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Reading Buddhist poetry from Southeast Asia – Lecture 4: Shock

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 4: Shock

Some genres of Buddhist poetry in Southeast Asia are recited only for the dying or the dead. Many such texts are crafted to shock the living into realizing the impermanence of life, arousing an emotional experience known in Pali as saṃvega. This sense of being shocked or stirred into the spiritual path emerges repeatedly in poems from Southeast Asia, including those structured on Buddhist narratives as well as on particular doctrines. How do the aesthetics of shock shape the way poems are written and performed in Southeast Asia?

This lecture focuses on material from Cambodia, along with parallel texts in Lanna, Lao, and Thai. Often paired with the stilling of pasāda, the shock of saṃvega is a crucial lens for appreciating the composition and reception of Buddhist poems.


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

Zoom link for Reading Buddhist Poetry from Southeast Asia Lecture 4: Shock

Date Thursday, 16 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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