Devotion in the Buddhist Literature of Medieval Sri Lanka

Author: 
Hallisey, Charles Stephen
Year: 
1988

     This study of devotion in the Buddhist literature of medieval Sri Lanka is . . . a contribution to our historical understanding of the Theravada Buddhist tradition. It is also . . . a contribution to the academic field commonly known as History of Religions, in so far as it explores an alternative definition of the category of devotion." It "develops an understanding of devotion with a focus on pragmatics, seeking to describe devotion as a strategy for relating religious systems to men and women in particular contexts." "The main question that lies behind the research . . . is, what are the strategies available to religious communities and to individuals for creating a sense of personal self-involvement in a particular religious system? Over the course of this dissertation, I . . . interpret devotion as a strategy of self-involvement, a strategy intended to move others to a 'fuller participation' in the religious life of a particular religious community. The initial suggestions for considering devotion as a strategy of self-involvement was taken from comments found in the works of two historians of religions, Joachim Wach and Friedrich Heiler. But the ramifications of their insights were frequently obscured in their writings, simply because they took for granted the commonality of religious experiences of ultimate reality. . . . [I] explore the implications of Wach's and Heiler's suggestions that devotion is a form of religious self-involvement by elaborating on this idea, with the aid of categories and theories drawn from the study of pragmatics in language. . . . My efforts to explore devotion as a strategy of self-involvement have also been guided by suggestions provided by the vocabulary of Sinhala Buddhist tradition itself. The Sinhala notion of 'mamayana' may serve usefully as a shorthand definition of devotion as a strategy of self-involvement." "Throughout this dissertation I . . . [argue] that mamayana was a strategy of self-involvement, promulgated by medieval Buddhist intellectuals to encourage increasingly fuller participation in the Buddhist religious life."
     This exploration of devotion as a strategy of self-involvement . . . led me to focus on the recurrence in medieval Sinhala literature of a few 'inchoate' pronouns surrounded by metaphorical predicates such as 'the Buddha is a mother even to me.' These few pronouns and their metaphorical predicates are at the heart of and are the lifeblood of devotion as a strategy of self-involvement. In short, no deixis, no devotion."
     The study's introduction provides "a value-analysis of the idea of devotion." Next, it describes "devotion . . . as deixis and performative," focusing "on a relatively limited number of linguistic patterns from ordinary language." It argues "that the presence of the composite of possessives and honorifics in the medieval language as well as the development of the idea of mamayana are best understood as parts of a long-term process of sociological and ideological integration within the medieval Buddhist community." The dissertation describes the "religion for ordinary people" in the context of "the historical sociology of medieval Sri Lankan Buddhism" Then it turns to the "necessary task of locating mamayana -- as idea and linguistic pattern -- within the discourse of medieval Sri Lankan Buddhism" with two chapters "which discuss how mamayana is connected to a larger conceptual grouping which includes buddhanussati (recollection of the Buddha) and puja." The final chapter summarizes the main lines of argument and offers some "closing reflections.

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