When this book was first published, in 1971, under the title Buddhist Precept and Practice. The Times Literary Supplement wrote: " This is an epoch-making piece of research which must mark a change in direction and appreciation if it is taken seriously and studied in detail. Dr. Gombrich is concerned with religious change in belief and practice, not only in modern times but over the two and a half millennia during which Buddhism has flourished. He concludes that Sinhalese Buddhism has been remarkably conservative and rejects the assumption that it degenerated from an original high standard, by questioning whether it ever was as pure as a superficial reading of classical texts might suggest
It would be very difficult to provide a combination of scholarship and sympathy such as that which pervades Dr. Gombrich's book and makes it a landmark in the study of religion." Out of print for many years, the book is now republished corrected but substantially unchanged.
About the Author:
Richard Gombrich has been Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University and Professorial Fellow of Balliol College since 1976. He has been Secretary for Europe of the International Association of Buddhist Studies and is Hon. Secretary and Treasurer of the Pali Text Society. He has published 8 books and about 40 articles, mostly on Buddhism. His most recent books are Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo and (with Gananath Obeyesekere) Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sir Lanka; the latter is intended to do for modern Sinhalese Buddhism in the cities what Precept and Practice did for its traditional manifestations in the countryside.
This book is a revised version of my thesis contemporary Sinhalese Buddhism is its relation to the Pali Canon approved for the D. Phil degree at Oxford University. The thesis was substantially written in the university vacations of 1966-7. On sabbatical leave in the Ceylon in the latter half of 1969 I took the opportunity to make some changes but although I hope to have eliminated some mistakes I could not entirely bring it up to date or profit by all the publication which have appeared since I started writing rather than delay publication still further I am letting it go forward now for revision is a process which can never be completed. In particular however I must mention that Chapter 8 was written before I had read Homo Hierarchicus by Louis Dumont (Gallimard, Paris, 1966) I would formulate most of the first half of the chapter very differently today but I have let it stand invalidated. I regret also that the following reached me too late to be used. Heinz Bechert Einige fragen der Religionssoziologie und struktur des sudastishcen Buddhismus International year book for the sociology of religion vol.4 1968 pp. 251-95 S.J. Tambiah, Buddhims and the spirit cults in North East Thailand (C.U.P Cambridge 1970).
The greatest pleasure in finishing the book comes from the opportunity it gives me formally to acknowledge the help and kindness I have received during its preparation. The field work on which it is based was undertaken in Ceylon from August 1964 to August 1965 a visit wholly financed by a treasury studentship form the British Government. My second visit in 1969 was largely paid for by a Hayter travel grant awarded to me by Oxford University. The success of both visits was however entirely due to the material and moral support given me by friends and to my wife who both times accompanied me and kept house unaided in the village for a total of nearly two years. In England before I left Professor Gananath Obeyesekere gave me invaluable advice about criteria on which to choose my village as well as great deal of academic advice and practical assistance when he had returned to Ceylon. The Rev. Walpola Rahula received me in Paris answered a lot of questions and has continued ever since to treat me with the greatest kindness. I owe my introduction to both these scholars to that renowned patron of Ceylon studies Prof. E.F.C. Ludowyk. When we reached Ceylon we would never have found a suitable village had not Prof. P. W. Vithanage devoted several whole days to driving us round and giving us the benefit of this geographical knowledge and geological wisdom. Our first steps in Sinhalese were guided by Mr. B.L. Fernando of St. Antony’s College Katugastota who for two months took endless trouble in teaching us and has never since lost interest in his pupils. These are my more strictly academic debts in Ceylon. I am not thanking a field assistant or interpreter because I had none.
On the more personal side I wish to thank Major and Mrs. A.A. de Alwis, Dr. and Mrs. W.M.J. Bartholomeusz, Prof. and Mrs. E.F. Bartholomeusz, Mr. and Mrs. F. Lobo, Prof. and Mrs. G. Obeyesekere, Prof. and Mrs. P.W. Vithanage, Proctor and Mrs. H.A. C. Wickremeratne Mr. and Mrs. L.Y. Wickremeratne and Mr. Jayatissa Yapa for hospitality such as non Ceylonese can hardly conceive.
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