Trial text classification method implemented by the EFEO-FEMC

It is important to point out that knowledge of Cambodia’s traditional literature cannot be pieced together from collections of manuscripts housed in European libraries. The content of the latter, strongly marked by the overriding preoccupation of 19th-century scholars with the political history of the Khmer kingdom then under the sphere of French influence, is not representative of that of the village libraries. The religious texts that make up the overwhelming majority of manuscripts in Cambodia only account for one of the eight manuscript sections in the National Library in Paris. Over two thirds of the works inventoried in situ by the EFEO-FEMC team are unknown in the libraries of Europe, while inversely, two thirds of the books listed in the Catalogue du fonds khmer de la Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris (Catalogue of the Khmer Collection at the National Library in Paris) by Au Chieng (1953) are nowhere to be found in the monastic libraries of Cambodia. The methods of classification used in western libraries therefore cannot be used as a model for classifying Cambodian monastic library manuscripts.

In sum, the few Cambodian researchers that worked on collections of Khmer manuscripts in European libraries, notably Au Chieng at the National Library in Paris, when classifying the vernacular religious texts of Cambodia, followed a taxonomy copied from that used for classifying Pāli literature, making a distinction between “canonical,” “postcanonical” or “extracanonical” texts. The standards used for this type of classification, although acceptable for Khmer language literature, are nevertheless impractical in doing field work with a team made up exclusively of Cambodians for whom they are irrelevant.

Therefore, the EFEO-FEMC team’s inability to make use of a previously established method and with no inventories or descriptions of books in Cambodia containing the features of a local tradition for text classification, meant that it had to develop its own classification typology prior to undertaking its assigned task of rescuing and conserving Cambodia’s manuscripts. When everything was said and done, sometimes with astonishing passion, the Cambodian members of the EFEO-FEMC team and a few Khmer scholars voluntarily involved in this work developed a taxonomy for Cambodia’s religious literature. Despite its imperfections and a few imbalances, 20 years of experience have validated its workability. This classification obviously makes no claim of being hard-and-fast as far as revealing the internal structure of Khmer literature is concerned. But it is practical under the conditions in which it is used, i.e. in the field, and is easy for its Khmer users to work with. This classification has 24 genres in eight groups, including two faux genres, these being the category of unclassifiable works put under the heading “miscellaneous,” on the one hand, and the body of “Pāli language” texts, none of which originates in Cambodia, on the other hand. For the classification peculiar to these books, it is common practice to refer to the nomenclatures established by the Pali Text Society of Oxford.

Each Cambodian manuscript thereby received an alphanumeric inventory number enabling identification of the geographic location of the monastery where it is kept and the nature of the book. For example, ms. 056.A.02.02.02.II.02 refers to manuscript No. 56 in pagoda A. 02.02.02., i.e. the second pagoda (Wat Chom Pa) in the second commune (khum Kbal Ko) of the second district (srok Khien Svay) of Kandal province. This is a manuscript of Class II, that of the sāstrā lpèṅ (pleasure literature), genre 02 of the lpök apraṃ (didactic genre).

The classification of Khmer texts established and used by the EFEO-FEMC team includes the following genres:

I. Didactic texts សាត្រា​ឧបទេស (sāstrā Upades)

I.1 Codes of conduct ច្បាប់​ទូន្មាន (cpāp' dūnmān)

I. 2 Proverbs ច្បាប់​សុភាសិត (cpāp' subhāsit)

I.3 Religious stories ល្បើក​ព្រះធម៌ (lpök braḥ dhaṛm)

II. Pleasure texts សាត្រា​ល្បែង (sāstrā lpèṅ)

II.1 Classic novels ប្រលោម​លោក​បុរាណ (pralom lok purāṇ)

II.2 Moral stories ល្បើក​អប់រំ (lpök ap'raṃ)

III. Texts for preaching សាត្រា​ទេសន៍ (sāstrā desan)

III.1 Doctrinal texts ព្រះ​សទ្ធម្ម (sūddhamm)

III.2 Buddha’s teaching ព្រះ​សូត្រ (sutta)

III.3 Monastic discipline ព្រះ​វិន័យ (vinaya)

III.4 Detailed doctrine ព្រះ​អភិធម (abhidhamma)

III.5 Past lives of the Buddha ជា​តក (jātaka)

III.6 Benefits អានិសង្ស (ānisaṅsa)

IV. Historical texts ប្រវត្តិ (pravatti)

IV.1 Biographies រឿង​លក្ខណៈ​បុរាណ (jīv pravatti)

IV.2 Chronicles ប្រវត្តិសាស្រ្ត (pravattisāstr)

V. Traditional texts Km

V.1 Traditional accounts រឿង​លក្ខណៈ​បុរាណ (rīöṅ lakkhaṇa: purāṇ)

V.2 Ancient [legal] codes ច្បាប់​បុរាណ (cpāp' purāṇ)

V.3 Texts for meditation កម្មដ្ឋាន (kammaṭṭhān)

VI. Traditional manuals ក្បួន​បុរាណ (kpuon purāṇ)

VI.1 Astrology manuals and books for prediction ហោរា (horā)

VI.2 Manuals for medicine preparation ថ្នាំ (thnāṃ)

VI.3 Manuals for protective tattoos យ័ន្ត (yănt)

VI.4 Manuals of magical formulae មន្ត​វិជ្ជា (mant vijjā)

VI.5 Manuals for house construction សង់​ផ្ទះ (saṅ' phdaḥ)

VI.6 Manuals for organizing rituals ក្បួន​ធ្វើ​បុណ្យ (kpuon dhvö puṇy)

VII. Texts in Pāli

VIII. Miscellaneous