Numata Center for Buddhist Studies & Barre Center for Buddhist Studies
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Bhikkhu Katukurunde Ñāṇananda (Sri Lanka, 1940–) is perhaps the foremost English-speaking contemporary Sri Lankan scholar-monk alive, known for having broken new ground in the Sri Lankan monastic intellectual and meditative landscape of the second half of the twentieth into the early twenty-first centuries. His widely acclaimed monograph, Concept and Reality in Early Buddhist Thought, was completed in 1969 and published in 1971, not long after he had renounced a lectureship in Pāli at the University of Peradeniya. Bhikkhu Katukurunde Ñāṇananda’s intellectual profile is perhaps best placed against the background of a bourgeoning return to the original texts that has at times been seen as part of the so-called Protestant Buddhism movement in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. In his work text-critical and academic-based methodology converge with traditional meditative training, the life of solitude as a monk in a cave, and a committed teacher’s engagement with younger generations of monastic pupils.
The Nivane Niveema are a series of thirty-three sermons on Nibbāna, originally delivered in Sinhala during the period 1988–1991 and given to the assembly of monks in Nissaraṇa Vanaya, Meethirigala, one of Sri Lanka’s most respected meditation monasteries in the strict forest tradition, established in 1967 by Asoka Weeraratna, the founder of the German Dharmadūta Society and the Berlin Buddhist Vihāra. The sermons appeared in English translation as Nibbāna, The Mind Stilled (7 vols., 2003–2012).
These sermons on Nibbāna are learned pieces of contemplative scholarship on the meditative theme of the Nibbāna-experience itself. The early discourses are sifted and cross-referenced by Bhikkhu Katukurunde Ñāṇananda with a relentless focus on the teachings on Nibbāna found in the Pāli discourses in the form of at times figurative and metaphorical modes of exposition. Later Theravāda tradition understood such expositions as contingent, provisional, conventional, in contrast to the universally valid, categorical, and definitive exposition of the Abhidhamma, considered to be the acme of the Buddha’s word. The status of the commentaries came to be enhanced by the popular belief that their content is ultimately traceable to a miscellany of the Buddha’s own word. Owing to his academic background Bhikkhu Katukurunde Ñāṇananda, unlike the traditional Theravāda scholar, is aware of the historical dimension of this doctrinal development. He sets out to overturn the priorities attached to the later vis-à-vis the earlier textual materials.
Bhikkhu Katukurunde Ñāṇananda’s interpretation has deeply challenged the mainstream authoritative Theravāda exegesis. It has broadly reverberated from the island to the English-speaking global community of Theravāda practitioners. A close reading of Bhikkhu Katukurunde Ñāṇananda’s work will enable course participants to access the earliest doctrinal history of Nibbāna with a main focus on the Pāli discourses read through the lenses of a doctrinal and meditative contemporary exegesis that is the result of several important influences that have made themselves felt throughout contemporary Buddhist history – East and West.
Dates of the Lectures
Introductory Lecture: 7 April
Lectures on Sermons: 21 April, 28 April, 5 May, 12 May, 19 May, 2 June, 9 June, 16 June, 23 June, 30 June, 7 July
Final Lecture: 14 July