Broken lineages

I’m reading Katy Crosby’s Esoteric Theravada, which is about the pre-colonial meditation system in Theravāda Buddhist lands.

Her contention, which is very well sourced, is that there was an almost entirely oral meditation system that was passed from teacher to student that colonialism in Sri Lanka and Burma, Western reforms in Thailand, and Communism in Laos and Cambodia all but destroyed. The modern thing that we think of as “traditional” Buddhist meditation: mindfulness, insight and like are colonial-era textual reconstructions.

For perspective on the scale of the loss, the Cambodian Communists destroyed 90% of the Khmer literary heritage in a span of 15 years.

Also interesting to note, is that whenever people did start writing about this meditation tradition, it was because they feared it was on the verge of destruction.

This reminds me of the nearly lost indigenous traditions from Wayfinding, and how many of them simply won’t continue. There are limitations to what sort of knowledge can be passed on as a textual rather than oral transmission lineage. It’s not that revivals and textual reconstructions have no value, it’s just that texts themselves contain so little knowledge compared to a living tradition.

These are traditions, close to their end, that have been recorded largely by colonizers. Imagine how many traditions haven’t been recorded. Or the case of indigenous peoples choosing to let their traditions die rather than be desecrated by outsiders.