The Significance of Commentaries in Pali Buddhism at SSBU

I enjoyed this talk by Giuliani Giustarini.


I was quite troubled by Dr. Guistarini’s statement that he doubts that we can approach the teachings directly except via the commentaries. It troubled me because his statement contradicts my personal experience. I will admit to have practiced for decades working perhaps accidentally in line with the teachings (but is anything ever really an accident with the training?). However, I have also simply quoted phrases of the teachings to help friends in need. Remarkably, the teachings, even in simple phrases are indeed direct and effective as promised. Yesterday I advised a friend that suffering is a vital condition for faith. She was speechless and thoughtful.

I also very much see his point that we have neglected the commentaries in our modern rush to the teachings. I sense his frustration that we should flounder about in the ocean of the teachings when commentaries might provide a surer path. Indeed, every commentary I have read has enriched my understanding.

Oddly, that personal understanding came from reading the suttas. Before reading the suttas I could never read the commentaries. The commentaries are verbose to the point of reader exhaustion. Yet now I can read and understand the commentaries as tremendously valuable in the context of having read suttas.

Indeed, seeing each translation as an individual commentary has helped me embrace all translations. And allowed me to start looking at the commentaries.