All too human: the impact of international Buddhist networks on the life and posthumous conviction of the Burmese nationalist monk, Shin Ukkaṭṭha (1897-1978)

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Date
2016
Authors
Crosby, Kate
Ashin, Janaka
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ISASR in association with the Study of Religions, University College Cork
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Abstract
This article examines how the Buddhist, interfaith and nationalist networks centred on India in the first half of the 20th-century influenced the Burmese monk Shin Ukkaṭṭha. On his return to Burma in 1929, after seven years' travel, study and debate in India, Shin Ukkaṭṭha expressed his Buddhist nationalism by opening a Buddhist Mission school to combine Buddhist and secular learning and by publishing Buddhist tracts and works, including a bestselling work on comparative religion. He won an important Christian-Buddhist debate in 1936 which, widely reported in the national press, inspired many to convert back to Buddhism. Part of his success was due to his relativistic attitudes to texts. He was willing to dismiss as later fabrication parts of the Buddhist canon if they ran counter to current scientific thinking. Like other Buddhists influenced by Theosophy, he dismissed traditional cosmology and reinterpreted rebirth in line with Darwinian evolutionary theory. His stance ran counter to the Buddhist Sangha hierarchy, which regarded an anti-secular, fundamentalist as the best defence against the corruptions of colonialism. Under the British, the lack of a central Buddhist authority gave Shin Ukkaṭṭha the freedom to express his views. However, after Independence, he increasingly found himself at odds with the Sangha hierarchy, which he roundly insulted as naïve when he walked out on the Sixth Council citing its uncritical approach to the canonical texts as his reason. So significant was his challenge to authority, that in 1981 the State Sangha Leaders Committee set up under General Ne Win to try miscreant monks, selected Shin Ukkaṭṭha as the second case. The court found him guilty of heresy - posthumously, for Shin Ukkaṭṭha had died three years earlier.
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Keywords
Burmese Buddhism , Shin Ukkaṭṭha , Vinicchaya , Theosophy , Darwinianism , Christian-Buddhist debate
Citation
CROSBY, K. & ASHIN, J. 2016. All too human: the impact of international Buddhist networks on the life and posthumous conviction of the Burmese nationalist monk, Shin Ukkaṭṭha (1897-1978). Journal of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions, 3(1), 219-235.
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(c)2016, The Author(s).