Summary: This book is a remarkable synthesis and empathetic interpretation of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. No other single book matches its depth and breadth, or its balance between scholarly interpretation and sensitive first person portrayal. The author focuses his analysis on Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia as a dynamic, complex system of thought and practice imbedded in the respective cultures, societies, and histories of Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and ...show more Sri Lanka. The book discusses three distinct but interrelated aspects of this system: the popular tradition in terms of paradigms of ideal action, rituals, festivals, and rites of passage; Buddhism as civic religion in terms of King Asoka as the paradigmatic Buddhist monarch, cosmology and kingship, and Buddhism and the modern nation state; and modern transformations of the tradition in terms of the changing roles of the monk and the laity, modern reform movements, and Buddhism in the West.
"This book surveys many themes. Although rooted in cultural and religious matters, it is also a good historical review of the Theravada tradition. Buddhism in Southeast Asia is spiritually and culturally very dynamic, but it also has a political importance that make it a timely theme for those interested in this part of the world--those not necessarily informed about the history and power of religion in Southeast Asia."
"There are many books by notable authorities on the Buddhist world of Southeast Asia. However, these are almost always focused on just one country or culture, while the Swearer book embraces the whole region. I know of no other text in the English language that sets down such a good descriptive analysis of contemporary Theravada practices." -- Bruce Matthews, Acadia University, Nova Scotia