The Buddhist Revival in Sri Lanka: Religious Tradition, Reinterpretation and Responseby George D. Bond

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<ul><li><p>The Buddhist Revival in Sri Lanka: Religious Tradition, Reinterpretation and Response byGeorge D. BondReview by: Richard GombrichJournal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 109, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1989), pp. 661-664Published by: American Oriental SocietyStable URL: .Accessed: 16/06/2014 01:00</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>American Oriental Society is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal ofthe American Oriental Society.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Mon, 16 Jun 2014 01:00:39 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Reviews of Books 661 </p><p>Nor are we on different ground with regard to the "economy." If Om Prakash is a soft, or modified, feudalist, as it appears, then it is for him to specify the entailed economic conditions. Is it the "natural economy" often assumed in feudal constructions, and, if so, what are we to make of the widespread monetization and high standing of merchants shown by his analysis? </p><p>This book implies that grants of land by kings (which means any ruler) represent the calculations of rather paltry royal financial advantage-a world, in short, of artha, or interest, rather than dharma, or morality. His plausible scepticism about dharma-texts and their inconsistencies as well as the disguises of their Brahman authors appears to free Om Prakash from the need to make sense of them in the context of worldly affairs involving landholding, postulating in place of that a "state economy" which is without content, or any more content than is necessary to discover the petty venality of Indian kings. </p><p>BURTON STEIN </p><p>SCHOOL OF ORIENTAL AND AFRICAN STUDIES, LONDON </p><p>The Buddhist Revival in Sri Lanka: Religious Tradition, Reinterpretation and Response. By GEORGE D. BOND. Columbia, S.C.: UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA PRESS, 1988. </p><p>Of the many encounters between the rich religious tradi- tions of Asia and the modern West, and the religious responses to those encounters, few if any can have been better documented or more intelligently analyzed than the response of the Theravada Buddhism of Sri Lanka to its encounter with Protestant Christianity and modern culture as purveyed by the British colonial power. Scholarship on the topic had its serious beginning with the publication of the first volume of Heinz Bechert's Buddhismus, Staat und Gesellschaft in den Landern des Theravada-Buddhismus. (The title means: "Buddhism, State and Society in the Countries of Theravada Buddhism," and the first volume, published in 1966, contained the first two parts: "General and Theoretical Foundations" and "Ceylon.") Bechert de- fined, documented and discussed what he called "Buddhist modernism." Because he published in German, Bechert's book has to this day not had the influence and recognition it deserves. In 1970 Obeyesekere gave a sharper definition to "modernism" by coining the term "Protestant Buddhism." The term indicates that the Buddhist response both arose as a protest against the Christian missionaries and imitated </p><p>important features of Protestant Christianity; the latter aspect has outlasted the need for the former. Obeyesekere's term has been widely accepted since, and his work in this area has been complemented by several excellent contribu- tions from other Sinhala scholars, notably Malalgoda. </p><p>To this distinguished lineage it is a pleasure to welcome this book by Professor Bond, who has absorbed the work of his predecessors and added valuable information and in- sights. The information derives from three periods of field- work in Sri Lanka during 1983-85, and in particular from a great many interviews with religious activists; the insights derive from Professor Bond's background as a scholar of Theravada Buddhism in general and Buddhist hermeneutics in particular (his doctoral dissertation was on the Netti- pakarana) plus a sound judgment, always sympathetic but not wholly uncritical. </p><p>After setting the background in his first chapter, Bond describes four trends in modern Sinhala Buddhism which he calls "four patterns of reinterpretation and response." They are: </p><p>1. Protestant Buddhism: the response of the early re- formers who began the revival by both reacting against and imitating Christianity. </p><p>2. The return to traditionalism or neotraditionalism during the Buddha Jayanti period (c. 1956). </p><p>3. The Insight Meditation (vipassand bhdvand) Movement: the reinterpretation and resurgence of meditation among the laity. </p><p>4. The social ethical interpretation of Buddhism: the re- interpretation that regards social development and so- cial equality as the fulfillment of the Buddhist ideal. </p><p>(pp. 5-6) </p><p>These movements are treated in the sequence given and accorded a chapter each, except that lay meditation gets three chapters. I regard the section on meditation, which takes up just over a third of the book, as quite its most interesting, valuable and original part. Chapter one, which sets the stage, is occasionally marred by a verbosity which the author later sheds and by some repetition, even verbatim (p. 12 repeats p. 4; pp. 38-39 repeat from pp. 5-6). Identify- ing a "dilemma of identity and responsiveness" (p. 34), which I find as vapid as "continuity and change," Bond plays around with a metaphor from Mary Douglas about "cost structure" (pp. 12-14); it is a relief that this never reappears in the rest of the book. This seems to be the ritual genuflec- tion to "theory" which academic books are sometimes felt to need. </p><p>But this is soon behind us. The chapters on early Pro- testant Buddhism and on the Jayanti period are extremely competent and well-written, even if they cover fairly familiar </p><p>This content downloaded from on Mon, 16 Jun 2014 01:00:39 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>662 Journal of the American Oriental Society 109.4 (1989) </p><p>territory. A glance at the numerous references in the foot- notes will suggest, correctly, that Bond is mainly summarizing </p><p>the work of his predecessors. Nevertheless, he makes good </p><p>use of the primary documents and produces some telling </p><p>quotations from the Buddhist Catechism by the Theosophist </p><p>Col. H.S. Olcott and from the writings of Dharmapala. </p><p>Anagarika Dharmapala, as specialists will know, was Olcott's </p><p>disciple and the leading figure of Protestant Buddhism, to </p><p>such an extent that his life and writings may be said to </p><p>summate it. (Bond is a bit careless about his dates: he was </p><p>born in 1864, so that two statements on p. 53 are slightly </p><p>wrong. And while on this topic of dates I should point out </p><p>that T. W. Rhys Davids could not have been educated at </p><p>Vidyodaya (p. 93), since that institution-which is founded </p><p>twice under different names on pp. 46-47-was founded in </p><p>the year he left Sri Lanka for good.) The long chapter on Buddhist social development is </p><p>almost wholly devoted to the Sarvodaya movement founded </p><p>and still led by A. T. Ariyaratne, and though it is based </p><p>both on participant observation and on interviews with the </p><p>leadership, the latter so dominate the presentation that we </p><p>mainly learn about the movement's self-image. Bond's ac- </p><p>count is sensitive and readable, but the Sarvodaya ideology </p><p>and programme have already been presented several times in </p><p>the literature both of the movement itself (it mostly publishes </p><p>in English) and of friendly observers. By contrast, the </p><p>meditation movement is not presented through official spokes- </p><p>men; here Bond relies mostly on his own fieldwork, which </p><p>included over 150 interviews with lay meditators, and as a </p><p>result produces material both original in substance and fresh </p><p>in flavor. Should any reader in a hurry want to sample the </p><p>best in this book, I particularly recommend chapter 5, with </p><p>its sympathetic and perceptive accounts of various lay medi- </p><p>tators. It is only in this chapter that Bond draws attention to </p><p>some important social factors: the new religious opportuni- </p><p>ties for women (pp. 184ff.); the typical class gap between </p><p>monks from villages and middle-class urban meditators </p><p>(p. 190); and the disproportionate influence of foreign Bud- </p><p>dhists and well-wishers (p. 191). The salient characteristic of the new, "Protestant" Bud- </p><p>dhism is its view of the religious life appropriate to the laity. </p><p>The Theravadin Sangha, like the Roman Catholic clergy of </p><p>medieval western Europe, had a virtual monopoly of re- </p><p>ligious expertise. This was questioned and then broken by the introduction of printing and the spread of literacy; in Sri </p><p>Lanka the break was the sharper because the new education </p><p>was in English and so introduced a whole new world of </p><p>ideas. Nominally the source of authority did not change: for </p><p>Christians it is God's word recorded in the Bible, and for </p><p>Theravada Buddhists, analogously, the Buddha's word re- </p><p>corded in the Pali Canon. Reform, conscious change, has </p><p>always been justified by reference to these ultimate authori- </p><p>ties. But traditionally the selection and interpretation of the scripture was in the hands of the clerisy, whereas once the texts became widely available every believer could have a go </p><p>for himself. The fundamentalist rejection of the layers of interpretation which have accreted between the "original" scripture and the present is a corollary of repudiating allegiance to a human hierarchy who based their claim to authority on privileged access to the highest truths. </p><p>While all the modern Buddhists about whom Bond writes share this basic Protestant characteristic and claim that the layman has both the right and the duty to be actively religious, they do differ over whether the religious roles of </p><p>layman and monk should be sharply differentiated or whether Buddhism should be lived in the same way by everyone. The </p><p>point on which Bond very reasonably focuses is the difference of opinion over whether one can attain salvation, nirvana, in this life-whether it is possible and therefore whether it is </p><p>worth attempting. Theravadin tradition as old as a classical (but post-canonical) text had it that it is very difficult for a layman to attain nirvana, and should one achieve it he would either enter the Sangha immediately or die within the day; in other words, it is impossible to live a lay life as an enlightened being (arhant). A second tradition, of later origin, held that in fact no one had attained nirvana in Sri Lanka since a </p><p>certain monk called Maliyadeva, who lived around 100 B.C. This latter tradition was part of a wider pessimistic view that Buddhism was inevitably declining and would continue to </p><p>decline until it disappeared from the face of the earth five thousand years after the Buddha's death, and that conse- </p><p>quently religious progress was becoming ever rarer and more </p><p>difficult. The general view of the village Buddhist was that </p><p>one should aspire to be reborn in the time of the next </p><p>Buddha, Maitri, and attain nirvana then; in the interim, one </p><p>merely aimed for good rebirths. Such pessimism is anathema to Protestant Buddhists. </p><p>Bond aptly quotes the Buddhist Catechism: </p><p>There is in Ceylon a popular misconception that the </p><p>attainment of Arhatship is now impossible; that the </p><p>Buddha had himself prophesied that the power would </p><p>die out in one millennium after his death. This </p><p>rumor ... I ascribe to the ingenuity of those who </p><p>should be as pure and . . . psychically wise as were their predecessors, but are not, and who therefore seek an excuse. (p. 51) </p><p>On the same page Bond quotes from the same source: "The mere wearing of yellow robes, or even ordination, does not </p><p>of itself make a man pure or wise or entitle him to </p><p>reverence." Dharmapala "clearly went against the tradition </p><p>in encouraging lay Buddhists to practice meditation in order </p><p>to realize the truth" (p. 59), but believed that only a monk </p><p>This content downloaded from on Mon, 16 Jun 2014 01:00:39 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Reviews of Books 663 </p><p>could attain nirvana (p. 58), and indeed took the robe himself near the end of his life. </p><p>In the vipassand movement, which began in the 1950s and is evidently mushrooming, laymen meditate in the belief, for the most part, that by doing so they can attain nirvana. Indeed, some of them even consider that laity are better placed than monks to do so. Individual monks have played important parts in the movement, but there are also groups which go so far as to exclude monks. Most of Chapter 6 describes such a lay group, somewhat analogous to a Protes- tant sect, the Saddhamma Friends Society (SFS). This group has also been described, more briefly, in Buddhism Trans- formed by Gananath Obeyesekere and myself. (We used a pseudonym for the leader but Bond has revealed his true name.) As we reported, the SFS is somewhat anti-clerical. Bond, whose information is more recent, says that they have appointed "a well-respected forest monk as their patron and adviser" (p. 222). It is a pity that he gives no more details, for it would be interesting to learn what advice has been given. The SFS has beliefs which would raise any traditional eyebrow: as Bond politely puts it, they "might be said to have moved beyond the bounds of reformism" (p. 235). Rather than reinterpret the Pali Canon as we have it, they acquire their knowledge of Buddhist doctrine direct from gods, who "know the Dhamma independently of the Bud- dha" (p. 218). This goes beyond what we were able to report: that the deity who teaches them Buddhism heard it from the Buddha himself (B.T., p. 317). It seems that in the years (I believe 5 years) between Bond's fieldwork and ours the SFS became even more heterodox, for Bond reports that through its leader the group receives from the gods suttas (Buddhist sermons) which the Buddha did not teach (examples are on pp. 226-27 and 230-31). The gods have revealed that the Canon "is unreliable because in the past Brahmins infiltrated the Sangha and corrupted the texts" (p. 222). This moves the SFS very close to the next sectarian group described in Buddhism Transformed, in which young Buddhist "nuns" are recomposing the entire Pali Canon by alleged clair- audience (B. T. pp. 325-52, especially 340-42, 349, 352). Since the SFS knew about t...</p></li></ul>


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