The story of how Theravada Buddhism came to be adopted among urban Kinh communities in southern Vietnam challenges how scholars narrate Buddhist history. Focusing on the transformation of a single liturgical text—a chant, originally in the Pali language, to invite a monk to give a sermon—as it circulates across Thailand and Cambodia before its eventual translation from Khmer into Vietnamese in the mid-twentieth century, this essay reveals how chants grow as they circulate, how Theravada liturgies unsettle distinctions between classical and vernacular languages, and how ritual and ideological necessities shape translation in new cultural contexts.
A Chant Has Nine Lives: The Circulation of Theravada Liturgies in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam
Trent Walker is the 2020–2022 postdoctoral fellow at the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford University. Research and writing for this article were supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Khyentse Foundation while he was based at the Department of Thai, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. Valuable feedback was provided by Quyen Nguyen-Hoang, Chenxing Han, two anonymous readers, and the attendees of a public lecture at Rangjung Yeshe Institute, Kathmandu.
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Trent Walker; A Chant Has Nine Lives: The Circulation of Theravada Liturgies in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Journal of Vietnamese Studies 25 August 2020; 15 (3): 36–78. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/vs.2020.15.3.36
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