Mysticism and Scripture in Theravāda Buddhism

Ninian Smart

in Mysticism and Sacred Scripture

Published in print December 2000 | ISBN: 9780195097030
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199848805 | DOI:
Mysticism and Scripture in Theravāda Buddhism

Show Summary Details


This chapter shows that while Brahmanism rested on a kind of sacramental and mantric ritual, Buddhism did not encourage such rites. Buddhism looked mostly on concentration, involving the purification of consciousness. The Buddhist theory of causation was inimical to both mantric causation and the use of ritual other than in a psychological manner. There could not be any strict revelatory transaction between the transcendent and this world. The numinous experience of the Other is more hospitable to truly sacred revelation. This did not significantly figure in the Buddh's worldview. Thus in this sense, the scriptures are a bit of a disappointment in the Theravadin canon, compared to the “high” views of scripture elsewhere. But because of its strong concern with psychology and analysis, parts of the canon function like handbooks for practical living, including, notably, meditation. Scripture, therefore, has powerful uses in the life of the Sangha. It contains many materials of general relevance to the wider community, beyond the loose frontier of the order. It also reflects the amazing originality of Gotama, while giving a moral prehistory in the wonderful stories of his previous births, which so often take existing material, characteristically, of the Gangetic culture and bend them to Buddhist uses. It also contains a good deal of poetry.

Keywords: Buddhism; scripture; mysticism; causation; poetry

Chapter.  5762 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.