for a basic overview of the texts.

But still, I have not located any work which really delves into the philosophical issues

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Could it not be that Theravada just didn’t engage that much with the wider philosophical and Buddhist scene at the time?

Hi Javier. Jonardon Ganeri, an excellent ‘fusion philosopher’ working across Indian and western-analytic philosophical modes, is an unexpected defender of some of Buddhaghosa’s specifically philosophical interpretations. I don’t have the books with me here to check, but a quick internet search brings up this recent article: (PDF) Attention to Greatness: Buddhaghosa (2018) | Jonardon Ganeri - Academia.edu
I have appreciated Ganeri’s earlier presentations of Buddhaghosa on the nature of the self or lack of it, and he has also written on Buddhaghosa on attention (yoniso manasikara). Ganeri stands completely outside of Theravada so his work shows up specifically philosophical qualities in Buddhaghosa’s writings.


I mean, it was certainly not part of the north Indian philosophical mainstream, but I believe they did engage in some ways with the ideas of the time and with Sanskrit literature.

Ah yes, I have heard of him, thanks

I started studying Pali seriously two months ago primarily because I want to be able to read the texts that haven’t received the attention of translators (esp. the Vinaya and Commentaries). I’ve been meaning to learn Pali for years, but this has been what finally lit a fire under me to do it (currently almost done with Pali Primer).

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