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Institute of Buddhist Studies Podcast

An audio-visual digital archive of scholarly presentations and Dharma talks

Changing Roles of the Written Word in Theravada Buddhism

Daniel Veidlinger of the University of California, Chico, presents an engaging talk on the developing importance of the written word in early Buddhist history. Buddhism arose in an oral world where monks were charged with memorizing the words of the Buddha in order to preserve them. Writing is not mentioned in the Pali canon, and there is little emphasis on the idea of honoring or even using books in authoritative Theravada literature until the end of the first millennium CE. On the other hand, key Mahayana texts have from the beginning reserved their highest praise for the Dharma-bearing written word, and archeological and iconographic evidence as well as accounts of Chinese travelers suggest that stupas were made to enshrine texts and that books were the subject of votive cults. In predominantly Theravada regions such as Burma, Sri Lanka and central Thailand, a positive change of attitude towards books and writing coincided with the height of Mahayana influence in those areas, which led to the ritual veneration of books and manuscripts in these parts of the Theravada world as well.

Originally recording October 2, 2009
© 2009 Daniel Veidlinger

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