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Favorite Buddhist Books (not Suttas) And Reference Websites

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Thought-provoking. In Sri Lanka many Buddhists are extremely paranoid about Christian incursions there, while in Thailand no one gives it much thought at all. The Thais seem much more secure in their beliefs than the Sinhalese, by comparison.

Seeking to reform Buddhism in order to save it seems to me to run counter to basic Buddhist philosophy.

When you take things it is because of a thirst, a clinging, and a grasping.

You should lose that and lose it altogether, above, below, around, and within.

It makes no difference what it is you are grasping. When you grasp, you are losing your freedom.

Realize this and grasp at nothing.

Then you will cease being a creature of attachment, tied to the powers of death.

-Sutta Nipata

Perhaps that is because Sri Lanka was under Christian rule (Portuguese, Dutch & British) for close to 500 years (longer than the history of the USA, Australia, NZ) and Buddhism was actively persecuted during that time - temples destroyed and churches built on them, monks killed, libraries burnt, Buddhist events (like Vesak) banned, education provided only to converts, government jobs provided only to converts, anti-Buddhist books and public gatherings -- the whole shebang. Interestingly, the Theosophists played an important role in the revival of Buddhism towards the end of British rule by setting up private Buddhist schools (so that Buddhists did not have to convert to Christianity to get an education), setting up Buddhist newspapers to counter Christian propaganda and urging the British to grant the rights for the native Buddhists to practice their religion in public and make Vesak a public holiday just like Christmas day.

In contrast, Thailand was never conquered by Christians nor were Buddhists ever actively persecuted by Christians (infact Thailand is one of few Asian countries that has never come under colonial rule). That might explain why as you claim, "In Sri Lanka many Buddhists are extremely paranoid about Christian incursions."

Edited by devitt

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If modern day Buddhism is so weak and rotten that it can be destroyed by these missionaries then maybe it is a good thing. As the Buddha pointed out all is impermanent and weak Buddhism hardly seems better than no Buddhism.

Interesting point of view, but I think some sort of Buddhist activism is required in today's world :o

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Thought-provoking. In Sri Lanka many Buddhists are extremely paranoid about Christian incursions there, while in Thailand no one gives it much thought at all. The Thais seem much more secure in their beliefs than the Sinhalese, by comparison.

Seeking to reform Buddhism in order to save it seems to me to run counter to basic Buddhist philosophy.

When you take things it is because of a thirst, a clinging, and a grasping.

You should lose that and lose it altogether, above, below, around, and within.

It makes no difference what it is you are grasping. When you grasp, you are losing your freedom.

Realize this and grasp at nothing.

Then you will cease being a creature of attachment, tied to the powers of death.

-Sutta Nipata

Perhaps that is because Sri Lanka was under Christian rule (Portuguese, Dutch & British) for close to 500 years (longer than the history of the USA, Australia, NZ) and Buddhism was actively persecuted during that time - temples destroyed and churches built on them, monks killed, libraries burnt, Buddhist events (like Vesak) banned, education provided only to converts, government jobs provided only to converts, anti-Buddhist books and public gatherings -- the whole shebang. Interestingly, the Theosophists played an important role in the revival of Buddhism towards the end of British rule by setting up private Buddhist schools (so that Buddhists did not have to convert to Christianity to get an education), setting up Buddhist newspapers to counter Christian propaganda and urging the British to grant the rights for the native Buddhists to practice their religion in public and make Vesak a public holiday just like Christmas day.

In contrast, Thailand was never conquered by Christians nor were Buddhists ever actively persecuted by Christians (infact Thailand is one of few Asian countries that has never come under colonial rule). That might explain why as you claim, "In Sri Lanka many Buddhists are extremely paranoid about Christian incursions."

I agree. The contrasting histories of the two countries explain the attitudinal differences well.

Furthermore I think you can take that argument a step further back, as long as we're talking about remote vs proximate causes, and consider the fact that European powers were able to colonise Sri Lanka, but not Thailand. I realise many people today consider that a cliched argument, but I still firmly believe there is something different about Thailand/Thai culture (contrasted with other South and Southeast Asian cultures) that made it more resistant to colonialism during the imperialist era, and makes it more resistant to Christian proselytising today. Difficult to prove in either case.

I've spend a considerable amount of time in Sri Lanka as well as Thailand, and to me there's a quite a self-confidence gap between Sinhalese Buddhists and Thai Buddhists, for whatever reason. Visibly less adherence to the Vinaya as well, which may make them easier targets for missionaries, who knows?

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I agree. The contrasting histories of the two countries explain the attitudinal differences well.

Furthermore I think you can take that argument a step further back, as long as we're talking about remote vs proximate causes, and consider the fact that European powers were able to colonise Sri Lanka, but not Thailand. I realise many people today consider that a cliched argument, but I still firmly believe there is something different about Thailand/Thai culture (contrasted with other South and Southeast Asian cultures) that made it more resistant to colonialism during the imperialist era, and makes it more resistant to Christian proselytising today. Difficult to prove in either case.

I've spend a considerable amount of time in Sri Lanka as well as Thailand, and to me there's a quite a self-confidence gap between Sinhalese Buddhists and Thai Buddhists, for whatever reason. Visibly less adherence to the Vinaya as well, which may make them easier targets for missionaries, who knows?

In my experience people who have been colonised do have a mentality that is different to those who have not been colonised. The subcontinent (India, Pakistan Bangladesh & Sri Lanka) were under the British. Sri Lanka was colonised for a far longer period than her neighbours and included the Portuguese and Dutch. There you will find Buddhists who have Portuguese names - their native ones having been rubbed out. During the British period English first names were the norm (because one had a better opportunity with jobs if you had a Christian name). In the subcontinent generally everything from the west is often regarded as superior to the native. Native languages are always on a second place after English. People who aren't able to speak English are regarded as backward and primitive. When elites meet they will speak only in English and not in Hindi, Bengali, Sinhalese, Gujarati or whatever language their mother tongue is because to speak the mother tongue is considered backward. Also for a long time folks in Sri Lanka and India were presented with the idea that Buddhism and Hinduism were primitive idolatorous religions while Christianity was the truth of civilised people. Colonial mentalities still linger. Thailand (luckily) didn't have to deal with all that crap.

I have spent time in Thailand and agree with you about Thai society. Thailand was never colonised by the west so they do not have the 'slavish/subordinate mentality' (if I can call it that) that prevails in many other places in Asia.

BTW during the colonial period the Sangha was almost brought to non-existence in Sri Lanka until a resourceful Sri Lankan king sent an entourage to Thailand requesting the Thai King to send a Buddhist mission for higher ordination and preserve the religion. Thai monks were sent to Sri Lanka to ensure the continuation of the Sangha and today the biggest sect in the island the "Siam Nikaya" which is of Thai origin.

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BTW during the colonial period the Sangha was almost brought to non-existence in Sri Lanka until a resourceful Sri Lankan king sent an entourage to Thailand requesting the Thai King to send a Buddhist mission for higher ordination and preserve the religion. Thai monks were sent to Sri Lanka to ensure the continuation of the Sangha and today the biggest sect in the island the "Siam Nikaya" which is of Thai origin.

Yes, and another name for Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka is Siam Upali Vamsa (syamopalivamsa), meaning the lineage (vamsa) of the Siamese Upali, a reference to Upali Thera, the Thai monk who restored the Sangha in SL.

Conversely Thais often refer to the Theravada lineage in Thailand as Lankavamsa (Langkhawong), since the first Thailand ordinations in the current lineage were held by Sri Lankan monks around 700 years ago.

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If modern day Buddhism is so weak and rotten that it can be destroyed by these missionaries then maybe it is a good thing. As the Buddha pointed out all is impermanent and weak Buddhism hardly seems better than no Buddhism.

:D

Buddhism is not decaying or weakening by any means. In fact you will find that Buddhist teaching is spreading in Europe and the U.S. rapidly. Perhaps some of the more organized Buddhist traditions (including Thailand) are not growing as fast as before, but all you have to do is go online to the Buddhist site www.e-sangha.com and you will meet Buddhists from all over the world. Of all Buddhist traditions and creeds.

I'm sure you can find at least a few who were (or feel they still are) Christians, but have converted (if that is the correct term) to a Buddhist perspective. (There is no prohibition against being a Christian, and a Buddhist at the same time.)

So I'm not worried about evangelists "converting" people.

:o

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If modern day Buddhism is so weak and rotten that it can be destroyed by these missionaries then maybe it is a good thing. As the Buddha pointed out all is impermanent and weak Buddhism hardly seems better than no Buddhism.

:D

Buddhism is not decaying or weakening by any means. In fact you will find that Buddhist teaching is spreading in Europe and the U.S. rapidly. Perhaps some of the more organized Buddhist traditions (including Thailand) are not growing as fast as before, but all you have to do is go online to the Buddhist site www.e-sangha.com and you will meet Buddhists from all over the world. Of all Buddhist traditions and creeds.

I'm sure you can find at least a few who were (or feel they still are) Christians, but have converted (if that is the correct term) to a Buddhist perspective. (There is no prohibition against being a Christian, and a Buddhist at the same time.)

So I'm not worried about evangelists "converting" people.

:o

And that is why I said 'if'.

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Buddhism is not decaying or weakening by any means. In fact you will find that Buddhist teaching is spreading in Europe and the U.S. rapidly. Perhaps some of the more organized Buddhist traditions (including Thailand) are not growing as fast as before, but all you have to do is go online to the Buddhist site www.e-sangha.com and you will meet Buddhists from all over the world. Of all Buddhist traditions and creeds.

I'm sure you can find at least a few who were (or feel they still are) Christians, but have converted (if that is the correct term) to a Buddhist perspective. (There is no prohibition against being a Christian, and a Buddhist at the same time.)

So I'm not worried about evangelists "converting" people.

:o

Good points, IMA. I'm more worried about the mentality of the evangelists and the impact this mentality can have on Western societies.

My experience with Indochinese refugees in Australia, who were often sponsored or assisted by Christian groups in their early days is that, of those who were then baptized, they were quite happy to call themselves Christians, but it appeared to make no difference to their participation in the life of the Wat, once they'd got one established. Being Christian and Buddhist didn't seem to present any issue at all for them.

I get the impression also from discussion forums among Masters students in (Christian) Theology that at least these Western Christians (mainly Catholic) are beginning to accept that religious boundaries can be porous and exclusivism is clearly unacceptable. Of course it requires some open-mindedness and some willingness to shed and renew.

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My experience with Indochinese refugees in Australia, who were often sponsored or assisted by Christian groups in their early days is that, of those who were then baptized, they were quite happy to call themselves Christians, but it appeared to make no difference to their participation in the life of the Wat, once they'd got one established. Being Christian and Buddhist didn't seem to present any issue at all for them.

I think this is true of Asians in general.

In the West we have a long history of wars, inquisitions etc, and "people of the book" telling those that don't believe that they are going to hel_l if they don't convert. You are either in one camp or in the other according to the world view of many "people of the book".

Wheras in Asia we see a long history of pragmatism, of merging new religions with old local beliefs, of hedging your bets and having your feet in more than one camp.

I don't know which is better but I know who I'd rather have living next door.

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If I may comment on the book review. The reviewer is so biased against what he understands as Christianity, evangelism and missions work that he is surely not impartial. Yes, such examples of Christian faith exist, and the book he reviewed is surely a bad example of such Christian work and belief. I question whether much of the modern missionary work is this absurd. I have used that caricature in my novel, only for a very old, hardened missionary who graduated from Wheaton Seminary around 1959 and (as one of his contemporaries later judged him) did not change his views in forty years.

As for the Christianity to which many indigenous Asian and Mayan converts are persuaded to believe: it is often a philosophy and lifestyle so much like their unconverted neighbors as to be useless, worthy only of being spat out by the Godhead or by the Lord Buddha. Too many Christian evangelists and missionaries are little more than head-counters, as worthless as the corporate accountants who are derided as bean-counters. I know that Jesus' most important mandate was to go out into the world and make disciples who would obey Jesus' commands of love and non-violence, not just to build new church buildings or wats.

Perhaps Westerners are turning to Buddhism for much the same reason as Asians turn to Christianity: their domestic-national religion fails so utterly that they are desperate to find something better.

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If I may comment on the book review. The reviewer is so biased against what he understands as Christianity, evangelism and missions work that he is surely not impartial.

He's expressing he's opinions, so of course he's not impartial. I would be interested to hear your review of a book that states "Does it break God's heart today that hundreds of millions of Buddhists are marching to hel_l with little or no gospel witness? Does it break the Savior's heart that millions worship lifeless idols instead of the true, glorious Heavenly Father?"

Yes, such examples of Christian faith exist, and the book he reviewed is surely a bad example of such Christian work and belief. I question whether much of the modern missionary work is this absurd.

I think it is, whether it's Baptist, Catholic or another brand. If you travel to the North you'll find them hard at work with the hilltribes, as they've given up on the Thais who are secure in their beliefs. This is the case all over Asia, Christian groups are targeting desperate and marginalized ppl.

As for the Christianity to which many indigenous Asian and Mayan converts are persuaded to believe: it is often a philosophy and lifestyle so much like their unconverted neighbors as to be useless, worthy only of being spat out by the Godhead or by the Lord Buddha.

To what degree do you feel they need to abandon their traditional believes and practices in order to be 'useful'.

Too many Christian evangelists and missionaries are little more than head-counters, as worthless as the corporate accountants who are derided as bean-counters.

I agree they perform a similar task to the bean counters, which is why their bosses appreciate their work.

I know that Jesus' most important mandate was to go out into the world and make disciples who would obey Jesus' commands of love and non-violence, not just to build new church buildings or wats.

This is something you believe, not know. It's important to understand the difference.

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Smithson, thanks for your comments. We agree on many points. I agree that the position of the author, quoted by the rewviewer, was outrageous.

I do not believe in a missionary attitude that sees Western civilization as a high point, and Western customs superior to native customs. No need to replace a statue of the God of Corn with a Christmas tree or Easter bunny. I found the Jesuits (yes, really!) in Chiapas to be the most understanding of letting the Mayan converts retain their customs and uses, and the Evangelicals to be the least understanding.

You are right that the Christians find the Hill Tribes to be a more fertile mission ground. Could that be due in large part to the Buddhist Thais marginalizing the Hill Tribes? I do not know, just wanted to ask.

Yes, my understanding of Jesus' commands are my belief, not fact. Thanks again. My point was actually a counter-missionary one.

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Just a few points about the Catholic mission/s in Thailand (and a bit about the Protestants).

It's worth noting that:

  • There has been a Catholic community in Siam/Thailand since before the first Catholic clergy were appointed in Ayutthaya in 1567. The two Portuguese Dominicans sent out in that year were sent as pastors to minister to the Catholic community, not to evangelize the Buddhist population.

  • There have been Catholic churches and communities in Bangkok since at least 1674 when the Church of the Immaculate Conception was built in Samsen District.

  • Unlike the Protestant churches, Catholic missionary activity in Siam/Thailand has always been focused on education, medical provision and social welfare and development. It was always made quite clear by the Siamese/Thai authorities up to the reign of Rama V that evangelization through proselytization was not welcomed. Apart from an unfortunate lapse during the reign of Narai the Great (late 17th century), encouraged by his Greek Prime Minister, Constantine Faulkon, the Catholic missions have, to my knowledge, largely respected Thai sensitivities. People have become Catholics, however, over the years and Catholic villages have emerged, particularly in areas where ethnic minorities, such as Chinese immigrants, mountain people, or descendants of Vietnamese Catholic refugees (since the 18th century) have settled.

  • Rama IV encouraged Western Protestant missionaries, such as the Bradleys and Dr Samuel McFarland, because of their expertise in education, health care, printing and publishing etc. and maintained excellent relations with the Catholic missionaries and a close friendship with their Apostolic Vicar, Bishop Pellegroix,from whom he learnt Latin in exchange for lessons in Sanskrit and Pali. Rama V continued this, inviting Dr McFarland to establish the first bilingual schools in Thonburi-Bangkok, but with the proviso that no Christian proselytization was to take place.

  • The Protestant missionaries who came in the reign of Rama V more actively sought converts and the seeds of bitterness and distrust between Christians and Buddhists in areas worked by those missionaries persisted until recently. Hopefully, mutual respect and understanding has replaced the distrust, at least in those villages where the Christian community has been established for a long time. Dr Herb Swanson, a former Presbyterian missionary in Chiang Mai province has a very good website covering his own and the broader Thai church experience. http://www.herbswanson.com/

  • Foreign Catholic missionaries are rather thin on the ground now in Thailand, though there are some and, of those, some have been here for 50 or 60 years and, hence, are not naïve about what is possible and desirable. Most members of missionary orders such as the Redemptorists are Thai and they work in Bangkok in Catholic parishes, in places like the Mercy Center in Klong Toey, and in Catholic villages in various parts of Thailand. They have no illusions about "converting" people from anything other than ignorance, disease, hunger and demoralization (through poverty and powerlessness). Of course, being religious missionaries, they can always be accused of having hidden agendas, taking advantage of people's misfortune, etc., but to decide if that's the case you'd have to find out more about them and their work.

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You are right that the Christians find the Hill Tribes to be a more fertile mission ground. Could that be due in large part to the Buddhist Thais marginalizing the Hill Tribes? I do not know, just wanted to ask.

Yes, the hill tribes are fertile ground partly because they are marginalized. Indigenous ppl around the world are marginalized and there are many groups trying to help them. Some of the work done by Christians groups is good, some isn't. There is a website about a boarding school run by baptists. It seems the aim of the school is to get the kids away from their traditional culture.

Yes, my understanding of Jesus' commands are my belief, not fact. Thanks again. My point was actually a counter-missionary one.

Sorry if I seem harsh, however I think it's important to point this out.

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[*]Unlike the Protestant churches, Catholic missionary activity in Siam/Thailand has always been focused on education, medical provision and social welfare and development.

Similar to the other brands, there are Catholic missionaries keen to convert. I visited a Catholic center in the North. Part of their work included helping hill tribe ppl gain Thai citizenship thru DNA testing. The foreign priest could help individuals, however only if they were Catholic. This was not the choice of the Church, but a government requirement, however it was convenient for the Church.

At the time of the visit a Thai priest commented that Thais were difficult to convert, so now the Catholics were focusing on hilltribes. Some of the others on the visit were not happy about this aspect of the project. However they kept their opinions to themselves and more funding was granted.

Foreign missionaries working also mentioned not being happy that Catholic hill tribe ppl kept some of the traditional practices.

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