Date of Award

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Ingrid Jordt

Committee Members

Erica Bornstein, Thomas Malaby


Abhidhamma, Buddhism, Burma, Myanmar, Recitation, Sound


In Burma (Myanmar), the Abhidhamma, a rigorous and abstract soteriological treatise situated within the vast Pali Buddhist canon, is the focus of both monastic and lay practitioners’ close study and popular veneration. In particular, the Paṭṭhāna, the last and most complex volume of the Abhidhamma, is envisioned as a keystone in the long-term preservation of the Buddha’s teachings, which are also understood to inevitably disappear. As a result of these conditions and understandings, a popular ritualized and amplified recitation of this difficult text has developed in order to maintain the text’s presence in popular consciousness. This is a conscientious move by Burmese Buddhist practitioners to create opportunities for people to hear the Buddha’s teachings, while also providing merit for all of the people involved in the production of the ritualized recitation, including the listeners. The accrual of this merit can provide for a better rebirth, for example, in a time when the future Buddha returns to earth and restores these teachings to humans once again. The amplified practices of this festival drew my attention to the significance of sound in the role of place making, not only at the sites of these festivals but also within the monastery I stayed at while completing fieldwork for this thesis. That is, I found sound and a sensibility of sound to be a critical means by which individual and collective memory make sense and place out of experience. In this Burmese Buddhist cosmological context, sensing sound was an avenue by which to preserve the Buddha’s teachings, accrue merit, obtain spurious enlightenment, and expand the sacred space of effective practice.