Modernish Theravada History

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby zavk » Mon Nov 30, 2009 12:28 pm

OK, thanks to OCR software, here's the bit where Hallisey discusses the development of Buddhist modernism in Siam/Thailand from the late eighteenth century through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Developments quite similar to those which shaped modern Sinhala Buddhism also transformed Thai Buddhism, but without the element of colonial domination or a sharp confrontation between Buddhists and Christian missionaries so visible in Sri Lanka ...This reformation began after the fall of Ayutthaya [the Siamese kingdom that existed from 1351-1867 until it was invaded by the Burmese] as part of the restructuring of Thai society by King Rama I in what Wyatt has called a "subtle revolution":

    All of Rama I's innovations ... involved a change in focus that brought rational man clearly to the center of the stage of history, mentally in control of his own world through the exercise of his critical faculties. Though it was more a shift in degree than an absolute change, man began increasingly to self-consciously and critically examine the rules by which he lived and constantly gauge them against his improving understanding of the external truths of Buddhism [this bit by Wyatt was quoted in Keyes' article I mentioned above].

This process of reinterpretation included a reform of the Buddhist monastic order, an insistence on strict ritual, canonical fundamentalism, and purity of ordination, and unlike in Sri Lanka, it seemed only coincident with the arrival of Westerners in Thailand. The whole process crystallized in religious reforms instituted by King Mongkut who sought to eliminate many traditional practices in Thai Buddhism as "accretions obscuring the true message of Buddhism." Mongkut's vision of "true Buddhism" "entailed a shift from viewing the world in cosmological terms to viewing it psychologically" and he also effected a "shift from practice centered on communal rituals to practice centred on self cultivation." The representations of Buddhism articulated by Rama I and Mongkut are in many remarkable ways identical to the representation of early Buddhism constructed by Rhys Davids, especially with respect to their common neglect of cosmology and ritual in favor of individuality and morality (emphasis added, Hallisey 48).


The highlighted bits above demonstrate how the trends of Protestant Buddhism in Sri Lanka also occurred throughout other Theravada nations. Although as noted above, there wasn't overt Western colonization or Christian missionization in Siam--unlike the other nations in Southeast Asia, Siam was never a European colony. However, the Siamese royalty (particular King Mongkut) had a Western education. Hence, it is not surprising that he embraced modern (Western) views of the time, inviting both Western mercenaries to train Siamese troops and American and English missionaries to teach English. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, he purportedly remarked to a missionary, "What you teach us to do is admirable, but what you teach us to believe is foolish."

With the shift of emphasis from clerical authority to the individual experiences of the laity, as well as the shift from a cosmological worldview to a psychological one--both of which served to pathologize traditional religious celebration and rituals as 'degenerate' practices--a space was open up for meditation practice to assume a central place in Buddhism. Meditation practice became 'democratized: it became a practice that was accessible to all, despite the fact that historically it had been the exclusive domain of a minority of highly trained monastics.

I have not read any commentary on the developments in Burma. But given the presence of British colonizers there, I assume that similar process happened there. In a footnote, Hallisey notes:

In this regard, we would have to mention the vipassana movements as participating in the same general trends. See Gustaaf Houtman, "Traditions of Buddhist Practice in Burma" (unpublished PhD thesis, University of London, 1990).


I did a search on Google and found a copy of Houtman's book, Mental Culture in Burmese Crisis Politics: Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy. The book examines the relationship between 'mental culture' (i.e. bhavana or meditation) and wider Buddhist practice, and the relationship between mental culture and wider Burmese society and politics--I think it examines the opposing views about samatha and vipassana in Burma and how they are tied to politics. Seems like an interesting read but also somewhat heavy going.

---------------

The brief summary about the developments in Siam raises an important point: It indicates that while European colonialism was a major influence in the reconfiguration of Buddhism, it would be wrong to simply think of Asian Buddhists in those colonized lands as hapless victims of historical circumstances. The actions of King Mongkut suggests that Asian Buddhists nevertheless had the agency to strategically respond to the challenges brought on by modernity, even if those challenges favoured European powers.

Anyway, I have more interesting material on the influence of colonialism on the development of what we now take as 'orthodox' Buddhism. I also have interesting material on how Anagarika Dharmapala, the preeminent spokesperson for Theravada of the time, appropriated European interpretations of Buddhism and used them to counter the influence of colonization and missionization. Will post again once I pick out the relevant bits from my notes.
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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Nov 30, 2009 11:29 pm

Hi zavk,
zavk wrote:The brief summary about the developments in Siam raises an important point: It indicates that while European colonialism was a major influence in the reconfiguration of Buddhism, it would be wrong to simply think of Asian Buddhists in those colonized lands as hapless victims of historical circumstances. The actions of King Mongkut suggests that Asian Buddhists nevertheless had the agency to strategically respond to the challenges brought on by modernity, even if those challenges favoured European powers.

Thanks for the interesting points you bring up. It's important to remember that there were many dynamics and changes in Asia over the last few hundred (or few thousand...) years, and that while some of them were precipitated by interactions with the West, it was not just a one-way thing of the West having all the new technology, or the upper hand... (e.g. consider Genghis Khan, the history of Porcelain, etc, etc...).

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby BlackBird » Tue Dec 01, 2009 12:39 am

It was a good article by Ven. Sujato, left me wanting more - Especially w/re to Sri Lankan developments, which seem to have missed the cut, for whatever reasons.

:anjali:
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'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby zavk » Tue Dec 01, 2009 2:13 am

BlackBird wrote:It was a good article by Ven. Sujato, left me wanting more - Especially w/re to Sri Lankan developments, which seem to have missed the cut, for whatever reasons.


Yes, I think Ven. Sujato's post does a great job in mapping the broad contours of how Theravada Buddhism negotiated the challenges of modernity and colonialism in the nineteenth century. There's a remark he made that I'd like to pick up on. He wrote:

While I believe his reforms were generally positive, and helped Thailand to survive in good shape through the colonial era, there is always a shadow to these things.


He is referring specifically to Thailand here, but I would say that there was a shadowy side to the modernising or 'reformation' of Buddhism more generally. IMO, it is helpful for us contemporary Buddhists to be mindful of whether these developments still cast a shadow over us or not. The excerpts above hint at some aspects of this shadow. Will try to post more relevant bits.
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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby zavk » Tue Dec 01, 2009 11:31 am

OK.... so I guess it is clear from Ven. Sujato's post and the excerpts from the books above that modern Buddhism emerged in a time when European empires dominated most of Asia. This was a time when European scholars were fervently studying 'the Orient'. There was, in particular, a deep fascination with the languages of India. However, this wasn't simply an innocent 'objective' quest for knowledge--even if this was what the scholar thought, the cultural and environment they were in proved otherwise.This is what Lopez writes:

The nineteenth century was a period of significant advances in the science of philology with the discovery of language families and ancient connections between the classical Indian language of Sanskrit and the classical European languages of Greek and Latin, as well as modern German, French, and English. These were called the Indo-European or Aryan languages; Aryan is a Sanskrit term meaning “noble” or “superior”, and was the name that ancient peoples of northern India used to refer to themselves ... Through a complicated process, theories of language groups gave rise to theories of racial groups; and the kinship between the people of ancient India and the people of ancient Greece and hence (through a certain leap of faith) those of modern Europe was not simply a matter of verb roots but of bloodlines [NOTE: The interest in the relationship between language and race did wane in the later part of the nineteenth century except amongst German scholars who maintained a keen interest in it. As we all know, this would culminate in devastating effects in the twentieth century for the entire world and especially some 11-17 million Jews in WWII. Sigh....] (Buddhism and Science, p. 7).


This obsession with tracing the Aryan roots of European civilization tied in with the quest for 'origins' in much of nineteenth century European historical scholarship. Orientalist scholars were fixated with writing the origins, the classical periods, and the decline of Asian civilizations. It was the view that Asian civilisations have long passed their classical period and that the modern period (i.e. the nineteenth century) was the period of decline for them. Lopez writes:

The last of these (also known as the "modern period"), was marked by decay and impotence and inevitably occurred contemporaneously with, and hence was used to justify, European colonialism, one of whose product was knowledge. The Orientalist spoke for the Orient through a lineage of scholarship whose task it was to represent the Orient because the Orient was incapable of representing itself (Curators of the Buddha, p. 13). [NOTE: The term Orientalism is used in scholarly circles to refer to the modes of understanding that perpetuate negative stereotypes that serve to either exoticise or demonise 'the Orient'. The flipside of that would be Occidentalism which is the negative stereotyping of 'the Occident' or 'the West'.]


So while it might have been the case that the European 'discovery' (and I would use this word lightly) of Buddhism in Asian colonies led to a rapid growth of knowledge, there was also a long shadow cast by the illuminating light of Enlightenment Reason--a shadow that shaded entrenched attitudes about racial superiority and political domination.

This is not to point a finger at any one. It wasn't as if there was a secret mastermind orchestrating these turn of events. It was simply the historical conditions of the time. And these conditions had a real bearing on how Buddhism evolved.

[The] scholars who undertook the quest for the historical Buddha were not products of a Buddhist culture. They were instead from what seemed another world, or so they perceived themselves, writing in the context of colonialism. In 1844 Eugene Burnouf [a figure whose efforts at disseminating Buddhist texts in Europe cannot be understated] argued convincingly that Buddhism is an Indian religion and that it must be understood first through texts in Indian languages. For the remainder of the nineteenth century India became the primary focus of Buddhist studies in Europe, and Sanskrit (together with Pali) became the lingua franca of the field. These were indeed the classical languages of Buddhism. They were also Aryan languages, related to Greek and Latin, the classical languages of Europe. 'The Buddha of India was thus doubly important, as both founder and forefather. Much of the early scholarship focused on the life of the Buddha and on the early history of Buddhism in India, prior to its demise there, referred to by such terms original Buddhism, primitive Buddhism, sometimes pure Buddhism. This austere system of ethics and philosophy stood in sharp contrast to what was perceived as the spiritual and sensuous exoticism of colonial India, where Buddhism was long dead. This ancient Buddhism, derived from the textual studies of scholars of Europe, could be regarded as the authentic form of this great religion, against which the various Buddhisms of nineteenth century Asia could be measured, and generally found to be both derivative and adulterated, Buddhism thus came to be regarded as a tradition that resided most authentically in its texts, such that it could be effectively studied from the libraries of Europe; many of the most important scholars of the nineteenth century never traveled to Asia. Relatively little attention was paid to the ways in which the Buddha was understood by the Buddhists of Asia, both past and present.

But this Buddha, created in Europe, did not remain there. As in the classical colonial economy raw materials—in this case, Buddhist texts in Sanskrit and Pali—were extracted from the colony and shipped to Europe, where they were refined to produce a new Buddha, one that had not existed before. To complete the colonial circuit, that Buddha was then exported back to Asia, where he was sold to Asian Buddhists at a high price. This is the Buddha who would be hailed by Japanese defenders of Buddhism against the Meiji government, which regarded Buddhism as a foreign superstition. This was the Buddha who was hailed by Sinhalese reformers, like Anagarika Dharmapala, as superior to Jesus.'This was the Buddha of Buddhism in the phrase “Buddhism and Science (Buddhism and Science, p. 9-10).


OK, I should stop here. But these excerpts raise a few points worth reflecting on:

    - Texts were given high importance as it was seen as the way to truly master Buddhism. But the importance given to texts was also intertwined with various political processes involving notions or racial superiority and political domination.

    - The quest for the origins of Buddhism India was important because it was a means for the European colonisers to recover a pristine more classical past that the Indian themselves have long abandoned and which they were deemed incapable of recovering--not to mention that these more pristine past was a noble past that Europeans could claim as their own via the Greeks, and this nobility is something that the European empires now embodied.

Given that modern Buddhism was shaped by the (Western) cultural attitudes and practices of a particular place and time, what then are we to make of the pervasive attitude that 'suttas alone' are the best way to understand the Dhamma free from 'cultural accretions'? What are we to make of the idea that the Theravada with have today is an original or pure form of Buddhism--and consequently, what might we make of the the 'It's Theravada or nothing else for me' attitude?

OK.... time for bed...... I hope this is of interest to at least some people. Now, where did T.W. Rhys Davids fit in all this? More to follow if anyone is interested. Will stop if you are finding this a bore.....

Good night (or day for some of you).

:anjali:

EDIT: Corrected some typos.... not a good idea to write late at night and under the influence of medication.
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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby jcsuperstar » Tue Dec 01, 2009 2:03 pm

definitely not a bore
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Dec 01, 2009 8:13 pm

Hi zavk,
zavk wrote:
Buddhism thus came to be regarded as a tradition that resided most authentically in its texts, such that it could be effectively studied from the libraries of Europe; many of the most important scholars of the nineteenth century never travelled to Asia. Relatively little attention was paid to the ways in which the Buddha was understood by the Buddhists of Asia, both past and present.[/b]


Thanks for the thought-provoking quotations...

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby zavk » Thu Dec 03, 2009 10:20 am

Glad to see that you find something useful in these excerpts, jc and mike.

While many scholars were studying Buddhism from the libraries of Europe without ever stepping foot in Asia, we shouldn't overlook the work of key figures such as T.W. Rhys Davids who was stationed in Ceylon. Rhys Davids is, of course, a very important figure in the history of modern Theravada. As Gombrich writes, he was the 'great orientalist' who 'did more than anyone else to introduce [Buddhism] to the English-speaking public, influencing even English-speaking Sinhalese Buddhists,' and thus 'serious students of Buddhism will never allow [his] name to die' (quoted in Hallisey 34).

It is not my intention here to diminish the importance of Rhys Davids work. My practice would not be possible today if not for his pioneering work. However, I think it is worth our while to consider how his approach to the study of Buddhism has been influenced by those historical-political conditions described in my previous posts.

Lopez notes that from the earliest stages of the encounter between Buddhism and the West, there existed an 'ambivalence of trust and suspicion of the native that would come to characterize the study of Buddhism in the west.' The European scholar would typically be 'reluctant to place his trust in the authority of the native scholar, yet he cannot read the text without him. The native is thus portrayed as merely a supplement to the text whose answers must be checked against the original, access to which is provided initially by the native' (Curators of the Buddha, p. 4).

This attitude was repeated by Rhys Davids. Hallisey writes in 'Roads Taken and Not Taken in the Study of Theravada Buddhism' [phew, good thing there is such a thing as OCR software!]:

Originally, and of necessity, European pioneers in the field had imitated traditional Buddhist pedagogical patterns in their investigations, and used vernacular commentarial literature as an aid and guide to the meanings of the more authoritative canonical texts. For example, Eugene Burnouf, "the brilliant founder of the study of Buddhism," left at his death a number of massive studies of Burmese commentarial texts (nissaya) which he had used as aids in his researches on Pali material. In this he was not unusual. The use of vernacular commentarial material was routine for the first generations of students of Buddhism. This included Rhys Davids, who used the knowledge of Sinhala which he gained as a colonial civil servant in Sri Lanka throughout his career in his translations from Pali. For instance, in the footnotes to his translations of the Questions of King Milinda and the Dialogues of the Buddha, we see evidence of his use of Sinhala translation for assistance in deciphering a difficult passage in Pali. But, perhaps most importantly, the self-presentation of these commentaries and translations, in which attention is drawn away from the present to the past, encourages their users to approach them as provisional entrees to the "more authoritative" texts of the Pali canon (Hallisey 43-44).
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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby zavk » Thu Dec 03, 2009 10:22 am

Some more quotes....



Rhys Davids is also well known for his portrayal of early Buddhism as being largely free of ritual. It is thus no surprise that Rhys Davids did not mention in his encyclopedia entries the translations of Buddhist ritual works available to him and his readers at the time. The first Theravadin works to become known in Europe, however, were from various "paracanonical" anthologies of ordination texts (kammavaca). These were translated into Italian as early as 1776 and subsequently into Latin, French, German, and English. But after this initial interest in the ordination texts, which intriguingly are an example of a genre of authoritative literature without clear canonical status, very little attention has been paid to the kammavaca texts.....

... as Richard Gombrich has said, even though "Rhys Davids was an excellent scholar ... he naturally stressed the rationalist elements in Buddhism, because they formed the most striking contrast both to Christian, and ... to other Indian traditions [and perhaps because] he found them the most sympathetic."

Gombrich's reference to other Indian traditions invites a more specifically Orientalist explanation of the exclusion of ritual from early Buddhism. The contrast between Buddhism and Hinduism on the basis of the relative prominence of ritual mirrored an Orientalist contempt for Hindu religiousness, in which Hindu social activity was belittled as inherently irrational and politically ineffective. Moreover, Orientalist claims of having recovered a rational and practical aspect of India’s past, but one which was now absent from the present, served to justify the paternalistic imagery through which colonial rule was presented and understood.

The exclusion of ritual from early Buddhism ... from the very nature of Buddhism, was also key to Orientalist claims regarding their ability to recover the Buddha’s true message. The first texts which Europeans were given in their encounter with the Buddhist world, ritual texts for the ordination of monks, however, indicate that whoever gave those texts thought that ritual was key for understanding the Buddha’s message. The very capacity for knowledge depended on ritual preparation, and in Theravada Buddhist communities this generally presupposed ordination. Before modern times, some of the most distinctive ideas of Buddhist thought, such as the denial of an enduring self to an individual, were not usually seen as relevant to the lives of laypeople. The Orientalist understanding of truth rested, of course, on completely different criteria. lt was based on the premise that objectivity was both possible and desirable: who it was that knew something did not matter, only what was known. By emphasizing those aspects of Buddhist ideology, especially those which were polemically directed against Hindus, it was possible for Orientalists like Rhys Davids to make it appear that this rationalism was uncovered in Buddhism, rather than projected onto it. The appearances of uncovering the rationalist core of Buddhism were strategically supported by comparisons to Protestant and Catholic Christianity, always of course from the perspective of a Protestant representation of Catholicism as a degenerate form of Christianity.
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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby zavk » Sun Dec 06, 2009 12:58 pm

Hi all

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........
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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby zavk » Sun Dec 06, 2009 1:10 pm

Dharmapala was of course aware of those sorts of criticisms (articulated by both scholars in Europe and scholars in South Asia who were employed by the British East India company) about 'the Orientals' which drew a connection between language and race. These ideas had made their way back into Sri Lanka by the late nineteenth century. F. Max Muller, editor of The Sacred Books of the East Series and who translated a still widely esteemed version of the Dhammapada, observed that Sanskrit...

'has ceased to live, and though it exists still like a mummy dressed in its ceremonial robes [we can assume that he is referring to the 'degenerate' religious traditions like Hinduism and traditional Buddhism], its vital powers are gone. Sanskrit now lives in its offspring; the numerous spoken dialects of India, Hindustani, Maharti, Bengali, Guzerati, Singhalese, &c.,all preserving, in the system of their grammar, the living traces of their comment parent.'


The above passage was cited in a paper presented to the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society on October 1863. It asserted that the Sinhala belonged to the northern and Aryan class of languages, rather than the Southern and Dravidian. The paper also reinforce the connection between language and race:

The colour as well as the features of the inhabitants of the Dekkan are certainly distinguishable from those of the Sinhalese even by a casual observer. An utter stranger to the various races cannot be three weeks in this Island before he perceives the striking difference between the manners and habits ofthe Sinhalese on the one hand, and those of the different other races on the other. European Teachers have frequently observed the facility with which the Sinhalese pronounce European tongues, presenting in this respect a quality distinguishable from every race of South Indian people (quoted in Buddhism and Science, p. 94).


Lopez writes:

Thus, by the last half of the nineteenth century the inhabitants of the colony of Ceylon, long divided into the Sinhalese and the Tamils, had been identified as Aryans and Dravidians (Buddhism and Science, p. 95).


Dharmapala, we could assume, was incensed by the kind of disparaging remarks made by John Davy above. But he was also aware of how the Aryan language (and hence nobility) was linked to the Sinhales. So he was able to adopt Victorian race science to Sinhalese myth to counter those Orientalist attitudes towards South Asians. So he traced SInhalese origin to the myth of Vijaya (also spelled Wijaya), an Aryan king of North India. Dharmapala wrote in 1902:

Two thousand four hundred and forty—six years ago a colony of Aryans from the city of Sinhapura, in Bengal, leaving their Indian home, sailed in a vessel in search of fresh pastures, and they discovered the island which they named Tambapanni, on account of its copper coloured soil.
The leader of the band was an Aryan prince by the name of Wijaya, and he fought with the aboriginal tribes and got possession of the land. The descendants of the Aryan colonists were called Sinhala, after their city, Sinhapura, which was founded by Sinhabahu, the lion-armed king. Ethnologically the Sinhalese are a unique race, inasmuch as they can boast that they have no slave blood in them, and never were conquered by either pagan Tamils or European vandals who for three centuries devastated the land, destroyed ancient temples, burnt valuable libraries, and nearly annihilated the historic race (quoted in Buddhism and Science, pp. 95-96).


Lopez thus suggests that:

For Dharmapala, then, Sri Lanka was triply Aryan, ennobled by its language, its race, and its religion. It was as if the Indian Subcontinent were a funnel, with the Aryan language, the Aryan blood, and the Buddhist dharma of the north trickling south to be concentrated and preserved in their purest form in the island at the funnel’s tip. The subsequent inhabitants of the island, the Tamil Hindus and the Muslims (“Moors” as he called them), were not true Sinhalese because they were (not Aryan in language, in race, in religion. He wrote in 1915, “What the German is to the Britisher that the Muhammedan is to the Sinhalese. He is an alien to the Sinhalese by religion, race and language. He traces his origin to Arabia, whilst the Sinhalese traces his origin to India and to Aryan sources.”" Elsewhere, he informs the “young men of Ceylon” that “by religion, by race, by traditions, by our literature we are allied to the Aryan races of the Gangetic Valley (Buddhism and Science, pp. 97).


By doing so, Dharmapala appropriated Orientalist negative attitudes about South Asians and used it against them--against not only the European colonizers but also Christianity which he sees as the force that had imbued in Europe the 'persecuting spirit'. Lopez (Buddhism and Science, p 98) further writes:

Dharmapala championed the general superiority of Indian civilization over that of Europe. Indian civilization is older, and more refined than that of Europe, which, without a civilization of its own, was susceptible to the primitive beliefs of desert tribesmen. [Dharmapala said]:

    Remember India is a continent, not like Palestine or Arabia, peopled by wild, roving Semitic Bedouins, children of the desert, and that it is a vast country peopled by highly spiritualized races, with a civilization going back to thousands and thousands of years, and the cradle land of religions and philosophies. In a country where religious inquiry is man’s birthright, dogmatism has no place. India never knew in its long record of history to persecute people for their religious opinions dlhe persecuting spirit of religious tyranny began with the Semitic Jehovahism, and later ruthlessly followed by the founder of Islam. The Semitic spirit was implanted in the Latin and Teutorr heart after the introduction of the Semitic doctrine of Palestine into Europe. Never having had a religion with a history and theology among the European races, it was a quite easy for the promulgators of the Semitic faith to impress on the European mind the terribleness of the Jealous Jah of Mt. Horeb. Europe succumbed, and its future was made a blank by means of terrifying dogmatism ending with hell fire and brimstone to eternity.

If Buddhism has an analog in the West for Dharmapala, it is the ancient, pre—Christian civilizations of Greece and Rome, before the foreign slaves of the imperial Rome converted to Christianity: “The slaves accepted the teachings of Jesus since they suited the slave temperament." Prior to this, however, '"The ancient Greeks thought like the ancient Aryans of India, the gods they worshipped were not of the semitic type .... The draped figures of the Greek poets and philosophers were exact representations of the statues of the ancient Aryan Bhikkhus.” “Roman and Grecian civilization originally was Oriental. The religions they professed were not Semitic.” In his criticism of colonialism, Dharmapala traced the violence and rapaciousness of the European powers back to their religion. He wrote in 1926, “With the exception of Buddhism all religions have been destructive. In India Brahmanism partially destroyed Buddhism, and the remnant of Buddhists that existed was destroyed by the Muslims seven centuries ago .... Today England, the United States, Italy Belgium, France, Germany and other Christian countries are sending shiploads of missionaries to China, Ceylon, India, Japan, Burma to convert both Buddhists and Hindus, backed by the capitalists and gunboats.” In discussing the case of his own country of Sri Lanka in 1923, he found the religion preached by these missionaries, and indeed all “Western” religions, to be illegitimate. [Dharmapala writes]:

    The Ceylon Buddhists that have succeeded in maintaining Buddhism for a period of 2200 years in the Island are now confronted with the sensualistic creeds of Mecca and Palestine. Judaism is a downright plagiarism. It has robbed from Babylonian religions, Assyrian religions, Egyptian religions, Zoroastrianism, the doctrines that were current in the Euphrates valley and in Persia. Its bastard offshoot has borrowed a large stock of ethics from Buddhism. The ceremonialism of the Byzantine Christian Church was copied from the Buddhism of Turkestan and Turfan.


We see in the above how Dharmapala is aware of the Orientalist attempts to claim an Aryan past as their own. Yet, he is unwilling to share this brotherhood with the European colonizers. He does this by making distinctions between the supposed superficial Aryanism that the Europeans have and the supposedly more authentic Aryanism of the Sinhalese--unlike the Sinhalese who are true Aryan because of their Buddhist lineage, the British (despite trying to claim a Aryan lineage) are really only 'barbarians'. He wrote in 1924:

    The British people today take pride in calling themselves Aryans. There is a spiritualized Aryrmism and an anthropological Aryanism. The Brahmans by enunciating a system of Griha Sutras called those people only Aryans who lived in the territory known as Bharatvarsha. Those who did not conform to the sacred laws were treated as Mlechhas. Buddhism is a spiritualized Aryanism. The ethics of the Bible are opposed to the sublime principles of the Aryan Doctrine promulgated by the Aryan Teacher. We condemn Christianity as a system utterly unsuited to the gentle spirit of the Aryan race.

[Lopez comments]: Dharmapala here alludes to the two apparent meanings of Aryan. The British are not Aryan from the Hindu perspective because, regardless of their colonial occupation of India, they are not native to the soil of the Bharatavarsa, the ancient Sanskrit name for India. Furthermore, the British do not follow the ancient law codes of lndia. They are thus mlecha, barbarians. They are also not Aryan in the Buddhist sense because their religion is contrary to the ethical and thus ennobling teachings of the Buddha.


Now, let me clarify that I am not trying to demonize Dharmapala here. He, along with people like Rhys Davids, were pivotal in reconfiguring the kind of 'modern Buddhism' that we inherit today, both in Asian countries and in the West. My aim is here merely to point out the complex factors--or to use Buddhist lingo, the aggregates--that shaped the environment they were in and which were the early forces that gave rise to the contemporary Buddhism we have today.

Just as we investigate the influence of the five aggregates on our identities and actions, I believe that we could also beneficially learn about the influence of these historical, political, social, and cultural 'aggregates' on 'modern Buddhism'--and through doing so, become more mindful about the wider 'aggregates' that are shaping our practice today

Being mindful of these 'aggregates' could allow us to reconsider and also become more circumspect about how we argue about Buddhism. It could give us the space to take pause and reflect on our cetana or intentions for wanting to speak for or 'defend' Buddhism. Consequently, it could also allow us to minimize any unskilful vipaka or consequences that might stem from our speech/actions.

What I am doing then, if anything, is attempting to reflect on kamma--although I have admittedly taken it beyond the traditional frameworks of explanation. My apologies if this offends anyone.


A closing passage from Lopez might be helpful here:

As South Asia came increasingly under British rule in the nineteenth century Aryan became a precious artifact of a classical past, long lost in a process of invasion, miscegenation, and decline, better preserved in Europe than in India. Dharrnapala was one ofthe consumers of this commodity in the British colony of Ceylon, just off the coast of India, where he made it his own, turning it into a weapon against the European oppressors and their religion. In order to do so, however, he resorted to a rhetoric that strikes our ears as distinctly non—Buddhist, even un—Buddhist.


OK good night/day to you, friends.
With metta,
zavk
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