Volume 28, 2021
Aesthetic Emotions: The Existential and Soteriological Value of Saṃvega/Pasāda in Early Buddhism
Lisa Liang and Brianna K. Morseth
Dharma Realm Buddhist University
Across the globe, our continued existence in light of present conditions is uncertain. Rapid spread of disease and risk of complications endanger the human population. Such challenging circumstances may shock and devastate us, inducing mass panic and pandemonium amid the pervasive threat of pandemic. Yet according to Buddhist philosophy, existential unease can also spawn deep transformation. In this paper, we examine a pair of aesthetic emotions (saṃvega/pasāda) from the early Buddhist tradition that together hold the potential to induce critical reflection and productive engagement in response to existential threat. By referring to saṃvega/pasāda as aesthetic emotions, we intend to draw out their distinctive, often visually-oriented soteriological function. While initially disorienting and perhaps even paralyzing, saṃvega and pasāda are ultimately reorienting and motivating factors on the path to liberation from the suffering entailed by cyclic existence.