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  • 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

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  • Reviews of Books 661

    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?

    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.



    The Buddhist Revival in Sri Lanka: Religious Tradition, Reinterpretation and Response. By GEORGE D. BOND. Columbia, S.C.: UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA PRESS, 1988.

    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

    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.

    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.

    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:

    1. Protestant Buddhism: the response of the early re- formers who began the revival by both reacting against and imitating Christianity.

    2. The return to traditionalism or neotraditionalism during the Buddha Jayanti period (c. 1956).

    3. The Insight Meditation (vipassand bhdvand) Movement: the reinterpretation and resurgence of meditation among the laity.

    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.

    (pp. 5-6)

    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.

    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

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  • 662 Journal of the American Oriental Society 109.4 (1989)

    territory. A glance at the numerous references in the foot- notes will suggest, correctly, that Bond is mainly summarizing

    the work of his predecessors. Nevertheless, he makes good

    use of the primary documents and produces some telling

    quotations from the Buddhist Catechism by the Theosophist

    Col. H.S. Olcott and from the writings of Dharmapala.

    Anagarika Dharmapala, as specialists will know, was Olcott's

    disciple and the leading figure of Protestant Buddhism, to

    such an extent that his life and writings may be said to

    summate it. (Bond is a bit careless about his dates: he was

    born in 1864, so that two statements on p. 53 are slightly

    wrong. And while on this topic of dates I should point out

    that T. W. Rhys Davids could not have been educated at

    Vidyodaya (p. 93), since that institution-which is founded

    twice under different names on pp. 46-47-was founded in

    the year he left Sri Lanka for good.) The long chapter on Buddhist social development is

    almost wholly devoted to the Sarvodaya movement founded

    and still led by A. T. Ariyaratne, and though it is based

    both on participant observation and on interviews with the

    leadership, the latter so dominate the presentation that we

    mainly learn about the movement's self-image. Bond's ac-

    count is sensitive and readable, but the Sarvodaya ideology

    and programme have already been presented several times in

    the literature both of the movement itself (it mostly publishes

    in English) and of friendly observers. By contrast, the

    meditation movement is not presented through official spokes-

    men; here Bond relies mostly on his own fieldwork, which

    included over 150 interviews with lay meditators, and as a

    result produces material both original in substance and fresh

    in flavor. Should any reader in a hurry want to sample the

    best in this book, I particularly recommend chapter 5, with

    its sympathetic and perceptive accounts of various lay medi-

    tators. It is only in this chapter that Bond draws attention to

    some important social factors: the new religious opportuni-

    ties for women (pp. 184ff.); the typical class gap between

    monks from villages and middle-class urban meditators

    (p. 190); and the disproportionate influence of foreign Bud-

    dhists and well-wishers (p. 191). The salient characteristic of the new, "Protestant" Bud-

    dhism is its view of the religious life appropriate to the laity.

    The Theravadin Sangha, like the Roman Catholic clergy of

    medieval western Europe, had a virtual monopoly of re-

    ligious expertise. This was questioned and then broken by the introduction of printing and the spread of literacy; in Sri

    Lanka the break was the sharper because the new education

    was in English and so introduced a whole new world of

    ideas. Nominally the source of authority did not change: for

    Christians it is God's word recorded in the Bible, and for

    Theravada Buddhists


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