How Buddhism is Being Used to Promote Nationalism in Sri Lanka and Japan

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In this essay, I am discussing how Buddhism is being used to promote nationalism in two countries, Sri Lanka and Japan and I am discussing contemporary as well as historical perspective with its similarities and differences.

Let’s starts with the example of Sri Lanka

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With the long history and a distinctive culture, Buddhist religion plays a prominent role in the island of Sri Lanka. Buddhist monks starts to travel to the Sri Lanka by the third century BCE and inhabitants of the Island quickly embraced Buddhist institutions and practices. We can quantify the impact of Buddhism in the historical days in Sri Lanka in couple of ways. First, ancient Buddhist monasteries and archaeological sites throughout the island, which demonstrates the long-standing and extensive presence of sites associated with Buddhist worship and practices and second, the numerous historical texts called VAMSAS.

The fusion of these Buddhist sites and texts are sufficient to explain the Sri Lanka as a place where the Buddhas religion has flourished for millennia. In modern Sri Lanka, these assertions charged significance in debates over national identities and multiculturalism. From the Buddhist texts such as the MAHAVAMSA (Great Chronicle) from the sixth century CE, Sri Lanka occupies a special place as ‘Island of the Dharma,’ where in Buddha himself visited the Island and prophesied that his SASANA would illuminate the land and be established there for posterity.

There was little doubt about the supremacy of Buddhism in the island’s religious and political sphere before sixteenth century in Sri Lanka. King Parakramabahu-1, purified monkhood resulted in a huge unified SANGHA which adhered to the conservative vision of the Theravada order that stressed strict monastic discipline and the acceptance of a closed canon of Pali Buddhist scriptures.

The Sri Lanka island declared itself independent from British rule on February 04, 1948, after successive colonial rules by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. The long colonialism tries severely weakened Buddhist institutions but did not lead to the conversion of more than about ten percent of the island’s population.

Since the nineteenth century, the modernizing trends among Sri Lankan Buddhism have given rise to a form of Buddhist nationalism that fuses religious ideals with political activity. The Buddhist Laity widely criticized the entrance of Buddhist monks into political arena. But the Scenario is slightly shifts when Anagarika Dharmapala starts to encourage monk in early twentieth century to lead the religious and social reforms he envisioned for the country, monastic involvement in politics eventually followed. Primarily, Dharmapala concentrated on the monks who would serve their village rites and practices of medicine and astrology in order to become preachers who motivated the Laity on the development of Buddhist morality, which would in turn become the basis for promoting the dignity and prosperity of the nation (Seneviratne 1999;40).

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