Detachment, Attachment, and Attention in Buddhist Burma
Fri, October 12, 2012 • 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM • WCH 4.118
People living in any society must mediate between two desires: to feel bonded to others and to feel autonomous. Various resolutions of the dilemma are on offer, but none of them can truly overcome the contradiction. Burmese Buddhists are inclined to emphasize the need for autonomy, praising detachment as a goal. Taking religious discourse as a commentary (witting or unwitting) on social relations, the talk ask what links we might see between Burmese social interaction, on the one hand, and on the other, attitudes toward attachment, detachment and control over attention.
Ward Keeler is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. A specialist in Southeast Asia, the first part of his career was based on long-term fieldwork in Java and Bali. More recently, he has been doing research in Burma, looking at the performing arts and music, and at gender. He lived in monasteries in Mandalay from August, 2011, to July, 2012, in order to learn about monks as men at the margins of Burmese society, complementing earlier research on the transgendered, who also live at the margins of mainstream society. He embarked upon a ten-day meditation retreat in April, in an effort to learn what the great interest in meditation in contemporary Burma tells us about Burmese understandings of social relations and individual desires.