Richard Gombrich

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Richard Gombrich

Postby mudra » Sat Sep 11, 2010 11:42 pm

Recently I have been asked about him, and as I am neither a scholar nor a practitioner of Theravada I really had no idea.
IN an admittedly casual research on him and modern Theravada I have come across a few references to his books but not much more.

It seems, according to one of his interviews, that he doesn't consider himself Buddhist but on the other hand it looks like he has done
a lot of research in the Pali canon and has done some reinterpretation of "what the Buddha meant", I was curious about that.

Can anyone here help clarify where he actually stands? Also any pointers as to where there is some good, accessible material on him
other than his books?

Much appreciated

M
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby Reductor » Sun Sep 12, 2010 12:16 am

http://www.scribd.com/doc/31649422/Rich ... -Teachings

You can read one of his books above. I'm not yet done, but it is pretty thought provoking.

Basically Gombrich views the Buddha as an historically existing person, which isn't always the position taken by scholars of Buddhism. He also classes him as a philosophical and religious teacher, saying that the Buddha as a thinker should be considered on par with Plato and Aristotle in importance, in the same way he might be classed on par with Jesus.

His position in terms of Buddhist record is that the much of the canon reflects actual utterance of the Buddha, verses being composed by various persons either contemporary to himself, or latter on. He also posits that many traditional understandings of the Buddha's teachings are misunderstandings because they do not take proper consideration of the social and religious context in which the Buddha taught.

Now, I don't know much about the man Gombrich beyond the fact that he was once the president of the Pali Text Society and that he write pretty interesting stuff on Buddhism.
Last edited by Reductor on Sun Sep 12, 2010 12:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby mudra » Sun Sep 12, 2010 12:30 am

Thank you, that's a good start and most helpful!
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby mudra » Sun Sep 12, 2010 12:46 am

thereductor,

just found this review by Bhikku Bodhi of "How Buddhism Began" : http://www.buddhistethics.org/4/bodhi1.html
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby Reductor » Sun Sep 12, 2010 1:14 am

mudra wrote:thereductor,

just found this review by Bhikku Bodhi of "How Buddhism Began" : http://www.buddhistethics.org/4/bodhi1.html


That's an informative critique, but of course I'll have to finish Gombrich's above book before I know if I agree in whole or merely in part. Although Ven. Bodhi's comments on the brahma-virahas were interesting.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:25 am

thereductor wrote:http://www.scribd.com/doc/31649422/Richard-Gombrich-How-Buddhism-Began-The-Conditioned-Genesis-of-the-Early-Teachings

You can read one of his books above. I'm not yet done, but it is pretty thought provoking.

Basically Gombrich views the Buddha as an historically existing person, which isn't always the position taken by scholars of Buddhism. He also classes him as a philosophical and religious teacher, saying that the Buddha as a thinker should be considered on par with Plato and Aristotle in importance, in the same way he might be classed on par with Jesus.

His position in terms of Buddhist record is that the much of the canon reflects actual utterance of the Buddha, verses being composed by various persons either contemporary to himself, or latter on. He also posits that many traditional understandings of the Buddha's teachings are misunderstandings because they do not take proper consideration of the social and religious context in which the Buddha taught.

Now, I don't know much about the man Gombrich beyond the fact that he was once the president of the Pali Text Society and that he write pretty interesting stuff on Buddhism.


This is a fairly good summary of Gombrich, I think.

I'd add that the "proper consideration of the social and religious context in which the Buddha taught" includes a fair amount of Brahmanic literature and thought.

Personally, he has quite a sense of humour. Though it's a scholarly humour. He also doesn't bear a fool, so to speak, and is rather hard on people who think they know all about Buddhism simply because they happen to be Buddhist, or practice Buddhism (or come from a Buddhist culture). Also, in standard PTS mode, he tends to think of almost all other forms of Buddhism as types of corruption or degradation of the teachings. But these are fairly standard things from scholars in this area. He seems like a really nice guy in many ways.
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Sep 12, 2010 4:41 am

Gombrich was a Professor at Oxford for several decades. He does seem to know a thing or two. Ven Huifeng/Paññāsikhara kindly gave me a copy of What the Buddha Thought back in January, which I found more compelling than How Buddhism Began. If you want some real information about Brahminic thought at the time of the Buddha, his work is an obvious choice. I didn't agree with all of what he said, but that's not really a criticism. Various scholars and scholar-monks I've read have different views so it would be impossible for any one person to agree with all of them... :tongue:

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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby Reductor » Sun Sep 12, 2010 5:04 am

mikenz66 wrote:Gombrich was a Professor at Oxford for several decades. He does seem to know a thing or two. Ven Huifeng/Paññāsikhara kindly gave me a copy of What the Buddha Thought back in January, which I found more compelling than How Buddhism Began. If you want some real information about Brahminic thought at the time of the Buddha, his work is an obvious choice. I didn't agree with all of what he said, but that's not really a criticism. Various scholars and scholar-monks I've read have different views so it would be impossible for any one person to agree with all of them... :tongue:

Mike


I have that book on my shelf now, actually. A friend suggested "How Buddhism Began" and provided the above link to scribd, so I figured I'd read that first. Are there any other well regarded books in the same topical vein as Gombrich's?
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby mudra » Sun Sep 12, 2010 5:09 am

Thank you Mike, I'll see if I can track that down. And thank you too for alerting me to the fact that here Ven Huifeng is Paññãsikara.

Ven, thanks for the heads up. This whole thing has since escalated, and I have been artfully been maneuvered ('asked') as resident nominal buddhist to "have a conversation" with him for a writer's festival, during which I suspect due my lack of erudition I will be massacred. Perhaps I will engage him in a conversation about butterflies. (The discussion is supposed to be about the relevance of Buddhism in today's world. They must have thought a long time about that...)
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby Ben » Sun Sep 12, 2010 5:35 am

How cool!
Just read 'How Buddhism Began' and anything else you can find of his, and that might give you some ideas or structure as to what you might like to ask him.
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Sep 12, 2010 5:57 am

thereductor wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:Gombrich was a Professor at Oxford for several decades. He does seem to know a thing or two. Ven Huifeng/Paññāsikhara kindly gave me a copy of What the Buddha Thought back in January, which I found more compelling than How Buddhism Began. If you want some real information about Brahminic thought at the time of the Buddha, his work is an obvious choice. I didn't agree with all of what he said, but that's not really a criticism. Various scholars and scholar-monks I've read have different views so it would be impossible for any one person to agree with all of them... :tongue:

Mike


I have that book on my shelf now, actually. A friend suggested "How Buddhism Began" and provided the above link to scribd, so I figured I'd read that first. Are there any other well regarded books in the same topical vein as Gombrich's?


Johannes Bronkhorst, Buddhist Teaching in India.

Less floss, longer period of the teachings covered, covers more Buddhist material (ie. not just Pali), more Ajivika stuff (ie. non-Buddhist but also non-Brahmanic).
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Sep 12, 2010 6:01 am

mudra wrote:Thank you Mike, I'll see if I can track that down. And thank you too for alerting me to the fact that here Ven Huifeng is Paññãsikara.

Ven, thanks for the heads up. This whole thing has since escalated, and I have been artfully been maneuvered ('asked') as resident nominal buddhist to "have a conversation" with him for a writer's festival, during which I suspect due my lack of erudition I will be massacred. Perhaps I will engage him in a conversation about butterflies. (The discussion is supposed to be about the relevance of Buddhism in today's world. They must have thought a long time about that...)


I don't think that he will "massacre" you or anyone at all, unless you pretend to be a know-it-all, in which case he'll point out some major flaws and then ...

I'd say, just ask a few well chosen but broad questions, and let him do most of the talking. He'll be both friendly and happy to share his knowledge, I'm sure. He's also part of a group which is promoting Buddhist teachings as part of a broader education in England. So, this would be a good idea to ask him why he thinks that the Buddha (along with other great thinkers like Plato, Socrates, Jesus, etc.) deserve a place in the English education syllabus.
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby mudra » Sun Sep 12, 2010 6:31 am

Thank you very much everyone, you have been very helpful. Ben, I am downloading the book as I type!

Venerable, I will try not to be a know-it-all, and otherwise good advice as well. I don't think the audience will be terribly interested in the finer points anyway. Interesting point about his efforts to bring Buddhist teachings more into the mainstream of education in Britain.
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby Reductor » Sun Sep 12, 2010 6:39 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:Johannes Bronkhorst, Buddhist Teaching in India.

Less floss, longer period of the teachings covered, covers more Buddhist material (ie. not just Pali), more Ajivika stuff (ie. non-Buddhist but also non-Brahmanic).


Sweeeet... thank you Venerable! :anjali:
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The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby Shonin » Sun Sep 12, 2010 7:07 am

I find his work fascinating. Whether we agree completely with him or not, I think he is exploring something very important for understanding the Buddha: context.

I contacted Richard Gombrich (who I believe lives quite near me in Oxford) after the publishing of 'What the Buddha Thought' and had a shortish email discussion with him especially about the way he presented Zen, albeit briefly. (My position was/is that he was treating Zen as a sort of garbled misunderstanding of Pali Buddhism - as if after the Buddha's death humanity was disconnected from actual practice/experience of dhamma/dharma. Because he is a Pali academic rather than a practitioner his concern is with the integrity of an intellectual philosophy. However, Buddhism is not an intellectual philosophy. The intellectual philosophy is merely a formulation of a path of practice, experiential insight and fruit of practice, which can be expressed in more than one form.)

I found him very pleasant and helpful.
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby Jason » Sun Sep 12, 2010 7:42 am

Shonin wrote:I find his work fascinating. Whether we agree completely with him or not, I think he is exploring something very important for understanding the Buddha: context.

I contacted Richard Gombrich (who I believe lives quite near me in Oxford) after the publishing of 'What the Buddha Thought' and had a shortish email discussion with him especially about the way he presented Zen, albeit briefly. (My position was/is that he was treating Zen as a sort of garbled misunderstanding of Pali Buddhism - as if after the Buddha's death humanity was disconnected from actual practice/experience of dhamma/dharma. Because he is a Pali academic rather than a practitioner his concern is with the integrity of an intellectual philosophy. However, Buddhism is not an intellectual philosophy. The intellectual philosophy is merely a formulation of a path of practice, experiential insight and fruit of practice, which can be expressed in more than one form.)

I found him very pleasant and helpful.


I also contacted him via email regarding something he wrote in Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo, and I too found him to be very pleasant. I was also happy (and somewhat surprised) to be able to point out a passage that he was unfamiliar with. I guess hanging out on these forums is good for something. :D
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Sep 12, 2010 8:22 am

Shonin wrote:... about the way he presented Zen, albeit briefly. (My position was/is that he was treating Zen as a sort of garbled misunderstanding of Pali Buddhism - as if after the Buddha's death humanity was disconnected from actual practice/experience of dhamma/dharma. Because he is a Pali academic rather than a practitioner his concern is with the integrity of an intellectual philosophy. However, Buddhism is not an intellectual philosophy. The intellectual philosophy is merely a formulation of a path of practice, experiential insight and fruit of practice, which can be expressed in more than one form.)
...


Welcome to the world of (what is rather facetiously known as) "Pali Text Society Buddhism".
You'll find a lot of old school Pali scholars, and some younger ones too, in this category.
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby Shonin » Sun Sep 12, 2010 9:07 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:Welcome to the world of (what is rather facetiously known as) "Pali Text Society Buddhism".
You'll find a lot of old school Pali scholars, and some younger ones too, in this category.


:)
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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Sep 12, 2010 9:22 am

mikenz66 wrote: If you want some real information about Brahminic thought at the time of the Buddha, his work is an obvious choice.
This is where Gombrich is the strongest and is what makes his books worth reading.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Richard Gombrich

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Sep 12, 2010 9:24 am

Paññāsikhara wrote: Also, in standard PTS mode, he tends to think of almost all other forms of Buddhism as types of corruption or degradation of the teachings. . . . .
Some of it is pretty gawdawful.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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