Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Religion & Culture / Religious Studies
Faculty of Arts
This research documents the transition of a religious tradition from a foreign-born generation to a new generation who call Canada home. It examines how first-generation Sri Lankan Buddhists in Toronto transmit their Buddhist tradition to their Canadian children, how the latter receive what is passed on to them, and what happens within the tradition through the process of transmission and reception. These issues are of paramount concern not only for Buddhist communities in North America but also for other immigrant and refugee groups undergoing the process of resettlement. Working with two Sri Lankan temples in Toronto, the Toronto Mahavihara and the West End Buddhist Centre, the author analyzes a system of formal Buddhist religious education (Dhamma Education) in order to document the methods and effects of transmission of Buddhism from the first- to the second-generation Buddhists. The study considers the origin and development of Dhamma Education in the colonial, postcolonial, and diasporic contexts, and analyzes Dhamma Education curriculum and textbooks—The Buddhist Catechism, Daham Pasela, and Teaching Buddhism to Children in the respective periods—to discern the continuities and discontinuities of Buddhism across time and space. The study also analyzes data from two survey questionnaires and information from over 60 interviews conducted by the author to identify how both generations understand, define, and practice Buddhism, as well as their perceptions of each other’s understandings.
Drawing on theoretical insights from Talal Asad, this study conceptualizes Sri Lankan Buddhism in Toronto as a “discursive tradition” that relates to its past and future through its present. Such conceptualization facilitates identification of the community's impulses to maintain the coherence and viability of their tradition in Toronto. The author contends that Sri Lankan Buddhists in Toronto simultaneously reflect on and deflect from their religious tradition in Sri Lanka to redefine themselves as Sri Lankan Buddhists in Toronto; in this redefining process, their minority status, the Canadian multicultural discourse, popular perception of Buddhism, religious and cultural diversity in Toronto, and the individualistic North American culture play active roles.
The research demonstrates that Theravada Buddhism shapes the ethos of Sri Lankan Buddhists, but the latter reinterpret the former to reflect culturally diverse Toronto. In this process, they highlight a Buddhism promoting peaceful co-existence, mutual respect, and social harmony. The author explains how these emphases echo Canadian multicultural discourse and reflect Sri Lankan Buddhists’ minority status in Toronto. These overtones also fortify a stereotypical perception of Buddhism being a “peaceful, harmonious religion.” This positive image of Buddhism appeals to the second generation, who intensify the individualistic aspects in it. The findings illustrate that both generations negotiate the Buddhist tradition by integrating collective and individualistic cultural aspects. They add an egalitarian mode of interaction to the hierarchically defined monk-laity, parent-children relationships; they increase contemplative and humanitarian practices; and, they prefer a geo-religious (Sri Lankan Buddhist) identity to a previously popular ethno-religious (Sinhalese Buddhist) identity. Both identities are, however, overshadowed by a general Buddhist identity. The analysis of the second generation’s Buddhist practices in Toronto remind us that their Buddhism is not a foreign religion, but a Canadian one, the roots of which extend back to Sri Lanka.
Bhikkhu, Deba Mitra, "Dhamma Education: The Transmission and Reconfiguration of the Sri Lankan Buddhist Tradition in Toronto" (2010). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 1112.