mikenz66 wrote:The third important source is Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a key connection for English language Dhamma translations. The early English translations by the PTS were a result of Sri Lankan connection by way of T. W. Rhys Davids....
What is totally unclear to me is to what extent Ven Nyanatiloka and his successors (Western and Asian) reinvented the Dhamma and to what extent they drew from current Sri Lankan interpretations. I'm sure that this is explained in various scholarly books, but would anyone care to give an executive summary?
I have not read any commentary about how Ven. Nyanatiloka and his successors have influenced contemporary understanding of Theravada. However, there is a significant body of work (as indicated above) that have examined the modernizing of Buddhism in Ceylon/Sri Lanka in the nineteenth century. This process--facilitated in no small part by the pioneering work of T.W. Rhys Davids--set the stage for latter figures like Ven. Nyanatiloka et al.
to carry out their modern interpretation of Theravada.
I happen to have a scanned document of the introductory chapter from The Making of Buddhist Modernism
. The following paragraph, which cites Gombrich and Obeyesekere's work, gives a nice summary of the circumstances surrounding the modernizing of Theravada in Ceylon in the mid to late nineteenth century:
Richard Gombrich and Gananath Obeyesekere have mapped similar trends specifically in Sinhalese Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Emphasizing the Christian influence on modernizing forms of Sinhalese Buddhism in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as those of Victorian English culture, they use the term "Protestant Buddhism" to suggest that modernizing Buddhism both protested against ‘European colonization and Christian missionization and adopted elements of Protestantism. These included rejection of the clerical links between individuals and the religious goal, emphasis on the “individual’s seeking his or her ultimate goal without intermediaries," “spiritual egalitarianism," individual responsibility, and self-scrutiny. The importance placed on the sangha (the community of monastics) was diminished as the laity became more important. Under the influence of Protestantism, Gombrich and Obeyesekere assert, "religion is privatized and internalized: the truly significant is not what takes place at a public celebration or in ritual, but what happens inside one’s own mind or soul" (1988: 216). The rise of Protestant Buddhism was also connected with urbanization and the rise of the bourgeoisie in Ceylon, as well as other Asian nations, and mingled traditional Buddhist ethics with Victorian social mores (Gombrich 1988: I72—97). It also replicated orientalist scholars’ location of “true Buddhism" in canonical texts, while often dismissing local or village iterations as degenerate and superstitious. (emphasis added; McMahan 7)
There's also a section in Hallisey's article (mentioned above) that summarizes the modernizing of Buddhism in Thailand--will post it soon. It charts in Thailand the same trends that I've highlighted in bold above. I think it is obvious how these trends have become the defining characteristics of Theravada today, characteristics that we by and large accept as a given. However, these characteristics are not intrinsic to Theravada (and Buddhism more generally) but were rather produced by the interplay of various historical factors.
There is a fascinating history behind these characteristics that define contemporary Buddhism. I'll post relevant excerpts when I have the time.