Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes

Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes

Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes

Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes

Excerpt

This is the second of a projected three-volume study of Burma. The first volume, Burmese Supernaturalism, was concerned with Burmese folk religion. The third volume will be devoted to personality and social structure. Although it is my hope that the entire study will constitute an original contribution to Burmese studies as such, my concern in these volumes is not so much with Burma per se, as to use Burmese data to explore in depth certain theoretical relationships among society, culture, and personality.

My interest in Buddhism, the subject of the present volume, was first aroused almost twenty years ago while studying an Israeli kibbutz (Spiro 1955, 1958). Impressed with the otherworldliness (in Max Weber's sense of "otherworldly") inherent in the ideology of that socialist community, I became interested in exploring otherworldliness in a society where this orientation was inspired by a religious rather than a secular ideology. Buddhism immediately suggested itself as an object for exploration. It was not until 1958, however, that a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences provided the leisure to learn about Buddhism and about Southeast Asia. While holding that fellowship I was able, in the summer of 1959, to visit Ceylon and Burma for preliminary investigations preparatory to a systematic field study. The latter was not undertaken until 1961, when with the support of the National Science Foundation I began fourteen months of anthropological field work in Burma. A fellowship at the Social Science Research Institute of the University of Hawaii, as part of its project in Culture and Mental Health (supported by the National Institute of Mental Health) provided the leisure, in 1967-68, to begin work on this . . .

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