Topics for Final Paper, REL302 Chinese Religions
Double-spaced, not more than 1500 words. Be sure to provide page
references for all ideas and statements as appropriate (See the
"Paper Writing Guidelines." You may use footnotes, endnotes, or
parenthetical notation to indicate page numbers for textual
references). Some of the paper topics are designed around a dialogue
or a creative, imaginative situation. Referencing your ideas for
these topics is just as important as for more conventional topics.
Note: I will be stricter on requiring page references for the
final paper than for the earlier, shorter papers.
Due in class, Friday, December 3, no extensions.
Be sure to write your name, the name of the class, and the title
of your topic ( Chuang Tzu and the Goddess, Lao Tzu and Hsun Tzu on
Rulership, Carving the Bellstand, etc. ) at the top of the page.
You may write on your own topic if you wish. However, you must: 1)
Submit a one-paragraph description by email to the instructor. 2) You
must submit your topic by Tuesday, November 28. 3) You must obtain
approval from the instructor.
I also strongly encourage you to read the essays on my Writing web
pages, especially "Four Keys to Writing in the Humanities," "Paper
Writing Guidelines," "Checklist for Papers," and "Writing: The Bridge
between Consciousness and Unconsciousness."
- 1. Critiquing the Orchestral Vision of Confucius
- Confucius sees society and the cosmos like the orchestral
performance of a classical symphony: A fixed script, roles for
everyone, ritualized behavior, and when combine properly, social
and cosmic harmony. Present this basic picture in your own words
in 1-2 pages and then provide a critique of this view using one of
the other thinkers we have examined in this course except Lao Tzu
or Chuang Tzu.
- 2. Chuang Tzu and the Goddess
- In the Chuang Tzu, there is an episode where Chuang
Chou (Chuang Tzu) becomes interchanged with a butterfly. In The
Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti, Sariputra becomes interchanged
with the Goddess. In what ways do these episodes reflect
similarities in Chuang Tzu and the Goddess' views on the nature of
reality? What are the differences? Does one present a superior
understanding to the other? Why or why not?
- 3. Lao Tzu and Hsun Tzu on Rulership
- Compare and contrast Lao Tzu's conception of rulership with
that of Hsun Tzu. What, if any are the similarities, and what are
the differences? Can the two be regarded as complementary, or are
the two models of leadership mutually exclusive? Why?
- 4. Carving the Bellstand
- Woodworker Ch'ing fasts his body and mind, sees the bell stand
in the tree, and proceeds to carve a bell stand (pp. 126-127) In
doing so, he says that he is simply "matching heaven with heaven."
Compare this method of woodworking with the way that a virtuous
person in Hsun Tzu's ideal society might go about carving a bell
stand. Do they make the same bell stand or not? How so?
- 5. Distinctions in Hsun Tzu and Chuang Tzu
- For Hsun Tzu the ability to exercise reason and make critical
distinctions is essential to the person of cultivated virtue, the
sage or the gentleman. For Chuang Tzu, it is the over-reliance on
rational distinctions that is at the heart of the human dilemma.
Are their views mutually exclusive, or is there some way in which
their views might be complementary? (Suggestion: See Dan Lerman's
article in the Course Reader, "Language and the Nature of
Distinctions: An Analysis of Hsun Tzu and Chuang Tzu").
- 6. Two Buddhists on the Two-fold Truth
- Compare the view of the two-fold truth of form and emptiness
as found in two of the Buddhist thinkers we have read for this
course. In particular examine the similarities and differences
between them on the following questions: How do they understand
the relation between attachment, form, and emptiness; and how
should one practice in order to attain awakening?
- 7. T'ien-T'ai Chih-i and the Zen Master Hui-neng
- The T'ien-t'ai master Chih-i advances the view that the
two-fold truth of emptiness can be integrated into the
practitioner's life through the realization of the four samadhis,
an apparently gradual process. The Zen master Hui-neng seems to
emphasizes the importance of attaining, immediate, sudden
awakening that is not dependent on any special forms of practice.
Are their views compatible or not? Why or why not? (Suggestion:
Examine Chih-i's views about the karmically evil nature of human
beings and Hui-neng's view about the pre-eminence of
- 8. Hui-neng and Chuang Tzu
- Both the Zen master Hui-neng and Chuang Tzu's Taoist sage seek
to live in this world not be of it. What are the similarities, and
what are the differences? Based on their differences, what do you
see as the strengths and weaknesses of each? (Hint: Think about
their views of society, nature, and discipoleship, and religious
institutions. On the one hand, their views about language and the
infinite [Tao and emptiness] may be similar [although
not the same]. Furthermore, Hui-neng appears as a Taoist-like
figure in many respects. On the other hand, Hui-neng becomes part
of and supports a large institution with formal rituals and
- 9. Kate in Denkenburg
- Kate finds herself caught in a civil war where the people of
her own small mountain nation, Denkenburg, have been fighting over
the use of the land. She is caught in the crossfire deep in the
forest, and some of her own relatives are shooting at her. She has
been shot in the stomach and feels that the end is near. She
begins to reflect on human nature and its darker side. As her mind
fades she begins to see the larger picture. Adopt the view
represented in one of the thinkers read for the course and
describe how she reflects upon it. For example, she might be a
Taoist who has been taught that there is a Tao, a Way to
everything in the cosmos. Convey her thoughts concerning what she
sees as right about what she has been taught and what she sees as
wrong. Is she angry about misleading ideas as she begins to see
the real truth? Does she begin to doubt? Or is there an increasing
sense of certainty about the validity of what she has been
- 10. Crisis in Homestead
- Homestead, a small town which had been sustained by the local
agriculture was devastated by a recent business venture. The
farmers had invested in a scheme to purchase tractors and other
large machinery, produce more wheat, and export the surplus grain
to Russia. However, the Russian government cancelled all grain
imports for five years, and the farmers went bankrupt, unable to
pay for their machinery. Take any two of the thinkers examined in
the course (including at least one from the second half of the
course) and write a dialogue in which the two thinkers discuss the
reasons for this debacle and ways in which it might have been
avoided. Include an examination of human nature and the concept of