Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How Buddhism gets localized

by Ven. Suduhumpola Wimalasara Thera, The Buddhist Channel,

Ven. Suduhumpola Wimalasara Thera highlights three countries - Sri Lanka, Japan and China - where Buddhism became a localized religion
Colombo, Sri Lanka -- The spread of Buddhism was due to two reasons. First was the royal patronage it received from Emperors Ashoka and Harsha later the Pala kings. The second was the popular support it received due to its essentially non intrusive nature of its dictates and practices. The countries that have the largest Buddhist populations are China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Taiwan, Cambodia, and India.
The spread of Buddhism far and wide also made its traditional teachings and philosophy subject to an assimilative process that made it indigenous to the host society and culture. The spread of Buddhism was always through missionaries and pilgrims who followed established trade routes. While it had to compete with established religions it was always amenable to the osmotic absorption of local beliefs and traditions. This paper examines how Buddhism is localized in Sri Lanka, Japan and India.
Sri Lanka
Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka under royal patronage and became the state religion and a national identity. From its inception it became the sole religion of the state and the Buddhist monastic order was so fashioned that the Buddhist monk was royal advisor, educator and spiritual guide. To a great extent the same socio political order took root in Myanmar and Thailand. Sri Lanka is regarded as the cradle of pure Theravada Buddhism. While this school of Buddhism is soundly based on the Four Noble Truths which eventually leads to Nibbana and the end of suffering the localized Buddhism that is popularly practiced has more mundane objectives such as success in business, social mobility, political recognition etc. These worldly pursuits are far removed from the austere Buddhists teachings found in canonical texts.The Buddhists of Sri Lanka practice a form of devotional and ritualistic Buddhism that has a marginal relation to the Buddhist doctrine of suffering and Nibbana.
In day to day practice of localized Buddhism the ordinary Buddhist life is a series of rituals, ceremonies and traditions which serve to produce a society that is homogenous in terms of religious observances and the acceptance of the authority of the Buddhist clergy.
The rituals performed by Buddhists of Sri Lanka are in essence intended to gain worldly rewards and to prevent misfortune. In order to reach these objectives the Buddha and the monks are invested with supernatural powers.
The purpose of these practices is to gain as much merit as possible and the act of giving ‘Dana’ is central to this form of Buddhist living.
Max Weber when describing Buddhism in Sri Lanka as ‘Monastic Landlordism’ comes close to the localized Buddhism of Sri Lanka where the Temples held large tracts of land not so much as exploitative feudal land lords but benevolent custodians of the belief system that held the nation together.
Buddhism reached the shores of Japan as the religion of the elite society. It was established in the Nara imperial court. Gradually it spread among the general population simultaneous to its synthesis with Shinto. The adoption of Buddhism as the official religion of the court was an accident that owes its occurrence to the ascendancy of the Soga family. During the Taikareforms , Buddhism became the instrument of power of the emperor paving way for the creation of a state sponsored and state administered Buddhism where the monks were recognized officials. Yet Buddhism remained confined to the aristocracy with ordinary people rarely involved in the practice of the religion. This court monopoly of Buddhism in Nara was the cause of the removal of the seat of government from Nara and the shift to Kyoto.
The shift of the imperial capital to Kyoto by Emperor Kammu at the close of the 8th century marked the beginning of the Heian period and the golden years of imperial patronage of Buddhism. The new emperor removed himself from the Nara temples and founded a long line of temples in the environs of Kyoto. The end of the Heian period marked the rise of the warrior class which in turn had a major impact on Buddhism and its role in Japans political order. Increasingly people turned to religion with Buddhist priests who were used to lavish lifestyles were ignored or marginalized with new sects coming to fill the void and meet the needs of the people.
In this backdrop of political upheaval and religious transformations three distinct sects of Buddhism, True Pure Land, Nichiren, and Zen, gained tremendous popularity. While the old established and powerful monasteries were busy pursuing their economic and political ambitions, the new orders spread their teaching that helped spread Buddhism throughout Japan.
For centuries thereafter, Buddhism was more a political instrument than a belief system. The systems of government under imperial rule or the Shoguns influenced the practice of Buddhism.
Buddhism morphed in to a definite Chinese mold that was compatible with the Chinese way of life or the Chinese world view. Thus Buddhism adopted ancestral worship and obscure texts brought from India on filial piety became core belief systems. Buddhism spread faster in northern China where social dynamics helped demolish cultural barriers between the elite ruling families and the general population; In contrast the southern aristocracy and royal families retained their monopoly on power. Daoist and Confucian political ideology helped sustain the political status of elite clans in the south. Finally Buddhism gained official support during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty. However Buddhism spread fast among the peasantry both in the north and the south.
The immense popularity of Buddhism during the Tang Dynasty is evident from the many caves and structures that survive to date.
As the first religion to come in to China from outside Buddhism has had a major impact on Chinese culture, politics, literature and philosophy for nearly two millennia during which Buddhism was totally and irrevocably localized.
Buddhism is a belief system that evolved in a society that was already under the influence of Hindu Brahamin teaching. The Buddha in seeking the truth to his satisfaction was a social reformer who questioned many of the traditions, surmises and even the dogma that was contemporary to his time. Therefore it was inevitable that his teachings were founded on strong moral assumptions that determined whether a specific act under defined conditions was right [moral] ,wrong [immoral] or neutral [neither right or wrong and hence no moral implication].
Thus Buddhism when transplanted in any society had the advantage of immediately triggering a discussion or debate on ‘Morality? This usually happened according to the composition, structure and genius of that particular society, group or country. It is this unique character of Buddhism that makes it even today a `Science of Morality’. This allows Buddhism as practiced in any country to seek the ‘Moral Truth’ in the context within which it is engaged. The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss of the Sorbonne in Paris wrote on Buddhism "Between this form of religion and myself, there was no likelihood of misunderstanding. It was not a question of bowing down in front of idols or of adoring a supposed supernatural order, but only of paying homage to the decisive wisdom that a thinker, or the society which created his legend, had evolved twenty-five centuries before and to which my civilization could contribute only by confirming it".
This examines Buddhism through an anthropological lens. Hence it does not follow the familiar path of the textual, historical and philosophical analysis. It is necessary to see Buddhism in these different landscapes of Sri Lanka, Japan and China though local practices and traditions instead of the pure textual scripture. It is of course easy to dismiss these traditions and rituals as aberrations or corruptions of the pristine text. However that would be a myopic construction of a far deeper reality of Buddhism as a living experience in the countries that are examined in this paper. Most western scholars associate the practiced Buddhism with notions of political influences such as power, tribe and ethnicity. The anthropology of Buddhism in almost every Asian country contains a wide array of local religious rituals which can only be explained as local compulsions through the millennia since the first sermon at the Deer park at Isipathana.
Ven. Suduhumpola Wimalasara Thera is the Chief incumbent of Japan Naritasan Joso Temple. He is also founder of Daham Sevane Singiththo,The International Development Foundation. Visit the site for more info:

Protection of Buddhism - Sine qua non in any Constitutional reform

by Senaka Weeraratna, The Buddhist Channel, Jan 12, 2016

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- In the light of the proposed changes to the Constitution of Sri Lanka now under consideration and growing accusations of contrived attempts to neutralise the applicability of Article 9 in the Constitution that imposes a mandatory duty on the State to give to Buddhism the foremost place and protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e), an important question has arisen “ What is the relationship that should exist in the present day between the State and Buddhism?

It is an incontrovertible fact that Buddhism, more than other ideology or religion, has played a singular role in creating an unique civilization and shaping the destinies of this country. Sri Lanka is the oldest Buddhist nation in the world. If not for the continuance of the Dhamma, through the study and practice of it in this country, it is unlikely that there would even be a semblance of pure Sasana in Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, or Cambodia.
It is in Sri Lanka that the Wheel of the Buddha’s law was truly set in motion with the arrival of Arahant Mahinda with the blessings of that great universal monarch, Emperor Asoka. If this event did not take place in Sri Lanka, the Pali Canon may not have got recorded and the noble doctrine of the Buddha, recited and accepted by the Arahats, at Rajagaha, Vesali and Pataliputta, i.e. three Great Councils of the Arya Sangha, would have vanished into thin air long ago.
Arahant Mahinda not only introduced the Dhamma but he also taught it in such a manner that it soon became the overriding element in all the activities of our people in the past, enthused them to develop an altogether new culture, which has become the basis of the social  outlook of the vast majority of our people even to this day. Such is the hold of the Dhamma so ingrained in almost every facet of this country that the Buddhist public very rightly feel that it is something they cannot do without as it is now representative of their life blood, more or less. The day the Buddha Dhamma is abandoned or allowed to fade or wither away with the removal of patronage of our rulers and the protection afforded by the Constitution which was also explicitly set out in Article 5 of the Kandyan Convention of 1815,  that is the day this country would have truly lost its very soul.  
In the pre-colonial period the Sinhalese Monarch protected the Buddha Sasana and maintained its purity as one of his primary duties. He exercised his power and authority over the religion to prevent schisms and heretical interpretations of the Dhamma.   He invoked the “dasa raja dhamma” as a basis of governance. He developed an Animal Friendly Cultural Heritage which is unique to Sri Lanka. The tenet ‘compassion to all living beings’  based on the Buddha’s words in the Karaniya Metta Sutra was heavily influential in the choice of both vocation and diet.  When foreigners came to this country beginning in 1505 they found the Buddhists united and strong. To weaken this unity they adopted every means to divide them. The post – independent Sri Lanka has a fundamental obligation to strengthen the status of Buddhism.
It is our historical track record of service to the cause of Buddhism that has shaped our national identity and brought universal recognition to this country and still continues to do so.
It therefore falls on the current and future generations to ensure that Buddhism continues to flourish in Sri Lanka and that the State performs its historic public duty, as enshrined in the National Constitution, to extend patronage, protection and foster Buddhism both within and outside the country. Any attempt directly or indirectly through tampering with the Constitution to stalemate the applicability of Article 9 which gives foremost place to Buddhism is fraught with grave danger to peaceful co – existence among various communities in Sri Lanka. 

Senaka Weeraratna is an Attorney at Law. Holds a Bachelor of Laws degree (University of Sri Lanka), and Master of Laws (Monash University, Australia). Holds a Diploma (Buddhist Studies) and Master of Arts (Buddhist Studies) obtained from the Post – Graduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya.

Patna University (PU) to tie up with Buddhist nations

  by Pranava K Chaudhary, TNN, Jan 10, 2016

Patna, India -- Patna University will soon collaborate with Buddhist countries to promote Buddhist studies, which will bring the university on international radar. For this purpose, an international meet will be held here later this year, in which several Asian delegates are expected to be present.Chairman of Buddhist Monuments Development Council (BMDC) Arvind Alok on Saturday met Patna University VC Y C Simhadri to chalk out details of this plan. Alok told TOI that Mongolian ambassador has agreed to support Patna University in this regard.
Alok met the PU VC at his residential office, during which he appreciated the interest of latter's wife, who is of Japanese origin, in the proposed collaboration. Mongolian ambassador G Gonbold confirmed his participation in the proposed meet during his talks with the PU VC and Alok over phone from New Delhi.
"Such activities will also play a vital role in promotion of educational environment in the university. Since ancient Patliputra had a rich legacy of Buddhist tradition, there will be peace and right educational atmosphere on the campus," Alok told TOI. The international meet in the university would be attended by ambassadors of Buddhist countries and eminent scholars. Patna University VC Simhadri is also very keen on promoting the university in the international arena. BMDC will facilitate the university in establishing academic collaborations with various Buddhist countries. Buddhist countries have a natural interest in ancient Patliputra and their governments are willing to support Patna University, Alok said.
To encourage Buddhists from across the country, Patna University VC was also advised to establish an international Buddhist studies chair in the university. The chair will include study of Buddhist issues related to Japan, China, Sri Lanka, Korea and Mongolia.

Friday, January 1, 2016