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Understanding Asia Assignment 2

Discuss how Buddhism changed as it travelled from India to another area such as mainland SouthEast Asia. The Theravada School of Buddhism entered South-East Asia sometime in the middle of the First Millennia CE and began a process of change that is still happening today. Whilst the teachings of Theravada have not changed in the almost two thousand years since they were written down in Sri Lanka in the last centuries BCE1, the popular culture that has accompanied Theravada throughout this time has changed and continues to change. Buddhism at the time of the emperor Asoka had yet to undergo the split into what is now Theravada 2 and Mahayana. We know that Asoka adhered to the ancestral form of Theravada , the Vibhajjav da. 3 Buddhism during the Buddha s lifetime was very much a creature of the forests . Archaeological evidence is present of monasteries built out of brick existing within only a century or two of the death of the Buddha, and at least one of them is in Asoka s capital city Pataliputra4. Other ruins ascribed to the same time period are to be found at Kosambi5 and Sarnath6. It is clear that at least some Buddhist monks and nuns (Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni) were living in an urban environment at the time of Asoka. What is also clear from meditation commentaries written by monks such as Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa (4th Century CE) and the Arahant Upatissa who wrote in the preceding century, is that Buddhism retained its forest roots, with the Ascetic or Dhutanga Practices 7 8 being practised by at least some sections of the monastic community. These monks would have left no traces at all of their existence due not only to their observance of the Ascetic Practices but also the temporary nature of an accommodation built for them by Lay supporters. It was these Forest Monks who spread Vibhajjavada into S.E Asia by the simple practice of searching for quiet places in which to meditate. Whilst this was happening, the divisions in the monastic community that had emerged during the Third Buddhist Council saw the rise of Mahayana Buddhism. Vibhajjavada spread into South India and Sri Lanka and ultimately died out in the Buddhist heartland and was replaced by at first Mahayana and then Vajrayana Buddhism. Even in Sri Lanka in the first four centuries CE, Vibhajjavada struggled to survive and its final stronghold was the Maha Vihara in Anuradhapura9. There Vibhajjavada evolved into what we know as Theravada. The name was adopted to distinguish the older and Pali using Maha Vihara from the younger and Sanskrit using Mahayana Abhayagiri Vihara. Buddhaghosa who lived at the Maha Vihara

Perera. H. R Buddhism in Sri Lanka: A Short History page 33 Kusalasaya. K Buddhism in Thailand page 9 3 Anguttara Nikaya: Chapter of the Fives, Sutta 104 Ibid: Chapter of the Tens, Sutta 191 Majjhima Nikaya: Sutta 4 verse 2 Ibid: Sutta 5 v 29

Seneviratna.A King Asoka and Buddhism page 7. Dhammika. S Middle Land, Middle Way page 144 6 Ibid page 89 7 Buddhaghosa. B Path of Purification Chapter 2 8 Upatissa. A The Path of Purity Fascicle 2, Chapter 3. 9 Buddhaghosa. B Path of Purification Introduction by Nanamoli Bhikkhu pages 25 & 26

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in this time and may well have written The Path of Purity there, was one of the principal intellectual forces driving this evolution. The name Theravada was adopted in an attempt to infer legitimacy by tying the Maha Vihara to the original teachings of the Buddha. 10 Ultimately the Maha Vihara overcame the rival Abhayagiri Vihara11 in the 4th Century CE. The doctrinally stranded Vibbajjavadin monks and nuns in S.E Asia would have been kept informed of these developments by word of mouth from traders who had dealings with Sri Lanka and Sangha who travelled with them. The new form was thus adopted by the Sangha already living in S.E Asia. The Bhikkhuni Sangha became extinct in the First Millennia CE, and their role was taken over by white robed Eight Precept nuns known as Mae Chi in Thai. In Sri Lanka the extinction is attributed to a Tamil invasion and conquest of Sri Lanka, but in S.E Asia the case is ambiguous, to say the least, with Tiyavanich indicating that it was the establishment of modern State Buddhism in Thailand that ultimately brought the Bhikkhuni lineage to an end12 . It is interesting to note the resistance by monks of the Thai Forest Sangha to the re-establishment of the Bhikkhuni order13, in the last three years with Ajahn Brahmavamso Maha Thera, Abbott of Bodhinyana Forest Monastery outside Perth, Western Australia, in the Ajahn Chah tradition and his Sangha being formally excluded from that tradition for ordaining Bhikkhuni14. We do know that at some point in history the Sangha became almost exclusively urban in nature, and the Sangha moved into the cities and villages. The Sangha became part of the political system and a symbiotic relationship was established between the Sangha and the monarchy15 . The monarch supported the Sangha in a material fashion and provided protection and in return the Sangha helped confer political legitimacy on the monarch. What is unclear is whether Hinduism influenced Theravada after its spread into S.E Asia or Theravada brought Indian festivals with it when it spread . What is very clear is that Theravada adopted and adapted two festivals, with both the New Year16 and the Festival of Lights17 having very clear Hindu parallels if not origins. The peoples that Theravada encountered in S.E Asia were practising animism and continued to practice it until relatively recently. The Burmese still worship Nats, which are nothing more than the Deva and Devi mentioned in the Pali Canon18. In Thailand deva or phi worship was actually eradicated by the Forest Sangha19. In the last century or so King Rama V20 has begun to be worshipped in Thailand and certainly the current Thai king Rama IX is accorded almost divine status in Thai culture.

The Sangha came to fulfil a number of roles that, if not exactly prohibited in the monastic rules 21 (Vinaya), certainly are not encouraged by it either. The Sangha became educators and doctors22. If a male wanted to get an education, the most pragmatic way for this to happen was to ordain as a
ibid Ibid page 27 12 Tiyavanich. K Forest Recollections p 282 13 Ibid p 284 14 15 Swearer. Donald. K The Buddhist World of South-East Asia pages 71-109. 16 Ibid pages 39-42 17 Ibid pages 48-50 18 Anguttara Nikaya: The Fours, sutta 56 Ibid sutta 77 19 Tiyavanich. K Forest Recollections pages 200-13 20 Swearer. Donald. K The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia p 121 21 Buddhist Monastic Code trans Thanissaro Bhikkkhu page 66 22 Tiyavanich. K The Buddha in the Jungle page 325
11 10

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novice or monk, acquire and education and then disrobe23. The Forest Sangha is known to have treated villagers in remote regions for a variety of illnesses24 including demonic posession25. Meditation never entirely died out, most likely there had always been monks dwelling in the forests and meditating especially in areas remote from the centres of power. In the very late 19th and early 20th Centuries there was a renewal of interest in both meditation and forest dwelling . The modern Forest Sangha attribute the re-establishment of the practice to Ajahn Mun (1870-1949). Ajahn Mun ordained at the age of 22 and after a time spent meditating at Wat Liap in Ubon Rajathani he read the Visuddhi Magga and decided to take his meditation into the forest and to observe the Dhutanga Practices mentioned above. Whilst Ajahn Mun was wandering and meditating in the forests he would occasionally meet Eight Precept meditators, some of whom were women26. The rise in interest in the Dhutanga (Thai: Tudong) Practices within the Thai Sangha coincided with the beginning of the central government of the Thai state attempts to bring the provinces under its firm control 27. This was also the time of colonial expansion in S.E Asia by both Britain and France. Christian missionaries were active throughout the region. The Thai state under Kings Rama 1 and Mongkut responded to this by modernising as rapidly as it could afford. Part of these efforts was the establishment of the office of Sangharaja (King of the Sangha) in 1872 by King Rama 1. The Sangharaja was the titular, and government appointed head of the Sangha28. For the first time since the Buddha, central authority existed in the Sangha. At this time the reformist Dhammayuthika Nikaya (Nikaya: Group/collection/chapter)was established by the future King Mongkut whilst he was a Bhikkhu. The Dhammayuthika Nikaya was state Buddhism. Because King Mongkut and his government were suspicious of meditation and echoed the Christian view at that time that meditation was little better than witchcraft, meditation was discouraged29. The Forest Sangha resisted incorporation and regulation by the government in Bangkok and thus were viewed with more than a little suspicion by the Bangkok authorities. There came to be two forms of Theravada, the form sanctioned by the educated elite in Bangkok and the form practised in the provinces 30. Eventually the government in a manner admitted defeat in regards to the Forest Sangha and decided to co-opt them into spreading its policies in the provinces31. Theravada became an instrument of government policy. There was a government sanctioned form of Theravada, the Dhammayuthika and it was the practices of this form of Theravada that were promoted in the provinces by the Forest Sangha as the authority and control of the government in Bangkok deepened. Central government authority and state Theravada became facets of the same thing. Whilst a number of the Forest Sangha were members of the Dhammayuthika, at least one very famous Forest Monk, Ajahn Chah, was not, he was Maha Nikaya (Large Group). At this time there was a resurgence of interest in the monastic Vinaya and the Forest Sangha with its strict adherence to the Vinaya was eventually used as a means of encouraging conformity in the temples of the provinces. The Forest Sangha were viewed both as irresponsible because of their eremitic ways, interest in meditation and disinterest in doing the governments bidding and as a

Ibid page 145 Ibid p 213-9 25 Tiyavanich. K Forest Recollections p 203 26 Ibid pages 241-7 27 Tiyavanich. K Forest Recollections pages 40-3 28 Swearer. Donald. K The Buddhist World of S.E Asia page 120 29 Tiyavanich. K Forest Recollections p 7 30 Swearer. Donald. K The Buddhist World of S.E Asia pages 43-6. 31 Ibid pages 199-212


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means of removing regional traditions that were viewed by the intellectual elite in Bangkok as little more than superstitions. In places like Burma and Cambodia the picture is less clear. Because both Burma and Cambodia were ruled by Westerners there was never an equivalent of what happened in Thailand with the exception in Cambodia of the formation of the office of Sangharaja. Theravada instead became involved in the quest for independence. Theravada became politicised32 the most recent evidence for this is the Saffron Revolution in September of 2007 by Burmese monks33. The Burmese politician U Nu blended Theravada and socialism in post independence Burma34. Chamlong Srimaung an adherent to Asoka Santi was both a mayor of Bangkok and a member of the Thai parliament35. The Cambodian king Norodom Sihanouk echoed the policies of U Nu36 in words if not deeds and in the years since the end of the war, Theravada has been utilised as a centralising and healing force by successive Cambodian governments. Theravada has become and continues to be involved in both the ecosystem conservation and social activist movements in Thailand37 38 in the last thirty years, with Sulak Sivaraksa being a globally known Thai social activist. The involvement in and support of the Sangha in conservation projects has proved crucial to their success, with one well known means of protecting trees is by ordaining them into the Sangha39. Social activism has been more a Lay Buddhist endeavour, but Wat Thamkrabok in Saraburi Province is internationally known for its herbal cures for drug addictions40. And the Sangha Metta Project was established by monks from Mahamakut Buddhist University in Chiang Mai41. Thus we can see that Theravada has changed in the 16 centuries since it spread into S.E Asia. Meditation has been almost entirely lost within Theravada and then re-established. The reformists and agents of change of the Nineteenth century, the Forest Sangha are now the conservatives and are actively opposing the re-establishment of the Bhikkhuni Sangha in Theravada. The Forest Sangha in Thailand went from being viewed with suspicion by the government to being a tool to implement its wishes. Conversely the Sangha has had and still has the power to threaten established regimes in Burma. It is both a tool of the government and a threat to it. Lay people are more active in social issues than ever before with activists such as Sulak Sivaraksa often articulating ideas that others including Sangha often adopt, the conservation projects perhaps being the best examples. Popular culture until the present time hasn t changed as much, with New Year and the Festival of Lights being as popular as ever throughout the region. The single biggest change has been the commercialisation of the festivals. Yet much has remained the same. The daily alms round by the Sangha has never died out and in the evening life in rural areas still echoes to the sounds of Pali chanting. It is in the nature of Theravada to change, yet remain essentially the same.

32 33

Ibid pages 134-41 Ibid p 116 34 Ibid pages 110-2 35 Ibid p 174 36 Ibid p 124 37 Ibid pages 147-59 38 Ibid 183-90 39 Ibid p 154 40 Ibid p 158 41 Ibid p 158

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Angutta Nikaya trans by Bodhi. B & Nyanaponika. T Vistaar Publications 2000 I used this text as support for my statement that Buddhism in the lifetime of the Buddha was very much a creature of the forest. The Pali Canon is the earliest source we have for events within and immediately after the life of the Buddha. Buddhist Monastic Code trans by Thanissaro Bhikkhu 2001 The Buddhist Monastic Code is also known as the Pattimokkha. This particular text is widely used in modern Theravadin Forest Monasteries and is considered by many to be the definitive translation and explanation of the monastic rules. I have used it because of not only the authority that the words of the Buddha carry, but also the authority that Thanissaro Bhikkhu carries both as a senior monastic in the Forest Tradition and as a translator. The section cited supports my statement about the Vinaya not necessarily supporting some monastic practises such as providing medical treatment to Lay people. Buddhaghosa. B Path of Purity trans by Nanamoli Bhikkhu Buddhist Publication Society 1991 I have used this text because the Path of Purity and this particular translation of it(NB: the Matheson Library has the Pe Maung Tin translation and that is almost unreadable) is considered within Theravada Buddhism as the definitive commentary on meditation and it has, along with the Path of Freedom, the clearest explanation of the Thirteen Ascetic Practices. Also the introduction provides a useful history on the origins of Theravada Buddhism and why it is different to the Vibhajjavada that Asoka practised. Kusalasaya. K Buddhism in Thailand Buddhist Publication Society, Wheel Publication 1983 I have used this text to support my statement of the form of Buddhism that Asoka practised. This is also a clear, simple and brief history of Thailand. Majjhima Nikaya Trans by Bodhi. B Wisdom Publications 1995 The Majjhima Nikaya has many more references than I have used to the Buddhist Sangha dwelling and meditating in the forest. This, as well as the Anguttara Nikaya referenced above provide proof of the nature of Buddhist practice within the lifetime of the Buddha. Perea. H. R Buddhism in Sri Lanka: A Short History Buddhist Publication Society 1988 I used this book as a reference to support my argument that the fundamental teachings of Theravada haven t changed in at least the last 1500 years. It is also a source material for an indepth study of Buddhist history in Sri Lanka including the evolution of Theravada Buddhism. Swearer. Donald. K The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia State University of New York Press 2010 I have used this text because it is the most recent and comprehensive study into Theravada in SouthEast Asia and explores both cultural and political aspects of Theravada practice and their history by Professor Swearer.

Tiyavanich. K Forest Recollections: Wandering Monks in Twentieth Century Thailand University of Hawaii Press 1997 Page 5 of 7

The Buddha in the Jungle University of Washington Press 2001 I used these texts because of the depth of information regarding the transformation of the Forest Tradition from a position of being on the periphery of modern Thai Buddhism to being a conservative force within Thai Buddhism. They also give a wealth of information about the lives of Forest Monks in the early Twentieth Century. Upatissa. A The Path of Freedom trans by Ehara. R etal Buddhist Publication Society 1995 I have used this text to support the information about the Thirteen Ascetic Practices within the Path of Purity, it is a much more concise, if less known text.

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