This is a study about friends of old and of today, a study offered in response to their friendship. It is an attempt to glimpse what they beheld, to come to understand a little, perhaps, of what undergirds their lives.
I speak of friends of old, having in mind those Buddhists who have gone on before us, who speak to us through their recorded words, words shared by them and remembered by countless others through the centuries, words that have come before the eyes of a person living today. And by writing of friends of today I mean the num-berous men and women who are Buddhists who have been faithful and caring in enduring friendship.
It takes time for friendship to form and hold. It also has taken time to develop the observations occurring in the chapters that follow because of the demands and delights of undergraduate teaching and the recurring responsibilities and challenges of administrative tasks. I am grateful to the Fund for the Study of the Great Religions of the World, Colgate University, for the exhilarating opportunities for sabbatical leaves to study abroad, a necessity comparable to the need among some of our colleagues to work in their laboratories.
The anonymous donor who, in consultation with Kenneth W. Morgan, established this Fund at Colgate also initially established the funding for the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvart University. There I first met Wilfred Smith, in 1965; and I continued to be affiliated with that program, then administered by the committee on advanced Degrees in the Study of Religion of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, until 1972, when I came to Colgate to attempt to carry on the program launched by Kenneth Morgan.
At the Center at Harvard it soon became clear to the small but growing band of men and women in the graduate program that Wilfred Smith, supported by the quiet, community-building, resolute enthusiasm of his wife, Muriel, placed primary importance on the qualitative significance of the person in the context of learning and trust. And through the years those values I have found endorsed by Masatoshi Nagatomi, who introduced me to the Buddhist languages of India’s past and to whom I once again express my gratitude. Those in the program then, and long since now, have found that rigorous studies and demanding assignments are readily, even happily, discharged when those studies have to do with one’s friends and are undertaken among friends.
Those of us in the study of the religious life of humankind are fortunate to have traveled afar and to have found friends upon arrival, then to have returned home to work among friends. In this setting we are prepared to learn from each other, knowing fully that the difficulty of our study tends to make our conclusions tentative, to share our work, offered to be evaluated, and to trust that in so working we all move toward greater understanding.
Originally distributed in books and journals published in the United States, England, India, Sri Lanka, and Japan, most of the chapters that follow remained inaccessible to all but the most patient researcher in Buddhist Studies. Making these studies available in one volume will indicate clearly the significant contributions made by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, an Islamicist and a scholar of the religious history of humankind, to my thinking as I have turned my attention, rather, to important issues both in a study of the Theravada Buddhist tradition and for Buddhists, who have perpetuated that remarkable tradition as fellow participants in our global religious history.
With gratitude for Wilfred Smith, who has demonstrated the inseparable interrelatedness of a thoroughgoing commitment to the pursuit of truth, intellectual cogency, and good will, this series of inquiries has been brought together and made available.
I wish to express my thanks to Marie A. Nardi for checking most of the typed copy of this text and indicating wherein corrections were necessary. The typing I did myself, but my son, Christopher John, came to my rescue on several occasions, helping me to understand the workings of a word processor. For the understanding my daughter, Many Elizabeth, has extended to an occasionally preoccupied father, I am thankful. To Sandra, my wife, who has accompanied me through the journey that lies behind these inquiries and who has befriended those whom I am fortunate to call friends, I say thank you.
Over a decade ago Willard G. Oxtoby began his “Editor’s Introduction” to Religious Diversity: Essays by Wilfred Cantwell Smith by Sharing an observation:
What follows in this volume is an attempt, developing through the subsequent decade, to elaborate that oral observation faithfully recorded an shared by Oxtoby. It represents a continuation of one person’s attempt “to look for the faith of Buddhists as persons.”
The subject of this study is twofold: the Theravada Buddhist tradition, particularly the shape or form that this cumulative tradition has taken in Sri Lanka, and the men and women who, by becoming engaged with this heritage and the message it conveys, have been enabled to live this human life as Buddhists. This study attempts to extrapolate from text and tradition, from doctrine and ritual, by thinking through new notions and reflecting on old issues, an understanding of the faith of men and women representing, through their participation in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, a significant portion of humankind.
Within the past two decades, men and women living in Sri Lanka have experienced an eruption of conflicting ideologies representing the conceptual underpinnings of aspirations for an ideal social order. Sinhala men and women have seen this conflict defined along the extremely troubling lines of ethnic, linguistic, and religious differences: an abysmal vortex drawing into it’s apparently as much hatred, bitterness, misunderstanding, and lack of trust as persons are willing to project. These men and women have also witnessed an eruption among Sinhalas, bringing with it a saddening spectacle of slashing destruction of life and property, driven by a pent-up frustration of economic deprivation and political ineffectiveness, unventilated by insightful articulation. Indian troops have come, have left their mark signed into the memory both of Sinhalas and Tamils of Sri Lanka, and have gone.
Wherein is the calm and dispassionate voice of the Buddha? One receives in the United States a letter from a Sri Lankan Tamil Christian female professor of the Hindu tradition in which newspaper articles written by a Sri Lankan Sinhala Buddhist male professor of Sanskrit were applauded. The voice is there-it needs to be given sound by Buddhist men and women. We await this, alertly listening.
This book does not offer an account of these recent clashes and upheavals, nor does it provide a study of Buddhist responses, defensively mundane or compassionately creative. Information about these events is still being gathered and, although being chronologically near and personally close to these events-even still somewhat baffled by their reporting. Interpretation, however, requires perspective; and the essays in this volume are designed to provide a perspective whereby celebrated by persons seeking to enhance the quality of human living as this quality has been demonstrated in the Theravada Buddhist heritage. Once these are seen, and it is important that they be seen, wherein some of us have failed in Sri Lanka will become more fully, more humanely understood.
Further, we will not be concerned primarily with a study of “religion.” We will be concerned with understanding what persons who are Theravada Buddhists have said and are saying about living life religiously. This differentiation is neither pedantic nor flippant. The difference between studying the notion “religion” and studying what men and women in India and Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia, China and Japan, too, have been saying about the good life, the life lived well, an authentically human life, is profound. We will be reflecting on their thoughts and interpreting their actions in terms of those thoughts and in light of that to which those thoughts point.
We do well, at the outset of this study, to put aside the term and concept religion. This term, originally from Latin religio, has been around inn the West for over two thousand years and the development of its meanings through these centuries has not been entirely consistent. Rather early in the use of the Latin word religio two strands of meaning developed. One was more personalistic and communicated a sense of personal involvement, an engaged attitude towards deity. Another strand of interpretation, also appearing quite early, understood the term religion to pertain to something impersonal, “out there” as it were. Willfred Cantwell Smith draws our attention to the uneven development of this peculiarly Western term and points to Lucretius (fl. 99-95 B.C.) as the one who might have first used the word in such a way that one could say “the concept of religion as a Great Something is born.”
The ambiguity of the personal and impersonal senses held within the noun religion has continued in the West. Consider, for example, the phrase the Christian religion. When one is met with the query “What is the Christian religion?” one might sally forth to reply by discussing the “founder,” bits about the history of the Christian religion, and mention several doctrines. When religion is used in this sense it refers, most probably, to a “great something.” It tends to mean some entity, something that can be analyzed, studied, something “out there,” so to speak, about which we can talk, argue, disagree, or agree.
Consider, as another example, the following: “it would be better if I had religion” or “given me that old time religion.” Here, one is met with that personal sense. The word here refers to an attitude, a quality of life, a personal orientation to life.
We are familiar with some of the old uses of the noun religion in some areas of intellectual inquiry: “what is religion?” “the essence of religion,” “the origin and development of religion,” and the like. We also are aware that the plural form of this word has been put to a peculiar use: the “religions” or “the great religions” or “religions of Asia,” and the like. In this usage, the tendency has been to demarcate, differentiate, conceptualized entities that carried the labels of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism, and so forth. One might note that what seven of the nine reified entities have in common is the -ism suffix thereby indicating, strikingly, the degree of reification that has occurred in this conceptualization.
If we were to agree that the term religion continues to be ambiguous and in its Western cultural specificity remains inadequate for understanding Buddhists, if we further were to agree that the notion of “religions” as clearly demarcated great systems is both historically untenable and divisive, then how would we set about to carry out this study? Wilfred Cantwell Smith has contributed mightily to our clearer discernment of the task. Two categories that he has proposed are “the cumulative tradition” and “faith.” The cumulative tradition is made up partly by the externals: the texts, doctrines, institutions, rites, rituals, practices, art, chants and songs-the things that have developed over time, the things one can study. The cumulative tradition is passed down from generation to generation, changes, and is part of the historical process. Faith represents that personal quality of life by means of which one responds to participate in some authentic way in the cumulative tradition because one has discerned the point of the tradition, the source of which the tradition is but a mundane manifestation.
Today the Theravada Buddhist tradition is receiving the attention of an impressive group of extraordinarily talented scholars representing several of the major disciplines: anthropology, art, history, language and literature, philosophy, political science, religious studies, and sociology. And their studies run the gamut from village contexts to urban developments, from monastic institutions to political moments, from translations to ethics.
We have carried out the study that follows by reconsidering modes of conceptualizing that have been utilized customarily in seeking to understand doctrinal formulations, ritual and social expressions, facets of the “cumulative tradition” of Theravada Buddhists, that which lies most readily before us for scrutiny. Consequently, our present study is not an attempt to present a history of the Theravada Buddhist movement. Although, conceivably, an outsider might write the definitive history of this movement, it would be more difficult, indeed perhaps impossible, for an outsider to write the definitive work on the faith of Theravada Buddhists. The cumulative tradition we can grasp through our careful gathering of information and thorough analyses. We need also to penetrate through this material to probe for the faith of persons who have engendered and sustained this material or have been transformed by it. And, of course, inference is the mode by means of which one seeks to understand the faith of others.
We will attempt to move but a small step nearer to an understanding of the faith of Theravada Buddhists. Faith is not a static, generic, substitute term for religion in the sense that one might speak of the “faiths of the world” or of “different faiths.” Faith is not a conglomerate of texts, doctrines, institutions, rites, rituals, practices, art, chants and songs. Rather, faith is that which sustains these more external elements of a religious tradition. Smith has established the point that there.
There is a dynamic dimension to our study, then, both in the changes brought about in a religious tradition in the course of history and in the living dynamic quality of the personal faith of men and women who are Buddhists. Smith has argued that to “understand the faith of Buddhists, one must look not at something called ‘Buddhism.’ Rather, one must look at the world, so far as possible, through Buddhist eyes.” Further, Smith has suggested, “The faith of a Buddhist does not lie in the data of the Buddhist tradition. The locus of faith is persons. Another dimension is also present in our study: the process of becoming personally engaged in an academic subject, developing a disciplined self-consciousness in an inclusive approach to understanding religious persons.
From time to time one reads a book dealing with something called Buddhism in which the author might write about “religion.” Usually, in the course of such studies, the author demonstrates a restlessness with these two concepts. And also, in most cases, when one speaks of “Buddhism” or “the Buddhist religion” one slips into speaking about an impersonal, reified concept, an “It.” Here we shall try to move beyond this, tc attempt to move beyond description to provide also interpretation.
This is no easy task, indeed occasionally it looms before one as ominous because of the antiquity of the tradition, the complexity of its development, the intricacies of several languages that carried the conceptual expressions of the insights, the enormity of the canonical and commentarial literature, he interrelatedness of the doctrinal formulations for ethics and the changing, historical, contextual moral ethos, the magnificent art and variegated architecture, the old rituals and ancient chants, the village and more recent urban configurations of the social patters of those who have participated in the heritage, and the manifold creative contributions of countless men and women, all of which have provided a dynamic reciprocity of human life and religious heritage, of faith and cumulative tradition, ever changing, ever exceeding one’s grasp. Attempting to provide an interpretation of all of this is, to say the least, formidable.
To see this, and to feel its force-indeed, to be made humble by it, insofar as one discovers the capacity to become impressed by a study of what persons cherish precisely because it has made manifest authentic subject, developing a disciplined self-consciousness in an inclusive approach to understanding religious persons.
From time to time one reads a book dealing with something called Buddhism in which the author might write about “religion.” Usually, in the course of such studies, the author demonstrates a restlessness with these two concepts. And also, in most cases, when one speaks of “Buddhism” or “the Buddhist religion” he slips into speaking about an impersonal, reified concept, an “It.” Here we shall try to move beyond this, to attempt to move beyond description to provide also interpretation.
This is no easy task, indeed occasionally it looms before one as ominous because of the antiquity of the tradition, the complexity of its development, the intricacies of several languages that carried the conceptual expressions of the insights, the enormity of the canonical and commentarial literature, the interrelatedness of the doctrinal formulations for ethics and the changing, historical, contextual moral ethos, the magnificent art and variegated architecture, the old rituals and ancient chants, the village and more recent urban configurations of the social patterns of those who have participated in the heritage, and the manifold creative contributions of countless men and women, all of which have provided a dynamic reciprocity of human life and religious heritage, of faith and cumulative tradition, ever changing, ever exceeding one’s grasp. Attempting to provide an interpretation of all of this is, to say the least, formidable.
To see this, and to feel its force-indeed, to be made humble by it, insofar as one discovers the capacity to become impressed by a study of what persons cherish precisely because it has made manifest authentic human living for them-provides both motivation and modesty. Inspiring is the testimony of persons who recognize their indebtedness to others who, by being exemplars, simultaneously have gone on before and have handed down to subsequent generations patterns or progress along the way to living life well. To try to understand this activity of recognizing, this sense of indebtedness, this orientation to what is entailed in living life well, is refreshingly alluring. This way lies human self-understanding.
Moreover, it is hardly wise to think that one, unaided, can achieve a comprehensive understanding of a subject like ours. Immediately one notes the obvious: had our human history not witnessed the significant presence of men and women who became Buddhists, studies such as this would not have occurred. Further, without Buddhists who are scholars and scholars who study Buddhists, this particular quest for understanding certainly would not have been launched. And the conclusions presented here are offered tentatively. One is fully cognizant that all the data is not yet in; and what is in is not comprehensively available to any one person but remains distributed, or scattered, in the hands of numerous scholars diligently working in many areas on many issues with many differing approaches: historical, anthropological, philological, political, social, theological, textual, economic.
However, the academic tradition has not yet totally lost its sense of community; one spots it from time to time in some of our colleges and universities and among colleagues committed to a study of the same subject or to a shared approach to the study of that subject. Persons contribute and assist and are acknowledged. Opinions differ, of course, but argument yields to discussion and leads to knowledge that discloses understanding. Into this context of community, ideally, a study like this is to be placed as one more attempt to move us, however tentatively, even, perhaps from the perspective of some, tangentially, nevertheless quite seriously, toward a deeper understanding of those of us on this globe who are Theravada Buddhists.
Time and again in our efforts to overcome detrimental circumstances that we find both embarrassing and demeaning to the dignity of the human personality we find that our creative responses into resolution have occurred precisely at those moments when we have found ourselves, discerning community, speaking about ourselves, whether those moments be occasions for political negotiations to resolve conflicts among us, attempts to create housing for those of us who have no shelter, or to find employment for those of us without jobs. Speaking of nationalities or political ideologies or of the homeless or "the jobless” has not brought us far enough. The poor we will probably continue to have with us, perhaps, because some persons will continue to be seen primarily as “the poor” and not fundamentally as us. This is an old issue, of course; it hinges on how one conceptualizes what constitutes one’s neighbor.
Quite similar is the religious issue, also historical, also human. Insofar as one understands Buddhists as persons following a conceptualized and reified system called Buddhism, those persons will be seen as different as a consequence of their having made a different choice, to follow one system rather than another. Their being Buddhists is an indication primarily of difference. But it would seem that the religious issue, which fundamentally is a matter of faith, and the historical evidence, which is a matter of record, and the distinctively human enterprise, which is the integration of compassion and understanding, would lead to an acknowledgment that persons, by becoming Buddhists, have participated in a global community, a community not at all restricted to Buddhists, whose foundations have long been in place but are only recently coming to be uncovered. Further, persons, by becoming Buddhists, have demonstrated unquestionably magnificent qualities of faith, have contributed to, have influenced, have absorbed and appropriated rites and rituals, concepts and orientations, patterns and processes of human living on various occasions through many years in different cultures during our one human history, and have done so as men and women who have set about to attempt to live their human lives as human life ought to be lived. Their being Buddhist is an indication not primarily of difference but of impressive human living and a testimony of what human life can become.
We turn then to a study of the Theravada Buddhist tradition in an attempt to understand the faith of some of us, of men and women who are Theravada Buddhists.
Back of the Book
Essays on the Theravada Tradition in Sri Lanka John Ross Carter
Carter unfolds the cumulative traditions of Theravada Buddhism by showing how one “looks at the world through Buddhist eyes.” Presenting evidence from the Buddhist heritage in Sri Lanka. He develops a disciplined, inclusive approach to understanding notions of ethical living and “faith,” or how individuals live life religiously. The author examines Buddhism as a worldview, reviewing the process of its origins and the development of its important concepts such as the pursuit of dhamma by Buddhists; the “Four Noble Truths:” the notion of refuge and the process of transcending; the role of the Buddhist monk (bhikkhu): and the role of music in ritual chant and song.
“Carter’s book deals with some of the central issues in Buddhist studies. I look forward to being able to direct students to this book to
learn about such topics as the meaning of dhamma, the history of ‘early Buddhism. And other significant matters.”
John Ross Carter is Professor of Philosophy and Religion and the Director of Chapel House of Colgate University. He is the author of Dhamma: Western Academic and Sinhalese Buddhist Interpretations; editor of Religiousness in Sri Lanka; co-editor of Religiousness in Yoga: Lectures on Theory and Practice; editor of The Threefold Refuge; and co-author of The Dhammapada: A New English Translation with the Pali Text and the First English Translation of the Commentary’s Explanation of the Verses with Notes Translated from Sinhala Sources and Critical Textual Comments.
|1||The Origin and Development of “Buddhism” and “Religion” in the Study of the Theravada Buddhist Tradition||9|
|2||The Coming of “Early Buddhism” to Sri Lanka||27|
|3||Dhamma at the Center||37|
|4||The Notion of Refuge||55|
|5||A Response to the Four Noble Truths||71|
|6||Beyond “Beyond Good and Evil”||89|
|7||Faith in the Wake of the Dhammapada||105|
|8||There Are Buddhists Living in Sri Lanka Today||115|
|9||Music in the Theravada Buddhist Heritage: In Chant, in Song, in Sri Lanka||133|
|10.||The Soteriological Process and Its Sociological Relevance in the Sinhala Theravada Buddhist Tradition||153|
|11.||The Role of the American Scholar in Buddhist Studies in Sri Lanka||175|
Item Code: IHL085 Author: John Ross Carter Cover: Hardcover Edition: 1995 Publisher: Sri Satguru Publications ISBN: 8170304342 Size: 8.9 Inch X 5.9 Inch Pages: 262 Other Details: a51_books
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