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
- 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
- 6. Paula Arai and Natalie
- 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?