Performing the Buddha's Word: The Role of the Bhānaka

Eviatar Shulman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The bhānakas were the main textual practitioners of early Buddhism. Although scholarship has been naturally critical of traditional accounts regarding the shaping of the canon, scholars have accepted many of their underlying assumptions, including a ubiquitous reference to bhānakas as “reciters, ” without questioning the category. However, bhānakas were no less performers, storytellers, poets, expounders of the teaching and preachers. This article reconsiders their figure by showing that discourses were not preexisting entities that were placed in collections according to length and topic, but were generated through the particular methods of each Nikāya. Here, I focus on the Samyutta-nikāya, showing many of its unique formulas and narrative designs, including central definitions of the doctrine of selflessness and structured narrative frames. The Samyutta, we discover, even has its own ideological and philosophical emphases, and its own theory of liberation. This means that a Samyutta-text is the product of the Samyutta-methods and views. This understanding brings to light important aspects in the performative arts of the bhānakas.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)227-255
Number of pages29
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Eviatar Shulman, 2024.


  • Samyutta-nikāya
  • Tipitaka
  • bhānaka
  • early Buddhist discourses
  • early Buddhist literature
  • reciter
  • the Pāli canon


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