“I am the Buddha, the Buddha is Me” : Concentration Meditation and Esoteric Modern Buddhism in Burma/Myanmar
History of Religions
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AbstractIn postcolonial Burma, two trends within lay Buddhism — largely in tension with one another — developed into large-scale movements. They focused upon different meditation practices, insight meditation and concentration meditation, with the latter also including esoteric lore. An impetus largely shared by the movements was to define an “authentic” Buddhism to serve as the primary vehicle of the quest for individual, local, and national identity. While insight meditation was generally considered Buddhist meditation par excellence, concentration meditation was ascribed a more dubious Buddhist identity. Given this ambiguity, it could be considered rather paradoxical that concentration meditation could be viewed as a source of “authentic” Buddhism. The aim of this article is to investigate the issue of identity and the paradox of authenticity by examining the concentration meditation practices of one large esoteric congregation and tentatively comparing its practices with those of the insight meditation movement. It will be argued that the movements represented two varieties of so-called modern Buddhism (rationalist modern Buddhism and esoteric modern Buddhism) drawing on different Buddhist imaginaries and representing two main trends that are largely diametrically opposed to one another. They therefore represent two ways of constructing an individual, local, and national identity.
TypeArticle in journal