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Home Newsletters So-Wide Space May 2011

So-Wide Space May 2011

Article Index
So-Wide Space May 2011
News from Richard Gombrich
Visit of Shinzan Roshi to Oxford
OCBS Development
Sinhala Sangha: Saints or Soldiers?
Upcoming lectures
News from the OMC
All Pages

Welcome to the May issue of So-Wide Space.  In this issue Richard Gombrich informs us of a few happenings in the world of Buddhist Studies and we have some preliminary news of an exciting development in the OCBS Subscriber scheme.

Also, Suren Raghavan provides a thought-provoking article on Sri Lanka and we bring you details of several lecture series and talks happening in Oxford over the coming months.

We end up with some news from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre who have now become independent from So-Wide.  See below for details of their next projects.

Thank you for your continued support of the OCBS and So-Wide.  We hope things are going well for you in your corner of the world.



The United Kingdom Association for Buddhist Studies

Richard Gombrich

Our readers may like to be reminded of the existence of UKABS, the United Kingdom Association for Buddhist Studies.  This small but active organisation is the professional body for those who teach Buddhist Studies in institutions of higher education in the UK; but in order to be a member one does not have to be active as a teacher or researcher, nor is membership confined to the UK.  We particularly welcome schoolteachers.  UKABS holds an annual conference, usually in July or September, somewhere in the UK, and publishes a journal under the editorship of Prof. Peter Harvey.

The subscription is modest and also entitles members to a much reduced fee for attending a conference.  UKABS belongs to its members and engages in other professional issues at their suggestion.  To join, go to:

The devastation of Buddhist archaeological sites in Bangladesh.

Richard Gombrich

I would like to direct the attention of anyone interested in the history of Buddhism to the tragic neglect and ruin of many sites in Bangladesh which contain, or contained, one of the world’s richest stores of ancient archaeological remains, and therefore historical information, about Buddhism, spanning a period of well over a thousand years. The oldest remains are believed by excavators to go back to the 4th century BC.

For further details please visit, where you can read an article from the Bangladeshi newspaper, The Daily Star, dated 16 February this year. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the losses being sustained by scholarship and by the Buddhist tradition.

We are also aware of the attacks on Buddhists and Buddhist buildings which are being repeatedly sustained in eastern Bangladesh; these are of course a humanitarian matter which must concern organisations which are not purely academic, as we are.

Visit of Shinzan Roshi to Oxford


6th May 2011

4.15 pm

The Old Refectory, Wadham College

The OCBS is very pleased to be co-hosting a talk by Shinzan Roshi with the Oxford Zen Society and the Oxford University Buddhist Society.

Shinzan Roshi will be giving a talk on "A Zen Model for Human Development"  in which he will be exploring how the Zen tradition over many centuries has developed methods to promote the full development of human beings.

For more information and details on how to book please click here.

OCBS Development

The OCBS is currently reshaping its Subscriber package to provide more value to all those who are kind enough to support us.

Spearheading this campaign will be the launch of a Journal in late autumn which all Subscribers to the OCBS will receive.  Details are still being finalised and we will be sharing more in our July newsletter so watch this space.  We will be contacting all those who hold existing memberships to move you over to the new package when it is launched.

Also coming soon is a comprehensive Donations section on our website providing more information on our activities and ways to assist.  Thank you for all your support of the OCBS and its work in promoting Buddhist Studies.

Sinhala Sangha: Saints or Soldiers?

Suren Raghavan*

Paradoxical Paradigms

How can a Buddhist country be at war?  This is the question I will be asked in the first three minutes by almost anyone who comes to know my research project: be it in a university corridor or at a conference tea break, because to them it is unthinkable. At least two paradigmatic positions surface from this inevitably European question.

1.         The questioner knows what Buddhism is.

2.         And that ‘knowledge’ is antithetical to the idea of war /violence.

Often this is the kernel of the lay worldview of Buddhism, because the West is still struggling to understand Buddhism beyond the boundaries of the former British Empire. One should blame neither the questioner nor the colonial project for this. After all it was the Colonial British who discovered, interpreted and propagated the key Buddhist texts in their modern form (Franklin 2008, Harris 2006).

Paradise Poisoned?

A few decades ago it was the tea from the British managed plantations in Sri Lanka that acquired a global brand name as Ceylon tea. Sri Lanka was an ideal tropical state. But after 1948 that ‘garden paradise’ tourist image was replaced with coups, armed violence and a political terror campaign by separatist Tamil Tigers and the counter terror of the state. Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans who have become direct or indirect victims of violence in this protracted war have asked the same question: How is it possible that a country where 73 per cent of the population is daily practicing and comparatively knowledgeable about Theravāda Buddhism, could produce and sustain a culture of violence? The answers are complex and often differ widely, revealing deep gulfs between ideologies and interpretations.

Past is in Present

As is true of any protracted ethnonational conflict, the past politics of Sri Lanka are important for understanding the present (Kemper 1991). Indologists and historians agree that there are few modern states that have managed to record their past in the manner the island state of Sri Lanka has done. “The grand chronicle”’ the Mahāvaṃsa, believed to have begun its recording around the 5th C.E. in essence is a narrative of a state and its ethnic national survival struggle, written within a religious context. The heavy weight of such a long and ethnically historicized past in many ways governs  modern politics.The  Mahāvaṃsa conceptually idealizes the super ethnicity of the Sinhalas, the relationship of Sri Lanka to Buddha, and the warrior heroes who time and again defended this tiny island. Uniting all these factors is the epicentric institution of the Theravada Sangha of Sri Lanka. The Sangha in Lanka proudly claimed their heritage as the true defenders of the Jātiya, Āgama and Dēsaya (the ethnos, religion and land). The Sangha have had the privilege and cultural hegemony to influence the modern politics of Sri Lanka in her struggle to make peace or even war more than any other section of the society.

Research Project

My research interest is to ask how the majority of Sangha deal with their renouncer faith on the one hand and yet become intrinsically interwoven with political discourse and action even to the extent of justifying violence. I try to trace any historicized dynamic that travelled through time from the courts of the first kings to modern society by studying the waves of Sangha resistance and its modern manifestation. I particularize my study to analyze the activities of five key Sangha activists in the current context.I hypothesize that the modern multicultural-plurination structural discourse which is often promoted by western scholarship is regenerating an embedded ontological insecurity that is textualized and memorized. I argue, therefore, that we urgently need to discover/employ a non-western – if possible an intra-Theravadin -- deliberation with a new taxonomy to address the deep-seated anxieties of the Sinhala Sangha and their ‘Shrāvakas and Dāyakas’.

Suren Raghavan

School of Politics and IR, University of Kent.                                                                                           Visiting Research Fellow, Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies.


Selected Bibliography

Harris, Elizabeth, Theravada Buddhism and the British Encounter, (Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism), Routledge, 2006)

Franklin, J. Jeffrey, the Lotus and the Lion: Buddhism and the British Empire, by, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008

Kemper, Steven, The Presence of the Past, Cornell University Press New York 1991

OCBS Lectures / Seminars  - Trinity 2011


Tue 3rd May  Prof. Max Deeg "Show Me the Land Where the Buddha Dwelled ..." - Xuanzang's "Record of the Western Regions": A  Misunderstood Text?"

Tue 10th May Dr. Eve Mullen Tibetan Buddhism and dying

Tue 17th May  Dr. Antonello Palumbo Knowledge of Buddhism in early China

Tue 24th May  Mr. Suren Raghavan Buddhism and ethnicity in the civil conflict in Sri Lanka

Tue 31st May  Dr. Susan Conway Shan Buddhist protective practices

Tue 7th June  Dr. David Marsh Does physics today bear any relation to Buddhist ideas, or theories of consciousness?

Tue 14th June  Prof. Torkel Brekke Relics and the sacralization of space in modern Buddhism

All lectures take place in the Wolfson Private Dining Room.  They begin at 5.30 and will, we hope, be preceded by tea and cake.

For any queries please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Lecture Series - Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy

Fridays - Trinity Term, 12pm

This lecture series covers the doctrines of early Buddhism and of the two major schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism, namely Madhyamaka and Yogācāra, dealing among others with the idea of non-self, the doctrine of momentariness, emptiness and the “store mind”.

Week 1: The Buddha and His Doctrine

Week 2: Philosophical Concepts of Some Early Buddhist Schools

Week 3: The Self and the Person (NB: room 12 at Examination Schools)

Week 4: Functions of the Mind

Week 5: The Madhyamaka School and the Concept of Emptiness

Week 6: The Yogācāra School and the Theory of Mind-Only

Week 7: Nirvāṇa and Buddhahood

Presented by Dr. Jowita Kramer

All lectures take place in Balliol Lecture Room 23

Talk by Dr Amy Heller at the Oriental Insitute

Dr Rob Mayer, one of our Fellows, has asked us to pass on details of this talk.  It is open to all and promises to explore some very exciting and important new information about the Tibetan Empire

Preliminary remarks on Painted Coffin Panels from Tibetan Tombs

Oriental Institute, Oxford, May 10th, 2011

LR1, Oriental Institute, 10:00 am.

This presentation will discuss research in progress on painted panels recovered from Tibetan tombs in Qinghai. In 2002 Xu Xinguo, director of the Qinghai Archeological Institute, excavated two tombs with several painted coffins panels in Guolimu county. The principal themes painted on these panels show hybrid creatures - animals and birds - as well as several hunting scenes of reindeer and wild yak, ceremonial banquets taking place in tent encampments, amorous scenes and a commercial caravan. Subsequently, several other painted panels have been discovered which are now conserved in private collections and museums. All these panels will be presented here. Their comparison is fruitful. On the whole, there is correspondence in terms of the themes illustrated on the panels, notably the hunt of the yak, which has great relevance in the context of the famous passage from the Old Tibetan Chronicle, Tibet’s first narrative history of its imperial period (c.618–866), where Princess Sad mar kar sings of a yak killed in the course of the hunt. Additional literary and cross-cultural references will be explored in this presentation. These painted panels yield concrete documentation of the mobile habitat of the btsan po and his entourage during the sPu rgyal dynasty. The study of the women and men portrayed on these panels – their activities, weapons, cooking utensils and drinking vessels, costumes, jewelry and face make-up, and the accoutrements of their habitat - yield clues to better understanding of daily life in ancient Tibet while simultaneously relating to customs prevailing among nomads of western Tibet during the 20th century and rituals observed today in Qinghai, Lo (Mustang) and Ladakh.

Dr Amy Heller, Research collaborator, UMR 8155, CNRS Paris

(see Xu Xinguo, “New Discoveries in Qinghai” in China Heritage Newsletter, No. 1, March 2005:

News from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre

The Oxford Mindfulness Centre has now left the So-Wide umbrella and is a fully independent charity.  Below we present some edited highlights from their first Newsletter.  We wish them well with all their projects in the future.

OMC Newsletter number 1.

Much has been happening at the Oxford Mindfulness Cenntre. The OMC has:

* developed a completely new website<>

* launched a Development Campaign<>

* launched an appeal for donations<>

Plans for the future…

MBCT classes and Teacher Training

There is now a need to offer mindfulness classes for the public and train more MBCT teachers. The first 8-week MBCT programme for the public<> will start in October this year. These public classes will also provide a classroom for taking on trainee teachers as interns. There will also be special training events and programmes to train teachers in future.


Development Campaign

The Oxford Mindfulness Centre is an international centre of excellence within Oxford University. The objective of our Development Campaign is to endow an Oxford University Professorship and support team who will be able to take the Oxford Mindfulness Centre forward into the future.

Thank you to Geoff Bamford

Chair of the OMC Board of Trustees, Geoff Bamford, is standing down from the Board.

We would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to Geoff for all he has done. We are where we are today because of Geoff's commitment and energy. His was the vision that shaped the OMC at its outset, and his the idea of housing it in the impressive Prince of Wales International Centre alongside the mental health charity SANE. We all wish to thank Geoff for his tireless work to bring the OMC to life as an institution, and building the foundations for OMC’s future - to conduct and disseminate pioneering research in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.










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