I think it is important to not over stress the fact that the European scholars' aim in reconfiguring Buddhism along rationalist lines was only to justify colonialism. As Gombrich's comments about Rhys Davids in the previous post suggest, Rhys Davids was also reacting against Christianity. Nineteenth century Europe was a time in which modern science was on the ascendancy and in which religious authority was on the wane. Rhys Davids was also working in a context in which many Europeans were seeking an alternative model of morality to Christian morality.
Also, as I have previously suggested, it wasn't as if native Buddhists--like the Sinhalese for example--were simply hapless victims of those historical-political circumstances. We can see examples of this in the figure of Anagarika Dharmapala, a key figure in the reformation of Buddhism in Ceylon and popularisation of 'modern Buddhism' in the West at the time. Dharmapala was able to adopt Orientalist criticisms of Buddhism and used it to strategically resist colonialisation and Christian missionization in Ceylon, and also to reconfigure Sinhalese Buddhism and restore pride to the Sinhalese people.
In my previous posts, I outlined how Orientalist scholarship believed that the people of South India had long lost their great Aryan past. Through their understanding of the Aryan languages--which they linked to Europe via the Ancient Greeks--Orientalist scholars saw Euorpeans as the modern embodiment of Aryan nobility that South Asians could now no longer embody. An example of the typical Victorian characterization of the 'Oriental mind' was, as McMahan writes in The Making of Buddhist Modernism, that 'it lacked intellectual ability, was plagued by an excess of imagination, and was indolent and childlike' (94).
Philip Almond quotes, in The British Discovery of Buddhism, a John Davy who said of the Sinhalese: 'in intellectual acquirements, and proficiency in arts and sciences, they are not advanced beyond the darkest period of the middle ages. Their character, I believe, on the whole, is low, tame, and undecided: with few strong lights or shades in it, with few prominent virtues or vices' (43).
[I don't know about you, but this kind of rhetoric about anyone today would be highly offensive, to say the least!]
Now, how did the Sinhalese react to this sort of criticism? More in the next post........
Last edited by zavk
on Sun Dec 06, 2009 1:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.