Richard Francis Gombrich (/ˈɡɒmbrɪk/; born 17 July 1937) is an
Indologist and scholar of Sanskrit, Pāli, and Buddhist Studies. He
was the Boden Professor of
Sanskrit at the
University of Oxford
University of Oxford from
1976 to 2004. He is currently Founder-President of the Oxford Centre
for Buddhist Studies. He is a past President of the Pali Text Society
(1994–2002) and General Editor Emeritus of the Clay Sanskrit
1 Early life and education
2 Early work
3 Major contributions and concepts
4 Meaning of the term "Gombrichian" in Buddhist studies
5 Personality and influence
8 Academic appointments
10 External links
Early life and education
Gombrich is the only child of the classical pianist Ilse Gombrich and
the Austrian-British art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich. He studied at
St. Paul's School in
London from 1950-1955 before attending Magdalen
College, Oxford, in 1957. He received his B.A. from Oxford in 1961 and
his DPhil from the same university in 1970. His doctoral thesis was
entitled Contemporary Sinhalese
Buddhism in its relation to the Pali
canon. He received his M.A. from
Harvard University in 1963.
Gombrich's first major contribution in the field of Buddhist Studies
was an anthropological study of contemporary Sinhalese Buddhism
entitled Precept and Practice: Traditional
Buddhism in the Rural
Highlands of Ceylon (1971). This study emphasized the compatibility
between the normative
Buddhism advocated in canonical texts and the
contemporary religious practices of Sinhalese Buddhists. Contemporary
Sinhalese religious practices often include such elements as sorcery
and the worship of yakshas and Hindu gods; previous scholars of
Buddhist Studies had interpreted these practices as contradictory to
or corruptions of the orthodox
Buddhism of the Pali Canon. Gombrich
argues in Precepts and Practice that, rather than being the mark of
later corruptions of
Theravada Buddhism, these practices can be traced
to early periods in Buddhist history. Furthermore, since the worship
of deities and rituals involving sorcery are never explicitly
forbidden to lay people in the Pali Canon, Gombrich argues against
viewing such practices as contradictory to orthodox Buddhism. It is
also in Precept and Practice that Gombrich lays out his distinction
Buddhism at the cognitive level and
Buddhism at the affective
level. At the cognitive level, Sinhalese Buddhists will attest to
believing in such normative doctrines as anatta, while, at the same
time, their actions indicate a supposed affective acceptance of, for
example, a transmigrating soul. Gombrich's notion of a
cognitive/affective divide in Sinhalese
Buddhism has since come under
criticism, perhaps most famously by Stanley Tambiah, who considered it
simplistic and insupportable.
Major contributions and concepts
Gombrich has gone on to become one of the 20th century's important
scholars of Theravāda Buddhism. His recent research has focused more
on Buddhist origins.
Gombrich stresses the importance of relating
Buddhist texts and
practices to the rest of Indian religion. Rather than studying
Buddhism, Jainism, and Vedism in isolation, Gombrich advocates a
comparative method that has shed light on both Buddhist thought and
Buddhist early history. He has been an active contributor to an
ongoing discussion concerning the date of the Buddha's death, and has
argued that data supplied in Pali texts composed in
Sri Lanka enable
us to date that event to about 404 BCE.
Whilst an undergraduate, Gombrich helped to edit the volume of papers
Karl Popper entitled “Conjectures and Refutations”. Since then,
he has followed this method in his research, seeking the best
hypothesis available and then trying to test it against the evidence.
This makes him oppose both facile scepticism and the quest for a
method which can in any way substitute for the simple need for
He was general editor of the Clay
Sanskrit Library from its founding
until February 2008.
Meaning of the term "Gombrichian" in Buddhist studies
The term Gombrichian had already been coined in reference to Ernst
Gombrich for some decades, and continues to be used in the context of
art history with that denotation (e.g., "...a Gombrichian willingness
to appeal to experimental evidence"), however, the use of
"Gombrichian" in reference to
Richard Gombrich has an entirely
different denotation. In a review of 2003, Jon S. Walters defended the
"Gombrichian" approach to textual tradition against the view
attributed to Anne M. Blackburn that "colonial/Orientialist"
scholarship is "epitomized here by Richard Gombrich". Whereas the
earlier usage of "Gombrichian" seems to indicate a theory specifically
set out by
Ernst Gombrich in Art as Illusion, the usage of
Gombrichian in the context of Buddhist Studies refers more vaguely to
an emphasis on working with comparative reference to primary-source
Pali texts found throughout Richard Gombrich's career.
Personality and influence
Gombrich has taught at Oxford for over 40 years and continues to do
some teaching in retirement. He has supervised about 50 doctoral
theses, most of them in Buddhist studies, and taught a wide range of
Indological subjects. His students include several members of the
He was instrumental in Numata Foundation's endowing a Chair in
Buddhist Studies at Oxford. On taking mandatory retirement in 2004 he
Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies
Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies and, with Geoff
Bamford, the Society for the Wider Understanding of the Buddhist
He holds strong views on higher education. In 2000, at the invitation
of the Graduate Institute for Policy Studies at Tokyo University, he
delivered a lecture "British Higher Education Policy in the last
Twenty Years: The Murder of a Profession" and in 2008 he participated
in the "Rally of the Impossible Professions: Beyond the False Promises
of Security" hosted by the
London Society of the New Lacanian
Asiatic Society of Calcutta
Asiatic Society of Calcutta awarded Gombrich the SC Chakraborty
medal in 1993. The following year, he received the
Sri Lanka Ranajana
decoration from the President of Sri Lanka.
1 Precept and practice: traditional
Buddhism in the rural highlands of
Ceylon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.
2 Teach yourself Sanskrit: an introduction to the classical language.
(Editor: Coulson, Michael) London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1976.
3 The perfect generosity of Prince Vessantara. (Co-author: Cone,
Margaret) Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.
4 On being Sanskritic: a plea for civilized study and the study of
civilization. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978.
5 Balasooriya, Somaratna, André Bareau, Richard Gombrich, Siri
Gunasingha, Udaya Mallawarachchi and Edmund Perry eds. Buddhist
studies in honour of Walpola Rahula. London: Gordon Fraser, 1980.
6 Bechert, Heinz and
Richard Gombrich eds. The world of Buddhism:
Buddhist monks and nuns in society and culture. London: Thames &
Hudson, 1984. Paperback ed. 1991.
7 Dhammapala, Gatare,
Richard Gombrich and K.R. Norman eds. Buddhist
studies in honour of Hammalava Saddhatissa. Nugegoda, Sri Lanka:
Hammalava Saddhatissa Felicitation Volume Committee, University of Sri
8 Theravåda Buddhism: a social history from ancient Benares to modern
Colombo. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988.
9 Gombrich, Richard, and Gananath Obeyesekere.
religious change in Sri Lanka. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1988. Paperback ed. 1990.
10 Editor. Indian ritual and its exegesis. Delhi: Oxford University
11 Buddhist precept and practice. (Revised edition of 1. above.)
Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1991.
Buddhism began: the conditioned genesis of the early teachings.
London: The Athlone Press, 1996.
13 Religious experience in early Buddhism? Eighth Annual BASR Lecture,
1997. British Association for the Study of Religions Occasional Paper
17. Printed by the University of Leeds Printing Service, Leeds .
14 Kindness and compassion as means to Nirvana. (1997 Gonda Lecture)
Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1998.
15 Translation of 9 above into Japanese, trsln Iwao Shima, Kyoto:
16 Translation of 8 above into Japanese, trsln, 2006.
17 Theravåda Buddhism: a social history from ancient Benares to
modern Colombo. 2nd rev. ed. London: Routledge, 2006.
Buddhism began: the conditioned genesis of the early teachings.
2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2006.
19 Gombrich, Richard and Cristina Scherrer-Schaub, ed.: Buddhist
Studies: Papers of the 12th World
Sanskrit Conference, vol.8, Delhi:
Motilal Banarsidass, 2008
Selected Recent Articles
Making mountains without molehills: the case of the missing stupa.
Journal of the Pali Text Society, vol. 15: 141–143, 1990.
Reflections of an Indologist. In Religious pluralism and unbelief:
Studies critical and comparative. I. Hamnett, editor.
London and New
York: Routledge, 243–261, 1990.
Påtimokkha: purgative. In Studies in
Buddhism and culture in honour
of Professor Dr. Egaku Mayeda on his sixty-fifth birthday. The
Editorial Committee of the Felicitation Volume for Professor Dr. Egaku
Mayeda, editors. Tokyo: Sankibo Busshorin, 31–38, 1991.
Can we know or control our futures? In Buddhist essays: A miscellany.
G. Piyatissa Thera, L. Perera and K. Goonesena, editors. London: Sri
Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre, 240–252, 1992.
The Buddha's Book of Genesis? Indo-Iranian Journal, vol. 35:
Dating the Buddha: a red herring revealed. In The Dating of the
Historical Buddha/Die Datierung des historischen Buddha. Part 2.
(Symposien zur Buddhismusforschung, IV,2) Heinz Bechert, editor.
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 237–259, 1992.
Why is a khattiya called a khattiya? the Aggaññasutta revisited.
Journal of the Pali Text Society, vol. XVII: 213–214, 1992.
A momentous effect of translation: the "vehicles" of Buddhism.
Apodosis: Essays presented to Dr. W.W. Cruickshank to mark his 80th
birthday. St. Paul's School, London; 34–46, 1992.
Buddhist prediction: how open is the future? Predicting the Future.
Leo Howe, Alan Wain, editors. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press,
Buddhism in the modern world: secularization or protestantization? In
Secularization, rationalism and sectarianism. Essays in honour of
Bryan R. Wilson. Eileen Barker, James A. Beckford, Karel Dobbelaere,
editors. Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1993.
Understanding early Buddhist terminology in its context. Pali
Daejangkang Urimal Olmgim Nonmon Moum II / "A Korean Translation of
Pali Tipitaka Vol. II", 74–101, Seoul, 1993.
The Buddha and the Jains: a reply to Professor Bronkhorst. Asiatische
Studien XLVIII 4 1994, 1069–196.
The monk in the Påli Vinaya: priest or wedding guest? Journal of the
Pali Text Society, vol. XXI, 1995: 193–197.
The earliest Brahmanical reference to Buddhism? Relativism, Suffering
and Beyond. Essays in memory of Bimal K. Matilal, eds. P. Bilimoria
and J. N. Mohanty. Delhi; OUP, 1997, 31–49.
Dharma a good thing? Dialogue and Universalism no. 11–12, 1997,
The Buddhist attitude to thaumaturgy. Bauddhavidyasudhakarah: studies
in honour of Heinz Bechert on the occasion of his 65th birthday, eds.
Petra Kieffer-Pülz and Jens-Uwe Hartmann. Swisttal-Odendorf: Indica
et Tibetica, 1997, 166–184.
Obituary of the Venerable Dr Walpola Rahula. The Middle Way, vol. 73,
no. 2, 1998, 115–119.
Introduction. Sir William Jones 1746–1974, A Commemoration, ed.
Alexander Murray. Oxford: OUP, 1998, 3–15.
Organized bodhisattvas: a blind alley in Buddhist historiography.
SËryacandråya: Essays in Honour of Akira Yuyama, eds. Paul Harrison
and Gregory Schopen. Swisttal-Odendorf: Indica et Tibetica, 1998,
43–56. Reprinted in Studies in Hindu and Buddhist Art, ed. P. K.
Mishra. New Delhi, Abhinav Publications, 1999.
Discovering the Buddha’s date.
Buddhism for the New Millennium, ed.
Lakshman S. Perera. London; World Buddhist Foundation, 2000, 9–25.
A visit to Brahmå the heron, Journal of Indian Philosophy, v.29,
April 2001, 95–108.
Another Buddhist criticism of Yåjñavalkya, Buddhist and Indian
Studies in Honour of Professor Sodo Mori, Hammatsu: Kokusai Bukkyoto
Kyokai, 2002, 21–23.
“Obsession with origins”: attitudes to Buddhist studies in the old
world and the new, Approaching the Dhamma:
Buddhist texts and
practices in South and Southeast Asia, eds. Anne M. Blackburn &
Jeffrey Samuels. Seattle: BPS Pariyatti Editions, 2003, 3–15.
Merit detached from volition: how a Buddhist doctrine came to wear a
Jain aspect, Jainism and Early Buddhism: essays in honor of Padmanabh
S. Jaini, ed. Olle Qvarnström. Fremont: Asian Humanities Press, 2003,
Vedånta stood on its head: sakkåya and sakkåya-di††hi, 2nd
International Conference on Indian Studies: proceedings, eds. Renata
Czekalska & Halina Marlewicz, (Cracow Indological series IV–V),
Krakow: Ksiegarnia Akademicka, 2003, 227–238.
Understanding the Buddha: methods and results. Korean Society for
Indian Philosophy, 2004.
Major new discoveries about the Buddha’s teachings.
Buddhism in the
West, eds. Galayaye Piyadassi …[et al]. London: World Buddhist
Foundation, 2005, 149-152.
Thoughts about karma.
Buddhism and Jainism, essays in honour of Dr.
Hojun Nagasaki on his seventieth birthday, ed. Committee. Kyoto:
Heirakuji Shoten, 2005, 740-726 (sic).
Is the Sri Lankan war a Buddhist fundamentalism?, Buddhism, conflict
and violence in modern Sri Lanka, ed. Mahinda Deegalle . (Routledge
Critical Studies in
London & New York:
Routledge, 2006, pp. 22–37.
Parodie und Ironie in den Reden des Buddha. RELIGIONEN unterwegs, vol.
12, no. 2, Mai 2006, 4–8.
Popperian Vinaya: conjecture and refutation in practice.
Pramåˆak¥rti˙: papers dedicated to Ernst Steinkellner on the
occasion of his 70th birthday, eds. Birgit Kellner …[et al]. Wien:
Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien Universität
Wien, 2007, pp. 203–211.
Why the monks took no delight in the Buddha’s words. South Asian
Religions & Culture, v.2 (1), 2008, pp. 83–87.
Why has British education gone so wrong, and why can’t we stop the
rot? Popper’s nightmare. Hurly-Burly (Intl. Lacanian Jnl of
Psychoanalysis), (1) Mai 2009, pp. 185–192.
Harkness Fellow of the Commonwealth Fund (1961–1963)
University of Oxford
University of Oxford (1965–76)
Boden Professor of
Sanskrit (and fellow of Balliol College),
University of Oxford
University of Oxford (1976–2004)
University of Bristol
University of Bristol (1981–82)
Visiting Professor, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
Princeton University (1986–87)
F. D. Maurice Lecturer, King's College
Co-editor, Journal of the
Pali Text Society (1996–2002)
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (1997)
Edmund Perry lecturer,
Northwestern University (1998)
Visiting Professor, Dongguk University, Seoul (2008)
Visiting Professor, Hong Kong University (2008)
^ See Jacob N. Kinnard's discussion of Tambiah's criticism of
Gombrich, Imaging Wisdom：Seeing and Knowing in the Art of Indian
Buddhism (Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass: 2001), p. 27-28.
^ David Carrion, 2000, The Aesthetics of Comics Penn State University
Cf. the same author's usage in: "Gombrich and Danto on Defining Art",
The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 54, No. 3 (Summer,
1996), pp. 279-281
^ Jon S. Walters, 2003, Buddhist-Christian Studies, Volume 23, p.
189-193, University of Hawai'i Press
^ Charles M. Dorn, 1999, Mind in Art: Cognitive Foundations in Art
Education, p. 99 seq., Lawrence Erlbaum Associates [Publisher].
^ Gombrich, Richard. "Why Has British Education Gone So Wrong, and Why
Can't We Stop the Rot? Popper's Nightmare". Synthesis philosophica.
Retrieved 20 March 2015.
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