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Contemporary Buddhism. Volume 9, Number 1 Special Issue: Kammic Communities: theory and practice in modern Theravada

Crosby, Kate, ed. (2008) Contemporary Buddhism. Volume 9, Number 1 Special Issue: Kammic Communities: theory and practice in modern Theravada. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis.

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Abstract

Four of the articles in this volume examine what it is that individuals and local Buddhist communities seek from their karmic relationships with the temples that serve them. In his study of the emotional, aspirational and aesthetic motives and responses involved in making offerings to monks in modern Sri Lanka, Jeffrey Samuels replaces outmoded scholarly approaches to merit-making, which sought to contrast a mechanistic attitude on the part of donors with the supposed early ideal apparently represented in the canon. By taking the experience of practitioners as his starting point, Samuels then shows that we can find corroborating support for such views in the very same canon. An ongoing model of Buddhism dating back to Weber and other scholars of his day had previously misdirected our textual selection. Kate Crosby’s article also confronts preselected canonicity and assumptions of a mechanistic approach to karma. The role of temples at the forefront in enabling communities to recover from trauma is in direct contradiction of the continuing perception of Theravada monasticism as an essentially individually oriented, other-worldly ‘selfish’ concern, a model that pervades Weberian based studies. Alexandra Kent and John Marston both examine developments in Cambodian Buddhism following the trauma of the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) period, and in particular since the freeing up of explicit state control since the reforms of 1989 and the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1991. In spite of religious institutions being officially released from the assumption that their function was to support the ruling party, Kent shows how the introduction of multiparty democracy has led to the increased weight of macropolitical processes on temples and individuals, as the ruling elite seek to control the newly established rights of individuals to vote over who holds high-level power. This interference in the traditional relationship between a community and its temple has serious implications for the free choice of Cambodians to pursue security through Buddhism. This is of particular significance given Cambodian belief in the relationship between a failure to uphold Buddhist morality and a loss of power, with the subsequent calamity and insecurity exemplified not only by the DK period, but also by the current fragility of Cambodian society. Cambodia perhaps more than anywhere else illustrates the multivalent problems of an imposition of social theory on both representation and practice of Buddhism, as shown in John Marston’s assessment of the problems that Cambodian society presents for classical theories of civil society. This is particularly pertinent given the successive marshalling of religion by a centralised state from the Thai and French colonial struggles for dominance of Cambodia onwards. Both the French (through the modernising wing of the Mahånikåya) and the Thai (through the then newly established Dhammayutikanikåya) patronised a reform Buddhism based on a notion of a pristine and universally uniform Theravada tradition derived from the Pali canon itself read through a secularising lens. In that context the traditional forms of Cambodian Buddhism, based around the teacher-pupil lineages of empowering meditation practices, kammatthåna, and the personal authority of monks thus empowered, were seen as boran (‘ancient’/’traditional’) in contrast to modern. Marston examines the ways in which, following the disruption of the DK and socialist periods, people understand boran more broadly, and not to the exclusion of modernity, in their search for a return to the authenticity of the past in their quest to re-establish community. Phibul Choompolpaisal's article looks at the impact Weber has had on our study of Theravada, by following the lines of Weber's influence into modern scholarship in the field. The editorial examines the effect that this has had on our understanding of what Jonathan Walters terms 'socio-kamma".

Item Type: Edited Books
Keywords: Theravada Buddhism kamma socio-kamma Weber
SOAS Departments & Centres: Regional Centres > Centre of South East Asian Studies
Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of the Study of Religions > Centre of Buddhist Studies
Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of the Study of Religions
Regional Centres > SOAS South Asian Institute
Depositing User: Kate Crosby
Date Deposited: 13 Nov 2009 10:14
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/7920

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