Topics for Paper II, REL 303 Japanese Religions

 Due in class, Mon., Nov. 7, 2011.

Double-spaced, not more than 750 words. (You may use parenthetical notation to indicate page numbers for textual references.)

I encourage you to discuss these topics with one another. You might find the Discussion Board on the Blackboard site for this course to be a convenient way to exchange ideas.

Be sure to write your name, the name of the class, and TOPIC NUMBER and TITLE at the top of the page.

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. Zen Nun Mugai

According to Barbara Ruch, the medieval wooden bust of Mugai points to the existence of female Zen masters in medieval Japan; becoming a nun offered one of the few ways for women to gain an education and to have a relatively independent and rewarding career. However, Ruch makes no mention of female shamans, who according to Carmen Blacker, were powerful figures in medieval and earlier times. Having read the selections from Carmen Blacker, write an essay from Blacker's perspective evaluating Ruch's views on the possibilities for women in medieval Japan. Write this in the first person as if Blacker were the author of your essay. Give Ruch one or two paragraphs at the end to respond.


2. Shinran and Dogen

Shinran and Dogen, Pure Land teacher and Zen master, each appealed to different formulations of the two-fold truth. Shinran spoke of Amida Buddha and the foolish being, Dogen of the traceless enlightenment of buddhas and sentient beings with illusions. Not only did their versions of Buddhist thought differ, but their social visions also diverged: Dogen established a mountain monastery for monks; Shinran went to live among the farmers as a married priest, "neither monk nor layman."

Option A: Pick one passage from Dogen's "Genjokoan" and use it as the basis to comment on Shinran's vision of Pure Land Buddhism. (Of course, you can draw on other ideas from the "Genjokoan," but use one passage as the focus.) Where does Dogen agree or disagree with Shinran?

Option B: Pick one passage from the Tannisho (which contains Shinran's ideas) and use it to comment on Dogen's vision of Zen Buddhism. (Of course, you can draw on other ideas from the Tannisho, but use one passage as the focus.) Where does Shinran agree or disagree with Dogen?


3. The Buddhist Monk Myoe and his shamaness cousin, the Woman of Yuasa

Based on Myoe's own records, the playwright Zeami wrote a drama called The Dragon God of Kasuga (Robert E. Morell, "Zeami's Kasuga ryujin," Course Reader). In this play, Myoe asks the kami of the Kasuga Shrine if he should go to India, and through the voice of his shamaness cousin, the Woman of Yuasa, the Kasuga deity tells him that he should remain in Japan. The Kasuga deity is supposed to be the representative of the Buddha himself in Japan. Yet, why should Myoe seek such an indirect answer (Cousin Shamaness <-- possessed by <-- Kasuga Deity <-- representing <-- The Buddha)? Who is really in charge here, the Kasuga deity (the deity of the Fujiwara clan) that possesses Myoe's cousin, or the Buddha's teaching on emptiness that Myoe relied on? (Suggestion: You may find some of the earlier articles dealing with shamans and kami helpful for thinking about this question.)