Buddhism has been colonized. This occurred in Sri Lanka as western influences gradually penetrated and corrupted the ancient teachings.
By the early nineteenth century, under British rule, Buddhism in Sri Lanka was, Bechert writes, “exhibiting serious signs of decay.”10 Significantly, at the same time “the influence of Christian schools and missionaries on the country’s educated classes was rapidly increasing.”11 By mid-century, members of this new Anglophile elite feared that Buddhism would disappear altogether from the island by the end of the century. Precisely the opposite occurred: Buddhism underwent radical reforms, eventually strengthening its standing on the island and beyond. From a traditionalist’s perspective, however, this preservation of Buddhism must have seemed a deal with the devil. The Westernized Sri Lankan leaders of this Buddhist “renewal,” writes Bechert,
used, for the most part and without being fully aware of the fact, methods and arguments copied from their opponents. It benefited these reformers, moreover, that, at that time, there were several highly educated Buddhist monks who possessed the ability to formulate the reformers’ concerns in modern terms, and to bring these concerns closer to their contemporaries whose ways of thinking had been strongly influenced by the European mindset. They recognized the necessity of compromising with modern civilization in order to secure the survival of the Buddhist tradition.12
Following the designation for similar compromising tendencies unfolding within the Catholic Church at the same time, Bechert employed the term “Buddhist modernism” to capture the basic character of this emerging form of Buddhism.13 He adds that this modernizing tendency would “eventually gain a foothold in every Buddhist country,”14 from where, of course, it would eventually be exported to the West. Perhaps the most striking claim made by Bechert here is that the Westernized Sri Lankan instigators of the reform had so internalized their former opponents’ values that these values were introduced imperceptibly back into the reformed Buddhism as preeminently Buddhist.
Walli, Glenn. Basic Teachings of the Buddha. New York: The Modern Library, 2007.
Wallis, Glenn. A Critique of Western Buddhism. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.
- Wallis, Glenn. A Critique of Western Buddhism. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018