WEIGHTED IDIOMS: CATEGORIES OF LIGHTNESS AND HEAVINESS IN THAI SPIRITUAL PHENOMENOLOGY

Presenting Author(s): Julia Cassaniti Washington State

Friday, November 18

4:00 PM – 4:15 PM

Hilton, Room: Salon B

In this paper, I will explore how people in a small community in Northern Thailand kindle spiritual experience through culturally elaborated idioms of weight. I will show how positive, sought-after spiritual feelings felt in meditation are often described as ones of lightness (in Thai: bow) and emptiness (wang plao), and even sometimes to floating or flying. In contrast, negative and avoided spiritual experiences are characterized by a feeling of heaviness, such as in the commonly reported phenomenon of sleep paralysis (in Thai known by the spirit of Phi Am). Attending to the ways that idioms of weight among these Northern Thai Buddhists are used to make sense of spiritual phenomenology, and to the ways that these labels may ‘kindle’ experiences of them through the lowering of sensory thresholds, may help us to understand how some religious feelings on and in the body come to be reported more often in some cultural contexts than in others. Here I will report on how these weighted idioms play out in personal religious practice, and point to their connection with locally elaborated theories of mind. In doing so I argue for the broadening of conceptual categories in the cross-cultural study of spiritual experience.

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