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Threavada Buddhism in Southeast Asia

By Frank Simons

Buddhism changed as it expanded out of its homeland in the north of India. Disputes generated a series of sectarian movements. An early sects still active is Theravada, the “doctrine of the elders,” tradition. A taste of this tradition is offered by looking at representative figures who shaped the movement.

Video Presentation
Buddhism. Part 9, Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia
Thu, Feb 11, 5:30pm
The Meditation Center
Callejón Blanco 4
Free, donations accepted

King Asoka (reigned 269-238 BCE) became the prototype of the “righteous king,” whose son became a missionary to Sri Lanka. The brutality of the campaign he waged as king against the Kalinga kingdom provoked Asoka to convert to Buddhism. After conversion he proclaimed himself a “righteous king,” a protector of the dharma. One of his Rock Edicts says, that he felt sorrow at having conquered the Kalingas. He wishes all beings to be safe, restrained, and even-keeled in the face of violence. Asoka considers the foremost form of conquest to be dharma-conquest. He sent missionaries to spread the Buddha’s teaching, and his actions have served as a model for the “righteous king.” He is legitimated by the religious authority of the monks.

King Mongkut of Thailand (reigned 1851-1868) spent 25 years as a monk. Then, as king, he instituted a reform movement to modernize Thai monastic life. He believed this community needed to be purged of “superstitious” practices and returned to the pristine model of the Pali canon. He created the Thammayut movement, extended during the reign of his son throughout the Thai sangha and given the status of official orthodoxy. Thailand is still an example of the close alliance between king and sangha in the extension and protection of Buddhist values.

Aung San Sun Kyi, leader of a democratic protest movement in Burma, was the recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. Her father, national hero General Aung San, led the Burmese liberation movement during WWII and was assassinated in 1947, when she was two years old, before Burma’s independence. Educated in Rangoon, Delhi, and Oxford, she returned to Burma in 1988 due to her mother’s illness. She became involved in a spontaneous revolt against oppressive military rule and was placed under house arrest. There is force and eloquence in her words. In Freedom from Fear, she says, “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” Her career brings together modern democratic values and the fundamental Buddhist values of courage, patience, toleranc,e and non-violence. It is a powerful mix. Here, they play a forceful and active role in political life.

The course of 24 lectures is presented by Professor Malcolm David Eckel, professor of Religion and Director of the Core Curriculum at Boston University, who holds graduate degrees from Oxford and Harvard. An expert on Buddhism, comparative religion, and Asian faiths, Eckel has written insightful books on Buddhist philosophy, including Buddhism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places.


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