Theravada Tracts

A new title from Social Sciences Press, Rebuilding Buddhism by Sarah Levine and David Gellner "describes in evocative detail the experiences and achievements of Nepalis who have adopted Theravada Buddhism. This form of Buddhism was introduced into Nepal from Burma and Sri Lanka in the 1930’s and its adherents have struggled for recognition and acceptance ever since. With its focus on the austere figure of the monk and the biography of the historical Buddha, and more recently with its emphasis on individualizing meditation and on gender equality, Theravada Buddhism contrasts sharply with the highly ritualized Tantric Buddhism traditionally practiced in the Kathmandu Valley.

Based on extensive fieldwork, interviews, and historical reconstruction, the book provides a rich portrait of the different ways of being a Nepali Buddhist over the past seventy years. At the same time it explores the impact of the Theravada movement and what its gradual success has meant for Buddhism, for society, and for men and women in Nepal."
Le Vine is Associate Professor in Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University, while David Gellner, who has written extensively on both Nepal and on Buddhism is Professor of Social Anthropology and Fellow of All Souls, University of Oxford.

In hardcover, 396 pages, Rs 795. ISBN: 9788187358398

Theravada Buddhism is also in changing in many ways, especially as Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand see many instances of the increased role that monks play in the everyday politics of these countries. An earlier study of this change, by Richard Gombrich and Gananath Obeyesekere is Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change In Sri Lanka from Motilal Banarsidass.

"In this study a social and cultural anthropologist and a specialist in the study of religion pool their talents to examine recent changes in popular religion in Sri Lanka. As the Sinhalas themselves perceive it, Buddhism proper has always shared the religious arena with a spirit religion. While Buddhism concerns salvation, the spirit of religion focuses on worldly welfare. Buddhism Transformed describes and analyzes the changes that have profoundly altered the character of Sinhala religion in both areas. This is the first book to record systematically the cultural impact of the deterioration in how the "other half" lives in Sri Lanka. After Sri Lankan independence in 1948, health care advanced and literacy became universal, but the economy was unable to meet the rising expectations of the exploding population. People became poorer and more mobile, and the village community began to disappear. As new stresses in Sri Lankan society create new psychological needs, changes have occurred in what the authors call Protestant Buddhism (the Buddhism formed under Protestant influence after British conquest). In the spirit cults, morally less scrupulous gods have become prominent, and more people seek and value altered states of consciousness. Finally the authors suggest that developments that seem startling in Sri Lanka are not unprecedented in the religious history of India."

In hardcover, 484 pages, Rs 445, ISBN: 9788120807020,

Nalini Devdas teaches at the Department of Religion at Carleton University in Ottawa. Also from Motilal Banarsidass, a somewhat more recent, and somewhat more philosophical a study is her Cetana and the Dynamics of Volition in Theravada Buddhism which deals with the question of what "the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism have to say about the most basic psychological processes through which alternatives are assessed, purposes are developed, and goal-oriented acts are initiated?

How can Theravada make volitional endeavour central to Buddhist practice, while denying the existence of a self who wills? How can the texts emphasize ethical striving, and yet uphold the principle that all physical and mental acts arise through and conditions? This book adds another perspective to Theravada scholarship by exploring various subtle Pali terms that seek to display the nuances of human motivation. Cetana is shown to be the purposive impetus that links ethically good and bad attitudes of mind with corresponding acts of body, speech, and mind. The argument is made that Theravada does not posit a controlling will, but seeks to establish the possibility of changing attitudes, purposes, and acts through holistic methods of training. Theravada maintains that changes in attitude are possible because the mind has the capacity to observe it own processes of conditioning, and is able to greatly diversify its environment. This work explores whether, within the boundaries of conditioned origination cetana performs the three following functions: forming a purpose, initiating action to pursue the goal specified by that purpose, and directing action towards that goal."

In hardcover, 532 pages, Rs 895, ISBN: 9788120833630

These titles figure in our Religion and Anthropology sections.