Phil Kaveny

The Works of Philip Kaveny

The Emergence of Protestant Buddhism In late 19th Century Sri Lanka: Some Global Connections, Three Different Possible Routes of Transmission, and a Possible Precursor

Philip Kaveny

Buddhism 312

Dr. Johnston

Dec. 22th 2016

Term paper


The Emergence of Protestant Buddhism In late 19th Century

Sri Lanka: Some Global Connections, Three Different Possible Routes of Transmission, and a Possible Precursor


I chose   the complex,  interrelated,  historically  inter-penetrated,  relationship  between Buddhism and Colonialism as my paper topic because it was a recurrent and interesting  question  in both our assigned and optional  readings, assigned  and optional videos, and even some of my after- class discussions with our instructor. Even upon reflection Dr Ruben Habito’s interactive, distance-education presentation to our class was at least grounded to an extent in a four-hundred-year Philippine colonial experience. They survived under Spanish, American, and even Japanese control. I would add American-postcolonial until the end of the Ferdinand and Esmeralda’s era in the 1980’s


At this point in the paper I can say that I rather naïvely did not know what I was getting into. But I had a kind of pleasant surprise which I found intellectually encouraging. In the process of doing  this paper the most interesting and in way encouraging thing I came up was at least a snapshot of what would come to be known as Protestant Buddhism and the role of certain Western colonial scholars in making previously inaccessible Sri Lankan Buddhist texts accessible in English language editions. Many of these same texts now reside on my Amazon Kindle where I have started to read at least some of them, and I paid less than a dollar for some and in other cases got them for free. I also want to note that these same texts I now own have a text-to-speech feature. This special feature is particularly useful to me because, along with my dyslexic learning disability, I am gifted with audio-text-to -speech processing ability at the rate of 4x normal reading speed, sometimes with different audio sources plugged in each ear. I am not saying that these texts have not been surpassed by more recent scholarly work going back to the original source material, if still extant, but at least I find myself in the position of the perhaps informed late 19th, or 20th or early 21st    century, informed, Western, public reader with some sense of the responsibilities of world citizenship and a global ethical imperative as I have said elsewhere.  [1]

Before I go any farther, because we live in what may well be the last age of globalism and what may be thought of as the age of neo-colonialism it is necessary to deal with the nine-ton elephant it the room and recognize that throughout much of the post-colonial world[2] the word colonialism is a not a value-neutral term, it is pejorative at best and some would go as far as call it a dirty world. As has Cuba’s recently deceased Fidel Castro, that has been the case for fifty-six of the last fifty-eight years, something that is part of my lived expiernece. I remember Jack Parr (the first host of the tonight show, doing an on-site interview with Castro shortly after he took power in Havana around New Year’s 1959, when I was fourteen years old. Castro was portrayed as a comic-opera buffoon, yet forty months later his field commanders had the launch keys for nuclear weapons in their hands during the Cuban Missile Crisis  Those missiles had warheads in the megaton range  and  the capability  of reaching Seattle[3] . At that point I was of draft age and a college freshman. It is always a danger to place the launch key to Armageddon in the hands of a buffoon, which some have suggested our current president elect appears to be acting the part of.  If he keeps chatting up the President of Taiwan it may it again be equated with Imperialism and be promoted, in a somewhat archaic expressing, to a fighting word with global consequences.



For example we turn to The Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (first published Tue May 9, 2006; substantive revision Tue Apr 10, 2012):  “Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. One of the difficulties in defining colonialism is that it is hard to distinguish it from imperialism.”[4]  Therefore for the purpose of this brief foray into the subject of colonialism and Buddhism it is one of my major intentions to treat the subject of colonialism in a more than usually intellectually charitable manner.[5]  If at least for no others reason than if one includes the Hellenic Phoenician city state system one might argue existed prior to the conquests of Alexander as one of modern colonialism’s antecedents, that is to say the 9th to the 4th C. B.C.E., one can even say it is a coincidence.  Buddhism and colonialism in the various iterations appear to be interrelated, and to a greater or lesser extent to embody one axiom of Buddhism that everything changes.

The topic is vast and controversial in that it involves the interaction of two exceedingly complex systems.  One, Buddhism, extends in its origins and multinational iterations to several centuries earlier than the emergence of the Common Era, and yet currently has several hundred million practitioners worldwide and is continuing to evolve and interact in interfaith dialogs particularly in 21st century in America, including dialogues between practicing ordained religious professionals.[6] Even though Modern nation-state European Colonialism might be thought of as a new kid on the block as far as deep historical time and long-running historical systems, since it is a system of barely half a millennium in duration, nevertheless the Western colonial era timespan of a single long human lifetime means one can speak of a score of human generations as having transpired since the first Portuguese warship showed its flag off the coast of Sri Lanka in 1505 and fired its first broadside in order to assert its domination over the European spice trade, it’s fair to say we are talking about long-running historical phenomena, both stretching across deep time and space. Therefore, it is obviously necessary to narrow the focus of this paper.

For enabling this option I have Yarina Liston (to whom I just now sent a Facebook note), in “Buddhism during British Colonialism.”[7] Her paper allows me to follow up some key points of interaction between the Buddhist religion and its practices, and the operation of the British colonial system. Her paper is also exceedingly useful because it transcends some of the constraints of someone like the late professor Said who in his now forty-year-old, paradigm-shattering work Orientalism, sought to dismiss nearly any work done in the Western world on the non-Western world as, during the colonial period as nothing but an ideological tool used as a mechanism of exploitation. [8] With only brief acknowledgement that Buddhism was present in Sri Lanka for seventeen or eighteen centuries before the appearance of the first British Man of War one may say something about its social, political, religious, and cultural functions. We can say, for example, drawing from Liston, that the Sri Lankan model of Buddhism featured the interaction between the Sri Lankan monarch and the culture.  He was not only answerable to God but in fact was answerable to both at least sections of the laity and the Buddhist Sangha (monastic community, 290).  This social fact was to be a major factor during the late British colonial period (1796-1948), and later.[9]

Yet the Liston paper seems to suggest a kind dialectical colonial re-vitalization of 19th century Sri Lankan Buddhism after its institutional power had been reduced by the economic expansion of British colonial power due to changes grounded in the British manufacturing system and demand for both works and products to expand the British colonial rule.  The expansion was grounded and perhaps even ideologically motivated by the emergence of the dismal science of the Wealth of Nations and the god-like invisible hand of Adam Smith with the concept of enlightened self-interest.   Enlightened self-interest asserts that we, acting on or own interests, somehow act in the common interest. Liston suggests that just as in Economics the three most important factors are location, location, and locations. So it is in understanding the changing nature of Sri Lankan Buddhism where “location is critical (p187)”. Further in the article she states that that, according Tala Assad, “religion is not just symbolic power, but in many cases it is a system of power of totalizing character (187).”  Thus the British implanting of a secular colonial movement would in a sense work its way into the position of the formal royal government. Gradually a system of parallel power grew up and Buddhist monasteries could never completely isolate themselves from the world.


I would like to do some reflection on Sir William Jones (India Jones), Arthur Schopenhauer and the emergence of Continental Protestant Buddhism (This is my neologism) in  early- and then mid-  19th century Europe . It is clear that if India Jones (Sir William Jones, British colonial official and founder of the Asiatic Text Society in London in 1784[10] four years before Arthur Schopenhauer was born in 1788 Danzig had not done his translations, Schopenhauer would not have had sources for his studies of Eastern religions . India Jones died in 1795 when Arthur Schopenhauer was seven. Incidentally Arthur Schopenhauer was born the same year as Lord Bryon about which I have a powerful intuition that their birthdates are significant. Yet I am not willing to give up on the Arthur Schopenhauer India Jones connection because non-textual open source research materials I have discovered include what appear to be reputable sources. These sources place the sixteen-year-old Arthur Schopenhauer as living with his Hanseatic League Merchant father with whom he toured Europe. It was in England as a sixteen-year-old that he revolted from the horrifically repressive effect of Anglican Christianity and the suffering it caused[11]. The young Arthur Schopenhauer was privileged and from a generationally and princely position of wealth with liberal and highly educated parents. Arthur Schopenhauer saw a great deal of suffering and was not trained to become a philosopher as the Chinese say.  He was born in 1788, the year before the fall of the Bastille. Before his father’s death he traveled a great deal through war-torn revolutionary Europe.  One can that for the next twenty seven years of his life he saw the physical cost of the broken dreams of Liberté, égalité, fraternité freezing before the flaming gates of Moscow. And Napoleon, its embodiment of whom Hegel said rode the revolution in a pale horse after he saw Napoleon ride through the ruined streets and buildings of his beloved University of Jena 1806. Now ten years later the embodiment of the revolution was a bitter old man rotting on a rock in the South Atlantic, in the year of  Eighteen Hundred and froze to death with no summer, Perhaps one of the products of “India Jones” Asiatic text society that suggested that suffering was real might be attractive to the young prince of commerce Arthur Schopenhauer who had lived the first twenty eight years of his life as witness to “The Grand Tour of Suffering[12]”This is as far as I can go to this point . But I have one last link to make which  draws on a review University of Wisconsin theater production that did for my  publisher ten years ago which in a Karl  Jungian, synchronicity sense connects with this paper  .[13] I think it suggests a path of transmission.

This paper is in need of a experiential component that is to something that is other than my simply turning to textual or historical material.  For that I turn to Dr.Ruben Habito (page 291) to explain how I will address one set of readings that can be associated with Buddhist birth-stories; Jataka tales in which for now I am not trying get to the mindset or the ultimate meaning


The Challenge here is that drawing from a pre-modern system of thought found in the Buddhist tradition, in ways that can respond to the needs of the postmodern age, with all the critical apparatus of post-enlightenment thought. This is not a matter of taking things found in a tradition and “applying” or adapting them to a contemporary context but rather going back to the experiential source of these that gave rise to these doctrines and letting them shine lights on our contemporary tasks….


Writing this paper has taken on the aspect of carving marble with a dull chisel, while wearing boxing gloves.   Now it demands an intuitive approach to jump start the next stage of reasoning. Here is what I mean:  As I sit here on Christmas day 2016 at 11:00 CST I am thinking about the process by which I finally grasped the fundamentally philosophical difference in kind between the handfuls of different birth stories which we Christians use to celebrate the birth of our savior, for those of us who claim to be Christian and hold the divinity of Jesus Christ as our promise of salvation. Buddhism in any of the iterations we studied does not promise salvation, it promises an end to suffering. And yet these stories as beautiful as they are because of their exclusiveness as the only path for salvation in many of their historical iterations, nationalist and colonial applications.  They, have certainly increased the amount of suffering in the world on the pretext of saving souls even if means destroying bodies, It is an interesting observation, as Voltaire points out in his 1759 satire Candide (kindle location 855), that the cost of sugar on the French breakfast table must be figured in the severed limbs of the Negro slaves harvesting it.



What I am finally saying is that birth of Christ stories we celebrate, though not in their entirety, have historically caused and do still cause much suffering. Perhaps Dr. Habito’s suggestion that of going back to the experiential source that gave rise to these doctrines would work equally well with birth of Christ stories. We have been sharing our Christmas with a very bright young Chinese girl and she is turning into to my informant for this paper. I have just shared my refection on Christian birth stories and though she is not theistic in the western sense nevertheless she is Buddhist on cultural level. She sounded as if she sat next to me the entire semester when she describes Chinese Buddhist cosmology. One of the things we talked about was Mao’s demotion to demigod status which was something I had asked about in class.

About ten years ago former UW-Eau Claire professor, Dr. Scott Lowe, the now retired former head of the Religious Studies Department gave a paper on Communism as a Religion in China. In doing it he made his now famous walk like a duck argument, which is to say if it is yellow, waddles, has feathers, a beak, wings, quacks, and was hatched from an  egg then it’s a duck. And he said that same sort of test could apply to a religion. By the way the part about being yellow is not an essential property of being a duck or a religion.

My informant his just left with my wife after spending the Christmas weekend staying with and for the next  thirty days, until she returns to UW Eau Claire she will be at a an N.G.O development conference in New Delhi, and then back to  Guangzhou University before returning to Eau Claire. She is has promised to keep in touch and share any observations she might have about the status of Buddhism in post –colonial, postmodern  and what retired academic  Bishop   of Durham ,England N. T. Wright referred to as the post-Christian  21st century. I shared silence with his Excellency, cherished silence.  Now ten years later the image evoked Rhys David’s  Buddhist birth story of the  turtle who flew with the eagle as long as he could keep his  beak shut.



[1] This is very significant, since I have noticed in my own class work, research, and reviewing that many scholars simply turn away from the world-wide colonial experience as a categorical evil and too simply dismiss it as a mechanism, of Western/Non-Western hegemonic oppression. In doing this we slip past the experience of colonization by simply applying a label to it Brokers of Empire: Japanese Settler Colonialism in Korea 1876 – 1945\Jun Uchida. Harvard University Asia Center

Brokers of Empire: Japanese Settler Colonialism in Korea 1876 – 1945
Jun Uchida.
Harvard University Asia Center

[2] Therefore, a post-colonial critic might be interested in works such as Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe where colonial “…ideology [is] manifest in Crusoe’s colonialist attitude toward the land upon which he’s shipwrecked and toward the black man he ‘colonizes’ and names Friday” (Tyson 377). In addition, post-colonial theory might point out that “…despite Heart of Darkness‘s (Joseph Conrad) obvious anti-colonist agenda, the novel points to the colonized population as the standard of savagery to which Europeans are contrasted” (Tyson 375). Post-colonial criticism also takes the form of literature composed by authors that critique Euro-centric hegemony.





[6] Bender, Courtney J, and Wendy Cadge. “Constructing Buddhism(s): Interreligious Dialogue) And Religious Hybridity.” Sociology of Religion 67.3 (2006): 229-247. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. Web. 18 Dec. 2016.And Religious ology of Religion, 67 no 3 Fall 2006, p 229-247Persistent link to this record(Permalink):,uid&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001546975&site=ehost-live&scope=site


[7] Yarina Liston Journal of Law and Religion Vol. 14, No. 1 (1999 – 2000), pp. 189-210


[8] I am going to claim firsthand knowledge just by being alive at the end of the colonial period, at least in India at least when it’s last vestige was drummed out of the subcontinent.  On Dec 12th 1960 when I was sixteen years old my then sixty-five-year-old father watched astounded as the Indian Army drove out the Portuguese after nearly 450 years.

Operation Vijay the code name of the armed action, was an action by the Indian Armed Forces.



Social facts are things because they are outside us, they are not a product or creation of the present generation; they are a given, pre-existing condition.







[13] The Adding Machine
Elmer Rice
Kessinger Publishing
ISBN: 1425470890 $14.95 48 pages

A delightful UW Eau Claire Theatrical Production. Had Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) been in the audience at the Kier Theater, here at UW Eau Claire, last Thursday night Oct 12th for the production of Elmer Rice’s (1892-1967) 1923 play The Adding Machine, it would have delighted him just as it did the rest of the audience. Delighted seems, I know, a very strange word to use in conjunction with one of the most brutally pessimistic German philosophers 19th Century.

Arthur Schopenhauer was the first European philosopher conversant with Eastern Philosophy to reject The Enlightenment, and with it the corollary that things are getting better. He adopted a worldview that life was nothing was more than foot-slogging along on a treadmill of endless suffering, towards oblivion. Sadly, we are driven by the slave master of the insatiable passions of our senses. Within this realm of suffering the satisfaction of our worldly passion is like salt water to one dying of thirst in the desert. However, Arthur Schopenhauer holds out one ray of hope. This hope is expressed in the revelatory power of art to make us a disinterested stranger to our passions, to be free of them, if only for the duration of the instant by the articulation of artistic genius.

Had Arthur Schopenhauer been among the audience, he would have seen his view of the world validated with a level of dramatic execution and technical excellence which I last saw when my wife and I attended the British National Theater in London’s production of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, in December, 2005. Pullman’s play was based on his trilogy of children’s books, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and the Amber Spy Glass. In the two-day seven-hour production of His Dark Materials, the British National Theater took a metaphysical wrecking ball to the grounding assumptions of the three Great Abrahamic monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.


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