Topics for Final Paper, REL303 Japanese 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. A general rule of thumb: If you have one main idea in a paragraph, and you are indebted to some outside source - readings, lectures - then one reference will help the reader to check for accuracy and fairness should a question arise). 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.

Due in class, Friday, December 2, 2011.

Be sure to write your name, the name of the class, and the TOPIC NUMBER and TITLE ( 1. Art and Buddhism, 2. Divine Madness and the Way, and so forth) 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 at least one week before the due date. 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. Art and Buddhism
At the heart of Mahayana Buddhism (all of Japanese Buddhism is Mahayana Buddhism) is the two-fold truth of form and emptiness, distinctions and no-distinctions, multiplicity and oneness. Discuss how the two-fold truth is expressed in various art forms examined in this course: tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and/or writing (Natalie Goldberg). What, if any, are the limitations in attempting to realize the two-fold truth through artistic expression?
2. Divine Madness and the Way
Use Mark Unno's three aspects of divine madness (sociological, psychological, and spiritual) to discuss one of the following: A) the life of Natalie Goldberg and her pursuit of the Way of Zen, or B) Rikyu's Way of Tea. Are the three aspects of divine madness applicable or not? Is it helpful to see their lives in terms of divine madness? (Important point: Sociological madness and psychological madness are very different. Sociological madness refers to the way in which society labels someone as being "mad" from the outside [objectively]. Psychological madness refers to the way in which a person feels internal stress and instability [subjectively]. In this sense, I am not using "psychological" as a clinical, objective term, but something someone might use to describe themselves: "I'm feeling psychological stressed out.")

3. Enlightenment and Baking Bread

Discuss the relation between enlightenment as a goal and the path of practice in light of the following statement:
Buddha was not interested in metaphysical theories of existence. He was more concerned about how he himself existed in this moment. . . . How we become enlightened was his main interest. . . . In order to find out how dough became perfect bread, he made it over and over again, until he became quite successful. . . . Actual practice is repeating over and over again until you find out how to become bread. There is no secret in our way. (Suzuki: 56-57)
This could be taken to mean that it is not important to know what enlightenment is, but rather that one should be concerned with the process of getting there. Is this what he is saying? How can one attain a goal if one does not have a clear grasp of what the goal is? What is the relation between the goal becoming clear and the process of practicing to attain the goal, especially if one is "originally enlightened," i.e. one already has the goal in hand.
4. Shunryu SUZUKI and Natalie Goldberg
Select two or three passages or ideas from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind that Natalie Goldberg might see as expressing essential truths in Zen Buddhism. In Natalie Goldberg's own words, describe how they illuminate her understanding of Zen Buddhism and/or the writing life. Use one or two paragraphs at the end of the paper to provide a response and commentary from Suzuki.
5. Natalie Goldberg - Zen and Writing
Natalie Goldberg sets out on a spiritual journey in which she struggles to resolve the tensions between her desire to write and her will to carry out Zen practice. In the end, she tells us that she would give up writing to have a cup of tea with her teacher Katagiri Roshi one more time. Why is writing so important to her in terms of establishing a social, cultural, and spiritual identity? Would she really have given up writing? If not, does this diminish the fact that she says she would?
6. Paula Arai and Natalie Goldberg
Create a dialogue between Natalie Goldberg and one of the nuns that might have been living in the Aichi Convent that Paula Arai describes. In the dialogue, show how they share both similarities and differences in their views on Zen practice, women and Buddhism, and the role of teachers.


7. Sekitei - Rock Garden
Who are what is the protagonist or central character of this story: Uomi or the Rock Garden, and why? What are the different meanings of truth and love expressed in this story, what are the layers uncovered, and how does the rock garden influence this uncovering? Finally, what kind of life might the young bride Mitsuko have gone on to live had the story continued, and how does this relate to questions of truth and love? (spend one to three paragraphs on this last question).  
8. 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 Zen Buddhist, a Pure Land Buddhist, or a shamaness who has been taught that there is an emptiness or nirvana, a Pure Land, or a land of the kami to which everything in the cosmos returns. 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?