The Rise of Popular Asceticism in Sinhalese Buddhist Culture: Some Significant Concepts and Practices

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Author: Isha Gamlath, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Email: ishagam@gmail.com
Published: September 30, 2016
https://doi.org/10.22492/ijcs.1.2.02

Citation: Gamlath, I. (2016). The Rise of Popular Asceticism in Sinhalese Buddhist Culture: Some Significant Concepts and Practices. IAFOR Journal of Cultural Studies, 1(2). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijcs.1.2.02


Abstract

The briefest explanation that could be provided for asceticism in the original Theravada Buddhist tradition is that it is a physically and mentally lived enterprise for fulfilling enlightenment (nibbana). As such, the enterprise demands serious practical and intellectual commitment. In total contrast to this original Theravada Buddhist concept of asceticism, a contextual frame of asceticism has been developing in Sinhalese Buddhist culture in recent years. The frame will be defined in the present discussion as "popular asceticism". The frame is profoundly influenced by specific developments in Sinhalese Buddhist culture among which are some noticeable concepts and practices. These concepts and practices are assumed in this discussion as part of an underlying structure of a dynamic historical process which exemplifies a framework involving beliefs and practices of diverse social groups in Sinhalese Buddhist culture. The investigation of the practice of upavasa maghata (abstinence from killing animals on special ceremonial days), spirit worship and the concept of caste will help comprehend their contribution in forming the "popular" ascetic context in Sinhalese Buddhist culture.

Keywords

Buddhist religion, Hindu religion, asceticism, Sri Lankan cultural history