I’ve already made some remarks on the nature of reform in modern Theravada. I continue to be surprised at the unrealistic scenarios that people imagine change can come by.
History is good: it teaches about the messiness of things. Those who argue that universal consensus is necessary before making any changes are, in my opinion, arguing that change should never come. Do you think I’m wrong? Then meet my challenge. I’ve already said this in comments, now let me emphasize it again.
I’ve given several examples in recent Theravada history where reform comes because one person or a small group goes against the will of the majority, or against the tradition, and simply perseveres until their innovations becomes seen as normal.
May someone please give us an example of a major reform that was brought about through universal consensus? Anything in modern Theravada? Theravada through the ages? Other schools of Buddhism? Any major religion, anywhere, anytime? Let’s see if there are any examples, and if they are, how relevant they might be in our current situation.
Here’s two possibilities to start with.
Vatican 2. A major reform of a huge religion, that was accomplished through dialogue and discussion. After statements by previous popes that condemned modernity, now the Roman Church embraced it. new churches were built using modern, abstract art; social values of inclusivity; church services in the vernacular; and many other previously radical ideas suddenly became orthodox. Some areas were untouched, notably ordination for women. Nevertheless, it was a great accomplishment by any standards, but in an organization that has always been far more centralized and structured than Buddhism.
Unification of the Sri Lankan Sangha: Under the rule of the awesome Parakkamabahu 1, the three main sects of Sri Lankan Buddhism were unified. This happened around 1165 CE. The king lamented that, while kings in the past had made tremendous efforts to unify the Sangha, they never managed to do so, because of the endless squabbling of the monks. This reform was really the start of Theravada in the modern sense as a dominant force in S-E Asia. From then on, the diverse traditions of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, and other regions came to be brought more and more under the specific traditions of the Mahavihara in Anuradhapura. Diversity remained underneath the ‘official’ religion as local and regional customs, beliefs, and practices. This reform, like more recent changes in the structure of Thai Buddhism, was only made possible due to State control.