Paradox and Nirvana: A Study of Religious Ultimates with Special Reference to Burmese Buddhism

Paradox and Nirvana: A Study of Religious Ultimates with Special Reference to Burmese Buddhism

Paradox and Nirvana: A Study of Religious Ultimates with Special Reference to Burmese Buddhism

Paradox and Nirvana: A Study of Religious Ultimates with Special Reference to Burmese Buddhism

Excerpt

"Buddhism," remarks a Christian theologian, "is the crux of all theories of religion." It is at least true that statements concerning the nature of religion in general are frequently based on some estimate of Buddhism. Thus it is claimed, on the one hand, that Buddhist agnosticism proves the possibility of vital religion without belief in God, and even the superiority of such religion. On the other hand, it is suggested that later developments in Buddhist history prove that man cannot live without God: denial must ultimately yield to faith.

These and similar statements frequently assume that the Southern Buddhist is both more orthodox and more negative than his northern brother. And this more orthodox Buddhism, maintained today in the monasteries of Ceylon, Burma and Siam, indicates, it is sometimes said, that original Buddhism was not a religion at all but an ethic or philosophy in search of religion. The further suggestion is made that this search was only satisfied when Buddhism, re-born and travelling north to China and Japan, became syncretic, turning aside from the original narrow orthodoxy to quench its spiritual thirst at the wells of more positive, more speculative, more religious traditions.

If it is objected that such an estimate fails to account for the missionary vitality of original Buddhism, the reply is sometimes made that Southern Buddhism, while remaining substantially orthodox, degenerated and became a static, monastic scholasticism. To some this presents a picture of monkish moralists who found it possible to sustain an ascetic discipline through long centuries without any vision of those Eternal Realities which inspired similar disciplines elsewhere: a proof that man can dispense with such vision. Others see rather a picture of an excluded laity, outside the monasteries, a picture of ordinary men and women, Buddhists in name perhaps, but animists at heart, left so desolate that they must cling to primitive superstitions: a proof that man, normal man, cannot. live without some vision, however inadequate, of the Beyond.

In this present work a very different picture of Southern Buddhism is presented. Here the monastic life is seen in full, creative relationship to

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