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Gathering leaves and lifting words

histories of Buddhist Monastic education in Laos and Thailand

Justin McDaniel

Publication Year: 2012

Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words examines modern and premodern Buddhist monastic education traditions in Laos and Thailand. Through five centuries of adaptation and reinterpretation of sacred texts and commentaries, Justin McDaniel traces curricular variations in Buddhist oral and written education that reflect a wide array of community goals and values. He depicts Buddhism as a series of overlapping processes, bringing fresh attention to the continuities of Theravada monastic communities that have endured despite regional and linguistic variations. Incorporating both primary and secondary sources from Thailand and Laos, he examines premodern inscriptional, codicological, anthropological, art historical, ecclesiastical, royal, and French colonial records. By looking at modern sermons, and even television programs and websites, he traces how pedagogical techniques found in premodern palm-leaf manuscripts are pervasive in modern education.

Published by: University of Washington Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vi-vii

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pp. ix-x

In his diaries, Christopher Isherwood sums up his adopted home of Southern California by stating simply that “the architecture is dominated by vegetation.” If this book is the architecture, then my colleagues and mentors are the vegetation. Their insight and guidance have enlivened and enveloped each sentence, paragraph, and...

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Note on Transcription

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pp. xi

Anyone in the field of Lao and Thai studies knows that transcription and transliteration is a complicated and contested issue. I have geared the transcription systemto a general audiencewithout advanced skills inKhoen, Lao, Leu, Pali, Thai, Sanskrit, or Yuan. Experts will disagree over the importance of phonetic accuracy versus international...

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pp. 3-22

A few years ago, at a monastery in Laos, I spent some time looking for a key. The monastery, Vat Xainyaphum, sits on the banks of the Mekong River, and on its grounds is the largest monastic school in Laos.1 I wanted the key to open an old wooden cabinet in a small office on the upper floor of the main classroombuilding, where, I imagined, the textbooks used at the school would be kept. The key was not...

Part I Structural Mechanisms: The Institutional History of Monastic Education

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1 From the Sala Vat to the Institut Bouddhique

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pp. 25-68

In 1895, Emile Lefèvre, a French traveler, provided one of the only known pretwentieth- century descriptions of a Buddhist monastic school in Laos (Vat Mai in Luang Phrabang): [At]Wat Mai there are four or five big houses standing perpendicular to the pagoda and some...

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2 Wandering Librarians

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pp. 69-91

In 1886 King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) of Siam ordered a survey of monastic libraries in the vassal state of Northeast Thailand. After reading the report he concluded that the teaching of Buddhismin that rural region on the edge of Siamwas “lew lew lai lai” (full of nonsense) because it involved the teaching of fantastic stories...

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3 Kings and Universities

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pp. 92-116

The Siamese began to colonize the region to their immediate north in the late nineteenth century.With this colonization came the reformofmonastic education. Before looking at these reforms, I summarize the basic political history of this colonization. Historically this region was more culturally and economically connected to Laos to...

Part II Proximate Mechanisms: Toward a Curricular History of Monastic Education

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4 Genres, Modes, and Idiosyncratic Articulations

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pp. 119-160

The study of kings and buildings, the stuff of institutional histories, is not enough if one wants to understand how Lao and Northern Thai monks learned and taught Buddhism. Kings and colonists may have built buildings, but teachers and students filled themwith sound. To understand the waysmonksmade meaning and transmitted Buddhism one must...

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5 The Culture of Translation

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pp. 161-190

In 2002, one hundred years after the Sangha Act was announced, I found myself listening to a sermon on the Dhammapada atWat Rakhang (Khositaram). I was fortunate to have found an apartment down a narrow alley from this royal monastery, which sits on the riverbank directly across from the Grand Palace. Wat Rakhang...

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6 Canons and Curricula

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pp. 191-204

So far, this book has been, as BrianAxel argues, an “ethnography of archives.” However, unlike Axel, I do not see monastic manuscript archives as solely “privileged sites of knowledge production” or as the sole repositories of truth.1 I do not privilege manuscripts as evidence because they are commensurate with my post-Enlightenment reverence for the immutable text. Instead, I see pedagogical manuscripts as questioning...

Part III: Vernacular Landscapes: Teaching Buddhism in Laos and Thailand

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7 From Manuscript to Television

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pp. 207-227

If one were to walk into most any Thai bookstore, look at most any Thai Buddhist-themed Web site, scan most any Thai Buddhist curriculum, or examine most any Thai manuscript archive, one would see the Dhammapada. Laos, although lacking in its number ofWeb sites, universities, bookstores, and curricula, is also a place where the Dhammapada is ubiquitous. Some form of the Dhammapada...

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8 Philosophical Embryology

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pp. 228-246

Different Dhammapada have been used in a variety of ways in sermons and lectures. The content, verses, or commentarial narratives are used by different teachers in different mediums to communicate different messages. However, these are not the only ways texts are changed in the pedagogical process. Not only do content and format change, but the purported raison d’être of a text can be changed...

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pp. 247-258

The combination of institutional and curricular evidence (or structural and proximate mechanisms) provides a picture of monastic education in Laos and Northern Thailand. In this picture one sees laywomen and laymen, novices (samanen), nuns (maechi), and monks (phra) attending (depending on their haphazard schedules and family, ritual...


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pp. 259-312

Note on Manuscripts, Archives, Monastic Libraries, and Catalogs

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pp. 313-316


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pp. 317-346


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pp. 347-358

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780295989228
E-ISBN-10: 029598922X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295988498
Print-ISBN-10: 0295988487

Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Buddhism -- Study and teaching -- Laos -- History.
  • Buddhism -- Study and teaching -- Thailand -- History.
  • Buddhist monks -- Education -- Laos -- History.
  • Buddhist monks -- Education -- Thailand -- History.
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