How Theravada is Theravada? Exploring Buddhist Identities

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.
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How Theravada is Theravada? Exploring Buddhist Identities

Postby gavesako » Mon Jun 25, 2012 7:49 pm

How Theravada is Theravada?
Exploring Buddhist Identities

Edited by Peter Skilling, Jason A. Carbine, Claudio Cicuzza, and Santi Pakdeekham

ISBN 978-616-215-044-9
2012. 640 pp.
Paperback, 14 x 21 cm
50 black and white illustrations,
100 color illustrations, footnotes,
bibliography, index
USD 60
THB 950

Publication date: Thailand June 2012;
North America & Europe October 2012

Map of South and Southeast Asia
1. Rupert Gethin:
Was Buddhaghosa a Theravadin? Buddhist Identity in the Pali Commentaries and Chronicles
2. L. S. Cousins:
The Teachings of the Abhayagiri School
3. Max Deeg:
Sthavira, Thera and '*Sthaviravada' in Chinese Buddhist Sources
4. Lilian Handlin:
The King and his Bhagava: The Meanings of Pagan's Early Theravadas
5. Jason A. Carbine:
Sasanasuddhi/Simasammuti: Comments on a Spatial Basis of the Buddha's Religion
6. Anne M. Blackburn:
Lineage, Inheritance, and Belonging: Expressions of Monastic Affiliation from Lanka
7. Peter Skilling:
King Rama I and Wat Phra Chetuphon: the Buddha-sasana in Early Bangkok
8. Claudio Cicuzza:
The Benefits of Ordination according to the Paramatthamangala
9. Olivier de Bernon:
Circulation of Texts in Mid-Nineteenth Century Cambodia: A new reading of Inscription K. 892 (Vatt Ta Tok, CE 1857)
10. Venerable Phra Anil Sakya:
King Mongkut's Invention of a Universal Pali Script
11. Arthid Sheravanichkul:
Thai Ideas about Hinayana-Mahayana: Correspondence between King Chulalongkorn and Prince Narisranuvattiwong
12. Todd LeRoy Perreira:
Whence Theravada? The Modern Genealogy of an Ancient Term
Description of plates
Contributors and editors

Our understanding of the history of Buddhism in Southeast Asia has often been oversimplified, biased, or vague. The twelve innovative essays presented here shed new light upon terms such as sthavira, theravada, theriya, or theravamsa, each of which may carry a variety of meanings and connotations. Some of the contributors reconsider known data to present new and challenging perspectives on the complicated history of the Mahavihara and Abhayagiri schools in Sri Lanka, or the Indian historiographical tradition on the formation of Buddhist orders/schools (nikaya/acariyavada). Others stress the central role of lineages and their transmission, as well as the dynamic impulse, that this problematic provokes in terms of long-distance exchanges.
Topical inquiries based on epigraphical material reveal the force of institutional practices, or invite scholars to analyze the textual traditions of Southeast Asia more deeply, particularly its "transitive" mode of translation. Essays range across Buddhism in early Lanka, in Burma during the Pagan and Dhammachedi periods, in nineteenth-century Cambodia, and in Thailand from the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. This richly illustrated volume should figure in all academic programs of Buddhist Studies.

About the editor

Peter Skilling is Maître de Conférences with the École française d’Extr®∫me-Orient, Bangkok, Special Lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, and Honorary Associate of the Department of Indian Sub-Continental Studies, University of Sydney. He received his PhD (2004) and his Habilitation (2008) from the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris. He specializes in the history and literature of the Buddhism of South and Southeast Asia.

Jason A. Carbine earned his doctorate from the University of Chicago (2004) and is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Whittier College. His research traverses the Buddhist cultures of Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and he teaches widely on religion and society across Asia and around the globe.

Claudio Cicuzza received his MA and PhD in Indology from the University of Rome, “La Sapienza”. At present, he is teaching Buddhism and religious studies in Webster University, Thailand, and his current research focuses on the Pali literature of Central Siam and P?la period scholasticism of Northern India.

Santi Pakdeekham obtained a PhD (2007) from Chulalongkorn University and is Assistant Professor in the Department of Thai and Oriental Languages at Srinakharinwirot University, Bangkok. He publishes regularly on Thai literature and on cultural, literary, and historical relations between Thailand and Cambodia. ... index.html ... 6162150445

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Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

- Theravada texts
- Translations and history of Pali texts
- Sutta translations

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Re: How Theravada is Theravada? Exploring Buddhist Identities

Postby gavesako » Mon Oct 01, 2012 5:19 pm

Buddhism, or whatever it is
This lavishly illustrated tome explores and overturns conventional wisdom about the Theravada tradition

Published: 1/10/2012 at 02:52 AMNewspaper section: Life

The standard authorities tell us that Theravada Buddhism developed in Sri Lanka about 2,000 years ago, filtered into Southeast Asia soon after, and became dominant from the 13th century AD after new infusions of teachings from the Lanka Mahavira school. This story is very generally accepted but has one wrinkle: the term "Buddhism" was not invented until the 19th century and "Theravada Buddhism" not until the 20th.

Some scholars have grown uneasy about pushing this term back into the past. Some have wondered what exactly it means. In 2008 several gathered to discuss these issues. This collection of 12 essays, ranging across the whole 21/2 millennia of Buddhist history, is the result. The subjects include the early Pali commentaries, schools and schisms in early Sri Lanka, sightings of Theravada in Chinese sources, religious reform in Pagan, the Kalyani Inscriptions, King Rama I and Wat Pho, texts on ordination, a catalogue of texts from Cambodia, King Mongkut's invention of a Pali script, and the history of the term "Theravada Buddhism".

In the past, people referred simply to "the religion" or "the teachings". The label Buddhism was invented by Western scholars when they wanted to compare it to other religions. The emergence of "Theravada" is more complex. In old texts, the word means the earliest elders of the religion or the body of texts they compiled. Western scholars in the late 19th century divided Buddhism into "southern" and "northern" schools. They argued that the "southern" school in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia was based on older and purer texts in Pali, while the "northern" school in Tibet, China, and Japan had been corrupted by non-canonical teachings.

At the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, Japanese monks counter-attacked, arguing that the "northern" school was more developed, while the "southern" was backward and stunted. They proposed that the proper terms were Mahayana and Hinayana, the big and little vehicle, with the implied hierarchy. Their suggestion stuck. Ten years later, an Irishman who ordained as a monk in Burma and had ambitions to convert the West to Buddhism, proposed "Theravada" as a less demeaning title than Hinayana. Only in 1950 at the first meeting of the World Fellowship of Buddhists was this proposal formally adopted, and has since become so well accepted that its recent origin has been almost totally forgotten. The story is here unearthed in a long and riveting essay by Todd Perreira.

Besides this label, another enduring legacy of early Western scholarship on Buddhism is the idea of a "Pali canon", an early compilation of texts which provide the philosophical backbone of Theravada Buddhism across countries and across time. Peter Skilling argues that this approach gives a false sense of unity and continuity.

In reality Theravada Buddhism is highly atomised. The basic units are chapters of monks and communities that support them. Of course kings like to impose rule and regulation, but in Southeast Asia rulers and dynasties have tended not to last very long. Continuity has come instead from the practices underlying these communities _ the rituals for defining sacred space, the importance placed on ordination, the role of monk as teacher and exemplar, and lineages as linkages across time. Commonality comes from networking, especially the movements of texts and monks from place to place, and the occasional ventures in religious diplomacy between Burma, Siam and Sri Lanka. In one of the many beautiful illustrations in this book, two monks chat as their ships pass in opposite directions between Siam and Sri Lanka. A catalogue of texts at a Cambodian temple includes several canonical works in Pali, but many other texts translated from Thai.

This atomised and networked religious system takes easily to innovation and adaptation. The texts found in Southeast Asia extend far beyond the Pali canon, and are constantly being supplemented and updated. Especially in times of political and intellectual turmoil, philosophy and practice can change very fast, with dramatic impact on society and art.

Lilian Handlin describes one such era of change in 11th century Burma. In reaction to a political crisis, Kyanzittha adopted Lankan Buddhism blended with local, Bramanical and more exotic elements in a project to create "good people" with a utopian future. This ambition prompted innovations in painting and architecture to create "billboards" for the king's message, resulting in the unique site of world heritage at Pagan.

Skilling describes the Bangkok First Reign as another such era of change.

Against the old view of this period as an Ayutthayan restoration engineered by the monarch, Skilling offers an alternative vision of a more general renaissance with much wider participation.

What then is the thing that we have recently started to call "Theravada Buddhism"? Skilling concludes, rather warily that it is "a monastic lineage and a textual transmission of ethics, metaphysics, narratives _ the Pali canon and the ritual practices of monasticism and liturgy." But then he adds: "The history of Theravada is one of diversity and innovation." The changes in everyday practice are just as important as the constancy of the texts in keeping Theravada Buddhism alive and well through centuries, and any definition can only be, in Handlin's phrase, "a kaleidoscopic work in progress." The recent invention of the term "Theravada Buddhism" is a prime example of the innovation in response to changing circumstances that Skilling suggests is key to the tradition's longevity.

This is a fascinating book but also a weighty and challenging book, overturning many of the comfortable simplicities of accepted wisdom on Buddhism. Several of the essays are targeted more at the specialist than the general reader. Yet if eyes sometimes glaze over, they can be soothed by looking at the pictures. The book is lavishly illustrated with colour plates, many from the collection of the Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation. ... ever-it-is
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

- Theravada texts
- Translations and history of Pali texts
- Sutta translations

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How Theravada is Theravada?

Postby Ben » Tue Oct 02, 2012 8:46 am

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: [email protected]..

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Re: How Theravada is Theravada?

Postby daverupa » Tue Oct 02, 2012 11:10 am

In , there is evidence for two differing Mulasarvastivada Vinaya recitation traditions, painting another interesting piece of this picture.


It makes perfect sense, given what we know of the oral performance traditions which transmitted the texts for hundreds of years (rather roughly, 400 BCE to -150+ CE). Eventually, the whole thing is written down, preferred in countries without extant recitation traditions and with writing (obviously), but prior to this certain variations in presentation would have been the norm. Also, as discussed in Analayo's comparative study, it can be the case that oral transmission gains accuracy when what is transmitted is not understood; it is when the material is felt to be quite well-understood that 'obvious' additions, perhaps even corrections, will be made to any given text.

Analayo cites Dr. Nancy Falk in this respect, who notes that in one case a Sutta seems to have been edited so as to strongly downplay the achievements of the nuns; the change is from describing nuns on one occasion as all arahants, to describing them primarily in terms of other, lesser attainments. Relative to the occasionally strong presence given to nuns in the Nikayas, this somewhat early and subtle, and later growing, misogynist component to the Pali texts can be corrected for as being late through comparison to the relative lack of this in the Chinese Agamas.

Since Asoka is never mentioned, it's fairly likely that the Nikayas/Agamas were closed to additions sometime between ca. 400 BCE and 270 BCE; though the exact order of the suttas and the internal content of some of them would still be open to a certain shifting within local communities, the general table of contents had largely been agreed upon by the time of the Second Council, ca. 320-280 BCE.

Keep in mind that the oral performance traditions would have continued to evolve during transmission, which formed a sort of proto-commentary, occasionally interpolating into the Nikaya/Agama text itself. This would have continued alongside the growth of abhidhamma recitation traditions, until finally getting written down ca. 100-150 CE (perhaps slightly earlier, but with no 'Q' text - an individual recitation tradition would have been written down in a vernacular script).

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Re: How Theravada is Theravada? Exploring Buddhist Identities

Postby vinodh » Tue Oct 02, 2012 4:02 pm

Buddhists Texts in Brahmi Script :

yo dharmaṁ paśyati, sa buddhaṁ paśyati
One who sees the Dharma, sees the Buddha

na pudgalo na ca skandhā buddho jñānamanāsravam
sadāśāntiṁ vibhāvitvā gacchāmi śaraṇaṁ hyaham

Neither a person nor the aggregates, the Buddha, is knowledge free from [evil] outflows
Clearly perceiving [him] to be eternally serene, I go for refuge [in him]

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Re: How Theravada is Theravada? Exploring Buddhist Identities

Postby Anagarika » Sat Oct 06, 2012 3:58 am

The Theravada is descended from the Tāmraparnīya, which means "the Sri Lankan lineage." In the 7th century CE, Chinese pilgrims Xuanzang and Yijing refer to the Buddhist schools in Sri Lanka as Shàngzuòbù (Ch. 上座部), corresponding to the Sanskrit "Sthavira" and the Pali "Thera."[c] The school has been using the name [b]Theravada for itself in a written form since at least the 4th century, when the term appears in the Dipavamsa.[d]

[d] It is used in the Dipavamsa (quoted in Debates Commentary, Pali Text society, page 4), which is generally dated to the 4th century.

I admit, the above taken from a Wikipedia article, but I cannot accept that the term "Theravada" was invented by an Irishman in the 20th century, as a posting above states. Besides, the Irish invented whiskey, the uilleann pipes, and U2, and that's it.

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Re: How Theravada is Theravada? Exploring Buddhist Identities

Postby daverupa » Sat Oct 06, 2012 11:55 pm

Just picked up a copy; thick, glossy pages with many color photos; quite hefty.

:reading: :reading: :reading:

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Re: How Theravada is Theravada? Exploring Buddhist Identities

Postby Nyana » Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:48 am

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Re: How Theravada is Theravada? Exploring Buddhist Identities

Postby daverupa » Mon Oct 08, 2012 1:47 pm

The first essay in the book goes over the use of the terms theriya, thera, and theravada, as well as related terms, in some detail. Ultimately, it means different things in different periods, and only quite late does it refer to a scholastic group differentiated from others.

As discussed in the book, it is not even part of the original narrative of how Buddhism was brought to the island of Lanka. The concern seems to be to show that their receipt of the Dhamma is authentic, matching that which exists throughout the rest of India; schism is not mentioned at all.

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