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"Evam me sutam" : a critical evaluation and interpretation of oral features of the Brahmajala Sutta.

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Why the Buddhist Pali Canon? Why the Brahmajala Sutta? Will this dissertation contribute anything new and valuable towards Orality-Literacy Studies? It was with much anxiety and apprehension as well as intimidation in remembering the words of Jousse (1990): "A man who writes a book deriving solely from other books contributes nothing new." ...... that the choice of this topic became finalised. The Brahmajala Sutta commences with the words: "Evam me sutam" (Thus I have heard) It is the written representation of an oral form that came into existence as the culmination of an established authentic oral tradition that had its origins in the 5th Century B.C. It became preserved in written form in the 1st Century B.C. with the purpose of canonizing the Discourses of Gotama Buddha. These were and still are oral elements transmitted orally and the written text abounds with such as mnemotechniques, repetitions, refrains, sound and rhythmic patterns, silences and pauses that are germane to the content and comprehension of the sutta (discourse). This text which has survived many centuries holds much fascination as it attaches a meditative dimensions to the Orality-Literacy continuum since the meditative repetition of its verses aims at the spiritual transformation and enhancement of the individual. Le Roux (1991: 48) asks, "Is it possible to rekindle a live relationship with this ancient text, which is now only available in printed form?" In answering her question she states, "It is possible when the present day reader realises that this sutta has a dynamic vitality of its own, that it is able to challenge, communicate and demand a response from the interpreter. Inevitably, the reader is drawn into an involvement with the message of the sutta which Ricoeur (1967:354) calls, "a passionate, though critical relation with the truth value of each symbol." When the two horizons meet, that of the present day reader and the ancient text itself, understanding becomes a reality. That is possible notwithstanding immense differences in time, language and religio-philosophical beliefs." This dissertation is not intended to be an exegetical analysis of the Brahmajala Sutta, for which, in any case, it affords neither scope nor range. What it seeks to do is to explore how the text came to be fixed in its present form, as well as to appreciate the processes that lie behind its formulation, and most important of all, to attempt to understand what intrinsic qualities it possesses that give it its "dynamic vitality." In the first three chapters, the text is placed against the historical, sociological and cultural contexts of the Buddhist Pali Canon. This information is essential as it provides the background necessary for the comprehension of important aspects of the sutta. Chapter Four locates the position of the Brahmajala Sutta within the giant corpus of material embraced by the Buddhist Pali Canon and Chapter Five presents the structural formulation of the text. In Chapters Six and Seven, the oral compositional process with its use of formulaic devices comes into focus within a semantic, morphological and phonological analysis. I emphasise that since I consider my knowledge of the Pali Canon to be relatively limited, I have had to rely on the works of the many eminent researchers whose names appear in the Bibliography, for the information contained in the first three chapters.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1992.


Tipitaka. Suttapitaka--Criticism, interpretation, etc., Buddhism--Sacred books--Criticism, interpretation, etc., Pali literature--History and criticism., Theses--Orality-literacy studies.