Buddhism in Southeast Asia
- LAST REVIEWED: 13 March 2019
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0152
- LAST REVIEWED: 13 March 2019
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0152
The regional (for example, South, Southeast, and East Asia) and national (for example, Myanmar [Burma], Thailand) designations in use in the early 21st century are of recent vintage and may obscure our understanding of Buddhist histories in the region. There was and is considerable circulation of persons, objects, texts, and ideas across these boundaries. These crossed marine divides, political borders, and linguistic communities. Southeast Asian Buddhist communities shaped and were shaped by religious and other cultural practices beyond the region. Buddhism in early 21st-century Southeast Asia is often described as Theravada Buddhism, in contrast to Mahayana Buddhism found farther to the north and east. However, historical and early-21st-century Southeast Asian communities reveal the impact of forms of Buddhism from several parts of the Buddhist world. Elements associated with both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism are found in the region. Moreover, Buddhists in Southeast Asia often identified themselves through other terms of association, and it is sometimes anachronistic to use Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism as key analytical categories.
Textbooks on Buddhism offer different balances of historical and ethnographic detail, and their textual emphases vary somewhat according to authors’ research interests. Few textbooks focus solely on Southeast Asian Buddhism. Swearer 2010 is an up-to-date and influential work, although Lester 1973 deserves attention despite its age. Several of the strongest textbooks treating Buddhism more broadly contain useful treatments of aspects of Buddhist thought and practice in Southeast Asia: Gethin 1998; Gombrich 2006; Harvey 2013; and Robinson, et al. 1996. Berkwitz 2006 and Crosby 2014 are useful for their foci on modern Southeast Asian Buddhism, generally, while Harris 2005, Holt 2017, and McDaniel 2011 provide sustained analyses of Buddhism in specific Southeast Asian countries. Wijayaratna 1990, while not strictly a textbook, is a suitable companion text for the monastic sections of the other works presented in this section.
Berkwitz, Stephen C., ed. Buddhism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2006.
Includes four substantial essays on Buddhism in Southeast Asia by 21st-century scholars, with a particular focus on modernization and colonialism.
Crosby, Kate. Theravada Buddhism: Continuity, Diversity and Identity. Wiley Blackwell Guides to Buddhism. Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2014.
Provides the most comprehensive and up-to-date introduction to the history, teachings, practices, and institutions of Theravada Buddhism.
Gethin, Rupert. The Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Also available electronically. An introduction to Buddhist doctrine and philosophy drawing, in part, on Pali canonical materials that have strongly influenced Southeast Asian Buddhist communities. Especially useful for readers interested in Buddhist meditation and philosophy.
Gombrich, Richard F. Theravāda Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2006.
A revised edition of a classic text focused considerably on Sri Lanka. The treatments of early Buddhism and monastic culture are particularly strong.
Harris, Ian. Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.
A detailed study of 20th-century Cambodian Buddhism that looks into its historical development as well as its reestablishment after the Pol Pot era.
Harvey, B. Peter. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History, and Practices. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013 .
A substantial introduction to diverse aspects of Buddhism with useful attention to ritual, cosmology, and community life in Southeast Asia.
Holt, John. Theravada Traditions: Buddhist Ritual Cultures in Contemporary Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2017.
A comparative study of commonly practiced Buddhist rituals in South and Southeast Asia and how such rituals reflect political, social, and economic situations.
Lester, Robert C. Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1973.
Although more than thirty years old, several chapters of this book offer importantly nuanced views on Buddhist practice and social life. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 may be fruitfully read as a complement to other texts mentioned in this section.
McDaniel, Justin. The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.
An engaging and accessible study of lived religious aspects of Buddhism in contemporary Thailand.
Robinson, Richard H., Willard L. Johnson, Sandra A. Wawrytko, and Thanissaro Bhikkhu. The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1996.
An ambitious high-level historical treatment with a strong bibliography, shaped to some degree by a reformist Theravadin Buddhist perspective. It offers valuable accounts of monastic practice and Buddhist debate over doctrinal and disciplinary matters.
Swearer, Donald K. The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia. 2d ed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010.
A revised edition of a classic text; particularly useful as an introduction to 20th-century and 21st-century Thai Buddhism. Attentive to the place of ritual and temple life in Buddhist practice.
Wijayaratna, Mohan. Buddhist Monastic Life: According to Texts of the Theravada Tradition. Translated by Claude Grangier and Steven Collins. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
A vivid and accessible picture of ideal monastic practice according to canonical Pali texts influential in Southeast Asian Buddhism.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Abe, Masao
- Abhidharma/Abhidhamma Literature
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Avataṃsaka Sutra
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Black Embodiment
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Hinduism
- Buddhism and Kingship
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Medicine in Japan
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhism and Motherhood
- Buddhism and Nationalism
- Buddhism and Orientalism
- Buddhism and Politics
- Buddhism, Immigrants, and Refugees
- Buddhism in Australia
- Buddhism in Latin America
- Buddhism in Taiwan
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Korea
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Interreligious and Intrareligious Dialogue
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Statecraft
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- China, Pilgrimage in
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- D. T. Suzuki
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Digitization of Buddhism (Digital Humanities and Buddhist ...
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Dizang (Jizō, Ksitigarbha)
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asia, Mountain Buddhism in
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Āgamas, Chinese
- Gandharan Art
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Gotama, the Historical Buddha
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Kyōgyōshinshō (Shinran)
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modern Japanese Buddhist Philosophy
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Mārga (Path)
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Preaching/Teaching in Buddhism Studies
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Secularization of Buddhism
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Sexuality and Buddhsim
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sugata Saurabha
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Visuddhimagga (Buddhaghosa)
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese