The Pali Text Society was founded in 1881 by T.W. Rhys Davids "to foster and promote the study of Pali texts".

Pali is the language in which the texts of the Theravada school of Buddhism is preserved. The Pali texts are unique in Buddhism because they are the oldest collection of Buddhist scriptures preserved in the language in which they were written down.

The society first compiled, edited, and published roman script versions of the entire corpus on Pali literature, including the Pali Canon, as well as commentarial, exergetical texts, and histories. It also publishes ancillary works including dictionaries, concordance, books for students of Pali and a journal.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Significant members of the Pali Text society
3 External links


T. W. Rhys Davids was one of three British civil servants who were posted to Sri Lanka, in the 19th_century, the others being George Turnour, and Robert Caeser Childers (1838-1876). At this time Buddhism in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) was struggling under the weight of foreign rule and intense missionary activity by Christians. It was an administrative requirement that all civil servants should be familiar with the language, literature, and culture of the land in which they were posted, so the three men studied with several scholar monks where, along with an introduction to Sinhala culture and language, they became interested in Buddhism.

T. W. Rhys Davids was well educated in Latin at school. Deciding on the Civil Service he studied Sanskrit at Breslau, Germany, where he earned money by teaching English. He returned to England in 1863 and, passing his civil service exams, he was posted to Ceylon. As Magistrate of Galle a case was brought before Rhys Davids involving questions of ecclesiastical law, and he first came across Pali when a document in an strange language was tabled as evidence.

In 1871 he was posted as Assistant Government Agent of Nuwarakalaviya of which Anuradhapura was the administrative centre, where the Governor was Sir Hercules Robinson. Robinson founded the Archaeological Commission in 1868. Rhys Davids became involved with the excavation of ancient Ceylonese city Anuradhapura, which had been abandoned after an invasion in 993. He began to collect inscriptions and manuscripts, and from 1870-1872 wrote a series of articles for the Ceylon branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Journal about them. During this time Rhys Davids learned the local language and spent time with the people of the area. His civil service career, along with his residence in Sri Lanka, came to an abrupt end due to a clash with his superior C. W. Twynham. He then studied for the bar and practised law, although he continued to publish articles about Sri Lankan inscriptions.

The Pali Text Society was founded on the model of the Early English Text Society with Rhys Davids counting on support from a lot of European scholars and Sri Lankan scholar monks. The work of bringing out the roman text editions of the Pali Canon was not financially rewarding, but was achieved with the backing of the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka who underwrote the printing costs.

From 1882 to 1904 Rhys Davids was Professor of Pali in the University of London, a post which carried no fixed salary other than lecture fees. In 1905 he took up the Chair of Comparative Religion in the University of Manchester. He married C.A.F Rhys Davids, a Pali scholar in her own right, in 1894.

Childers published the first Pali-English dictionary in 1874. This was superseded in 1925 by the new Dictionary which had largely been compiled by T. W. Rhys Davids over 40 years, but was finished by his student William Stede. Currently another dictionary is being compiled by Margaret Cone, with the first of three volumes (A - Kh) published in 2001.

By 1922, when T. W. Rhys Davids died, the Pali Text Society had issued 64 separate texts in 94 volumes extending over 26,000 pages, as well a range of articles by English and European scholars.

Significant members of the Pali Text society

External links