The Two Wheels of Dhamma: Essays on the Theravada Tradition in India and Ceylon

The Two Wheels of Dhamma: Essays on the Theravada Tradition in India and Ceylon

The Two Wheels of Dhamma: Essays on the Theravada Tradition in India and Ceylon

The Two Wheels of Dhamma: Essays on the Theravada Tradition in India and Ceylon

Excerpt

The present collection of essays deals with a number of interrelated themes which provide the volume with a cohesiveness that is splendidly accidental, though seemingly planned ab ovo. To be sure, manuscripts were solicited from persons with known research interests in the general area of Theravada Buddhism and the social order. For reasons of length primarily the volume was limited to five essays, though there were several others which might well have been selected. One decision which helped delimit the scope and provide a kind of focus was to include papers dealing only with historical Theravada in India and Ceylon and with contemporary developments within Sinhalese Buddhism. Even here, essays were chosen which dealt expressly with the social order.

Beyond these very general rubrics the aim of the editor was to assemble a number of essays which directly or indirectly paid attention to the complex interplay in Buddhism and Buddhist society between ānācakka and dhammacakka, between "temporality" and "spirituality," or between worldly power and the power of righteousness. The very difficulty of providing adequate glosses for these Pali terms is symptomatic of the problems of interpreting clearly the intriguing interplay between them which has been present throughout Theravada history, in Burma and Thailand in their own ways as in India and Ceylon.

Present discussions of analogous themes, whether within Asian contexts or those in the West, have not infrequently settled for certain terms which often beg more questions than they resolve. One thinks especially of terms such as secular" and "sacred," or "this-worldly" and "other-worldly." Any series of terms is no more than an attempt to capture very complex phenomena; the ones used in these essays may prove no less unsatisfactory. They are, at any rate, as much an attempt to raise further questions about the realities observed as to express misgivings about other sorts of labels. It was felt, however, that the traditional dichotomies more frequently masked than revealed the relationships between "religion" and "society" which have historically been operative within the Theravada scene. Ultimately, there is the effort here to describe and assess the various ways in which Buddhist religious values, conceptions and activities have served to shape the so-called non-religious spheres of Buddhist societies. At first glance, even such a statement merely begs its own set of questions.

The very title given to this collection, The Two Wheels of Dhamma, is indicative of the attempt made to highlight the continuing tension in Theravada between the wheel of power (ānācakka) and the wheel of righteousness (dhammacakka). At its worst, the tension collapses either into a usurping of power by temporal authorities, normally by the state though sometimes even by elements within the Sangha, or into an indifference toward matters temporal through a misconceived notion of Nibbāna. At its best, however, the tension signifies a . . .

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