Theravada civilization. Periodizing its history

Steven Collins

This is not so much a ‘state of the field’ paper as a series of reflections on what might have been involved in the spread of ‘Theravåda’ Buddhism across South and Southeast Asia, and a
suggested periodization of ‘Theravåda’ history, both of which are intentionally polemical. I doubt that many, if any, of my colleagues in the Theravåda Civilizations Project would agree with everything, or even much, or even anything, of what I say. But this is the kind of thing we have been discussing. I am posting it to the website in the hope of stimulating wider reflection and discussion.

The first half of these remarks is essentially the same as the first half of the Keynote Address I gave at the meeting in Toronto in March 2012. The second is a series of remarks on periodizing Theravåda history, a revised version of which will appear in the second of the two volumes the group is preparing to publish.

In both halves I express great scepticism about the possibility and value of trying to decide what was ‘early’ Buddhism of any kind. It is my view that, given the complete impossibility of knowing what ‘early’ Buddhism was, the practice of offering speculative pictures of it inevitably casts all subsequent Theravada history in a pejorative light, which is a bad thing.