Hardback: $54.00
ISBN-13: 9780824830243
Published: August 2006

Spreading the Dhamma: Writing, Orality, and Textual Transmission in Buddhist Northern Thailand

  • About the Book
  • How did early Buddhists actually encounter the seminal texts of their religion? What were the attitudes held by monks and laypeople toward the written and oral Pali traditions? In this pioneering work, Daniel Veidlinger explores these questions in the context of the northern Thai kingdom of Lan Na. Drawing on a vast array of sources, including indigenous chronicles, reports by foreign visitors, inscriptions, and palm-leaf manuscripts, he traces the role of written Buddhist texts in the predominantly oral milieu of northern Thailand from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

    Veidlinger examines how the written word was assimilated into existing Buddhist and monastic practice in the region, considering the use of manuscripts for textual study and recitation as well as the place of writing in the cultic and ritual life of the faithful. He shows how manuscripts fit into the economy, describes how they were made and stored, and highlights the understudied issue of the “cult of the book” in Theravâda Buddhism. Looking at the wider Theravâda world, Veidlinger argues that manuscripts in Burma and Sri Lanka played a more central role in the preservation and dissemination of Buddhist texts.

    By offering a detailed examination of the motivations driving those who sponsored manuscript production, this study draws attention to the vital role played by forest-dwelling monastic orders introduced from Sri Lanka in the development of Lan Na’s written Pali heritage. It also considers the rivalry between those monks who wished to preserve the older oral tradition and monks, rulers, and laypeople who supported the expansion of the new medium of writing.

  • About the Authors
    • Daniel Veidlinger is professor of Buddhism in the Department of Comparative Religion and Humanities at California State University, Chico.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • There is really nothing like this book. It addresses issues of current interest in Buddhist and cultural studies such as textual community, literary and material culture, and the relationship between oral and written texts. It also brings to scholarly and public attention a period and area of the world that has been understudied and is deserving of more attention.
      —Donald K. Swearer, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University
    • Spreading the Dhamma is an ambitious and stimulating contribution to the study of Buddhist textual practices in southern Asia. It should provoke further comparative research on the history of writing technologies and attitudes towards writing within the Pali-using Buddhistworld.
      —Anne M. Blackburn, Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University
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