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Paritta, Parittā

A collection of texts taken from the Khuddakapāṭha, the Aṅguttaranikāya, the Majjhimanikāya, and the Suttanipāta, and recited on special occasions to ward off illness and danger. The word “paritta” means protection. The Milindapañha (p.150 f) gives a list of the chief Paritta discourses:

  1. Ratana Sutta,
  2. Metta Sutta,
  3. Khandha Paritta,
  4. Mora Paritta,
  5. Dhajagga Paritta,
  6. Āṭānāṭiya Paritta,
  7. Aṅgulimāla Paritta (see also Dial.iii.185).

To these the Maṅgala Sutta is generally added.

The word “paritta” first occurs in the Cūḷavagga (Vin.ii.110) in connection with the Khandha Paritta, which was allowed by the Buddha as a watch, a guard, a protection for oneself, for the use of the Order. The occasion of the delivery of this general injunction was the death of a monk from snake-bite. The Milindapañha states (see above) that the recital of the Paritta had the Buddha’s express sanction.

The collection of Paritta discourses is, to this day, more widely known by the laity of Burma and Sri Lanka than any other Pāḷi book, and is generally used in times of danger or of sickness, both individual and national. Thus, Sena II, king of Sri Lanka, made the community of monks recite the Paritta, and by sprinkling the water charmed with Paritta he made the people free from illness, and so removed the danger of plague from the country. He also decreed that this practice should continue every year (Cv.li.80).

Kassapa V is said to have had a Paritta ceremony performed by the three fraternities of monks to protect his people from danger and plague and bad harvest (Ibid., lii.80).

In the recent (1935) epidemic of malaria in Sri Lanka, monks were taken in carts through the badly affected areas reciting the Paritta and sprinkling water. The ceremony is held on most diverse occasions such as the inauguration of a new house, the starting of a journey, of a new business, etc. For a discussion on the Paritta see Dial.iii.180 ff; also P.L.C.75 f.

Bode says (op.cit., 4) that in the days of King Anorata of Burma, corrupt and cynical monks used the recital of the Paritta as an easy means of clearing man’s guilty conscience from all wrong doing, even from matricide.

Buddhaghosa is mentioned (Cv.xxxvii.226) as having once attempted to compile a Commentary on the Paritta (Parittaṭṭhakathā). Geiger (Cv. Trs.i.24, 3) calls this a commentary on the Paritta, but it is more probable that “paritta” is here used as an adjective, meaning “concise,” and that what is meant is a concise commentary on the Piṭakas.

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