Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words

Histories of Buddhist Monastic Education in Laos and Thailand

Justin Thomas McDaniel

  • Published: 2008
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / Southeast Asia; History
  • Bibliographic information: 384 pp., 28 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: Not available in Asia
  • Series: Critical Dialogues in Southeast Asian Studies
  • Contents

Winner of the Henry J. Benda Prize sponsored by the Association for Asian Studies

Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words examines modern and premodern Buddhist monastic education traditions in Laos and Thailand. Through five centuries of adaptation and reinterpretation of sacred texts and commentaries, Justin McDaniel traces curricular variations in Buddhist oral and written education that reflect a wide array of community goals and values. He depicts Buddhism as a series of overlapping processes, bringing fresh attention to the continuities of Theravada monastic communities that have endured despite regional and linguistic variations. Incorporating both primary and secondary sources from Thailand and Laos, he examines premodern inscriptional, codicological, anthropological, art historical, ecclesiastical, royal, and French colonial records. By looking at modern sermons, and even television programs and websites, he traces how pedagogical techniques found in premodern palm-leaf manuscripts are pervasive in modern education.

As the first comprehensive study of monastic education in Thailand and Laos, Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words will appeal to a wide audience of scholars and students interested in religious studies, anthropology, social and intellectual history, and pedagogy.
Justin McDaniel is associate professor of religious studies at the University of California, Riverside.

"This book is a gold mine of descriptive information, analysis, and informed speculative inference. It will add substantially to our knowledge of Buddhism in northern Thailand and Laos, monastic education, the relationship between canon and commentary, and, I hope, will promote the study of pedagogical intertextuality, which is at the heart of McDaniel's project."
-Donald K. Swearer, Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School

"This is a brilliant study which will establish McDaniel as the foremost student of the relationship between Buddhist religious texts and the contexts in which they are read, heard, seen, and interpreted."
-Charles Keyes, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and International Studies, University of Washington

Note on Transcription

Part One Structural Mechanisms: The Institutional History of Monastic Education
1. From the Sala Vat to the Institut Bouddhique
2. Wandering Librarians
3. Kings and Universities

Part Two Proximate Mechanisms: Toward a Curricular History of Monastic Education
4. Genres, Modes, and Idiosyncratic Articulations
5. The Culture of Translation
6. Canons and Curricula

Part Three Vernacular Landscapes: Teaching Buddhism in Laos and Thailand
7. From Manuscript to Television
8. Philosophical Embryology

Note on Manuscripts, Archives, Monastic Libraries, and Catalogs

"The book reads very fluidly as McDaniel writes in an unusually clear and straightforward manner. . . . The book will no doubt become essential reading for anyone studying the social history of Thailand and Laos or Theravada Buddhism."
-Daniel Veidlinger, History of Religions, February 2011

"Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words is a rich and often fascinating treatment of Buddhist monastic textual culture and bilingual commentary in the Siamese/Thai/Lao region, reflecting the author's long personal acquaintance with Lao/Thai monastic institutions and educational practices."

"With this book, McDaniel, a gifted textual scholar, has produced the first systemic study of how monks have been educated in Southeast Asia over the last five hundred years."