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Buddhist Preaching and Sinhala Religious Rhetoric: Medieval Buddhist Methods to Popularize Theravāda

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Buddhist preaching is one of the most neglected areas in modern scholarship. In Buddhist societies, though varieties of preaching rituals are found, existing scholarly literature contains only scattered and often inadequate or misleading references to Buddhist preaching. Since both historians of religions and Buddhologists have tended to ignore the role of Buddhist preachers and preaching in Theravāda Buddhism, this paper stresses the importance of paying attention to ‘preaching’ in developing a holistic understanding of Sinhala Buddhism.

Focusing on the term ‘bana,’ this paper examines the development of Buddhist preaching in Sri Lanka. It demonstrates the way bana has functioned in the popularization of Theravāda since the thirteenth century. First, through an examination of inscriptions, it establishes the development of the term bana as an important religio-historical category in Sinhala Buddhism. Second, it examines the specific usage of the term bana in the sense of preaching in the thirteenth century Pūjāvaliya. Finally, focusing on the Butsarana, an early thirteenth century Sinhala text which contains extensive references to bana, it examines the way Vidyācakravartī innovated Theravāda Buddhist intellectual framework by employing an unconventional term such as ‘kāma’ (desire) to describe Theravāda religious concepts in order to popularize them. It argues that Buddhist preaching developed and grew in the context of Sinhala banapot, and functions as a rich cultural, educational, and religious resource influencing the attitudes and practices of Sinhala Buddhists.


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Affiliations: 1: Department of Buddhist Studies Faculty of LettersKyoto UniversityYoshida HonmachiSakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-01, Japan


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