Journal Article

History and Gratitude in Theravāda Buddhism

Stephen C. Berkwitz

in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Published on behalf of American Academy of Religion

Volume 71, issue 3, pages 579-604
Published in print September 2003 | ISSN: 0002-7189
Published online September 2003 | e-ISSN: 1477-4585 | DOI:
History and Gratitude in Theravāda Buddhism

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An inspection of several Buddhist histories (or vamsas) written in the Sinhala language in medieval Sri Lanka encourages us to reevaluate the use of emotions in religious contexts and why people write narratives of the past. This article suggests that the attention given to emotions such as gratitude in Theravāda Buddhist vamsas signals that historical narratives were composed and disseminated to orient the emotional lives of devotees toward the past and to give rise to moral communities in the present. Such texts led “virtuous persons” to understand themselves and their capacity to attain desired religious goals as being enabled by people and events from the past. The Sinhala vamsas that describe how the Buddha's relics were brought to Sri Lanka illustrate that emotions can be cultural products that are instilled by historical narratives to accomplish a variety of ethical, social, and soteriological ends.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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