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The Image of Heathens

Archbishop Veniamin Blagonravov's Perception of Religion and Nationality in the Transbaikal

Anna Peck

Veniamin (Blagonravov), Bishop of Selenginsk (1862-1868) and Archbishop of Irkutsk and Nerchinsk (1873-1892), was for almost three decades the leading missionary in the Transbaikal. A strong believer in Christian and Russian/Western superiority he actively introduced Christianization and Russification to Transbaikalian Buriats. Veniamin understood both processes as crucial for the Russian raison d'état in Asia. Baptized Buriats were supposed to accept a Russian lifestyle and identify themselves as Russians. Perceiving Buddhist lamas as vicious competitors he accused them of delaying the process of the development of the native people. Veniamin perceived Buddhism as a heathen Asian tradition and, as such, inferior to the religion and culture offered to the converts by the Orthodox Christian missionaries. Images of “heathens,“ his way of portraying Buddhists, differed noticeably from the comprehensive and complex understanding of Buddhism presented by his predecessor, Archbishop Nil.

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Mantras and Spells

Durkheim and Mauss, Religious Speech and Tantric Buddhism

Louise Child

This article, located within the sociology of religion, aims to demonstrate ways in which the insights of Durkheim and Mauss can be applied to the study of tantric Buddhism. In order to do so it explores a specific theme, the significance of speech in religion. I will therefore begin with sections from the recent translation of Mauss's thesis on prayer, highlighting two essential propositions (1909/t.2003). Firstly, Mauss argues that prayer is an extremely diverse phenomenon, which can take a variety of forms. A second, related point is his suggestion that speech is particularly important to our understanding of religion, because it is related to both belief and action. It is this second idea that I will explore extensively in the context of tantric Buddhism because it illuminates a number of features of this religious tradition. In addition, these reflections may contribute to a broader debate, concerning the role of collective representations in the thought of both Durkheim and Mauss.

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Buddhism, the Asokan Persona, and the Galactic Polity

Rethinking Sri Lanka's Constitutional Present

Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne

Sri Lanka's civil war between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil communities has now raged for nearly half a century. The Sri Lankan cum Sinhalese Buddhist state has since independence resisted all significant attempts by the Tamil political leadership at power sharing. Most constitutional lawyers and progressive Sri Lankan opinion (Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, etc.) hold that short of a separate state, administrative power should be devolved in the form of a federal state, so as to give autonomy to the northeast of Sri Lanka, while the forces of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism have sought to justify the centralized state by recourse to the history of Buddhism and the Sinhalese on the island. Such arguments have drawn on the ontological potential of the cosmic order of Sinhalese Buddhism, which is fundamentally hierarchical in intent. Here I argue that the diffused nature of this cosmic order provides the ontological grounding for a decentralized state structure that can accommodate ethnic difference in a non-hierarchical relation. Thus, the legacy of Sinhalese Buddhism can be rescued from the forces of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism.

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Robert W. Montgomery

This article investigates the upsurge in political and social activism among the Buriats of Siberia's Lake Baikal region during Russia's 1905 Revolution (broadly defined as 1905 to 1907). Specific topics include the Buriats' struggles for their ancestral lands and traditional political structures, and against Russification and discrimination; the activities of the Buriat intelligentsia; the holding of Buriat national congresses; participation in radical and liberal movements; the use of Buddhism as a national symbol; attempts to nativize education; and participation in the early Duma system.

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Beyond the Glittering Golden Buddha Statues

Difference and Self-transformation through Buddhist Volunteer Tourism in Thailand

Brooke Schedneck

Volunteer tourism is becoming an important way to understand and experience culture. In Thailand, one option for volunteers is to teach English to novice monks in Buddhist temple schools. These volunteers choose to live in a Buddhist temple in order to experience difference through the religious atmosphere and interact with Buddhist monks. The aesthetic environment is unique and awe-inspiring to this group. However, through interviews and analysis of travel writing, this article argues that the unexpected also has a role in generating selftransformation. Beyond the golden, glittering Buddha statues are Buddhist novice monks who become not just representatives of Thai culture but particular individuals. Volunteers discuss their own transformation as a result of both the expected difference and unexpected familiarity they encounter within the temple communities where they teach.

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Mindfulness Meditation

A Sartrean Analysis

Dane Sawyer

In this article, I consider the rising interest in mindfulness meditation in the West and submit it to an analysis from a Sartrean phenomenological and ontological perspective. I focus on a common form of Buddhist meditation known as ānāpānasati, which focuses on the breath, in order to draw connections between common obstacles and experiences among meditation practitioners and Sartre’s understanding of consciousness. I argue that first-person reports generally support a Sartrean view of consciousness as spontaneous, free, and intentional, but I also highlight areas where Sartre’s phenomenology and ontology oversimplify the complex relationship between the pre-reflective and reflective modes of consciousness. I contend too that Sartre does not always take seriously enough the distracted, unfocused, and obsessively thought-oriented nature of consciousness.

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Ritual Tattooing and the Creation of New Buddhist Identities

An Inquiry into the Initiation Process in a Burmese Organization of Exorcists

Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière

The Manaw Seittokpad congregation, an organization of Burmese exorcists with headquarters in Bago, presents some unique features, such as a rigorous registration procedure during the initiation process. Exorcism is linked to superhuman figures, or weikza, at the center of a religious domain often characterized as a form of Buddhist esotericism. Based on observation of rituals during this congregation’s annual conventions in Bago, the initiation process is analyzed with reference to an anthropological understanding of rites of passage and religious conversion. The article shows how undergoing these rites induces healed patients to enter a specific community formed by the members of the congregation. Furthermore, the acquisition of a new ‘truly’ Buddhist identity is understood as a process equivalent to an ‘internal conversion’. Finally, the contrastive use of ritualism is seen as a way to construct the practice of exorcism in the weikza domain as a specific ‘path’ within the Burmese religious field.

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Alms, Money and Reciprocity

Buddhist Nuns as Mediators of Generalised Exchange in Thailand

Joanna Cook

In this paper I examine the part that women, in the ambiguous role of Buddhist nun (mae chee), now take in the emblematic Buddhist practice of alms donations. The monastic office of 'mae chee' is complicated. It is conveyed through the ritual adoption of religious vows and is usually undertaken for life. However, mae chee ordination is only partial and its status is far below that of monks. In Thai law mae chee are regarded as pious laywomen (upasikas) and the Department of Religious Affairs does not mention them in its annual report. Even so, because they are said to have renounced the world they do not have the right to vote. Owing to this ambiguity mae chee are able to employ both the ascetic practices of renouncers (such as accepting alms) and those of laywomen (such as offering alms). Mae chee, while debarred from the alms round, both receive alms from the laity and donate alms to monks. Furthermore, mae chee receive monetary alms from the laity on behalf of the monastic community as a whole. I argue that by handling money given to the monastic community mae chee mediate in a relationship of generalised reciprocity between the monastic community and the lay society. By donating alms to monks, mae chee appear to be reaffirming their status of partial ordination, yet in order for them to be able to receive alms donations from the laity they must see themselves, and be recognised by the laity, as an integral part of the monastic community. A nuanced understanding of these economic, religious and gendered roles is crucial to our understanding of the incorporation of women into the monastic community and the ways in which gift practices are related to interpersonal and group dynamics in the context of modern Thai monasticism.

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Andrea Butcher

In Ladakh, north-west India, a popular narrative of the region’s inhabitants as spiritually and ecologically enlightened combines with national sustainable and participatory development policies to produce a distinctive character that underpins the local administration’s development strategies. These strategies emphasise ‘traditional’ values of cooperation, simplicity, and ecological and spiritual harmony as the way to achieve culturally sustainable development and emotional well-being. However, obstacles to development appear when normative principles of sustainability and ecological wisdom encounter local cosmology, hierarchy and perceptions of expertise in society. In this article, I refl ect upon my fieldwork and previous regional ethnographies to consider possible frameworks for evaluating well-being as an indicator of culturally sustainable development that include concepts of cosmology and expert protection.

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Andrei Bazarov

This article examines the book culture of the Buryat Buddhists of the Southern Siberia. Based on social archaeographic studies, the article posits a link between local book culture and the stable identity of Buryat Buddhist. Defining Buryat Buddhist identity based on an analysis of different aspects of their worldview, cultural life, and historical past, this article reveals how Buddhist book culture and home life are the most important aspects in the formation of local identity. The analysis confirms that a radical change in the mechanism of the transfer of tradition, social changes, and the economic crisis led to the transformation of the vector of development in the traditional book culture of the Buryats, highlighting that the main priority is not the religious but the ethnic component.