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Attracting the Heart

Social Relations and the Aesthetics of Emotion in Sri Lankan Monastic Culture

Jeffrey Samuels

Publication Year: 2010

An idealized view of the lifestyle of a Buddhist monk might be described according to the doctrinal demand for emotional detachment and, ultimately, the cessation of all desire. Yet monks are also enjoined to practice compassion, a powerful emotion and equally lofty ideal, and live with every other human feeling—love, hate, jealousy, ambition—while relating to other monks and the lay community. In this important ethnography of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Jeffrey Samuels takes an unprecedented look at how emotion determines and influences the commitments that laypeople and monastics make to each other and to the Buddhist religion in general. By focusing on "multimoment" histories, Samuels highlights specific junctures in which ideas about recruitment, vocation, patronage, and institution-building are dynamically negotiated and refined. Positing a nexus between aesthetics and affect, he illustrates not only how aesthetic responses trigger certain emotions, but also how personal and shared emotions, at the local level, shape notions of beauty. Samuels uses the voices of informants to reveal the delicately negotiated character of lay-monastic relations and temple management. In the fields of religion and Buddhist studies there has been a growing recognition of the need to examine affective dimensions of religion. His work breaks new ground in that it answers questions about Buddhist emotions and the constitutive roles they play in social life and religious practice through a close, poignant look at small-scale temple and social networks. Throughout, Samuels makes the case for the need to account for emotions in making intelligible the behavior of religious participants and practitioners. Drawing on a decade of fieldwork that includes numerous interviews as well as an examination of written and visual sources, Attracting the Heart conveys the manner in which Buddhists describe their own histories, experiences, and encounters as they relate to the formation and continuation of Buddhist monastic culture in contemporary Sri Lanka. The book will be of interest to scholars and students of religion, Buddhist studies, anthropology, and South and Southeast Asian studies.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Topics in Contemporary Buddhism


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Series Editor's Preface

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p. ix

An idealized and simple view of the lifestyle of a Buddhist monk might be described according to the doctrinal demand for emotional detachment and, ultimately, the cessation of all desire and yet monks must also practice compassion, a powerful emotion and equally lofty ideal, and live with every other human feeling—love, hate, jealousy, ambition—as they relate to other monks and the ...

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pp. xi-xiii

As I think about all the people who have helped me over the years and wonder how I could ever repay them, the concluding paragraph from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (2007:334) comes to mind: “In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human...

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Notes on Romanization and Naming Practices

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p. xv

To encumber the reader as little as possible, I have restricted the use of diacritic marks to certain Sinhala and Pali words, phrases, and sentences. I have also omitted the use of diacritics for the names of monks, villages, and temples for the same reason. When I do use diacritics, I have romanized Sinhala according to the system...

Dramatis Personae

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pp. xvii-xix

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Introduction: Buddhism and Social Relations in Contemporary Sri Lanka

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pp. xxi-xxx

One evening in late May 2004, I made yet another of countless ascents to Polgoda Vihara: a hilltop village temple in upcountry Sri Lanka. Because of some unforeseen car problems, it was already dark by the time I arrived. Leaving my car by the side of the driveway leading to the temple, I began a brief but tiring uphill walk. As I came around the bend in the road, the temple came dimly into ...

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1 Narada Thero: Affective Bonds and the Making of a Social Service Monk

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pp. 1-20

During one afternoon in April 1999, I—along with Thilak, my research assistant—met Venerable Narada. Thilak and I received directions to Narada’s temple from Thilak’s wife, who had been working with Narada at the local high school at the time. After a journey that stretched well over two hours because of the heavy traffic that normally follows in the wake of the country’s schools letting...

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2 Aesthetics of Emotions and Affective Bonds: Monastic Recruitment in Two Sri Lankan Villages

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pp. 21-42

Unquestionably, one of the most popular Sinhalese films in 2004 was Sūriya Araṇa (English title: Fire Fighters) by the renowned director Somaratne Dissanayake. The film tells the tale of a hunter and his ten-year-old son as they lay sole claim to the bordering jungle’s bounty by frightening others with conjured up stories of the forest's many wandering...

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3 Aesthetic-Affective Social Networks and Monastic Recruitment

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pp. 43-62

Venerable Sumedha, who was so instrumental in drawing new recruits to Polgoda Vihara, left the Madavala temple in Anurādhapura in 1994. Since that time, however, Polgoda Vihara has enjoyed a continuous flow of new recruits from the area, with every subsequent year bringing more and more ordinands to Narada’s temple. When I asked Venerable Narada in 2003 to explain to me why ...

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4 Learning to Be Novices: Monastic Education and the Construction of Vocation

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pp. 63-83

Drawing children to the sangha is only one dimension of Narada’s social service enterprise. The second one is educating them as Buddhist monastics in the hope of sending them out, as well-trained novices and fully ordained monastics, to the temple’s ever growing number of branch temples. In examining Buddhist monastic education and training in this chapter, my concern...

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5 Temple Building as Social Service: Family, Community, and Emotion

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pp. 84-106

When I first began researching Polgoda Vihara in 1999, there were only two branch temples associated with it: one under the administration of Venerable Sumedha in Uduvela and one run by Reverend Ananda in Banvelgolla. Before leaving Sri Lanka in May 2000, two new branch temples were opened: one in Baṭuaṃbē and one in Tēkkavatta.1 The number of branch temples began increasing...

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Conclusion: Social Relations and the Aesthetics of Emotion

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pp. 107-109

In the preceding chapters I have discussed Buddhism as a human activity by attending to the range of emotions, social bonds, and shared aesthetic sensibilities that draw and hold together communities of Buddhists. Although such an examination does not necessarily preclude the importance of Buddhist texts, I have focused largely on the emotional textures and multi-moment histories of ...


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pp. 111-143


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pp. 145-159


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pp. 161-167

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860622
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824833855

Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Topics in Contemporary Buddhism
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OCLC Number: 794925328
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Attracting the Heart

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Buddhist monks -- Sri Lanka -- Social life and customs.
  • Monastic and religious life (Buddhism) -- Sri Lanka.
  • Buddhist sanghas -- Social aspects -- Sri Lanka.
  • Aesthetics -- Religious aspects -- Buddhism.
  • Emotions -- Religious aspects -- Buddhism.
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