The Life of Buddhism

The Life of Buddhism

The Life of Buddhism

The Life of Buddhism


Bringing together fifteen essays by outstanding Buddhist scholars from Asia, Europe, and North America, this book offers a distinctive portrayal of the "life of Buddhism." The contributors focus on a number of religious practices across the Buddhist world, from Sri Lanka to New York, Japan to Tibet. The essays highlight not so much Buddhist doctrine or sacred texts, but rather the actual behavior and lived experience of Buddhist adherents.

A general introduction by Frank E. Reynolds and Jason A. Carbine provides a historical overview and briefly characterizes the three major variants of Buddhist tradition--the Hinayana/Theravada branch practiced in Sri Lanka and much of Southeast Asia; the Mahayana branch located most notably in East Asia; and the Vajrayana/Esoteric branch established in Tibet and Japan. It also takes note of a distinctive form of Buddhism that is now emerging among non-Asian practitioners in the West. The editors introduce each essay with a brief commentary that situates its contents within the Buddhist tradition as a whole.

The pieces offer concise depictions and analyses of particular aspects of Buddhist life, including temple architecture and iconography, the consecration of sacred objects, meditative practices, devotional expressions, exorcisms, and pilgrimage journeys. Topics discussed also include the construction of religio-political and religio-social hierarchies, gender roles, the management of asocial behavior, and confrontati


Temples and monastic complexes have long formed a fundamental component of Buddhist religious expression and practice. They have contained highly segregated halls for monastic living, meditation, and study. They have also contained other halls, edifices, artistic representations, and images for devotional expression of a more inclusive character. Buddhist temples and monasteries have served as a primary locus for collective rites and ceremonies. Among the most important of these rites and ceremonies are monastic legal proceedings (such as higher and lower ordinations) and procedures in which the laity takes moral precepts (for example, not to kill, lie, and steal). Others include annual community fairs and celebrations, especially those surrounding the lives and deeds of Buddha(s) and bodhisattvas. Finally, there are also daily prayers and petitions to the Buddha(s), bodhisattvas, and hosts of other supernaturally powerful beings that seek to draw upon the powers of these beings to assuage a range of day-to-day problems and concerns. These problems and concerns include, among others, illness, financial troubles, disruptions in the natural world such as droughts and floods, and anxieties concerning personal relationships and the stability of the social and political order.

Buddhist temples and monastic complexes (and the monks who live in them, manage their upkeep, and oversee their daily and annual rites and ceremonies) have traditionally been focal points for significant and often elaborate acts of lay piety and generosity. These acts have been

The essay in this chapter was taken from James Bissett Pratt, The Pilgrimage of Buddhism and a Buddhist Pilgrimage (New York: Macmillan, 1928), 503–;12. Courtesy of AMS Press.

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