An interview by Dr Dave Webster of Dr Paul Fuller, about the situation regarding Buddhism in Burma.
Religion, Philosophy & Ethics course at University of Gloucestershire.
See our blog at http://r-p-e.blogspot.co.uk/
July 30, 2014 at 9:53 am
Nice to see Paul in vid. (and Hi to Justin). I agree with Paul that Buddhist history is a story that requires some unpicking and unpacking. It has been idealised and romanticised quite deliberately by Modernist Buddhists.
I tend to point out that, historically, Buddhism has only taken hold in a place when the powerful elite adopted it (this is still conjecture, but I see loads of circumstantial evidence for it). The Monastic sangha often has close ties to government (or even is the government!) and shares many of it’s values of the ruling elite. Sanghas are strictly hierarchical and seniority brings wealth and privilege. Monasteries are traditionally places were wealth and power concentrate. One could argue that the Tibetans came up with the “tulku” system to prevent succession battles. Greg Schopen has noted that almost all archaeological evidence backs up the idea of monasteries having money and even in one case a coin mint. In Tang China the wealth of the monasteries was said to be “incalculable”. Sometimes the monastic sangha was an actual or perceived threat to government authority and was slapped down (late Tang China). There are obvious parallels with Henry VIII and the disestablishment of the monasteries – too much wealth concentrated outside of the reach of the government.
The idea that militant monks might be part of a backlash against Protestant Buddhism which took power out of their hands is an interesting one. Now that the idea has been raised it seems obvious.
On Paul’s blog I recently noted that (nominally) Buddhist countries often have militaristic, authoritarian and even totalitarian governments. Another reader argued that this was simply the default kind of government and that I was over-stating the correlation. However, we can say that Buddhism as a state religion is no protection against oppressive styles of government.
Just a note David, the background noise in this vid was a bit too high and made it hard to hear.
July 30, 2014 at 9:58 am
I agree.. Buddhism hasn’t stood in the way of oppressive regimes..
(Yeah- that cafe wasn’t the best location! Good cake, but too much background noise).
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