Buddhist Law in Burma: A History of Dhammasattha Texts and Jurisprudence, 1250–1850

Hardback: $80.00
ISBN-13: 9780824872601
Published: August 2018
Paperback: $30.00
ISBN-13: 9780824889937
Published: June 2021

Additional Information

304 pages
  • About the Book
  • Burma and neighboring areas of Southeast Asia comprise the only region of the world to have developed a written corpus of Buddhist law claiming jurisdiction over all members of society. Yet in contrast with the extensive scholarship on Islamic and Hindu law, this tradition of Buddhist law has been largely overlooked. In fact, it is commonplace to read that Buddhism gave rise to no law aside from the vinaya, or monastic law. In Buddhist Law in Burma, D. Christian Lammerts upends this misperception and provides an intellectual and literary history of the dynamic jurisprudence of the dhammasattha legal genre between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries.

    Based on a critical study of hundreds of little-known surviving dhammasattha and related manuscripts, Buddhist Law in Burma demonstrates the centrality of law as a crucial discipline of Buddhist knowledge in precolonial Southeast Asia. Composed by lay and monastic jurists in prose and verse, in Pali, Burmese, and other regional vernaculars, dhammasattha were intended for use by judges to guide the adjudication of legal disputes. Lammerts argues that there were multiple, sometimes contentious, modes of reckoning Buddhist jurisprudence and legal authority in the region and assesses these in the context of local cultural, textual, and ritual practices. Over time the foundational jurisprudence of the genre underwent considerable reformulation in light of arguments raised by its critics, bibliographers, and historians, resulting in a reorientation from a cosmological to a more positivist conception of Buddhist law and legislation that had far-reaching implications for innovative forms of dhammasattha-related discourse on the eve of British colonialism.

    Buddhist Law in Burma shows how, despite such textual and theoretical transformations, late precolonial Burmese jurists continued to promote and justify the dhammasattha genre, and the role of law generally in Buddhism, as a vital aspect of the ongoing effort to protect and preserve the sāsana of Gotama Buddha. The book will be of value to students and scholars interested in the rich legal, intellectual, and cultural histories of Buddhism in Burma and Southeast Asia, or in the historical intersections of law and Buddhism.

  • About the Author(s)
    • D. Christian Lammerts, Author

      D. Christian Lammerts is associate professor of Buddhist and Southeast Asian studies at Rutgers University.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Buddhist Law in Burma is a major contribution to the study of Buddhist textual history, jurisprudence, and Southeast Asian history. It will be a valued contribution to scholarship that will not be surpassed for decades as Lammerts has nearly unparalleled experience in textual research and language skills in this field.
      —Justin Thomas McDaniel, University of Pennsylvania
    • This is not only a radical reexamination of Burmese law, but possibly the most subtle and original inquiry we have into precolonial Burmese intellectual life. No other scholar has produced so massive and painstaking an analysis of the evolution of Burmese law over some six centuries with such erudition and sensitivity. Lammerts’ archival and bibliographic expertise, his multilingualism, and the care and judiciousness with which he examines various hypotheses combine to inspire total confidence in his scholarship. Withal, he writes with vigor, grace, and clarity.
      —Victor Lieberman, University of Michigan
    • Buddhist Law in Burma presents a wealth of fascinating information clearly and elegantly, without being sidelined by fashionable polemics or jargon. The legal texts that Lammerts presents to us so deftly may have fallen into disuse, but the ideas and ideologies that underlie them continue to inform the intellectual and social bodies of Myanmar today. Buddhist Law in Burma introduces us for the first time to this rich legal corpus and shows just how important it is. Readable, engaging, and immensely relevant, Buddhist Law in Burma sets new fresh standards and deserves to remain at the top of the reading list for decades to come.
      —Peter Skilling, École française d’Extrême-Orient
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