DESIRE AND SELFHOOD: GLOBAL CHINESE RELIGIOUS HEALING IN PENANG, MALAYSIA
This dissertation is an ethnographic examination of Chinese meditators who, propelled by their suffering, pursue alternative religious healing education to harmonize their conflicts with social others and to answer their existential questions. Using Lacan’s analysis of desire as an analytic with which to understand two religious healing schools—Bodhi Heart Sanctuary in Penang with global lecturers, and Wise Qigong centers in Penang, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen—this dissertation delineates and explains how, in the Chinese diaspora, unconscious desires are expressed through alternative religious healing systems. The doctrines of Bodhi Heart Sanctuary and Wise Qigong follow a similar internal logic: they teach their disciples to submit themselves to a new alterity that resembles Confucianism, requiring self-submission if not asceticism. In so doing, practitioners, misrecognizing the source of their self-making, claim to transcend their suffering by overcoming their desires with the guidance of the new alterity, which represents a new form of ego-ideal. By attaching themselves to the best object—Buddha’s Right View, or hunyuan qi, the “primordial energy”—practitioners believe that they revitalize themselves as they address and work through the existential dilemmas involved in everyday interactions. This dissertation explicates the process through which Chinese forms of “self-help” therapy make sense to people as a manifestation of cross-cultural human existential concerns while these concerns take distinctively Chinese forms. This dissertation contributes to a more psychologically informed understanding of Chinese middle-class women’s and men’s desires by delineating how religious aesthetics seen as an ideal alterity generates transcendence in suffering through experiencing healing aesthetics and observing the play of desires. In the cases of Bodhi Heart Sanctuary and Wise Qigong, Chinese practitioners’ dissatisfaction is transformed by adopting a meta-perspective to negate their desires through asceticism, thereby fulfilling their ultimate desire—reaching nirvana, or the state of eternal happiness and abundance, attaining ideal selfhood.
Chinese; desire; Penang; religious healing; suffering; Social psychology; Religious education; Malaysia; Cultural anthropology
Sangren, Paul Steven
Willford, Andrew C.; Tagliacozzo, Eric
Ph. D., Anthropology
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis