theravada buddhism gombrich, a leading authority on theravada buddhism, has updated his text and...

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  • Theravada Buddhism

    Theravada Buddhism is widely recognised as the classic introduction tothe branch of Buddhism found in Sri Lanka and parts of South EastAsia. The Buddha preached in north-east India in the fifth-century bce.He claimed that human beings are responsible for their own salvation,and put forward a new ideal of the holy life, establishing a monasticOrder to enable men and women to pursue that ideal. For most ofits history the fortunes of Theravada, the most conservative form ofBuddhism, have been identified with those of that Order. Under thegreat Indian emperor, Asoka, himself a Buddhist, Theravada reachedSri Lanka in about 250 bce. There it became the religion of the Sinhalastate, and from there it spread, much later, to Burma and Thailand.

    Richard Gombrich, a leading authority on Theravada Buddhism, hasupdated his text and bibliography to take account of recent research,including his discovery of the date of the Buddha and recent social andpolitical developments in Sri Lanka. He explores the legacy of theBuddhas predecessors and the social and religious contexts in whichBuddhism has developed and changed throughout history. Above all,he shows how it has always influenced and been influenced by its socialsurroundings in a way which continues to this day.

    Richard F. Gombrich is Academic Director of the Oxford Centre forBuddhist Studies, and one of the most renowned Buddhist scholars inthe world. From 1976 to 2004 he was Boden Professor of Sanskrit,University of Oxford. He has been President of the Pali Text Societyand was awarded the Sri Lanka Ranjana decoration by the President ofSri Lanka in 1994 and the SC Chakraborty medal by the Asiatic Societyof Calcutta the previous year. He has written extensively on Buddhism,including How Buddhism Began: the Conditioned Genesis of theEarly Teachings (Routledge 2005); and with Gananath Obeyesekere,Buddhism transformed: Religious change in Sri Lanka (1988).

  • The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices

    Series editors:

    John Hinnells and the late Ninian Smart

    This series provides pioneering and scholarly introductions to differentreligions in a readable form. It is concerned with the beliefs and prac-tices of religions in their social, cultural and historical setting. Authorscome from a variety of backgrounds and approach the study ofreligious beliefs and practices from their different points of view. Somefocus mainly on questions of history, teachings, customs and ritualpractices. Others consider, within the context of a specific region, theinterrelationships between religions; the interaction of religion and thearts; religion and social organisation; the involvement of religion inpolitical affairs; and, for ancient cultures, the interpretation of archaeo-logical evidence. In this way the series brings out the multi-disciplinarynature of the study of religion. It is intended for students of religion,philosophy, social sciences and history, and for the interested layperson.

    Other titles in the series include:


    Their Religious Beliefs and PracticesJulius Lipner

    Mahayana Buddhism

    The Doctrinal FoundationsPaul Williams


    Their Religious Beliefs and PracticesAndrew Rippin

    Religions of Oceania

    Tony Swain and Garry Trompf


    Their Religious Beliefs and PracticesMary Boyce

  • Theravada BuddhismA social history from ancientBenares to modern Colombo

    Second edition

    Richard F. Gombrich

  • First published in 1988by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd

    This edition published in 2006by Routledge2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN

    Simultaneously published in the USA and Canadaby Routledge270 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016

    Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business

    1988, 2006 Richard Gombrich

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted orreproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic,mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafterinvented, including photocopying and recording, or in anyinformation storage or retrieval system, without permission inwriting from the publishers.

    British Library Cataloguing in Publication DataA catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

    Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication DataA catalog record for this book has been applied for

    ISBN10: 0415365082 (hbk)ISBN10: 0415365090 (pbk)ISBN10: 0203016033 (ebk)

    ISBN13: 9780415365086 (hbk)ISBN13: 9780415365093 (pbk)ISBN13: 9780203016039 (ebk)

    This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2006.

    To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledges

    collection of thousands of eBooks please go to

  • Contents

    Acknowledgments and recommendations for further reading ixPreface to the second edition xi

    1 Introduction 1

    A Introductory information 1B A social history of Buddhism? 5

    The limitations of Marxist and Weberian views of religion 11

    Unintended consequences 15

    The Sangha 18

    What inquiries will the evidence support? 19

    Theravadin history: the uneven pace of change 22

    Buddhist identity 23

    2 Gotama Buddhas problem situation 32

    A Vedic civilization 32The Vedic tradition 32

    The early Vedic period 35

    Later Vedic society 38

    Religion in the later Vedic period 40

    Karma and escape from re-birth 46

    B The social conditions of his day 49To whom did the Buddhas message appeal? 56

    3 The Buddhas Dhamma 61

    The Dhamma in its context: answers to brahminism 67

    Buddhism as religious individualism 73

    An ethic for the socially mobile 80

    The Buddha on kings and politics 83

  • 4 The Sanghas discipline 89

    General principles of the vinaya 90Dating and development of the rules 92

    The middle way between discomfort and indulgence 95

    The disbarring offences and enforcement of chastity 105

    Hierarchies of age and sex 106

    The formal organization of the Sangha 107

    Sect formation: Theravada defined 111

    Maintaining conformity 114

    Relations between ordained and laity 115

    5 The accommodation between Buddhism and society

    in ancient India 119

    A Buddhist devotion 119The Buddha as an object of faith and devotion 120

    Pilgrimage 122

    Relics 123

    Mortuary rituals and transfer of merit 125

    B Secular power: Asoka 128Asokas inscriptions 129

    Asoka in Buddhist tradition 132

    The missions: interpreting the evidence 135

    6 The Buddhist tradition in Sri Lanka 137

    The Sinhalese Buddhist identity 138

    Periodization of Sinhalese Buddhist history 139

    Sources 140

    Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism 141

    Cosmology 142

    A Buddhist society 143

    Worship of Buddha images 145

    Role of the village monk 146

    The achievements of Mahindas mission 148

    Establishing Buddhism in a new country 150

    The Sanghas duty to preserve the scriptures 151

    The use of Pali: Buddhaghosa 153

    Translation and popularization 155

    Village dweller and forest dweller 156

    The structure of the Sangha in Ceylon 157

    vi Contents

  • Formal state control of the Sangha 158

    Sangha and state in Anuradhapura 160

    The Sangha as landlords 161

    Decline . . . 165

    . . . and revival 166

    The character of Sinhalese Buddhist religiosity 168

    7 Protestant Buddhism 171

    The disestablishment of the Sangha 173

    The British missions 175

    Early Buddhist reactions 179

    The rise of the Buddhist laity 182

    The impact of the Theosophists 183

    Anagarika Dharmapala 186

    Lay religious activism 189

    Other characteristics of Protestant Buddhism 192

    Limited scope of Protestant Buddhism 194

    8 Current trends, new problems 196

    Religious pluralism 196

    The new ethos 197

    Unintended consequences of lay religious activism 198

    Recent economic and social developments 199

    The cultural effect of the war 201

    Hinduizing trends 203

    The decline of rationality 204

    The crisis of authority 205

    Altered states of consciousness 205

    Using Buddhism for this world 206

    Developments in the Sangha 207

    The challenge 209

    Works cited 211Abbreviations and primary sources 217References 219Index 227

    Contents vii

  • Acknowledgments andrecommendations forfurther reading

    There are two great pleasures in working on Theravada Buddhism: theprimary sources and the secondary sources. To praise the Pali Canonand its commentaries would be an impertinence. I hope it may not bethought impertinent, however, to say what admirable books modernscholars have written on the subject matter of this one. Very often Ihave found I could do no better than attempt to summarize the conclu-sions of my learned and lucid predecessors. I only hope that what isessentially a presentation of their work has not been too inept toencourage the reader to go back to their fuller accounts. Here arethe works I particularly have in mind; in brackets after each are thenumbers of the chapters which most heavily rely on them.

    Walpola Rahula: What the Buddha taught (3)Walpola Rahula: History of Buddhism in Ceylon: The Anuradhapura

    Period (6)Mohan Wijayaratna: Le moine bouddhiste selon les textes du Theravda

    (4)Michael Carrithers: The Forest Monks of Sri Lanka: An Anthropo-

    logical and Historical Study (4)R.A.L.H. Gunawardana: Robe and Plough: Monasticism and Economic

    Interest in Early Medieval Sri Lanka (6)Kitsiri Malalgoda: Buddhism in Sinhalese Society 17501900: A Study

    of Religious Revival and Change (7)Heinz Bechert: Budd


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