Year published :June 2017

Pages :232 pp.

Size :15.5x23 cm., paperback

Black & White photograph :9

Tables :2

Rights :Southeast Asia

ISBN: 9780801456718

Living Buddhism: Mind, Self, and Emotion in a Thai Community

by Julia Cassaniti

In Living Buddhism, Julia Cassaniti explores Buddhist ideas of impermanence, nonattachment, and intention as they are translated into everyday practice in contemporary Thailand. Although most lay people find these philosophical concepts difficult to grasp, Cassaniti shows that people do in fact make an effort to comprehend them and integrate them as guides for their everyday lives. In doing so, she makes a convincing case that complex philosophical concepts are not the sole property of religious specialists and that ordinary lay Buddhists find in them a means for dealing with life’s difficulties. More broadly, the book speaks to the ways that culturally informed ideas are part of the psychological processes that we all use to make sense of the world around us. 

In an approachable first-person narrative style that combines interview and participant-observation material gathered over the course of two years in the community, Cassaniti shows how Buddhist ideas are understood, interrelated, and reinforced through secular and religious practices in everyday life. She compares the emotional experiences of Buddhist villagers with religious and cultural practices in a nearby Christian village. Living Buddhism highlights the importance of change, calmness (as captured in the Thai phrase jai yen, or a cool heart), and karma; Cassaniti’s narrative untangles the Thai villagers’ feelings and problems and the solutions they seek. 


  • Shares Thai villagers’ strategies for applying Buddhist concepts in daily life
  • Shows how complex religious concepts are understood by a contemporary Thai community
  • Notes the interplay of Buddhist and secular elements in the lives of Thai villagers


Introduction: A World of Change 

Part I. Emotion

1. Cool Hearts
2. Heat 

Part II. Attachment

3. Letting Go
4. Holding On 

Part III. Karma

5. Cause and Effect
6. Conclusion: Acting Apart 


About the Author 

Julia Cassaniti is Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Washington State University. 

What Others are Saying 

“This book sparkles with normalcy, meaning that it neither seeks to impress the reader by hiding behind theory nor obscures the subject with overinterpretation. Julia Cassaniti laughed, danced, and cried with a small group of villagers in Northern Thailand for extended periods of time. She writes with refreshing clarity and humility about these relationships. This allows the readers to experience the abiding sense of impermanence that sustains people through everyday suffering and learn with them how to become both Thai and Buddhist without hardly noticing.”—Justin Thomas McDaniel, University of Pennsylvania, author of The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand 

“With a beautiful blend of stories, research, and her own field experience, Julia Cassaniti unlocks the secrets of creating calmness and the power of letting go. Living Buddhism is a must-read for everyone—expert and nonexpert alike—interested in how our cultures shape our emotional lives.”—Hazel Markus, Davis-Brack Professor in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, coauthor of Social Psychology 


Thai Buddhism anthropology religious philosophy community life Thai villagers

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