Postgraduate students

Woramat Malasart BSc DipGrad MA, PhD candidate

The Dhammakāya Genre and its historical and practical significance for traditional Tai-Khmer Buddhism

The Dhammakāya Genre is a corpus of documents that includes palm-leaf manuscripts, leporellos, inscriptions, and printed books, all sharing the same core Pāli passages called the ‘Dhammakāya’. The Dhammakāya passages have three parts. The first part identifies the knowledge and qualities/virtues of the Buddha with physical attributes of his body. The second part is followed by verses in praise of the Buddha’s resplendent body qua the dhammakāya. The third section exhorts one in the yogāvacara lineage (a practitioner of spiritual discipline, i.e. a meditator) to recollect the dhammakāya.

A number of documents belonging to the Dhammakāya Genre, recorded in Khom, Tham and Mūl scripts, have been found in Central Thailand, Northern Thailand and Cambodia. The earliest datable version of the Dhammakāya Genre is the “Braḥ Dhammakāya inscription,” an engraved stone slab from the stūpa of Wat Suea, Phitsanulok, Thailand, dated to 1549 CE.

In this PhD thesis, I will examine various texts from the Dhammakāya corpus in order to demonstrate how a single genre can function to fulfil parts of the core practices of Theravāda adherents within the cross-cultural sphere of Tai-Khmer Buddhism, including meditation, consecration rites for Buddha images and stūpas, commentarial exegesis, and protective chanting. Although my PhD thesis focuses on a single genre of documents, it aims to contribute to a wider field of studies, including Thai/Tai history, Buddhist Studies, Ritual Studies and Manuscript Studies. I seek to demonstrate how Buddhist texts are not static, but rather living entities that circulate between communities, students, donors, scribes, and scholars, as well as across various rituals and meditation practices. Each text, given its dynamic orientation, can reflect philosophical ideas, beliefs and practices from a multitude of different eras and places.

I will apply a philological approach to analyse the paratexts, bilingual texts, annotations, and vernacular translations that make up the Dhammakāya Genre as well as examine the date, provenance, scripts, material uses, and colophons belonging to this Genre. I will also use an ethnographic approach to determine how the Dhammakāya Genre is used during the ritual consecration of Buddha images and stūpas in northern Thailand and Cambodia.

Supervisors: Dr Elizabeth Guthrie, Dr Trent Walker, and Professor Will Sweetman

University of Otago Religious Studies Programme