This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
2 (Apr. - Jun., 1997), pp. 339342 Published by: American Oriental Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/605496 Accessed: 03/11/2010 10:13
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=aos. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact email@example.com.
American Oriental Society is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of the American Oriental Society.
London and New York:ROUTF Pp. cannot explain everything. particularly since Gombrich gives a persuasive defense of his selection without claiming that these are the only instances of definitive change. $15.Walpola Rahula'sspirited attacks on "innovation" are placed in context. 11). have already established their names as well as a canon of research literaturein the study of the religious life of Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka. its migration from India to Sri Lanka.1988. One recalls at once such notable book-length examples as Gombrich'sPrecept and Practice: Traditional Buddhism in the Rural Highlands In Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. althoughdisastersin natureexemplify notable exceptions and some intended actions result in unintended consequences. typically. appropriate phenomenafor empiricalstudy and for causal explanation in social terms that may conflict with the metaphysical explanations proffered by the religion itself. an Indologist at the University of Oxford. He holds that the social historian'sprimaryresponsibility is to explain change while understandingthat the historian. FOR REASONS I WILL TRY TO MAKE apparent further along in this review one should read these two books as a unit. x + 237.hence. Gombrich 339 . 25) the limited usefulness of a general definition of religion. He selects the Buddha'sfounding of this Sasana (religion) in India some 2500 years ago. 1981). like every other human being.50 (cloth). and within the last 150 years. LEDGE KEGAN & PAUL. Princeton: PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS. Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka.THERAVADA TRANSFORMED?* EDMUNDPERRY NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY Two importantrecent books by Richard Gombrich (and GananathObeyesekere) on the "modernization" of Buddhism in Ceylon are examined. Buddhists and buffs alike.95 (paper). human individuals whose intended objectives evoke group patronage. xvi Pp. $16. 1971) and Obeyesekere's Medusa's Hair: An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious Experience (Chicago: University of Chi- cago Press. He holds further that changes in a religion arise in response to problem situations within a society andare. * This is a review article of: TheravadaBuddhism:A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. social explanations for "three major points of change" that have occurred in Theravada's history. He accepts religion defined broadly as a system of belief in and patterned interaction with superhuman beings. a configurationof responses and reactions to the ProtestantChristian missionary accouterment to Great Britain's colonization of Sri Lanka. This literary excellence will make pleasurable the repeated close readings that are necessary for an ample grasp of the data and its interpretation presented here by Richard Gombrich and Gananath Obeyesekere. By RICHARD GOMBRICH GANANATH and OBEYESEKERE. Gombrich develops of Ceylon (Oxford: Clarendon Press.95 (paper). as he did earlier in Precept and Practice (p. He considers the agents and subjects of innovation in social history to be. where a redefinition of Buddhist identity happened. Their account and their interesting explanations of changes in the Theravada from its origin in ancient India up to the "transforming" innovations recently introduced by Sinhala urbanites in and aroundColombo are renderedin a lucid prose and an engaging narrative construction that make their authors' scholarship accessible to Sri Lanka specialists. Gombrich. $55 (cloth). 1988. Gombrich acknowledges here (p. and Obeyesekere. + 484. They both treat the phenomenon of change in the Theravfda Buddhism preserved and practiced by the Sinhala people of Sri Lanka. a native of Sri Lanka who holds a professorship in anthropology at Princeton University. a development widely designated nowadays as "ProtestantBuddhism. By RICHARD GOMBRICH. $49. Among other commentary."It would be difficult to argue sensibly against the choice of these three instances of "major change" in Theravada. There is similarly no compelling reason to challenge the basic assumptions of his concept of social history.
and N. 141-42.and the sophisticated distinction it draws between "communal religion" and "soteriology" helps us to understand the two discrete components of "the religious life of Sinhala Buddhists" A analyzed in BuddhismTransformed. and as a scholar Gombrich determines to find for himself "what exactly is involved in being [this kind of] Buddhist" (pp. of Theravada Buddhism was written later than Buddhism Transformed.""The Sangha's Discipline. 22.Gombrich makes it easier than either of these for beginning students of Buddhismto grasp the meaning of the definitive teachings by presenting them in the sequence of a historical narrativeof Theravada's social contexts and by limiting their meaning to that given by the Theravadin. 3. In Theravada Buddhism and Buddhism Transformed Gombrich and Obeyesekere enable us to see that "spirit religion" and Gotama Buddha's recipe for individual salvation function commensally in a single organic rela- reasons that this general definition of religion will not suffice when one investigates and writes the social history of a specific religion. and the seven chapterspresentan unprecedentedconstructionof Theravada's story. A listing of the chapter titles will attest this evaluation: "GotamaBuddha'sProblem Situation. The same year GananathObeyesekere himself published a study examining the composite characterof Sinhala Buddhism. The introductiongives as brilliantand as unpompousa discussion of theoretical considerations as I have read anywhere. analysis and explanation employed in BuddhismTransformed. Theravada Buddhism can serve scholars and other cri- .2: 148). 22. One must determine what the Theravadins themselves define as their Buddhist identity. and its suburbs. It constitutes a widely usable text in introductory courses in Buddhism."and "Current Trends. He concluded that these two religious units "do not lie on one continuum. He cautioned against equating Sinhalese Buddhism with Theravada and advised that it be seen instead "as a fusion and a synthesis of beliefs derived from Theravadawith other non-Theravadabeliefs to form one integrated tradition"("The Great Tradition and the Little Tradition in the Perspective of Sinhalese Buddhism. New Problems. Ross Reat's Introduction to Buddhism describes Buddhistreligion in its several prisms. Such a reading will also acquaintone with the nuanced vocabulary and syntax of the social description. Colombo. 40). 15 and 25). not merely in that of the Theravada. 74-75. Irrespective of its merits as a prospective textbook. Froma carefulreadingof TheravadaBuddhismone gets an informedhistorical perspective suitable for locating and assessing the numerousinnovations of belief and practice that Gombrich and Obeyesekere found among urbanmiddle and working class Sinhala Buddhists living in the nation'scapital. he allows that "if this book breaks new ground it will mainly be in my treatmentof this question" of Theravada Buddhist identity (p. Part. Gombrich demonstrates exemplary professional etiquette in his generous acknowledgment of large dependence on other scholars.""The Buddha'sDhamma. but on two intersecting ones" and serve respectively the worldly (laukika) and the supra-worldly (lokottara) interests of the Sri Lankan Buddhists (pp. 23). This book exemplifies laudable originality in another sense.""Protestant Buddhism. 138-39.340 Journal of the American Oriental Society 117. ix). Walpola Rahula's What the Buddha Taughtclings closely to the Pali canon and commentariesin succinctly stating the definitive teachings ascribed to the Buddha. He observed that some Buddhist intellectuals as well as Westerninvestigators are puzzled by finding "magic and a polytheistic pantheon" combined in practicewith Theravada Buddhism. whole generation of investigatorshave noted that the religious life of these Buddhists includes something broader than Theravada Buddhism." "The Accommodation Between Buddhism and Society in Ancient India."Journal of Asian Studies.1: 21-53). analyze and interpretrecent changes in the religious life of Sinhala Buddhists"(p. italics added). Although he characterizeshis achievement in this book as "essentially a presentation"of researchresults accomplished by esteemed "predecessors" (p.""The BuddhistTraditionin Sri Lanka. changes they encountered in the collaborated research project they began in the 1970s and sustained for more than a decade. The concept of a social construction of Theravada'sentire history in a single essay is as highly original as it is ambitious. Other researchers have tried unsuccessfully to make sense of the combination of diverse and seemingly incompatible elements that make up the religious life of Sinhala Buddhists. In 1963 Michael Ames observed that "magical animism and Buddhism"coexist without being confused in one Sinhalese religious system (Journal of Asian Studies. He advertsto this question of specifically Theravada identity five times (pp.2 (1997) tical readersinstructivelyas an expandedpreface to Buddhism Transformed:Religious Change in Sri Lanka. To understandTheravadain its particularsocial contexts one has to probe beyond the marks that identify it as a religion in the general sense. but knowledgeable readerswill readily discern that he has overstated his disclaimer to originality in this book. if not all."As an introductionTheravadaBuddhism differs from the two most often selected at the present time. 22. 178. Gombrich and Obeyesekere "describe. In this latter book. 194) in the seven chapters that follow the introduction. probably a consequence unintendedby its author.
The truly arrestingchanges are those reportedfor the Buddhist unit of the Sinhala religious life."In his observation of the religious scene in Sri Lankatoday he sees that "what is flourishing is not Buddhism."and eventually.the Ven..""the creation of tradition. the Ven. both god and guru." as was the "attempt to introduce into this countrya MahayanaSect of the Japaneseclergy" as recently as 1990. "Fromthat time up to this day.. which is tantamount to taking refuge in a tree." while "the difference is central. since they are developments within and beyond ProtestantBuddhism.C."not only "in private houses. Monday. Rather than discuss and evaluate the significance of changes I find inI teresting in Buddhism Transformed." which includes gods and other supernatural beings with varying powers and jurisdictions. the son of EmperorAsoka of India. Rahula names "various forms of pollution to pure Theravada teaching" that contaminate the current Buddhist scene in Sri Lanka. and ignorancein the name of Buddhism. he cites practices and beliefs treated by Gombrich and Obeyesekere as ingredients of a Buddhism in transformation. Our two seasoned social scientists refer to these as "startling.1: 46). these Sinhala Buddhists have the Buddha'sprogram for individuals as set forth in the Pali scripturesand promulgatedby the monks of the Sangha. April 22."and he laments that "these days one hardly hears of Buddha-puja.unsuitable and unworthyof a religious man. One does not have to be a Sri Lanka specialist to understandthat a transformationof Theravada has occurredwhen lay meditationcenters." and "whether magic or miracle. the oldest. They tell us that some Sri LankanBuddhists venerate this contemporary Indian religious leader as only a guru. Gombrich and Obeyesekere found that Sinhala Buddhist urbanites have recently innovated radical changes of beliefs and practice in both the spirit religion and the soteriological component of their religious life. Rahulapublished an appeal entitled "Protect Buddhism from Pollution. these changes constitute a "Buddhism transformed." Although occasional "extraneous influences" have entered the culture. the Maha Sangha and the devout Buddhists of this country have preserved it.Sri LankanBuddhists have a form of communal religion. Although his list is much shorter. Althoughtherearehints that the worship of the god Kataragama encroaches upon the Buddha'sexclusive provision for salvation. Also changed in the spirit religion is the introductionof darkeraspects of some deities and the acceptedpracticeof black magic. rank equally with or take precedence over temples and monasteries in the Sinhala society. superstition. in fact. and. will reiteratesome observationsexpressed by Aggamahapandita Walpola Sri Rahula. and that still others receive him as the boddhisattvaincarnationof the coming Maitreya Buddha. 1991.and hence to transcend the jurisdiction and aid of all natural and supernatural beings. his demonstrations"according to the Buddha'sown "attitudetowards magic and miracles"are "improper. death."In 1963 Michael Ames discerned that "Sinhalese Buddhism appearsto be facing a fundamentaltransformation" ("Ideological and Social Change in Ceylon." Sai Baba performs magic "behind a religious garb. in large measure. Dr. "When Sai Baba." Gombrich and Obeyesekere assess the veneration of Sai Baba as truly ominous. the Buddha remains sui generis and unquestionably first in the Buddhists' perception and ranking of the supra-naturals in their pantheon. the "similarities between Buddhism and other religions ." but also "in some temples led by Buddhist monks in yellow robes. the Chancellor of the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka. the resources and options of "the spirit religion. though noting carefully that it is at present only a minor phenomenon in Sri Lanka..deep and fundamental. most authentic and unbroken tradition is the Theravada"which began at the First Council "three months after the Buddha'sParinirvana. Dr..Across a monasticcareerthatspans most of this century. Rahulahas opposed the provision for deity worship at Buddhist temples and has maintained that pristine Buddhism preserved in the Pali scriptures by monks in Sri Lanka is utterly rational and without analogue among other religions.rebirth.PERRY: Theravada Transformed 341 tionship. death and rebirth. but pollution." He begins with the declaration that "in the whole history of Buddhism throughout the world.patronizedgenerously by numerous lay people assuming responsibility for the promulgation of the Buddha's doctrine and seeking to realize nirvanathemselves throughtheir meditationregimen. is . a practice which the Buddha condemned.He scolds those who "say all religions teach the same thing" when." by MahindaThera. For matters pertaining to life."Rahulascores those who "venerate and worship Sai Baba." Human Organization. He has disparaged field research studies of Buddhism as dealing with matters extraneousto the substance of authenticBuddhism."He berates those who advocate and practice "the new-fangled bodhipuja . Colombo." "importantdeparturesfrom tradition. that others worship him as a god. in a religious place. The status and province of some of the gods have been redefined and this is reflected in the positions they are given at the Buddhist temples. "all those pollutions were repulsed by a firm opposition from both the Sangha and the laity. 22. are peripheral and superficial. For matters of a salvation that will enable an individual to transcendlife."This "pureand genuine Theravada"was broughtto Sri Lanka "in the third century B. In the Daily News.
not a matter extraneous to Buddhism. identified as a Buddha. that Gombrich and Obeyesekere have described a Buddhist reality. they reckon. has been cobbled "into the frame of orthodox soteriology" (p.: University of South Carolina Press.C.342 Journal of the American Oriental Society 117.The substance of his evaluation amounts to an insider's affirmation. even if not specifically intended. one can read Vijitha Rajapakse's review pub- . 13. 1988). 455)."theistic devotion.2 (1997) lished in the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. Bond takes a more sympatheticview of the innovations. Bond's The Buddhist Revival in Sri Lanka (Columbia. For what amounts to an insider's rejection of Buddhism Transformed. emphasizing continuity more than accretion. it is instructive to read George D. that exists in Sri Lankatoday. conducted more recently than that of Buddhism Transformed. Even from this brief comparison one can see that the Ven. S. Rahula regards the beliefs and practices of certain Sri Lankan Buddhists to deviate radically from the received Theravadatradition. while Gombrich and Obeyesekere conclude that some of the innovations are rendered acceptable by rationalizing their continuity with what is only an imagined part of the obscured tradition. As the word "revival" in his book's title indicates. and that transformsBuddhism.2 (1990): 139-51. For a study of some of the same Sri Lankan Buddhist movements.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.