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11 - Dynamics of Monastic Mobility and Networking in Seventeenth-and Eighteenth-century Upper Burma

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 May 2017

Alexey Kirichenko
Affiliation:
Moscow State University
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Summary

The present paper is an attempt to describe key monastic structures in Upper Burma of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, analyse the way they worked and what kind of processes were instrumental in their development. This documentation effort is based on fragmentary factual evidence mined from diverse sources, such as monastic biographies, religious chronicles, colophons of Buddhist texts, etc. As the sources of information are quite limited, the results of investigation are intrinsically provisional and open to reinterpretation. However, as so far there was no attempt to describe how Burmese monasticism functioned as a system during the period in question, the paper seeks to fill in this lacuna and provide a frame of reference for further discussion. The paper also integrates this description with arguments made in existing scholarship and suggests a number of revisions that position Burmese monasticism as a highly dynamic social reality.

The paper has the following structure. As surviving evidence limits the discussion to elite monasticism, I present a summary description of the court saṅgha in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, showing that it paradoxically combined exclusivity (limited access, specific mechanisms of reproduction, etc.) with openness and so was in a number of ways connected with monastic communities beyond the court. Then I outline the rise of extensive “non-central” monastic networks that at least since the early eighteenth century functioned as a viable and thriving alternative to court monasticism and developed a number of competencies that allowed them to successfully compete with older, established court communities. Finally, I try to analyse the factors that contributed to the development of such communities, discuss why they constitute a unique phenomenon, and compare Burmese monastic networks that I have identified with contemporary monasticism in other areas where textual Buddhism was mostly based on Pāli sources.

BURMESE COURT MONASTICISM IN THE SEVENTEENTH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES

The period from the seventeenth century onwards is the time when more detailed evidence on Burmese monasticism becomes available. While prior to that period the research is based mostly on archaeological and inscriptional data that are either too general or too fragmentary, the burst of literary activity in Burma since the seventeenth century provided new types of sources that allow tracing the life and activities of particular persons and communities in a more consistent manner and within longer time-frames.

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Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2015

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