Anne Blackburn explores the emergence of a predominant Buddhist monastic culture in eighteenth-century Sri Lanka, while asking larger questions about the place of monasticism and education in the creation of religious and national traditions. Her historical analysis of the Siyam Nikaya, a monastic order responsible for innovations in Buddhist learning, challenges the conventional view that a stable and monolithic Buddhism existed in South and Southeast Asia prior to the advent of British colonialism in the nineteenth century. The rise of the Siyam Nikaya and the social reorganization that accompanied it offer important evidence of dynamic local traditions. Blackburn supports this view with fresh readings of Buddhist texts and their links to social life beyond the monastery.
Comparing eighteenth-century Sri Lankan Buddhist monastic education to medieval Christian and other contexts, the author examines such issues as bilingual commentarial practice, the relationship between clerical and "popular" religious cultures, the place of preaching in the constitution of "textual communities," and the importance of public displays of learning to social prestige. Blackburn draws upon indigenous historical narratives, which she reads as rhetorical texts important to monastic politics and to the naturalization of particular attitudes toward kingship and monasticism. Moreover, she questions both conventional views on "traditional" Theravadin Buddhism and the "Buddhist modernism" / "Protestant Buddhism" said to characterize nineteenth-century Sri Lanka. This book provides not only a pioneering critique of post-Orientalist scholarship on South Asia, but also a resolution to the historiographic impasse created by post-Orientalist readings of South Asian history.
"An impressive accomplishment... Blackburn's study of practices and texts associated with Buddhst education is an innovative work that recasts our understanding of religious change prior to the intensive colonization of Sri Lanka in the nineteenth century."--Stephen C. Berkwitz, The Journal of Religion
Author's Note viiiAcknowledgments ixAbbreviations xiChapter One: ''Destroying the Thick Darkness of Wrong Beliefs'' 3Chapter Two: Contextualizing Monasticism 23Chapter Three: Marks of Distinction 41Chapter Four: ''They Were Scholars and Contemplatives''' 76Chapter Five: ''He Benefited the World and the Sasana'' 107Chapter Six: Readers, Preachers, and Listeners 139Chapter Seven: ''Let Us Serve Wisdom'' 197Appendix A: Contents of the Monastic Handbook Attributed to Saranamkara 205Apperndix B: Level Four Subject Area and Texts 209Appendix C: Siyam Nikaya Temple Manuscript Collections 213Appendix D: List of Manuscripts Brought from Siam in 1756 217Glossary 219References 223Index 235