Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Unburdening the Heart: Urban Youth and Buddhist Emotional Education in Contemporary Vietnam

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Madison A, Mezzanine Level

In the last decade, there has been an acute increase in public attention to the rise of the number of people who are experiencing stress, depression, and anxiety disorder all across Vietnam. National media has attributed the epidemic of these illnesses to rapid socioeconomic changes, to technological advances, and to the pressure of the market economy. Youth, particularly university students, have emerged as the most likely victims of these psychological conditions. Thus, life-skill courses and psychological counseling services that offer young people the necessary skills to cope with different psychological conditions have become noticeably popular in many urban centers. Within the context of this “psychological boom” (Huang 2014), many urban Buddhist institutions have taken keen interests in crafting a Buddhism that helps alleviate youth’s psychological and emotional concerns. Based on 12 months of ethnographic research at Buddhist retreats and community-building activities at different Buddhist temples and Buddhist groups in Ho Chi Minh City, this paper investigates the biopolitics of Buddhist psychological and emotional education for urban youth. It examines how urban Buddhist educators have adapted various forms of mindfulness practices, particularly those of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Villages, to help youth address their emotional concerns, and how the youth themselves respond to these practices. In doing so, I draw attention to how youth, an oft-neglected population in the study of Vietnamese Buddhism, and their wellbeing are figured prominently not only in the configuration of contemporary Vietnamese Buddhism, but also in national concerns over the politics of life.

Dat Nguyen

Boston University, Massachusetts

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