Even under the best of circumstances, “religion” can be a slippery term. In Buddhist Sri Lanka (Ceylon), it is especially so. Anthropologists recognize a religious complex that includes spirit exorcism as well as orthodox Buddhism; yet in Sinhalese usage, the word for religion, agama, applies to the latter but specifically excludes the former. On the other hand, from a Western perspective, orthodox “doctrinal” Buddhism—rationalistic, atheistic, non-supernatural—hardly seems to qualify as religion by any ordinary definition of the English word or its European equivalents. Indeed, that has, historically, been one of the strong appeals of Buddhism to the West. However, the terminological problem is not a vital one. Though it is well to keep in mind the indigenous distinctions, the various beliefs and practices of Sinhalese Buddhists so blend into one another and are so overtly connected, ritually and ideologically, that they present themselves as an identifiable complex that has been conventionally and justifiably called “religious.”

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