Jayarava: The Problem of Class and Popular Buddhism

Jayarava has published a great article on class dynamics and contemporary Buddhism, including analysis of British Imperialism in Asia and how it contributed Buddhist modernism. Read the full article here: The Problem of Class and Popular Buddhism

“What I particular want to draw attention to here is that the first substantial European contacts with Buddhism were: some of the most important meetings happened amongst the elite of late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, amongst the sons of wealthy industrialists and minor aristocracy, at a time when the poor had almost no rights: they could not vote; were subject to cruel punishments such as execution or transportation to Australia for relatively minor breaches of law; had lost access to common lands etc. By contrast, privately educated, privileged, wealthy young men, who saw themselves as exercising the natural right of their class to rule the world. (See particularly the Evolution and Empire section of my essay The Politics of Evolution and Modernist Buddhism) found roles as administrators in the Empire or as mid-level officers in the military forces that kept the Imperial thumb on the “natives”. Some of the main characters are evoked in detail in Charles Allen’s book The Buddha and the Sahibs.”

For a more critical overview of the influence of British Imperialism on Buddhism, see Philip C Almond’s The British Discovery of Buddhism.  On class and Buddhism, see also Tricycle Magazine: “Making Buddhism accessible to working-class people.” (1 Aug 2011).

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