This paper is intended to present in outline form a structural analysis of the total religious system of the Sinhalese of Ceylon.
The Sinhalese, excluding those few who are Hindu, Christian, or Muslim, are Theravada Buddhists who also indulge in a rich array of magical-animistic and other “non-Buddhist” practices. Descriptive accounts of these various practices are readily available in the literature. But until now no one has examined the various beliefs and rituals to see whether and how they are related to one another, to what extent they combine to form an integrated system of “Sinhalese religion,” and how this system actually functions. I will attempt such an examination by focusing on the primary religious ideals, their practical implementation, and the problems involved in this implementation. Perhaps the most crucial problem facing Sinhalese religion is that the central ideal, salvation, which legitimates all religious action, is itself practically unattainable. This fact must have far-reaching implications for the total religious system.