PAPER TOPICS I: REL 444/544 Medieval Japanese Buddhism

Due October 17 in class.

* Three pages: Not more than 1000 words (You may use parenthetical notation to indicate page numbers for textual references.)
* I encourage you to discuss these topics with one another.
* Be sure to write your name, the name of the class, number and title of your topic 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," "Writing: The Bridge between Consciousness and Unconsciousness," and "Clauses and Commas."

If you wish to formulate your own topic, you must send a paragraph description of your topic to the instructor ( by Tuesday, October 20. I will give you feedback and/or approval by Thursday, October 22.

1. The Formation of Japanese Buddhism and Society
Drawing on two or three of the readings for Week II, discuss how at least three factors contributed to the formation and development of Buddhism from early to medieval Japan (such as Shinto and worship of kami, the influence of the Fujiwara clan, the support of the military government, and church-state relations). Why is understanding these factors important for understanding Medieval Japanese Buddhism?

2. Kami, Shinto, and Japanese Buddhism
According to Toshio Kuroda, treating "Shinto" as a religion separate from Buddhism is a mistake, at least in its formative period and throughout much of its history before the modern period post-Meiji restoration. Discuss three reasons he gives, include direct quotations and/or page numbers from his article to substantiate your points, and discuss at least two problems that might be found with his idea that there is no "Shinto" apart from Buddhism in Japan.

3. Tendai's Jien
Select three poems by the Tendai Abbot Jien included in Robert Morrell's article, "Tendai's Jien as Buddhist Priest," and discuss how they illustrate different facets of his views of Buddhism and his times (e.g. political commentary, Buddhist teachings, sense of history). Discuss if these views are consistent with one another, or whether there are fissures and contradictions.
4. Karma and the Tale of the Heike
William LaFleur in his Karma of Words (pp. 26-59) describes four types of karma operative in Medieval Japanese Buddhism. How many of these can be found in the selections from the The Tale of the Heike read for this course. Discuss which ones do or don't fit and why they do or don't fit.

5. Women and Gender in the Tale of the Heike
The story of Lady Gio, Lady Hotoke, and Kiyomori weaves a tapestry of women's social and religious lives in relation to the dominant male order. At the end of the story, Lady Hotoke joins Lady Gio and her sister Ginyo, forming a triad of nuns looking to be reborn in the Western Pure Land of Amida. Is this a story of women's empowerment or disempowerment? In either case, is it a matter of social, economic, or religious empowerment or disempowerment, or is it some combination?
6. Kazuo Osumi, "Buddhism in the Kamakura Period
Describe at least three characteristics that Osumi attributes to emerging new forms of Buddhism during the Kamakura Period, including direct quotations and/or page numbers from his article to substantiate your points. Discuss at least two differences in the way that two of the figures he mentions (e.g. Dogen and Shinran) embody these characteristics (e.g. sociological differences, differences in forms of practice they advocate).
7. The "Goddess" from the Vimalakirti Sutra and Lady Gio from the Tale of the Heike
The "Goddess" chapter from the Vimalakirti Sutra presents the Goddess' view of the two-fold truth (conventional truth, form; highest truth, emptiness), with sex and gender the topic of her dialogue with Sariputra towards the end. Relate this discussion of the two-fold truth and sex/gender to the story of Lady Gio from the Tale of the Heike. Identify two similarities and two differences in the views of sex/gender between these stories.