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 buddha-nature.
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 structures. )
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 told?
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 virtuous leadership.