Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Political influence of monks (c. 1365-1600)

Local autonomy and elite circulation:
The Political influence of monks (c. 1365-1600)

Building on Sanjay Subrahmanyam's idea of elite circulation the circulation of Buddhist monks, religious elites, between geographically isolated localities, enabled "ideas and mental constructs" to flow across these boundaries hybridizing local expressions, resulting in connected intellectual histories (that cultural zones that seem closed are in fact permeable or porous is another way of expressing this idea).

Circulation of religious elites seems to have been neglected for at least two reasons: 1. The importance of market exchange in the modern era gives many historians a predisposition to look for this sort of evidence (long distance trade and traders) in premodern historical texts (For example see The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World), and 2. Premodern historical texts themselves emphasize the military role of political leaders (warfare and warriors) almost to the exclusion of everything else.

I'm starting to compare how monks exercise political power outside their locality of origin (c. 1350-1600). Here are some examples of the political power of monks culled from early modern historical texts:

1. A Buddhist sermon leads to peace between Ava and Pegu (1394)

2. Itinerant monks and political succession on the Tai-Yunnan frontier (c. 1397)

3. Sri Lankan monks in Mingyinyo's Toungoo (c. 1492)

4. When Tabinshwehti takes Ayutthaya he brings back monks with "one-shoulder and chest binding" practices to Pegu (Pranke, 2004, 219, 339).

5. "Dhammazedi purifies the Mon Sasana. Delegation of Mon monks sent to Sihala Island [Sri Lanka] for reordination. Monks throughout Ramanna laicized and reordained into the Sihala Mahavihara lineage. Ill-disciplined monks unfrocked. Monks ordered to surrender contraband property or leave the order" (Pranke, 2004, 339; Also see weblog entry on the Dhammazedi Bell).


Pranke, Patrick Arthur (2004) The "Treatise on the Lineage of Elders" (Vamsadipani): Monastic Reform and the Writing of Buddhist History in Eighteenth-Century Burma, Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Michigan. [Contains a translation from the Burmese of the 'Vamsadipani' or "Treatise on the Genealogy of Elders" which chronicles the history Buddhism in Burma].