Teaching Buddhism




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Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 10:30 - 11:20
Fall semester 2000
Knapp 302
Prof. John Cort
Knapp 310

This course involves an historical and thematic survey of the Buddhist tradition from the time of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha or "Awakened One," until the present. We will explore some of the ways in which Buddhist teachings and practices have interacted with and been changed by various cultures in Asia, and more recently in North America. This course does not aim to be comprehensive, but instead to introduce the student to some of the important and enduring themes of Buddhist life.

Among the questions we will investigate are:

Who was the Buddha?
What did he mean when he said, "Everything is suffering. Everything is impermanent. There is no soul"?
What are the Buddhist paths to nirvana or enlightenment?
What does it mean to be a Buddhist?
How does one lead a Buddhist life?
How has Buddhism interacted with various cultures and societies? 
The Buddhist tradition has changed greatly over its 2,500 year history. We will explore this diversity during the semester. At the same time, Buddhists say that at the core of the tradition is the Dharma, a set of eternal teachings about the nature of the world and what it means to be human. A theme in this course, therefore, will be the exploration of the issues of continuity and change. Is there one Buddhism, or is it more accurate to speak of multiple Buddhisms? In particular, we will look at the lives of specific individual Buddhists, to see how they have understood what it means to be a Buddhist. In such an exploration we are also asking questions of direct relevance to our own lives, as we live in a world which is also complex and diverse. Each one of us has to negotiate with our own religious and cultural traditions, just as Buddhists throughout the centuries have had to negotiate with their religious and cultural traditions.


In the high seat, before-dawn dark,
Polished hubs gleam
And the shiny diesel stack
Warms and flutters
Up the Tyler Road grade
To the logging on Poorman creek.
Thirty miles of dust.
There is no other life. -- Gary Snyder

Most readings are also on reserve in the library.

Heinz Bechert and Richard Gombrich (eds.), The World of Buddhism
John S. Strong, The Experience of Buddhism
Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught
Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding
The 14th Dalai Lama, Freedom in Exile
Giei Sato and Eshin Nishimura, Unsui: A Diary of Zen Monastic Life
The Turning Wheel, Summer 2000
Essays in Reader: Frank E. Reynolds and Charles Hallisey, "Buddhist Religion, Culture, and Civilization"

Reynolds and Hallisey, "The Buddha"


Two in-class exams

Friday, September 29
Friday, October 20
Final exam (either take-home essay or in-class exam)
Frequent short response papers
10-12 page research paper
Deadlines for paper:
Monday, October 9, in class: preliminary topic  Week of October 16: preliminary prospectus and bibliography
Friday, November 3, in class: paper prospectus and annotated bibliography
Friday, November 17: optional first draft
Friday, December 1, in class: final draft

The specific details of the short response papers are explained at the end of the syllabus. Details of the research paper will be explained in a separate handout.


Two in-class exams 30 %
Final exam 20 %
Response papers + participation 20 %
Research paper 30 %



Monday, August 28
Introduction to the course

Wednesday, August 30
The Life of Gautama the Buddha
Reading: Strong, 3-41

Friday, September 1
The Study of Buddhism

Reading: Frank E. Reynolds and Charles Hallisey, "Buddhist Religion, Culture, and Civilization" (in reader) 

Monday, September 4
The Indian Background to the Rise of Buddhism and The Buddha in History
Reading: World of Buddhism, 9-14

Wednesday, September 6
The Life of Gautama the Buddha
Reading: Reynolds and Hallisey, "The Buddha" (in reader)
World of Buddhism, 15-58

Friday, September 8
In the Footprint of the Buddha


Monday, September 11
All Conditioned Things are Unsatisfactory (duhkha)
Reading: Rahula, ch. 1-2 + pp. 91-98
Strong, 32-34, 88-99

Wednesday, September 13
All Conditioned Things Things are Impermanent (anitya)
All Things are Devoid of a Self (anatman)
Reading: Rahula, ch. 6
Strong, 88-99

Friday, September 15
What is the Cause of Dukkha?
Reading: Rahula, ch. 3
Strong, 99-103

Monday, September 18
What is Nirvana?
Reading: Rahula, ch. 4
Strong, pp. 104-111

Wednesday, September 20
The Path to Nirvana
Reading: Rahula, ch. 5 + pp. 97-109, 119-138
Strong, pp. 111-126

Friday, September 22
No class

Monday, September 25
Reading: Rahula, ch. 7 + pp. 109-119

Wednesday, September 27
Review Session
Reading: Rahula, ch. 8

Friday, September 29
First in-class exam


Monday, October 2
The Monastic Community
Reading: World of Buddhism, 59-89
Strong, 45-86

Wednesday, October 4
First Library Session

Friday, October 6
The Lay Community

Monday, October 9
Buddhist Cultic Life and Images of Peace
Reading: World of Buddhism, 94-98, 115-170
Strong, 4-8, 39-40, 79-80, 215-236, 240-255

Preliminary research paper topic due


Wednesday, October 11
The Arhat and Bodhisattva Ideals
Reading: World of Buddhism, 90-3
Strong, 158-196

Monday, October 16
Emptiness and Suchness
Reading: Strong, 132-157
Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, October 18

Friday, October 20

Second in-class exam


Monday, October 23
Study day

Wednesday, October 25
The Transmission of Buddhism to China and Japan
Reading: World of Buddhism, 99-107, 171-230
Strong, 295-319, 322-42

Bodhidharma and Ch'an
Reading: Strong, 320-322 (+ reading to be assigned)

Thursday, October 26

All-campus convocation
Victor Sogen Hori, "Expressing the Unspeakable: The Zen Koan"
Slayter Auditorium
8:00 p.m.
Friday, October 27
Visit of Professor Hori to class

Monday, October 30
Principles and Practices of Zen
Reading: Sato and Nishimura, Unsui

Wednesday, November 1

Friday, November 3

Research paper prospectus and annotated bibliography due BUDDHISM IN TIBET

Monday, November 6
The Transmission of Buddhism to Tibet
Reading: World of Buddhism, 108-114, 231-270

Wednesday, November 8
Tibetan Buddhism: Cycles of Interdependence

Friday, November 10
Esoteric Buddhism: Tantra
Exploring the Mandala
Reading: Strong, 256-294

Monday, November 13
Heart of Tibet
Reading: Dalai Lama, Freedom in Exile

Wednesday, November 15

Friday, November 17

Final date for rough draft of research paper


Monday, November 20
Reading: World of Buddhism, 271-285

Thanksgiving Break

Monday, November 27

Wednesday, November 29
Reading: Essays from Turning Wheel, Summer 2000 (to be assigned)

Friday, December 1

Research paper due

Monday, December 4
Reading: Essays from Turning Wheel, Summer 2000 (to be assigned)

Wednesday, December 6
Reading: Essays from Turning Wheel, Summer 2000 (to be assigned)
Strong, 343-352

Friday, December 8
Reading: Essays from Turning Wheel, Summer 2000 (to be assigned)


At least once, and sometimes twice, each week throughout the semester you will be responsible for a one- or two-page written paper in response to the required class readings or films. These papers will form a basis for classroom discussion of the material, and so are due in class on the day assigned.

You will be given general directions for each response paper in advance. At the same time, the response papers are an opportunity for you to engage the course material in a way that enables you to achieve greater clarity concerning your own thoughts. There is no 'right' or 'wrong' response.

These assignments will be not be graded for either content or style. If you hand in the paper in class, you will receive a grade of 4. If the paper is late for any reason, except those verified by a written note from Health services or a dean, you will receive a grade of 1. Late papers will be accepted for one week after the due date. If you do not hand in a paper, you will receive a grade of 0. If it is obvious that you have not done the assignment, and are handing in a paper based on nothing but your own ingenuity and imagination, in all likelihood you will receive a 0. If you hand in every response paper on time throughout the semester, your grade for this portion of the course will automatically be an A.

As a favor to me, I ask that you type and double-space the response papers. This will serve two beneficial functions for you as well: by typing the papers, you will have an easily accessible record of your responses from throughout the semester; and you will learn the valuable skill of being able to compose a paper at the keyboard. Papers that are handwritten, however, will not be penalized.

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