Deciphering Religious Rivalries in South and Southeast Asia

K.M. de Silva …. introducing Ethnic Conflict in Buddhist Societies in South and Southeast Asia: The Politics behind Religious Rivalries  … with highlighted emphasis  added by The Editor, Thuppahi

Almost from the time of its establishment in 1982 as the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) its academic leadership felt compelled by the challenges of its location in one of the principal Theravada Buddhist societies of South and Southeast Asia, to take a hard and unsentimental look at religion, Buddhism in the Sri Lankan context, as a factor in the prolonged ethnic dispute here.  The dispute in this island had engaged the attention of Sri Lanka’s political class for the two previous decades, while political analysts from Sri Lanka and others from various parts of the world examined the impact of Buddhism on the Sri Lanka polity and the prolonged ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, the situation in Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) provided a convenient comparative basis in the reviews and in the literature in these three Buddhist societies.

Many, if not, most of those engaged in a study of ethnic and or political conflicts in these countries were inclined to the view that Buddhism, the religion of the vast majority of the Sinhalese, the Thais and the Burmese was more important than economic factors in the emergence of most of the conflicts, social and political in these countries, and their prolongation.  For most of us at the ICES, the economic factors and socio-economic issues were more important than differences on religious issues in the emergence and development of the conflict in Sri Lanka and its transformation into a violent dispute.  And in response to these conflicting  views we decided to examine the role of Buddhism as a factor of conflict in the three main Theravada Buddhist societies of South and Southeast Asia—i.e., Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar through a team of scholars at a conference.  The team was a blend of social scientists—historians and political scientists—and Buddhist scholars, that is to say scholars with a knowledge of the texts, ancient and modern.

In 1988, the ICES in association with the Thai Studies Programme of Chulalongkorn University, Thailand organised a conference on “Ethnic Conflict in Buddhist Societies, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma.”  The success of the conference encouraged us to prepare a selection of papers presented at that conference for publication by Pinter Publishers, London and Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, USA.  This was done in 1988 itself shortly after the conclusion of this conference.

I was in the team of editors on that occasion; and agreed to serve as the editor of the volume published in 1988.  There was a consensus of opinion, at the end of the conference, that it would be useful to have another conference on this same theme in a few years’ time, that is to say after responses to the volume of papers chosen for the publication which emerged in 1988 were examined.  The belief was that these responses, and indeed a fresh look with a wider perspective than in 1988, would justify the holding of another conference and a new publication on the same theme.  We believed that this could be done in five years or so.  We were too optimistic in thinking that such a conference could be held in five years or so.  There were many reasons why it took longer than five years for another conference to be held, and for a new publication as a successor to the one that came in 1988.

Inevitably the world of Buddhist societies had changed, quite often very dramatically, in the 25 years between 1988 and 2014.  Conflicts within the Buddhist societies of Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar, took different forms and shapes in this period.  When the first conference was held in 1988, Thailand appeared to be handling the challenges of ethnic pressures on its polity better than Myanmar or Sri Lanka.  By 2014/15, Thailand faced many more problems than it did in 1988.  While Myanmar appeared to be making its way very slowly, to the democratic form or political structure it had in the 1950s and 1960s, its progress toward democracy proved to be too slow and not without new conflicts, one of which is referred to in the chapters of this present volume. Only in Sri Lanka was there a fundamental change, beginning first of all with the defeat of the separatist/terrorist challenge to the Sri Lanka state—by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam—and by the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government at the presidential election of January 2015. The defeat of the Rajapaksa regime appeared to mark the emergence of an important stage in Sri Lanka’s return to its former status of a thriving South Asian democracy.  There is a reference to some of those political changes in Professor Premasiri’s chapter “Buddhist Ethical Principles for Post-Conflict Reconciliation” (chapter four in this present volume). In the volume published in 1988 Professor Premasiri had a chapter entitled “Minorities in Buddhist Doctrine.”  I am very grateful to Professor Premasiri for all his help in regard to the conference we held in June 2014 and in the editing and preparation of this present volume.

All the articles in this present volume—except one, are either papers presented and or discussed at the June 2014 conference in Kandy—the exception is the article by Ven. Mahinda Deegalle.  He preferred to submit this paper for inclusion in the present volume rather than one he presented at the conference.

Many thanks also to Professor John Clifford Holt for his stimulating keynote lecture, an edited version of which appears as chapter 1 of this present volume.

In regard to the publication that would emerge from 2014 conference, the ICES decided to go back to the formula that was so useful in 1988, the pattern of an editorial board, with the editing of the volume being done by one person—me in this instance. Many people helped me cope with the pressures of editing this volume.  My sincere thanks to the Editorial Board, Professor John Holt, Professor P.D. Premasiri, Ven. Dr Mahinda Deegalle and Mr Tissa Jayatilaka for helping me bring this publication to fruition. An early conclusion of the editing process was necessary in view of the fact that Pinter Publishers who published the previous volume in 1988 are no longer in existence, and the new printers/publishers we chose for this present volume had their own priorities and their time tables.

***  **

     John C Holt at Bowdoin College


Figures                                                                                                                    vii

Contributors                                                                                                            ix

Preface and Acknowledgements                                                                      xiii

                               PART I

1   John Clifford Holt  = Militant Buddhists and Minority Others:  Ethnic Conflict inTheravada Buddhist South and Southeast Asia                1

2     Jacques P. Leider  = Background and Prospects in the Buddhist-MuslimDissensions in Rakhine State of Myanmar                                     25

3     John Amos Marston  = Religion and Ethnic Minorities in Cambodia: An Overview                                                                                           57

                    PART II

4   D. Premasiri  =  Buddhist Ethical Principles for Post-War Reconciliation in Sri Lanka                                                                                                     79

5     Asanga Tilakaratne =Buddhism and Ethnicity-Related Tensions in Sri Lanka: Doctrinal Position and Role of Buddhism                                  109

6     Elizabeth Guthrie  = Khmer Buddhism in the Mekong Delta: Sri Lankan Connections                                                                                               123

7     Ven. Mahinda Deegalle  = Hospitality, Religious Respect and Historical Recognition of Non-Buddhist Minorities in Sri Lanka                     143

                      PART III

8     Imtiyaz Yusuf  = Muslim-Buddhist Relations Caught between Nalanda and Pattani                                                                                                            157

9      M. K. Jerryson, Wattana Prohmpetch & D. A. Kessler  Buddhist and Islamic Coping Strategies: Resiliency in Deep South              195

10   Keiko Obuse  =  Japan’s Political Collaborations with Muslims (1854-1945)                                                                                                               217

Bibliography                                                                                                                                                                                    241


Figure 1           Division of the Relics, Wat Angkor Raj Borei, Preah Trapeang/Travinh, Southern Vietnam, ca.1932

Figure 2           Division of the Relics, Wat Bodhisalraj, Preah Trapeang /Travinh, Southern Vietnam, ca.1955

Figure 3           Division of the Relics, Wat Indriyarangsy, Kampong Thom town, Kampong Thom Province, Cambodia, ca. 1958 (photo EG 2011)

Figure 4           Cover, Revue Amicale des Écoles de Pali, Vol. 5, No. 7, 1955

Figure 5           Buddha Relic, Main Altar, Wat Chantarangsy, HCMC, South Vietnam (photo EG 2008)

Figure 6           Son Thai Nguyen and framed Vung Tau Relic Certificate in book case, Wat Chantarangsy, HCMC, South Vietnam (photo EG 2012)

Figure 7           Reliquary and Relic Certificate, Le Kanh Thich Ca Phat Dai, 1963

Figure 8           Book Cover, Vung Tau Inauguration, Le Kanh Thich Ca Phat Dai, 1963


Ven. Mahinda Deegalle is NEH Professor of the Humanities at Colgate University, New York, USA and Reader in Religions, Philosophies and Ethics at Bath Spa University, UK.  He is the author of Popularizing Buddhism: Preaching as Performance in Sri Lanka (2006), the editor of Dharma to the UK: A Centennial Celebration of Buddhist Legacy (2008), Buddhism, Conflict and Violence in Modern Sri Lanka (2006) and co-editor (with Frank J. Hoffman) of Pāli Buddhism (1996).

Elizabeth Guthrie is Lecturer of Buddhism, Southeast Asian Religion and New Religious Movements at the University of Otago, New Zealand.  She co-edited (with John Marston) History, Buddhism and New Religious Movements in Cambodia (2004), written articles on Cambodian Buddhist nuns, the relationship between Buddhism and politics, the biography of the Buddha and the religious iconography of Mainland Southeast Asia.

John Clifford Holt is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Humanities in Religion and Asian Studies.  He is the author of many books, including Buddha in the Crown: Avalokitesvara in the Buddhist Traditions of Sri Lanka (1991), for which he was awarded an American Academy Book Award for Excellence, The Religious World of Kirti Sri:  Buddhist Art and Politics in Late Medieval Sri Lanka (1996), The Buddhist Viśnu (2004), Spirits of the Place: Buddhism and Lao Religious Culture (2009) and The Sri Lanka Reader: History, Politics and Culture (2011).  Theravada Traditions:  Buddhism and Ritual Cultures in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia is forthcoming in the very near future.   He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Peradeniya in 2002, and selected as University of Chicago Alumnus of the Year in 2007.  The John Simon Guggenheim Foundation honoured him with a fellowship in 2014.

Michael K. Jerryson is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Youngstown State University. He is the author of Mongolian Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of the Sangha (2008) and Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand (2011). Co-editor of Buddhist Warfare (2010), the Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence (2013) and the Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism (forthcoming), he looks at the intersections between identity and violence and the ways in which we associate religious identities with peace and violence.

David A. Kessler is Director of Research and Therapist at the Center for Contextual Change in Skokie, Illinois. He specialises in the treatments and interventions for PTSD and executive functioning issues. David facilitates workshops on the neurobiological psycho-education of PTSD and treatment applications as well as the neurobiological psycho-education of ADHD and treatment applications. He is also a speaker and consultant for Eye to Eye in New York and Parents Education Network (PEN) in San Francisco.

Jacques P. Leider is a historian of Myanmar. He has done research and published widely on early modern and colonial Arakanese/Rakhine as well as early modern Myanmar Buddhist history. Several research projects also have led him into Bay of Bengal studies studying the impact of the Portuguese and the Arakanese kings in early modern Southeast Bengal. His recent articles include “Relics, Statues and Predictions–Interpreting an Apocryphal Sermon of Lord Buddha in Arakan” in Asian Ethnology 68(2): 333-64 (2009), “Kingship by Merit and Cosmic Investiture: An Investigation into King Alaungmintaya’s Self-representation” in Journal of Burma Studies 15(2): 165-88 (2011), “Southeast Asian Buddhist Monks in the Peregrinação: Tracing the ‘Rolins’ of Fernão Mendes Pinto in the Eastern Bay of Bengal” in Jorge M. dos Santos Alves (ed.), Fernão Mendes Pinto and the Peregrinação (2010) and “Rohingya: The name, the movement, the quest for identity” in Nation Building in Myanmar (2013).

John Amos Marston is Professor at the Center for Asian and African Studies of El Colegio de México in Mexico City.  He is co-editor (with Elizabeth Guthrie) of History, Buddhism and New Religious Movements in Cambodia (2004) and editor of Anthropology and Community in Cambodia: Reflections of the Work of May Ebihara (2011) and Ethnicity, Borders, and the Grassroots Interface with the State: Studies on Southeast Asia in Honor of Charles F. Keyes (A third edited volume) (2014).

Kieko Obuse teaches at the College of Religious Studies, Mahidol University, Thailand.  She holds a doctorate in the Study of Religion from the University of Oxford, UK.  Kieko’s main research interests include Buddhist-Muslim relations and Islam in Japan. She is currently investigating the Dawah (missionary) activities of ethnic Japanese Muslims. Her main publications include “Muslim Doctrine of Prophethood in the Context of Buddhist-Muslim Relations in Japan: Is the Buddha a Prophet?” The Muslim World 100, Nos 2-3 (2010): 215-32, and “Finding God in Buddhism: A New Trend in Contemporary Buddhist Approaches to Islam,” Numen (forthcoming).

P.D. Premasiri is Emeritus Professor of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.  He served the Department of Philosophy of the University of Peradeniya for 20 years and the Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies for a period of 23 years before his retirement in 2006.  His main research interests are in the areas of Buddhist Philosophy, Buddhist Ethics and Buddhist Psychology.  In addition to teaching courses in the above areas he has also taught courses on Pali language, Western Philosophy and Comparative Religion. He has published nearly 22 articles in the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism published by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of the Government of Sri Lanka and many research papers relating to Buddhist ethics, Buddhist philosophy, Buddhist psychology and comparative philosophy in reputed journals.

 Wattana Prohmpetch is Lecturer at Department of Psychology and Guidance, Faculty of Education, Prince of Songkla University, Pattani Campus. He has taught courses in psychology including clinical psychology, experimental psychology, psychological testing, statistics and research psychology. Wattana also works as a researcher and volunteer for research centres and mental health facilities. His research interests include trauma, mental health, pedagogy, cognition and cross-cultural analyses.

Asanga Tilakaratne is Professor of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.  His publications include Nirvana and Ineffability: A Study of the Buddhist Theory of Reality and Language (1993) and Theravada Buddhism: The View of the Elders (Dimensions of Asian Spirituality) (2012).  He has published, both in Sinhala and English, more than 100 papers and authored and edited several books on Buddhist philosophy, philosophy of language, philosophy of religion, practical ethics, contemporary social and political issues, Buddhist epistemology and logic, and inter-religious understanding.

Imtiyaz Yusuf is Lecturer and Director of the Center for Buddhist-Muslim Understanding in the College of Religious Studies at Mahidol University in Thailand. He specialises in Religion with a focus on Islam in Thailand and Southeast Asia and also Muslim-Buddhist dialogue. He is also Southeast Asia editor for Oxford Islamic Studies Online (2012–) and a member of the standing editorial board of Oxford Bibliography—Islamic Studies. His most recent publications include Asean Religious Pluralism—The Challenges of Building Socio-Cultural Community (2014) and “Islam and Buddhism: From Coexistence to Dialogue” in Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Interreligious Dialogue (2013). His recent articles include “Islamic Theology of Religious Pluralism: Quran’s Attitude towards Other Religions” in Prajna Vihara 11(1): 123-40 (2010) and “The Role of the Chularajmontri (Shaykh al-Islam) in Resolving Ethno-Religious Conflict in Southern Thailand” in American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 27(1): 31-53 (2010).

***  ***


The conference we held in Kandy, Sri Lanka in June 2014, the success it proved to be; especially those who presented papers for the conference and—more to the point—came to Sri Lanka for the conference.  In regard to the publication that would emerge from 2014 conference, the ICES decided to go back to the formula that was so useful in 1988, the pattern of an editorial board, with the editing of the volume being done by one person—me in this instance. Many people helped me cope with the pressures of editing this volume.  My sincere thanks to the Editorial Board, Professor John Holt, Professor P.D. Premasiri, Ven. Dr Mahinda Deegalle and Mr Tissa Jayatilaka for helping me bring this publication to fruition. An early conclusion of the editing process was necessary in view of the fact that Pinter Publishers who published the previous volume in 1988 are no longer in existence, and the new printers/publishers we chose for this present volume had their own priorities and their time tables.

I need to make special mention of the enthusiastic support we had, as usual, from the staff of the ICES in Kandy, especially the ICES accountant who organised the funds we needed for the conference—and more particularly for travel—for those who presented papers or were invited and came to the conference in Kandy.  They came from many countries, ranging from Mexico, the UK, the USA and New Zealand.  Iranga Silva worked with her usual professionalism and commitment to the work at hand to get the edited chapters of this volume ready for publication.  The ICES, Kandy, has been fortunate in having the devoted services of its support staff. Without their enthusiastic help the publications of the ICES including this present one would have taken much longer to reach bookshops and libraries than they seemed possible………………..….K.M. de Silva, Kandy, Sri Lanka,  September 2015



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