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Spreading the Dhamma

Spreading the Dhamma: Writing, Orality, and Textual Transmission in Buddhist Northern Thailand

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    Spreading the Dhamma
    Book Description:

    How did early Buddhists actually encounter the seminal texts of their religion? What were the attitudes held by monks and laypeople toward the written and oral Pali traditions? In this pioneering work, Daniel Veidlinger explores these questions in the context of the northern Thai kingdom of Lan Na. Drawing on a vast array of sources, including indigenous chronicles, reports by foreign visitors, inscriptions, and palm-leaf manuscripts, he traces the role of written Buddhist texts in the predominantly oral milieu of northern Thailand from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Veidlinger examines how the written word was assimilated into existing Buddhist and monastic practice in the region, considering the use of manuscripts for textual study and recitation as well as the place of writing in the cultic and ritual life of the faithful. He shows how manuscripts fit into the economy, describes how they were made and stored, and highlights the understudied issue of the "cult of the book" in Theravâda Buddhism. Looking at the wider Theravâda world, Veidlinger argues that manuscripts in Burma and Sri Lanka played a more central role in the preservation and dissemination of Buddhist texts. By offering a detailed examination of the motivations driving those who sponsored manuscript production, this study draws attention to the vital role played by forest-dwelling monastic orders introduced from Sri Lanka in the development of Lan Na’s written Pali heritage. It also considers the rivalry between those monks who wished to preserve the older oral tradition and monks, rulers, and laypeople who supported the expansion of the new medium of writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6445-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
    (pp. XI-XIII)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. XIV-XIV)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    In its 1967 entry on Marshall McLuhan,Current Biographynotes the criticism that has been directed toward the father of media theory for often taking his ideas too far; it cites as an example his notion that the outcome of the 1960 presidential election was influenced by the simple fact that most people accessed the Kennedy-Nixon debates through the new medium of television rather than radio. In time, this, like many other of McLuhan’s pronouncements, became conventional wisdom, and the insight at the core of his thought—that human culture and technology arise in tandem and are bound by an...

  8. 1 Monks and Memory: The Oral World
    (pp. 21-41)

    It is difficult perhaps for most people in the modern western world, tied as it is to the written word, to understand just how much textual knowledge was maintained in the memories of monks in the ancient world. Indeed, as theGuinness Book of World Recordssuggests (McWhirter 1986, 22), great amounts of text are still maintained in people’s heads in the Buddhist world today. In Thailand, as in other Buddhist countries in Asia, one often hears Pali chanting emerging from the mouths of monks who are gazing straight ahead rather than down at books. One of the impediments to...

  9. 2 Early Thai Encounters with Orality and Literacy
    (pp. 42-62)

    In the thirteenth century the city of Chiang Sæn grew steadily in size and power. Located strategically at a bend in the Mekhong, it was populated primarily by Tai-speaking people who had probably come in the not-too-distant past from the far southeastern regions of China. In 1259 CE, the Tai warrior-king Mangrai took the throne and easily conquered the neighboring warring principalities. To consolidate his power as he moved south, he built a new capital, which he called Chiang Rai. According to the chronicles, hearing of the beauty and riches of Haripuñjaya, he desired to add this city to his...

  10. 3 Golden Age, Golden Images, and Golden Leaves
    (pp. 63-102)

    The previous chapters have shown the ambivalent attitudes that existed towards the medium of writing in Lan Na prior to the Golden Age of Buddhist culture. Turning to the Golden Age itself, which commenced towards the beginning of the fifteenth century in Bodhiraṃsi’s time and lasted for over one hundred years, this chapter continues to outline the literate culture of Lan Na in broad historical and social perspective.

    Three main chronicles produced during or shortly after this period serve as the sources for much of the information in this chapter: the MS from Wat Suan Døk, the TPD from Keng...

  11. 4 The Text in the World: Scribes, Sponsors, and Manuscript Culture
    (pp. 103-132)

    How were written Pali texts in Lan Na produced, stored, and retrieved in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries? While seeking to provide a window onto the manuscript and scribal culture of historical Lan Na, this chapter also seeks to provide a snapshot of what the life of a scribe, donor, or reader might have been like. In doing so, it looks at one of the most important sources for information about this topic—the Pali manuscripts themselves.¹ Although manuscripts constitute the living remnants of historical Pali Buddhist literary culture, they have until recently been overlooked by scholars in the field,...

  12. 5 Turning Over a New Leaf: The Advance of Writing
    (pp. 133-163)

    Following the reign of Bilakapanattu, not long after Lan Na had reached its apex, decline began to set in. Taking advantage of this situation, the Burmese conquered Chiang Mai in 1558 and over the next few years brought all of Lan Na under their control. The reasons for the decline of Lan Na are varied, and Penth convincingly lays out some of the basic economic and political parameters responsible (1994, 59). The lavish religious projects carried out by the kings, such as casting Buddha images out of gold and coveringstūpaswith gold leaf cost money, and in some cases...

  13. 6 Overlooked or Looked Over? The Meaning and Uses of Written Pali Texts
    (pp. 164-203)

    This chapter will delve more deeply into the attitudes and approaches towards the medium of writing and situate these within the constellation of beliefs and practices that make up Buddhism in Lan Na. It will therefore explorehowmanuscripts were being read or otherwise used, andwhythey were being made.

    It is important to consider the words of those who actually made the manuscripts. Various reasons are given in the colophons for making the manuscripts, such as the desire to make merit, to support the religion, and to achievenibbānain a future life. These sentiments, broadly speaking, are...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 204-212)

    Scribes, manuscripts, writing, and memorization have occupied different positions in the various civilizations of the world. A full understanding of the impact of the texts central to these civilizations cannot be reached until the nature of these positions has been at least broadly understood. However, this information, being so fundamental to the actual creation and transmission of the historical record itself, is often buried within it. In this book I have attempted to allow us to “see the strings”—to see the mechanism by which much of the literary wealth of Buddhism in northern Thailand has been created, sustained, and...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 213-232)
    (pp. 233-248)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 249-260)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 261-266)