In this essay, I critique received ideas that describe weikza practices as millennial or unorthodox and propose instead an alternate understanding that places this form of Theravada practice in creative tension with conventional Buddhist practices endorsed by the center of power in royal and modern time. In this approach, I follow the writing of Michael de Certeau on the ways in which certain religious practices were marginalized in the course of modernizing reforms. This somewhat submerged form of Buddhism speaks powerfully to individuals at the margins of power and in need of alternate ways to garner and control it. This kind of Burmese imaginations has been inspired by charismatic figures like Bo Bo Aung, Bo Min Gaung and charismatic monks who became hermits and occupied sanctified spaces outside conventional Buddhist institutions. Weikza practitioners are inspired by narratives of heroic feats and miraculous accomplishments, by their desire for extraordinary powers gained in samatha meditation, and by secret knowledge revealed in dreams and visions or harnessed through spells and alchemy. As weikza practices and texts did not undergo the authoritative editing of Buddhist reforms, their repertoire is hybrid and resonates with other religious traditions, such as Tibetan Tantric and Shaivite notions. In the absence of historical evidence about the transmission of texts or initiation rites, such polytropic forms only underscore the marginalized displacement of weikza practices. Neither millennial or unorthodox, weikza practices implicitly and subversively contest the conventional sources of power and merit controlled by reformed institutions at the center of Buddhist polities.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cultural Studies