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Reading Buddhist poetry from Southeast Asia – Lecture 5: Pleasure

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 5: Pleasure

Buddhist texts praise the pleasures of peace, contentment, and renunciation, typically framed in Pali or Sanskrit as sukha, “well-being.” At the same time, Buddhist texts tend to be deeply suspicious or critical of sensual pleasures (kāma). Yet many forms of pleasure fall on a spectrum between what normative doctrine praises and what it censures.

Buddhist poetry in Southeast Asia engages with pleasure, especially expressions of aesthetic rapture, that challenge prescriptive dichotomies between wholesome and unwholesome mental states. What is the role of pleasure in how Buddhists have written and received poetry in Southeast Asia over the past millennium?

Drawing on Khmer, Thai, and Vietnamese examples, this lecture charts the spectrum of pleasure as a tool to read more deeply into the subtleties and contradictions of Buddhist poems in the region.


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

Zoom link for Reading Buddhist Poetry from Southeast Asia Lecture 5: Pleasure

Date Friday, 17 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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