2015 Seminars

2015 Seminar Series







Phaptawan Suwannakudt

Buddhism and My Art

Well-known Thai-Australian artist Phaptawan Suwannakudt will give an illustrated presentation on her work and its development, with reference to the significance of Buddhism to her practice and imagery.



Charlotte Galloway, ANU

Buddhist art and Sri Ksetra, Myanmar: Fragments of a complex Buddhist world

Charlotte’s research focus is on the early Buddhist art of Myanmar. During her sabbatical in 2014, she catalogued the museum collection at Sri Ksetra, nearly all of the material dating to the Pyu period of the first millennia, much of it not recorded and most of it never published. The material is mostly archaeological, and many objects are tantalising fragments of curious images that hint at a complex Buddhist society during this significant historical period. Today she is sharing some of her findings and her preliminary observations regarding the early Pyu Buddhist art of Myanmar from Sri Ksetra. Charlotte suggests that the diversity of imagery indicates that Buddhism at Sri Ksetra demonstrates engagement with the broad Buddhist world of the age, and embraced a variety of imagery and ideas.



Iain Sinclair, Monash

What is ‘Essential Buddhism’? The Winnowed Canon in South Asia

The question of how a person should think and act to promote their self-awakening lies at the heart of Buddhism. The literature on a Buddhist’s ‘duty’, their dharma, is, however, dauntingly large and varied. There is no single set of texts authoritative for all followers of Buddhism, although attempts are constantly made to conceive or promote a sanctioned corpus, a ‘canon’. All essentializations of Buddhism were famously rejected by Nāgārjuna; but his own tradition, codified in the Sanskrit language, barely survives today. Why has so little of the Sanskritic corpus, once dominant in South Asia, been transmitted? This seminar focuses on an overlooked moment in the final days of Buddhism in India, when the last monasteries dispatched their libraries across the Himalayas. It explores, using hitherto unstudied material, an almost unthinkable scenario: that most of the ‘canon’ was deliberately thrown out. All works on the vinaya, which perpetuated the collapsing institution of celibate monasticism, were eliminated in this period. In their place, a mini-canon of scripture suitable for tantric Buddhist householders was propagated, which has defined the surviving Sanskritic tradition up to the present.



Stephanie Majcher, USYD

Re-envisioning Sanskrit: Approaching Texts through Language and Embodiment

According to the models of existence that are presented in the Ṛgvedic Āraṇyakas, language belongs to a group of diverse deities (devatā) that abide within the mortal body and together generate the person or puruṣa as a constantly shifting array of emotional, psychological, sensory, and physiological dynamics. While the transience of these states and their appearance of incommensurability with the goal of realizing a self (ātman) has led scholars to value them negatively as an impediment to realization, it is the deities’ contribution of their own substantial identities to the person that sets the parameters of spiritual attainment in its temporal and practical aspects and describes the potential for transformation. In contrast, then, to the critical interpretations that have come to dominance in historical studies of Sanskrit’s religious significance, these texts and their teachings demonstrate an understanding that language and its internal structures are crucially involved in personhood, its very manifestation and malleability. This indicates that as a living expression of reality with its hidden connections, physical embodiment is the immediate context for the unfolding of Vedic revelation. The result is the suggestion that rather than looking for a language named Sanskrit it would be more productive to ask what it means to become saṃskṛta.



Geoffrey Samuel, Cardiff

Mindfulness Within the Full Range of Buddhist and Asian Meditative Practices

The initial stages of the Mindfulness movement involved, for the most part, a limited set of meditative practices derived from modernist forms of Buddhism in Asia and the West, and restated in terms relatively distant from those of life and practice in Asian Buddhist societies. Much initial research was also focussed on the effects and therapeutic efficacy of this modernised and secularised set of practices, in part because of the relative ease with which it could be assimilated within contemporary scientific thought and biomedical practice. However, as the Mindfulness movement has grown, it has provided an invitation to consider the much wider range of meditative forms existing within Asian Buddhist traditions. This seminar discusses some of these meditative forms, also considering similar and parallel contemplative practices within Hindu and Daoist traditions. A better understanding of this multiplicity of contemplative forms and techniques, and of the cultural and philosophical context which they assume and imply, can both stimulate an expansion and rethinking of Western modes of scientific thought, and aid us to develop a more varied and productive range of therapeutic applications.



David Templeman, Monash

Nested autobiography: Life writing within Taranatha’s larger works

The Tibetan scholar Taranatha (1575-1634) wrote a 1,000 page autobiography a short while before his passing. Such a large work about oneself might at first appear as a rather immodest undertaking. By far the largest portion of the text is devoted to Taranatha establishing himself as the pre-eminent authority on Indian Buddhism of his time as well as recording the minute details of his political relationships with his patrons. However in the mid point there is a tiny separate section of 15 verses which he refers to as his true and authentic autobiography. This presentation will examine this tiny text and locate it within Tibetan Buddhist literature and within the broader events of Taranatha’s life.



Maria Kozhevnikov, Singapore

Relaxation vs. arousal: A comparison of the neurophysiological responses between Theravada and Vajrayana meditative practices

Based on evidence of parasympathetic activation, early research defined meditation as a relaxation response. Later research categorized meditation either involving focused or distributed attentional systems. Neither of these hypotheses received strong empirical support, and most of the studies investigated Theravada style meditative practices only. We collected Electrocardiographic (EKG) and Electroencephalographic (EEG) responses using a participant pool of experienced Theravada practitioners from Thailand (Yannawa Temple, Bangkok) and Nepal (the International Buddhist Meditation Center, New Baneshwor) and Vajrayana practitioners from Nepal (Shechen monastery, Kathmandu). Both focused (Shamatha) and distributed (Vipassana) attention meditations of the Theravada tradition produced enhanced parasympathetic activation, indicative of a relaxation response.  Both focused (Deity) and distributed (Rigpa) meditations of the Vajrayana tradition produced sympathetic activation, indicative of the state of arousal (the state of being awake and responsive to stimuli). Consistent with Tibetan tests, which describe Shamatha and Vipassana techniques as calming and relaxing the mind, and Vajrayana techniques as requiring wakefulness, we show that Theravada and Vajrayana meditations are based on different neurophysiological mechanisms.



Frederic Richard, Lausanne

The Shugden Affair: A Religious or a Political Issue?

The controversy about the Tibetan protective deity named Shugden or Dolgyal, was explained in religious terms by the few scholars who wrote about it. In this paper I will first show why this controversy is today mainly a political issue, and how this development is closely linked to the political situation of the Tibetan Government in Exile. Then, I will show that beyond the exile context, the political development of this controversy can be understood in the light of the traditional Tibetan political system based on the union of politics and religion, or chos srid zung ‘brel, which was challenged in exile but remained the central doctrine of the Government in Exile. Finally, I will attempt to show how this controversy can help us to build a more critical understanding of religion (chos) and politics (srid) in the Tibetan cultural system.