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Reading Buddhist poetry from Southeast Asia – Lecture 3: Debt

A lecture series presented by Dr Trent Walker of the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies, and Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies, Stanford University.

Organised by the Religion Programme of the University of Otago, with the support of the Dhammachai Education Foundation.

Many of the Buddhist texts composed in second-millennium Southeast Asia are in verse. While prose has long dominated in the realm of Buddhist sermons and scholastic exegesis, poetry was reserved for the texts most frequently recited and memorized by both laypeople and monastics. Despite their abundant parallels across borders and languages, literary compositions in verse from Southeast Asia are rarely seriously studied outside of the confines of particular national traditions.

This lecture series aims to situate classical- and vernacular-language poems from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam within a regional approach to aesthetics and doctrine.

Each lecture explores a different theme germane to the production and performance of Buddhist poetry in Southeast Asia, namely: language, prayer, debt, shock, and pleasure. Readings include articles and book excerpts on Southeast Asian Buddhist poetry as well as English translations of original texts in Chinese, Khmer, Lao, Pali, Sanskrit, Thai, and Vietnamese.

Lecture 3: Debt

A common thread in Southeast Asian Buddhist literature is the repayment of debts to parents, teachers, and other revered figures. The complex nexus of virtue and debt, expressed as guṇa in the Southeast Asian usage of Pali, is commonly encapsulated in single letters, especially in the traditional meditation practices of the region. How do these exoteric and esoteric aspects of debt surface in Buddhist verse?

This lecture engages a variety of poems in Khmer, Thai, Lao, and Vietnamese on these themes, including the way they invoke and move beyond classical Sinitic or Sanskritic models of filiality. Understanding the multiple layers of debt as a signal theme across poetry in multiple languages is key to reading Buddhist texts in Southeast Asia.


This public lecture will be livestreamed via Zoom at the link below.

Zoom link for Reading Buddhist Poetry from Southeast Asia Lecture 3: Debt

Date Wednesday, 15 February 2023
Time 3:00pm - 5:00pm
Audience Public,All University
Event Category Humanities
Event Type Lecture
Online and in-person
DepartmentReligious Studies
LocationInformation Services Building AV Conference Suite 1 W05b, University of Otago Dunedin campus, and online via Zoom
Contact NameElizabeth Guthrie-Higbee
Contact Phone+64 21 669 634

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