(P35) Legacy of Colonialism in Southeast Asian Buddhism
Fri 13:30-15:00 K10 | 3.39
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Facebook Chanting: Monastic Women’s Social Media and Modern Buddhism
Sara Swenson Dartmouth College
In this paper, I explore how monastic women from Vietnam use social media to maintain relationships with one another while pursuing higher education in Buddhist studies overseas. I argue that group chats function as a way for monastic women to collaboratively reframe global education through local Buddhist cosmologies. As such, nuns internalize elements of modern Buddhism while simultaneously maintaining and adapting non-modern popular religious practices. My argument is based on ethnographic data with thirteen Mahayana Buddhist nuns originally based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Between 2015 and 2021, these nuns pursued higher education programs in countries including India, Myanmar, Taiwan, and China. While studying abroad, they remained in contact with one another and with fellow nuns in Vietnam through the social media apps Facebook and Zalo. I begin my paper by describing how nuns provided emotional and spiritual support for one another while comparing their international education experiences in group chats. In their conversations, nuns shared lessons from the more rationalized, modernistic forms of Buddhism they were studying overseas, such as tips on the textual exegesis of sutras. At the same time, they supported one another in sustaining unique aspects of their Vietnamese Buddhist cosmologies by, for example, affirming the legitimacy of one another’s ghost sightings and supernatural dreams. I contextualize this study by considering how modern Buddhism has historically depended on othering popular religious practices that tend to be favored by women in Vietnam. I then conclude by arguing that these monastic women’s experiences show how the globalization of Buddhism is not a monolithic trend – advancing the goals and epistemologies of modern Buddhism – but rather a dynamic process negotiated across digital platforms through localized understandings of gender, embodiment, time, and nature.
From Crisis to Restoration: The Establishment and Role of Gopaka, a Board of Trustees, of Shwedagon Paya
Minji Kang National University of Singapore
While three Anglo-Burmese wars had happened, quite a few pagodas in Burma were damaged in some parts and Buddhists there were afraid that they would lose their traditional faith. The authority of Sangha and the financial situation in pagodas were being severely eroded by the end of patron-client relations between the monarch and Buddhism. In 1886, nine devout elders living in Yangon organized Gawpaka (meaning a guardian or a watch-man in Pali), a board of trustees, of Shwedagon Paya (Pagoda or Buddhist temple in Burmese) for the first time in the history of Burmese Buddhism. The main role of the board was both to protect and maintain the Paya having been neglected in the midst of the vacancy of royal supporters under the British rule. Therefore, Gawpaka had made a great tradition to promote and manage donation by the laity and move forward to reviving Buddhism in spite of the advent of secular colonialism. By exploring the historiography of Gawpaka, for the first time, this study reveals how the board of trustees in a temple struggled to sustain the temple and keep the faith in British Burma.
Thich Nhat Hanh in Context
Alexander Soucy Saint Mary's University
Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most internationally recognized Buddhist leaders, with a large and devoted following. Despite this, there is lack of critical scholarship on him. The biographies of Thich Nhat Hanh are hagiographical in nature, portraying him as a peace activist, as an engaged Buddhist and as a Zen master, and have uncritically relied on insider accounts. Portrayals of Thich Nhat Hanh tend to de-contextualize the Zen and engaged elements of his persona, portraying him as though he was a Zen monk from the beginning, coming from a Zen monastery. In regard to his engaged Buddhism, scholars describe him as being uniquely engaged and, indeed, as the inventor of engaged Buddhism. This paper argues that, while representing a modernist, globalist interpretation of Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh’s development is rooted in the Vietnamese Buddhist experience of the twentieth century, particularly the Buddhist Reform Movement in Vietnam (Chan hung Phat giao) of the early twentieth century.
Why monks did stay in rear of the general uprising against 1st February 2021 military take-over in Burma?
Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière CNRS
In this contribution, I will examine the specificities of monks’ position in the events that have unfolded in Burma since military men have taken over the power on the 1st February of 2021. They so put an end to 10 years of political transition that they had themselves devised after almost fifty years of military authoritarian rule. Through freezing the democratic experience on that very day that the newly elected parliament - with 83% of the seats won by the National League for Democracy (NLD) -, had to meet, the army set the scene for a radical confrontation with the people. Whatever the result of the ongoing conflict, one observation is already due: contrary to the place taken by respectively opposite parts of the Sangha in the 2007 Saffron revolution and in the rise of Buddhist nationalism, monks have not been at the forefront of the events. This will be looked at from the stand point of the colonial legacy of Sangha-state relationships in contemporary Burma.
The European colonization of Asia instigated Buddhist reform movements and the globalization of Buddhism as a world religion. Through these transnational encounters, Buddhism was restructured to conform with the western category of
“religion”. The Buddhist landscape was redefined to strengthen the distinctions between Buddhism and other religions. Reformers restructured Buddhism by positioning Siddhartha Gautama as the founder, locating Bodhgaya as the centre of the Buddhist world, and setting Wesak as the main event of the Buddhist calendar. Orthodoxies were hardened in a way that
marginalized many practices that were central to the lives of most Buddhists in Asia. Internally, Buddhist sectarian lines took on greater relevance. Buddhism and nationalism were also frequently coupled, so that the compulsion to reform Buddhism was tied with modernist projects to uplift countries. Reformers were highly mobile and connected throughout Asia as well as among scholars and converts in the West. While these reform movements were often limited to literate elites in urban centres, the legacy of these movements have continued to exert pressure on the shape of Buddhism across Southeast Asia
in the twenty-first century. The hegemonic weight of modernist discourses has continued to shift the way that Buddhism is viewed and practiced today. The papers in this panel will explore how the legacy of colonialism influences the way Buddhism continues to be transformed in Southeast Asia, among Southeast Asian immigrant communities, and by Western followers of Southeast Asian Buddhist teachers. The panel will discuss topics of: Buddhism, secularism and re-enchantment; the rise of Buddhist charity movements; and the redefining of Buddhist practices such as meditation and ritual donations.