This project explores hitherto unrecognised layers of textual transmission in the Pāli canon that potentially provide new bases for revising its existing editions and translations. In the process of commenting on the Tipiṭaka, which is the textus receptus of the Mahāvihāra school, Pāli commentators, most prominently Buddhaghosa, consulted a number of earlier or parallel versions of scriptures transmitted by the Theriya lineage in Sri Lankā. Buddhaghosa is located at a key junction in the transmission of Pāli literature and played a prominent role in the formation of classical Theravāda doctrine. The alternative versions he consulted have now fallen into oblivion. Buddhaghosa’s Aṭṭhakathās illustrate, besides offering exegeses on the primary reading or lemma (Skt. mūla-pratīka), he adopted diverse reading and editorial practices when introducing and interpreting the terms and phrases found in those earlier or parallel scriptures as variæ lectiones (vv.ll.). The nature of these practices remains to be thoroughly examined. The vv.ll. recorded in the Aṭṭhakathās demonstrate the fluidity as well as the diversity of textual transmission. The commentator typically offers the primary lemma accompanied by its interpretation before introducing a varia lectio (v.l.) followed by its gloss. However, this does not necessarily imply that he intended his audience to give priority to the primary lemma. Indeed, he treats equally the primary lemma and v.l. as both deserving to be transmitted.

Unlike later commentators, Buddhaghosa typically does not attempt to establish the primary lemma, nor does he introduce the v.l. in a dismissive tone. Moreover, in the Aṭṭhakathās, we see the commentator alternatively introducing the primary lemma as the v.l., and vice versa. This implies that he held both the primary lemma and vv.ll. to be equally authentic. The reasons that paved the way for the emergence of the vv.ll. and their subtle nuances remain to be critically examined. Indeed, these vv.ll. have generally not been consulted by the editors of the canonical Pāli works or by experts in the commentaries.

Since this is an inductive research project, the priority is given to careful study of the data, resorting primarily to the research methods of philology, and paying special attention to multi-textuality and the textual practices of South Asian and Buddhist authors themselves. Similarly, the tools of textual analysis such as textual criticism and redaction criticism is also used in this study.

Due to the extensiveness of the sources, this study is limited to the Pali Text Society, the Sinhalese (Simon Hewavitarne Bequest) and the Burmese (Chaṭṭhasaṅgīti) and the Siamese (BuddSir) edition of Buddhaghosa’s commentary to the Dīghanikāya titled Sumaṅgalavilāsinī and its sub-commentary.