The Neglected Music of the Theravada Tradition 

In an episode of Tricycle Talks, scholar Trent Walker explores how the Cambodian dharma song tradition demonstrates “a mischievous streak in Buddhist monasticism,” sitting at the intersection of asceticism and sensuality.

The Theravada tradition of Buddhism is typically associated with monastic purity and austerity. But according to Trent Walker, a scholar of Southeast Asian Buddhist music and author of the new book Until Nirvana’s Time: Buddhist Songs from Cambodia, this is only half true because it ignores the rich and vast traditions of Theravada liturgical music. In “Dharma Songs to Stir and Settle,” his article in the spring 2022 issue of Tricycle, Walker offers an introduction to the Cambodian dharma song tradition, with a particular emphasis on the affective states that dharma songs elicit. For Walker, dharma songs strike a balance between aesthetic expression and monastic austerity.

On Tricycle’s podcast, Tricycle editor-in-chief James Shaheen spoke with Walker about classical South Asian theories of emotion, his hopes for the future of Buddhist studies, and how music and aesthetics fit into the Buddhist path to salvation.

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