Managing Religion and Difference: Ancient Constitutionalism in the Theravāda Buddhist Tradition and the Transformative Impact of the Modernist and Post-Colonial Turn

de Silva-Wijeyeratne, R. Managing Religion and Difference: Ancient Constitutionalism in the Theravāda Buddhist Tradition and the Transformative Impact of the Modernist and Post-Colonial Turn. in: Handbook on Constitutions and Religion Edward Elgar.

Chapter titleManaging Religion and Difference: Ancient Constitutionalism in the Theravāda Buddhist Tradition and the Transformative Impact of the Modernist and Post-Colonial Turn
Authorsde Silva-Wijeyeratne, R.
Abstract

The Buddha was born at a historical juncture when monarchy and the political order were disintegrating and the Pāli Canon (Cakkavatti Sihanāda Sutta being exemplary of this) suggests that the Buddha did not expect a world sans war. In the Vedic legal world in which the Buddha found himself, the ruler’s (kshatriya’s) power to rule (kshatra) involved protection of his subjects against outside aggression. This gave the ruler privileges vis-à-vis his subjects, such as the power to monitor what they did, punish them if necessary and tax them. These were the ingredients of rājadharma, the judicial power of the king, well known from later texts such as Kautilīya’s Arthāsastra. The performative logic or telos of Buddhist kingship is fundamentally ontological, but in the encounter with (colonial) modernity the logic of Buddhist kingship is re-imagined as motivated by epistemological concerns (about what the world ought to look like). What I suggest here is that ‘Buddhist Constitutionalism’ in its colonial but particularly post-colonial rendering (in Sri Lanka and Burma for example) must be understood as motivated by similarly epistemological concerns, concerns that appear to be fundamentally alien to classical Buddhist kingship.

KeywordsBuddhist Constitutionalism, Pali Canon, Ancient Constitutionalism in South and Southeast Asia
Book titleHandbook on Constitutions and Religion
PublisherEdward Elgar

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