Theravada Buddhist Devotionalism in Ceylon, Burma and Thailand

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Item Code: IDJ945
Author: V.V.S. Saibaba
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2005
ISBN: 8124603278
Pages: 88
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.3" X 5.5"
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Book Description

About the Book

The monograph consists of two parts, of which the first examines the Buddhist devotional practices, from the historical and canonical perspectives of the evolution of the worship of caitya, stupa, relics, symbols and images, It provides a multi-dimensional account of caitya, thupa, relic, symbol and image worship in Theravada Buddhist tradition, in the Sinhalese Vamsa literature and as depicted in the records of the prominent Chinese travelers to India. It throws light on the Buddhist stupa, the Buddha's relics viz, hair, nail, tooth and ashes; the symbols which pre-ceded the Buddha image viz., the bodhi-tree, wheel, bowl, staff, robe, crest, turban, shadow and the Buddha's foot-prints as the objects of devotion and worship and the objectives and benefits of such devotional acts.

Part two elucidates the rise and growth of Buddhist devotionalism in Sri Lanka with special reference to its ceremonies, rituals, pilgrimages as depicted in the devotional literature of Ceylon. Further, it provides an account of devotional Buddhism in Burma by tracing its antiquity; describes Buddha's relics, images and pagodas Buddha's relics, images and pagodas as the objects of veneration. Similarly, it makes a brief survey of Thai Buddhist devotionalism with special reference to Wats, Thai offerings and prayers to Buddha images and their objectives.

The work illuminates the historical and canonical significance of precept and practice of different aspects of Buddhist devotion and how they are demonstrated in the contemporary Buddhist religious life of Ceylon, Burma and Thailand.

About the Author

Dr. V.V.S. Saibaba, (b-1947) Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Andhra University took his Master's Degree in Philosophy in 1973; Senior P.G. Diploma in Sanskrit in 1976 and Ph. D. Degree in 1985. During 1987 to 1989, he was Reader and Head of the Center for Mahayana Buddhist Studies at Nagarjuna University, A.P. Dr. Saibaba has authored the book facets of Buddhist Philosophy: Theravada and Mahayana, and about 40 research papers which have appeared in journals of national and international repute. He has participated in many international and national conferences, seminars.


The present monograph, Theravada Buddhist Devotionalism in Ceylon, Bruma and Thailand, is a seminar contribution to Buddhist historiography. Divided into two parts, the study focuses on Buddhist devotional practices, both from the historical and the canonical perspectives. Significantly it underlines the successive stages in the evolution of the worship of the caity, the stupa, the relics, the images and the symbols. Dr. Saibaba has very convincingly suggested that developments relaxed the monastic rigidity as in the course of popularizing Buddhist worship, amongst the laity, some compromises had to be affected. He concentrates on the development of Buddhist devotionalism as well as the growth of Buddhist worship in Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka.

Obviously, there is a common link amongst these countries as all three of them practice Theravada form of Buddhism. The study also points out the variations in the practices of these three countries despite a common sectarian background. This explains as to why the variations appear. The Theravada doctrine, when translated into forms of worship that could appeal to the laity had to incorporate some of the dominant practices of the popular cults. Dr. Saibaba's comparative study of the development of the three countries on the basis of both the literary and the archaeological sources, underscore the fact the thupa, the pagoda and the wat are not distortions of Buddhism but actually results of the growing popularity of this religion in these countries. Dr. Saibaba has done a commendable job by writing this book, which, I am sure, will create a distinct space in the Buddhist academic world.>i>by Vijay Kumar Thakur


Theravada Buddhist Devotionalism in Ceylon Burma, and Thailand comprises two parts each of which consists of four chapters. Of these, the First part viz., Historical Perspective of Theravada Buddhist Devotionalism, deals with Buddhist devotional practices, from the historical and canonical perspectives of the evolution of the worship of caitya, stupa, relics, symbols and images. It shows that relaxation of the monastic rigidity and the popularized Buddhist worship made Buddhism more appealing to laity or masses. Chapter 1 of the first part, viz., "Caitya and Thupa Worship" gives an account of sanction of stupa worship in Theravada Tradition, in the Vamsa literature and as it is described in the records of the Chinese travelers. It further narrates the stupa as the object of Devotion and Worship and the benefits accrued by such devotional acts, as pointed out in the Buddhist Canonical and other works. Chapter 2, viz., "Relic Worship" while throwing light on the historical perspective of Relic worship briefly describes the worship of hair, nail, tooth relics as well as the ashes of Lord Buddha and the benefits promised by such worship. Chapter 3: "Symbols Worship" provides a brief sketch of worship of symbols which preceded image worship, viz., worship of bodhi-tree, wheel, bowl, staff, robe, crest, turban shadow and footprints of Sakyamuni Buddha. Chapter 4: "Image Worship" endeavours to trace the historical origins of Buddha image, sanction of image worship in Pali canonical and post canonical works and Buddha-image worship as referred in the accounts of Chinese travelers.

Part two of the book, viz., Theravada Buddhist Devotionalism in Ceylon Burma and Thailand surveys the contemporary Buddhist devotional practices in Sri Lanka and two countries of South-East Asia, viz., Burma and Thailand. It drives our attention to the fact that how, based of the modern studies of cultural and social anthropologists, Theravada Buddhist tradition alive in Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand is viewed in terms of Buddhist devotionalism. Chapter 5 of the Second Part, viz., "Theravada an Organic Whole" elucidates how Theravada, is undoubtedly a religion, despite its abstract philosophical tenets and rigid monasticism, owing to its emphasis on religious practices, by venerating Lord Buddha, the holy places associated with him, his images and shrines and by the celebration of Buddhist festivals in South-East Asian countries. Chapter 6: "Buddhist Devotionalism in Sri Lanka" describes the rise and growth of Buddhist Devotionalism in Sri Lanka, and Sinhalese, Sanskrit and Pali languages ranging from fourth century BC to eighteenth century AD. Chapter 7, viz., "Buddhist Devotionalism in Burma" refers to the advent of Buddhism in Burma, antiquity of Burmese Buddhist devotionalism and its development with special reference to the Burmese indigenous Nat-worship, supremacy of Buddha over Nats as the object of veneration, implicit faith in the ever-present, spiritual power of the Buddha, besides devotion to other objects of Buddhist religion such as his relics, images and pagodas; the significant role of prayer and rituals in Burmese Buddhism and the various benefits which they aspire from such worship. Chapter 8: "Buddhsit Devotionalism in Thailand" provides the historicity of Thai Buddhist Devotionalism, Wats as the centres of Buddhist devotiona-lism, different kinds of Thai offerings, prayers to Buddha images, and their aspirations behind such devotional acts.

I express my deep gratitude to Padmavibhushan Professor K. Satchidananda Murty, formerly Vice-Chairman, UGC, Government of India and Professor in the Dept. of Philosophy, Andhra University who not only introduced the special course in Buddhist Philosophy and delivered lectures during 1972-73 but also promoted to subject by supervising my research work. I am indebted to Prof. V.K. Thakur Pro Vice-chancellor, B.R. Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar an eminent scholar in the field of Buddhist History for writing a foreword to this book. My sincere thanks are due to my sister Dr. V. Vizilalakshsmi Head, Dept. of Hindi, University of Pondicherry for her keen interest in this publication. I owe to my wife Smt. Jaya and sons Mr. Vijayaditya and Mr. Vijaya Manjusri Maitreya for al their loving support and for keeping me ever enthusiastic during the preperation of this monograph. I deeply apprecitate Shri K. Ramesh Babu, Sr. Yoga Instructor, Extension Wing of the Institute for Yoga and Consciousness, Andhra University for his valuable assistance. I gratefully acknowledge the generous service rendered by Sri Susheel K. Mittal of D.K. Printworld (p) Ltd., New Delhi for bringing out this book under the series of Emerging Perceptions in Buddhist Studies.


  Dedication v
  Foreword - Vijaya Kumar Thakur vii
  Prologue ix
  Abbreviations xv
Introduction: Buddhist Worship and Devotional Practices in Pali and Avadana Literature
1. Cetiya and Thupa-Worship 9
  Sanction of Stupa-Worship by Earliest Tradition 10
  Thupa-Worship in Vamsa Literature 12
  Thupa-Worship in the Records of the Chinese Travellers 13
  Benefits of Cetiya and Thupa-Worship according to Canonical and Other Works 14
  Bhakti and Thupa-Worship 16
2. Relic-Worship 19
  Historical Perspective of Relic-Worship 19
  Worship of Hair and Nail Relics 22
  Worship of the Tooth Relic 22
  Worship of Other Relics and Ashes 23
  To see Relics is to see the Buddha 24
  Benefits of Relic- Worship 24
3. Symbol-Worship 27
  Worship of Bodhi-Tree 29
  Worship of Wheel, Bowl, Staff and Robe 31
  Worship of Crest, Turban and Shadows 32
  Worship of Footprints 32
4. Image-Worship  
  Origins of Buddha Image 35
  Image-Worship in Pali Canonical and Post-Canonical Works 37
  Image-Worship in the accounts of Chinese Travelers 41
5. Theravada, an Organic Whole 47
6. Buddhist Devotionalism in Sri Lanka 51
  Pilgrimages 56
  Sinhalese Buddhist Devotional Literature 56
7. Buddhist Devotionalism in Burma 59
  Prayer in Burmese Buddhism 65
  Burmese Buddhist Ritualism 65
  Contemporary Burmese Conception of the Buddha and Nirvana 67
8. Buddhist Devotionalism in Thailand  
  Rise of Buddhist Devotionalism in Thailand 69
  Facets of Thai Buddhist Devotionalism 69
  Epilogue 73
  Bibliography 77
  Index: Buddhist Works 83
  Index: Buddhist Words and Proper Names 85

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