A few weeks ago I was in Paris for a Pali workshop, convened by Peter Skilling and Nalini Balbir. Food poisoning aside (and surely throwing up in the Sorbonne toilets is a great honour!) it was a lovely opportunity to hang out with other Pali enthusiasts, sharing our research results and plans. There were also sessions in which we read Khom manuscripts of the Jambupati Sutra, an extra-canonical narrative of a proud king who is subdued by the Buddha when the latter puts on a show of being a universal emperor.
The best thing about this workshop was its focus upon Pali studies in a broader context. Pali scholars have received a lot of criticism in recent years because of a certain strand of past scholarship in which Pali scriptures were assumed to be the oldest and purest representatives of Buddhism available for study, and were thus prioritised unfairly over other sources for early Buddhism. At this workshop the emphasis was not upon the classical Pali corpus in and of itself, but intersections between it and other bodies of literature. Thus we heard from Ingo Strauch about the state of scholarship on Gandhari Buddhist literature, as represented in several collections of birchbark manuscripts that date as far back as the beginning of the common era. We also heard from Bhikkhu Analayo about how the Chinese Agamas relate to the Pali Nikayas. In addition, several sessions focused upon extra-canonical Pali texts that are in use in Southeast Asia.
My own contribution to this contextual agenda was to talk about my work on the intersections between Buddhist narrative (often, though not exclusively, Pali) and other narrative traditions of early South Asia. In particular, I spoke briefly about the references to Brahmanical Hindu beliefs, mythology, ethics and practices in the Jatakas, a topic I hope to revisit more formally at a later date. Unfortunately illness prevented me from hearing all the discussion that followed during the round table on narrative.
This workshop was a welcome attempt to promote conversations between a variety of Pali scholars, and since it was billed as the “first” international Pali studies week, I hope we may safely look forward to a second…