Thursday, October 11, 2012

Introduction to the Pāli Commentaries

Here is my latest paper.  I'm still not very happy with it.  I had a couple of different audiences in mind as I wrote it, so it really needs to be gone over for consistency and probably rearranged with some subject headers etc.  And I didn't even mention the sub-commentaries or sub-sub-commentaries...  But it did serve its main purpose, which was to educate me about what is meant by "the commentaries".

PDF Version with proper formatting.

John Emmer

Research Methodology
Prof. Udaya Meddegama
SIBA, September, 2012

Introduction to the Pāli Commentaries

     While reading the English translations of the Pāli Canon, one often finds footnotes that refer simply to “the commentary” and it is left as an exercise for the reader as to what exactly this is. For example, in Bikkhu Bodhi's edition of the Majjhima Nikāya, we get either “the commentary” or “MA”, which we are told is the Majjhima Nikāya Aṭṭhakathā, but it is not necessarily clear to the reader that these are the same thing.1 And in the Woodward translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya, all we get is references to “Comy”, without even a list of abbreviations, such that one might even take it to be an author's name!2 It soon becomes clear to the reader that an independent investigation of “the commentaries” is necessary for a fuller understanding of what one is reading. The present paper is just that – an attempt to give a brief overview of the standard system of commentaries on the Pāli Canon, aimed at a new reader of English translations of the Canon who wishes to know what these commentaries are and which might be available in English.
     References to “the commentary” for any work in the Canon will always mean a specific title written in the fifth or sixth century CE in Sri Lanka. The following table from Goonesekere provides the complete list. For the available English translations, see the appendix.

List of Pāli Commentaries

Canonical Text
Author of Commentary


Vinaya Piṭaka
Attributed to Buddhaghosa
Attributed to Buddhaghosa

Dīgha Nikāya
Majjhima Nikāya
Saṃyutta Nikāya
Aṅguttara Nikāya
Khuddaka Nikāya

- Khuddakapāṭha
Attributed to Buddhaghosa
- Dhammapada
Attributed to Buddhaghosa
- Udāna
- Itivuttaka
- Suttanipāta
Attributed to Buddhaghosa
- Vimānavatthu
- Petavatthu
- Theragātha
- Therigātha
- Jātaka
Attributed to Buddhaghosa
- Niddesa
- Paṭisambhidāmagga
- Apadāna
Not known
- Buddhavaṃsa
- Cariyāpiṭaka

Attributed to Buddhaghosa
(Goonesekere 13-14)
One notices a couple of things right away from this list:
  1. The Visuddhimagga is included in the list but is not associated with any particular canonical text.
  2. Most of the texts are either by or 'attributed to' Buddhaghosa.
  3. What Bhikkhu Bodhi had called the Majjhima Nikāya Aṭṭhakathā is here referred to as the Papañcasūdani, although one text in the list does appear to be merely the name of the Canonical text with the word 'aṭṭhakathā' appended.
Let us take up these observations in reverse order.
     The term aṭṭhakathā is today used primarily to refer to the commentaries, and 'commentary' is how the word is generally translated.3 So when Bodhi refers to the Majjhima Nikāya Aṭṭhakathā, we should read this as “The Commentary on the Majjhima Nikāya”, and we can see from the table above that this is just the Papañcasūdani. However, Rahula points out that
The word aṭṭhakathā had, during the early Anurādhapura period, a wider connotation than it has at present. Today it means only the Pāli Commentaries on the Tipiṭaka. But during the Anurādhapura period. . . there were only two forms of literature: Pāli, signifying the texts of the Tipiṭaka, and Aṭṭhakathā, embracing all the other literary work. . .
(xvii-xviii; see also Norman 174-175)

Rahula goes on to list a number of works with aṭṭhakathā in the title that are not commentaries, so one must proceed with caution when the term is not connected to one of the standard titles from the Tipiṭaka.
     As for Buddhaghosa and the Visuddhimagga, they are almost synonymous with what is meant by 'commentary' on the Pāli Canon. Hinüber summarizes the situation as follows: “The commentaries on the Tipiṭaka lay down the orthodox interpretation current in the Mahāvihāra at Anurādhapura and established by Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga” (100).4 It is not just the commentaries but, Collins points out, “the earliest date to which we can assign the Canon [itself] the specific and final form in which we now have it is the time of Buddhaghosa” (76-77).5 In support of this idea, Norman observes that “As a general principle, we may note that once a portion of a text had been commented upon, then the presence of canonical words in the lemmata, and in the explanations of those words, meant that changes were very unlikely to be made” (190). And while he believes that “The canon was in all probability closed some time before the time of Buddhaghosa”, his observation about the role of commentary leads him to conclude that “the form of the Theravādin canon, and the texts it comprises, are fixed by the information Buddhaghosa gives” (emphasis added, 191). Rahula uses the same language of fixation when he observes:
Although there is evidence to prove the growth of the Pāli Scriptures during the early centuries of Buddhism in India and Ceylon, there is no reason to doubt that their growth was arrested and the text was finally fixed in the 5th century A.C., when the Sinhalese Commentaries on the Tripiṭaka were translated into Pāli by Buddhaghosa. (xix)

Clearly then, we need to understand more about Buddhaghosa and his work.
     Very little is known about Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa the person. Most of the information we have about him comes from apocryphal sources. We do know that he came to Sri Lanka from India in the early fifth century CE to translate the existing Sinhalese commentaries into Pāli. The Sri Lankan Chronicle Mahāvamsa states that the Theravādins in India had lost their own commentarial literature and so Buddhaghosa was sent to Sri Lanka to render the Sinhalese commentaries into a language that could be understood by Buddhists everywhere (Ñāṇamoli xxviii). Ñāṇamoli suggests that the Theravādins in both India and Sri Lanka thought that they could better compete with the rise of alternative Buddhist texts in Sanskrit if they had a common commentarial corpus in Pāli to match the Tipiṭaka which they had each preserved in Pāli (xxviii). The Sri Lankans had a large body of commentaries in Sinhalese, at least some of which were said to have been translated by King Asoka's son (or brother) Mahinda himself, when he brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka at the king's request in the third century BCE (Malalasekera 23; Norman 197). Of his own work, Buddhaghosa writes that:
[I shall now take] the commentary . . . set forth in detail by the Buddha and by his like [i.e. the Elder Sāriputta and other expounders of discourses in the Sutta Pitaka] – the commentary that in the beginning was chanted [at the First Council] and later rechanted [at the Second and Third], and was brought to the Sīhala Island (Ceylon) by the Arahant Mahinda the Great and rendered into the Sīhala tongue for the benefit of the islanders –, and from that commentary I shall remove the Sīhala tongue, replacing it by the graceful language that conforms with Scripture and is purified and free from flaws. Not diverging from the standpoint of the elders residing in the Great Monastery . . . and rejecting subject matter needlessly repeated, I shall make the meaning clear for the purpose of bringing contentment to good people and contributing to the long endurance of the Dhamma.
(brackets in Ñāṇamoli xxxi)6

This traditional account, however, contains much that cannot be substantiated.
     Although Ñāṇamoli claims that a “good proportion” of the commentaries that Buddhaghosa had at his disposal “dated no doubt from the actual time of the Buddha himself” (xxxii), other scholars are more cautious. Goonesekere considers it
very likely that certain abstruse points in the doctrine and ambiguous terms were the topics of discussion at the time of the First Council and that definite expositions and meanings to be attached to these were agreed upon. These interpretations would have formed the basis of the commentaries of later times. (7)

And she speculates that “The commentaries that Mahinda is said to have brought to Ceylon, along with the canon, probably consisted of the expositions as laid down at the Third Council which had just been concluded” (7). As for the language of the commentaries brought to Sri Lanka, Norman tells us that “There is no evidence about the language of the commentaries which Mahinda is said to have brought with him to Sri Lanka” (198). However “There is evidence for dialect differences in the early commentarial literature” (199), which may account for the need to translate it: “The fact that the commentarial material was already of a disparate nature would probably have led to an attempt to impose homogeneity upon it, and also to make it more intelligible to the Sinhalese bhikkhus by translating it into the vernacular language” (202). And then, “Because it was in the vernacular, it would have been easy for additions to be made to it” (202).
     The commentaries Buddhaghosa had before him contained – and thus the commentaries that he helped to produce also contain – much information about the societies in which they were written and updated. Rahula calls them “a reliable and fertile source of material for the reconstruction of the history of Buddhism in Ceylon from the 3rd century B.C. to the 5th century A.C.” (xxiv). And this is in fact precisely what Adikaram did for his Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon, a history based primarily on the evidence provided by the commentaries. But this very richness of local color also shows that indeed the commentaries were at least no longer in the same form that they had taken before reaching Sri Lanka, let alone whatever they may have been in Buddha's time. As Goonesekere points out:
The period of growth and development [of the commentaries] can be fixed from the incidents and historical events referred to in the commentaries. Buddhaghosa does not bring the events down to his day, so that it may be assumed that the last of the events recorded in his commentaries were also found in the Sinhala originals. The fact that stories about India, which can be dated. . . relate to a period not later than Asoka in the third century B.C., would incidentally confirm the tradition that the commentaries were introduced to Ceylon by Mahinda. The events after that are, in the main, set in Ceylon. Of the kings of Ceylon, events in whose reigns are discussed, the latest is Vasabha (67-111 A.C.). . . . However, it cannot be concluded that they took the final shape at this time, for there are occasional references to events and persons even after this date, e.g. to Rudradāman, second century A.C. and Mahāsena (275-301 A.C.). (11)

Now that we have some sense of the origins of the commentaries, let us briefly examine the nature of their contents.
     Norman says that “We can assume that the earliest form of commentary was simply the explanation of word by another” (195). The earliest commentaries that we still have direct evidence for are those that became embedded in the Canon itself. Malalasekere's points out that, of these developing expositions:
When later the text of the canon came to be compiled, arranged, and edited, some of the expositions found their way into the Piṭakas and were given a permanent place therein. Thus we have the Saṅgīti-suttanta of the Dīgha-Nikāya . . . forming a complete catechism of terms and passages of exegetical nature. Such was also the Sacca-vibhaṅga.. . . and also the Madhu-piṇḍika-sutta. . .included in the Majjhima-Nikāya. . . . [We also] have an old commentary embedded in the Vinaya and the Parivāra added as a supplementary examination paper to the whole. Then there is the Niddesa, a whole book of commetary on texts now included in the Sutta-nipāta; and there are passages clearly of a commentarial nature scattered throughout the Nikāyas. (89)

The early commentaries were largely lists of synonyms, and Norman highlights the fact that “Whenever a particular word occurs in the text, the same explanation is given verbatim. . . even if the words recur in successive verses”, which he also reminds us is a common characteristic of orally transmitted materials (196). He does however say that the Niddesa, for example is “not merely a list of synonyms” and does include “exegetical passages”, but “It is. . . not an organic structure of exegesis, but a series of disconnected phrases, which serve as explanations of the individual words, not in the particular context of the Sutta-nipāta, but in any setting” (197).
     Of the commentaries starting with Buddhaghosa's work, Hinüber says that these too often “give the meaning of single words” and these entries often “read as if quoted from a dictionary” (116). Though thankfully the commentary on the Vinaya followed “the method of the apubbapadavaṇṇanā. . .'explaining words not explained before', that is avoiding repetitions, the commentary becomes shorter and shorter towards the end” (106). However, when comparing the commentaries on the four main Nikāyas, the repetitiveness returns, and Hinüber notes that “it seems obvious that the redactors used palm leaf slips for certain key words” to “guarantee that all contained the same information in uniform wording” (120-121). These contain many repetitions of more “encyclopedic” entries as well, and “These repetitions make sense only, if the individual paragraphs were originally conceived as separate units which could be inserted wherever needed” (120). The Nikāya commentaries also often refer the reader to the Visuddhimagga for explanations so that
In the Nikāya-commentaries texts are duplicated deliberately to make every single commentary, combined with [the Visuddhimagga], independent of the other three. In this manner they stand like four separate columns of orthodoxy on the same firm foundation formed by [the Visuddhimagga]. (121)

The Vinaya commentary “on the other hand, avoids parallels and refers the user to other sections of the same commentary” so that it appears
The overall plan comprising [the Vinaya commentary] and the four Nikāya-commentaries together with and presupposing [the Visuddhimagga] was conceived at the time of Buddhaghosa, who seems to have been the master mind keeping this huge and admirable project together. (122)

One wonders if this dependence on the Visuddhimagga, combined with the lack of a widely available translation of the Visuddhimagga until Ñāṇamoli's was published in 19567, accounts for the surprising lack of any English translation of the commentaries on the four main Nikāyas. Though with half a century since that publication, perhaps it is just the encyclopedic nature of the Visuddhimagga itself that makes translation of the parallel commentaries seem unnecessary.
     As we saw from the chart on Page 2, many more works are attributed to Buddhaghosa by the tradition. But modern scholars are largely in agreement that it is really only the Visuddhimagga and the four main Nikāya commentaries that can be attributed to him with any confidence (Hinüber 102). Even there, it appears that the works other than the Visuddhimagga itself may have been produced under his direction rather than directly by his hand (see my discussion above and Hinüber's comments on each of the commentarial works, 100-154). The next most important commentator was Dhammapāla, whose Paramatthadīpanī contains the commentaries on seven of the works in the Khuddaka Nikāya (see chart, Page 2). Whether he was from South India or Sri Lanka is unkown – although he made use of Buddhaghosa's work and also claimed loyalty to Mahāvihāra orthodoxy, he nonetheless used a different recension of the Khuddaka Nikāya than was present at the Mahāvihāra, as is evidenced by the fact that his work does not fit the order of texts given by that tradition (Hinüber 137), (and which can even be seen by our chart on Page 2.) He seems to have had access to the same Sinhalese commentaries on which Buddhaghosa had based his work, and may have also worked from South Indian commentaries in Tamil (or Dravidian) (Adikaram 9, Malalasekere 8). Although they show “an advanced stage of the corresponding discussion” his commentaries were “obviously modeled on those by Buddhaghosa” (Hinüber 138, 137). But neither Dhammapāla nor any of the other compilers of the canonical commentaries can claim anything near the impact of Buddhaghosa. They all worked in his shadow and built on his example. Malalasekere stresses Buddhaghosa's development of the Pāli language itself:
In place of the archaic, stilted, sometimes halting Sutta speech, almost Puritanical in its simplicity, groping about often for want of words to express ideas and conceptions then fresh to the minds of the users of this or that dialect, Buddhaghosa left behind him in his many works a language rich in its vocabulary, flexible in its use, elegant in structure, often intricate in the verbiage of its constructions, and capable of expressing all the ideas that the human mind had then conceived. (103)

On this account, it is not just the content of the Visuddhimagga and Buddhaghosa's other commentaries that set standard for Theravādin Buddhism, but its very style shaped the nature of all the Pāli prose to follow.
     What do these commentaries provide for us today? Are they a good guide to understanding the original texts, or merely a reflection of a particular school's subsequent thought? The commentaries definitely introduced ideas not found in the original texts. Ñāṇamoli describes this as a development of the trends begun by the Abhidhamma texts, with the major “new developments” being the “cognitive series (citta-vithi)”, the “rather unwieldy enumeration of concepts (paññatti)”, and “the handy defining-formula of word-meaning, characteristic, function, manifestation, and proximate cause”, as well as the theories of “moments” (khaṇa) and “own-being” (sabhāva) whose critique would be central to the development of Buddhist thought (xlii). Norman summarizes the positive qualities of the commentaries as, first, “sometimes [they] explain something we could not otherwise understand”, for example, the synonyms may provide a path to translation for an otherwise unknown word (217). Second, they “sometimes contain readings which are better than those in the canonical texts we possess” (217). As they were sometimes passed down independently of each other (208), passages that have degraded through transmission in the Canon may be preserved more intelligibly in the commentaries. And third, the “commentaries show us how Buddhist thought has developed since the time when the canonical text they are commenting on was composed” (218). On the other hand, there are drawbacks as well, first,
Sometimes the tradition has lost the meaning, and the commentator resorts to giving several explanations, all unlikely, and all very difficult to understand. This produces the familiar cry: “I can understand the text, but not the commentary”. (218)

Second, Norman states that “sometimes the explanations are of a circular nature, e.g. 'wise means possessed of wisdom', and are only intelligible if the meaning is already known” (218). Third: “Sometimes the explanations are wrong” (218). For this he gives examples of fanciful etymologies and explanations clearly based on dialects that have diverged from those used in the transmission of the canon itself (210-214). And finally,
Sometimes the commentary explanation has had an insidious effect upon the canonical text, i.e. what was originally written in the commentary was sometimes included in the text (as “glosses”), or had an effect upon the words in the text, in that the text was changed to fit the meaning given in the commentary. (218)

Of this last, he cites an example of a threefold categorization of the effects of kamma (“. . . in the here and now, or in [a future] rebirth, or in some future period”) that is found in some canonical texts, but is in fact derived from a misunderstanding of a twofold categorization (“. . . in the here and now or, having been reborn, in some future period”) when an absolutive formulation was misinterpreted and “corrected” to a locative one in the commentary, and then found its way back into the Canon to maintain consistency (218-219).
     Clearly, however, there is much to be gained from a careful use of the commentaries, especially if one wishes to understand the Theravādin tradition that has developed with and is now based upon them. In fact, with regard to an understanding of Theravāda Buddhism, the Visuddhimagga should be considered as important as any of the Canonical texts themselves. Should you wish to pursue the commentaries further, I have provided an appendix of the English translations available as of Hinüber's survey. And of course, if your goal is to know more about the background and development of the commentaries, my “Works Cited” provides a listing of a good number of the sources with which one would want to start. Hopefully, as you come across references to “the commentary”, you will no longer be confused as I was when beginning to read the Canon.

Appendix: Available English Translations of the Commentaries
The following is the same listing from the table on Page 2 but with English translations of the Commentaries (but not the Canonical works themselves) as noted in Hinüber 100-153. There may indeed be more translations available, as Hinüber's book was published in 1996. I have not done an independent survey for such translations, except where Hinüber had indicated a text was “under preparation”, in which case I looked up the resultant publication. These entries are marked with an asterisk. Hinüber did not provide the publisher in his listings, but one can presume that it is the Pali Text Society in most cases. For the Visuddhimagga, I have just repeated the entry from my own “Works Cited”.

Visuddhimagga / Buddhaghosa
Ñāṇamoli, Bhikku. trans. The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga). 1956. By Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa. Onalaska: BPS Pariyatti Editions, 1999.

Vinaya Piṭaka / Samantapāsādika / Attributed to Buddhaghosa
Jayawickrama, N.A. trans. The Inception of Discipline and the Vinaya Nidāna being a Translation and Edition of the Bāhiranidānai. London: 1962.

Patimokkha / Kaṅkhāvitaraṇī / Attributed to Buddhaghosa
No English translation before 1996.
Dīgha Nikāya / Sumaṅgalavilāsinī / Buddhaghosa
Majjhima Nikāya / Papañcasūdani / Buddhaghosa
Saṃyutta Nikāya / Sāratthapakāsinī / Buddhaghosa
Aṅguttara Nikāya / Manorathapurāṇī / Buddhaghosa

No English translation before 1996.

Khuddaka Nikāya
- Khuddakapāṭha / Paramatthajotikā I / Attributed to Buddhaghosa
Ñāṇamoli, trans. The Minor Readings – The Illustrator of the Ultimate Meaning. London: 1960. (Contains both the Canonical text and Commentary.)

- Dhammapada / Dhammapadaṭṭhakathā / Attributed to Buddhaghosa
Carter, J.R. and M. Palihawadana trans. The Dhammapada. Oxford: 1987. (Contains both the Canonical text and Commentary.)

- Udāna / Paramatthadīpanī / Dhammapāla
Masefield, P. trans. The Udāna Commentary. 2 vols. Oxford: 1994-1995.
- Itivuttaka / Paramatthadīpanī / Dhammapāla
Masefield, P. trans. The Commentary on the Itivuttaka. Oxford: Pali Text Society, 2009.*

- Suttanipāta / Paramatthajotikā II / Attributed to Buddhaghosa
No English translation before 1996.
- Vimānavatthu / Paramatthadīpanī / Dhammapāla
Masefield, P. trans. Elucidation of the Intrinsic Meaning so Named the Commentary on the Vimāna-Stories. London: 1980.

- Petavatthu / Paramatthadīpanī / Dhammapāla
Masefield, P. trans. Elucidation of the Intrinsic Meaning so Named the Commentary on the Peta-Stories. London: 1980.

- Theragātha / Paramatthadīpanī / Dhammapāla
No English translation before 1996.
- Therigātha / Paramatthadīpanī / Dhammapāla
Masefield, P. trans. The Commentary on the Itivuttaka. Oxford: Pali Text Society, 2009.*

- Jātaka / Jātakahakatha / Attributed to Buddhaghosa
- Niddesa / Saddhammapajjotika / Upasena
- Paṭisambhidāmagga / Saddhammappakāsinī / Mahanama
- Apadāna / Visuddhajanavilāsinī / Not known

No English translation before 1996.
- Buddhavaṃsa / Madhuratthavilāsinī / Buddhadatta
Horner, I.B. trans. The Clarifier of the Sweet Meaning (Madhuratthavilāsinī). London: 1978.
- Cariyāpiṭaka / Paramatthadīpanī / Dhammapāla
No English translation before 1996.
Dhammasaṅgaṇī / Atthasālinī / Attributed to Buddhaghosa
Rhys Davids, C.A.F., ed. and rev. and Pe Maung Tin, trans. The Expositor (Atthasālinī). Oxford: 1921. (Hinüber warns that “This translation must be used with the utmost caution.” 149)

Vibhaṅga / Sammohavinodanī / Attributed to Buddhaghosa
Ñāṇamoli, trans. L. Cousins, Nyanaponika, and C.M.M. Shaw, eds. The Dispeller of Delusion (Sammohavinodanī). 2 vols. London: 1987-1991.

Kathāvatthu / Pañcappakaraṇaṭṭhakathā / Attributed to Buddhaghosa
Law, B.C., trans. The Debates Commentary. London: 1940.

Puggalapaññatti / Pañcappakaraṇaṭṭhakathā / Attributed to Buddhaghosa
Dhātukathā / Pañcappakaraṇaṭṭhakathā / Attributed to Buddhaghosa
Yamaka / Pañcappakaraṇaṭṭhakathā / Attributed to Buddhaghosa
Paṭṭhāna / Pañcappakaraṇaṭṭhakathā / Attributed to Buddhaghosa

No English translation before 1996.
Works Cited
Adikaram, E.W. Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon. 1946. Dehiwala: Buddhist Cultural Centre, 2009.

Bodhi, Bhikkhu, ed. and trans. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya. 4th ed. 1995. Original translation Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli. Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2009.

Collins, Stephen. “On the Very Idea of the Pali Canon.” Journal of the Pali Text Society. 15 (1990): 89-126. Rpt. in Buddhism: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies. Ed. Paul Williams. Vol. 1. New York: Routledge, 2005. 72-95.

Goonesekere, L.R. Buddhist Commentarial Literature (The Wheel Publication No. 113). BPS Online Edition. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 2008.

Hinüber, Oskar von. A Handbook of Pāli Literature. 1996. New Delhi: Munishiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2008.

Kalupahana, David J. A History of Buddhist Philosophy: Continuities and Discontinuities. 1992. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1994.

Malalasekera, G.P. The Pāli Literature of Ceylon. 1928. Columbo: M.D. Gunasena & Co., 1958.

Ñāṇamoli, Bhikku. Introduction. The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga). 1956. By Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa. Trans. Ñāṇamoli. Onalaska: BPS Pariyatti Editions, 1999. xxiii-xlx.

Norman, K.R. A Philological Approach to Buddhism. 2nd ed. 1997.Lancaster: Pali Text Society, 2006.

Rahula, Walpola. History of Buddhism in Celyon. 2nd ed. 1956. Columbo: M.D. Gunasena & Co., 1966.

Warder, A.K. Indian Buddhism. 3rd ed. 1970. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2008.

---. Introduction to Pali. 3rd ed. 1963. Bristol: Pali Text Society, 2010.

Woodward, F.L. trans. The Book of the Gradual Sayings (Aṅguttara-Nikāyā) or More-Numbered Suttas: Volume 1 (Ones, Twos, Threes). 1932. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2006.

1  See end notes throughout, and the List of Abbreviations on p.1159.
2  See footnotes throughout.
3  The word itself appears to be a compound of 'attha', for which Warder gives 'purpose' and 'meaning' as some of its possible translations, and 'kathā', for which he gives 'talk' or 'story' (Pali, 19, 52). Collins gives “saying what it means” as “the literal translation of aṭṭhakathā” (74).
4  If you are truly new to the study of the Canon, you will need to know that Tipiṭaka refers to the three piṭaka, 'baskets' or 'collections' of texts in the Cannon – the three bolded titles from the chart on Page 2: the Vinaya, or monastic rules; the Sutta, or sayings of the Buddha; and the Abhidhamma, or the 'Higher Doctrine', composed after the Buddha's death in an attempt to systematize everything mentioned in his sayings. Similarly, you should be aware that the Mahāvihāra, or Great Monastery, was one of the main rival Buddhist institutions in Sri Lanka, representing the more orthodox Theravādin tradition against the Abhayagiri Monastery's adoption of an alternative, perhaps 'Mahayana', Canon and interpretations. Anurādhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka during the period in question.
5  For Collins, this is part of his larger argument that, “Rather than pre-existing the Theravāda school, as the textual basis from which it arose and which it sought to preserve, the Pali Canon. . . should be seen as a product of that school, as part of a strategy of legitimation by the monks of the Mahāvihāra lineage in Ceylon in the early centuries of the first millennium A.D.” (72)
6  Again, for those new to reading the Canon: The 'Councils' referred to here are meetings of the leading monks of their time, held to agree upon, establish, and maintain the Buddha's doctrine. The First Council was held a few months after the Buddha's death, and the accounts disagree on whether or in what form the Abhidhamma was recited at that time. The Second Council was held a hundred years later to settle disputes over monastic practice, primarily the use of money by monks. (On the first two Councils, see Warder, Indian Buddhism, Ch. 7.) The Third Council, held after roughly another hundred years had passed, was called by King Asoka to settle doctrinal issues, and resulted in the addition of the Katthāvattu to the Canon as the only Canonical work not attributed to the Buddha himself. In this work, hundreds of disputed points are debated. (See Kalupahana, Chs. 12-13.) It was shortly after this that Asoka sent Mahinda on his missionary trip to bring Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Note that at this point we are only in the third century BCE, and the Canon will not be written down for the first time until another two hundred years have passed, at at time when the Great Monastery felt threatened and wanted to be sure to preserve its version of the Tipiṭaka in the case that it could not retain enough reciters (Ñāṇamoli xxvi-xxvii).
7  Ñāṇamoli himself said that he made his own translation because the earlier translation by Pe Maung Tin (3 vols. 1922-31) was “no longer obtainable” (xxi).