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260-342A 

Theravàda Buddhist Literature

Autumn 2000 

Richard Hayes 

Office: Birks 300 

Tel: 398-3291 

 

rhayes@po-box.mcgill.ca 

 
  1. Description

  2. The principal aim of this course will be to explore the evolution of doctrines, practices and institutions described in the Pali canon and in some of the key post-canonical texts associated with the Theravàda school of Buddhism. The lectures will be complemented by readings selected from the Pali canon. Ample time will be made for class discussion of the readings. The principal themes in the literature of the Theravàdin canon will be examined with reference to their relationship to what Buddhists call the Three Jewels (ti-ratana in Pali), namely the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.

    1. The Buddha

    2. The religious teacher named Gotama, known in the canonical literature as the awakened one (buddha) and the knower of things as they really are, was, in the Theravàda view, a fully human being. He was neither a god, nor a manifestation of God, nor a messenger of God. Indeed, he ridiculed those who pretended to know God. But, while nothing more than a human being, the Buddha is regarded by Theravàdins as "the best thing on two feet" (dipaduttama), for he was the unsurpassed teacher of both ordinary human beings and the many gods worshipped by the Brahmins. Much of the canonical literature is dedicated to portraying the virtues of this ideal human being and showing why it is that among all the noble and worthy people in the history of the world, the Buddha is the noblest and most worthy. Various aspects of the myth of the Buddha as the perfected human being will be explored during lectures and readings in the month of September.

    3. The Dhamma
The term dhamma (dharma in Sanskrit) means virtue. It was because of his virtue that the Buddha was regarded a noble human being, and teaching others how to acquire virtue was the only aim of his career. Therefore, the main goal of Buddhists is to study virtue and acquire it for themselves. Virtue is traditionally divided into three different but closely related categories:
  • Sãla: good conduct, good attitudes, and good habits of verbal and physical behaviour. The various aspects of the Theravàdin concept of good character and how to acquire it will be discussed for the last week in September and the first three weeks in October. 
  • Samàdhi: contemplation, meditation and reflection. Three lectures in October will be devoted to a discussion of various types of Theravàdin Buddhist meditation. 
  • Pa¤¤à: wisdom, insight, understanding of things as they really are. The perfection of virtue is believed to be impossible for those whose minds are still clouded by the self-centred habits of thinking that are most common in human society. Therefore, Buddhists strive to replace counterproductive habits of thought with patterns of thinking that lead to true happiness in the world. These patterns of thinking that Buddhists regard as more effective are discussed in the first three weeks in November.

  •  

     

    1. The Sangha
The term Saïgha refers to the community of wise and virtuous women and men whose examples serve as a model for the rest of humanity. The final lectures of the course will deal with various discussions of what a truly noble human being is and of the various stages of development that one goes through in evolving from a normal into a virtuous human being.
 
 
  1. The course of lectures and discussions
  2. Date  Lecture topic  Reading 
    September 5 
    Discussion of mechanics and structure of the course   
    Overview of the Pali Canon   
    12 
    The Buddha's awakening  1. 
    14 
    The Buddha’s renunciation of worldly life 2a and 2b 
    19 
    The Buddha contrasted with his contemporaries  3. 
    21 
    The Buddha’s last days 4. 
    26 
    Idealized biographies of the Buddha; Controversies over the Buddha’s nature 5. 
    28 
    The Buddha as a subject matter of meditation  6. 
    October 3 
    Dhamma as good character  7. 
    The formalization of sets of precepts  8. 
    10 
    Dhamma and social justice  9. 
    12 
    Social reform: critique of sacrificial religion  10. 
    17 
    The special rules for monastic women  11. 
    19 
    Advice to the laity and the responsibilities of monks and nuns  12. 
    24 
    The brahma-vihàras: cultivating the skills of true friendship  13a and 13b 
    26 
    Dhamma as meditation: calming the mind  14. 
    31 
    Meditation as mindfulness  15. 
    November 2 
    Dhamma as wisdom: doctrine of no self and the analysis of the "person" 16. 
    The analysis of matter: the råpa-kkhandha  
    Awareness of the inevitability of change and death  17. 
    14 
    Mind and mentality  18. 
    16 
    Dependent origination and nibbàna 19a and 19b 
    21 
    Rebirth  20. 
    23 
    The Ariya-sangha (noble community)  21. 
    28 
    The true Brahmin: noble persons contrasted with worldly persons  22. 
    30 
    Stages of progress: the eight states of nobility  23. 
    December 5 
    Controversies over the nature of the arahant  24. 
  3. Bibliographical details of readings
  4. Sep. 12 
    1. 
    Vinaya Texts. Trans. By T.W. Rhys Davids and Hermann Oldenberg. Vol. 1. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1982. [Reprint of 1885 edition] pp. 73–102
    14 
    2a.

    2b. 

    The Collection of the Middle Length Sayings. Trans. by I.B. Horner. Vol 1. London: Pali Text Society, 1974 [reprint of 1954] pp. 203–219

    The Sutta Nipàta. Trans. by H. Saddhatissa. London: Curzon Press, 1985. Pp. 46–49.

    19 
    3. 
    Dialogues of the Buddha. Trans. T.W. Rhys Davids. Part I. London: Luzac & Company, 1969 [reprint of 1899] pp. 65–95.
    21 
    4. 
    Thus Have I Heard: The Long Discourses of the Buddha. Trans. by Maurice Walshe. London: Wisdom Publications, 1987. Chapter 16.
    26 
    5. 
    Thus Have I Heard: The Long Discourses of the Buddha. Trans. by Maurice Walshe. London: Wisdom Publications, 1987. Chapter 18.
    28 
    6. 
    The Path of Purity. Trans. by Pe Maung Tin. London: Pali Text Society, 1975. Pp. 226–245. 
    Oct 3 
    7. 
    The Collection of the Middle Length Sayings. Trans. by I.B. Horner. Vol 2. London: Pali Text Society, 1975 [reprint of 1957] pp. 203–219
    8. 
    The Collection of the Middle Length Sayings. Trans. by I.B. Horner. Vol 3. London: Pali Text Society, 1977 [reprint of 1959] pp. 203–219
    10 
    9. 
    Dialogues of the Buddha. Trans. by T.W. and C.A.F. Rhys Davids. Part 3. London: Luzac & Company, 1971 [reprint of 1921] pp. 53–76.
    12 
    10. 
    Dialogues of the Buddha. Trans. by T.W. Rhys Davids. Part I. London: Luzac & Company, 1969 [reprint of 1899] pp. 173–185.
    17 
    11. 
    Vinaya Texts. Trans. By T.W. Rhys Davids and Hermann Oldenberg. Vol. 3. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984. [Reprint of 1885 edition] pp. 73–102
    19 
    12. 
    The Book of the Gradual Sayings. Trans. by F.L. Woodward and Mrs. Rhys Davids. Vol. 1 Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1995 [reprint of 1932] pp. 170–175.
    24 
    13a.

    13b. 

    Dialogues of the Buddha. Trans. by T.W. Rhys Davids. Part 1. London: Luzac & Company, 1969 [reprint of 1899] pp. 173–185

    Milinda’s Questions. Trans. by I.B. Horner. Vol. 1. Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1990 [reprint of 1963] pp. 286–289. 

    26 
    14. 
    The Path of Purity. Trans. by Pe Maung Tin. London: Pali Text Society, 1975 [reprint of 1923, 1929 and 1931] pp. 138–195.
    31 
    15. 
    The Collection of the Middle Length Sayings. Trans. by I.B. Horner. Vol 1. London: Pali Text Society, 1974 [reprint of 1954] pp. 203–219
    Nov. 2 
    16. 
    Milinda’s Questions. Trans. by I.B. Horner. Vol. 1. Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1990 [reprint of 1963] Pp. 34–54.
    17. 
    The Sutta Nipàta. Trans, by H. Saddhatissa. London: Curzon Press, 1985. Pp. 20–21, 68–69.
    14 
    18. 
    Dhammapada. Trans. by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Barre, Mass.: Dhamma Dana Publications, 1998. Pp. 1–17
    16 
    19a.

    19b. 

    The Book of the Kindred Sayings. Vol. 2. Trans. by Mrs. Rhys Davids and F.H. Woodward. Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1997 [reprint of 1922] pp. 1–5, 25–27.

    Milinda’s Questions. Trans. by I.B. Horner. Vol. 1. Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1990 [reprint of 1963] pp. 89–100. 

    21 
    20. 
    Dialogues of the Buddha. Trans. T.W. and C.A.F. Rhys Davids. Part 2. London: Luzac & Company, 1971 [reprint of 1910] pp. 345–374.
    23 
    21. 
    The Group of Discourses (Sutta Nipàta). Trans. by K.R. Norman. Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1992. Pp. 13–24, 31–43, 55–61, 96–108
    28 
    22. 
    Dhammapada. Trans. by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Barre, Mass.: Dhamma Dana Publications, 1998. Pp. 100–117.
    30 
    23. 
    Dialogues of the Buddha. Trans. T.W. and C.A.F. Rhys Davids. Part 3. London: Luzac & Company, 1971 [reprint of 1921] pp. 111–131.
    Dec. 5 
    24. 
    Points of Controversy: Or Subjects of Discourse. (Kathàvatthu) London: Pali Text Society, 1979 [reprint of 1915] pp. 64–70, 114–119, 157–173, 312–313.
  5. Basis of Evaluation

  6. Each student's performance in this course will evaluated on the basis of 1) two written assignments, 2) one set of questions submitted by the student to serve as the basis of class discussions and 3) the student's participation in class discussions. 

    1. Two written assignments

    2.  

       

During the course of the semester, each student is required to submit two written articles. These articles are to be in the form of the kinds of articles one might find in an encyclopedia. Encyclopedia articles are typically very concise; as much useful information as possible must be squeezed into a strictly enforced word limit. This means that the author must first exercise considerable judgement as to what information is truly useful to the intended readership, and then must take care to organize that information in the most efficient way. Finally, the author must strive to make the presentation readable and, if possible, even enjoyable.

For the articles submitted for these assignments, assume that the encyclopedia in question is to be called The McGill Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Assume that this encyclopedia is intended to provide articles introducing aspects of Theravàda Buddhism to readers who have no prior knowledge of the subject. (One way to test this out is to invite a friend or relative who knows nothing about Theravàda Buddhism to read your article and offer advice as to whether the information is clearly presented.). You have been commissioned to write two articles from the list given below for the encyclopedia, which are to meet the following specifications:

  • The body of the article is to be no more than 2000 words in length. (Articles longer than this will be returned to the author for revision, with a resulting penalty of 5% from the original mark.)
  • The article is to be accompanied by an annotated list of no more than five suggested further readings, in which the reader is directed to textual sources that amplify points made in the main body of the article. The list should be annotated with a description, one or two sentences in length, of what each item is about, how difficult it is for a beginner, and whatever other information seems relevant. (Note that the annotated reading list does not count as part of the body of the article; therefore, the strictly enforced word limit does not apply to this list of suggested readings.)
  • The first article is due no later than October 17. The second is due no later than December 5. If you cannot meet the deadline, you must renegotiate a second deadline by submitting a statement in writing in which you specify that your work will be submitted by a newly designated date. If you fail to meet the new deadline, your article will not be accepted at all, and you will forfeit all the marks for the assignment. 
  • You may choose to write articles on any two of the following topics (or on any other topic, provided it is approved by the course instructor). 

  •  

     

  1. Gotama Buddha: a sketch of the life and principal achievements of the historical Buddha as portrayed in the writings of the Pali Canon.
  2. Four Noble Truths: an outline of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha as understood within the Theravàda tradition.
  3. Dependent Origination: the principle of causation, and especially the causes of discontent (dukkha) as presented in the Pali Canon.
  4. Buddhist ethics: the principal ethical guidelines for Theravàdin monks and members of the laity.
  5. Nibbàna: the nature of the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice as understood by Theravàdins
  6. Meditation: the principal methods of attaining calm (samatha) and insight (vipassanà).
  7. Gender issues in Theravàda: the presence or absence in the Pali Canon of cultural stereotypes concerning the mentalities and behaviour of male and female adults and children.
  8. Monastic ordination: the duties and privileges of those who are ordained as bhikkhu or bhikkhunã in the Theravàdin monastic community; restrictions to ordination.

  9.  

     

    1. Class discussions

    2. The second half of most class meetings will be devoted to class discussion of the topic for that day. In order for these discussions to be of maximum effect, it is strongly advised that each student prepare a list of questions and topics for each classroom discussion. Questions should be designed not to elicit information but to facilitate in-depth exploration and critical evaluation of the issues and concerns addressed within the Pali Canon.

      Each student will be required to help lead classroom discussion once during the term. On the day that you are scheduled to lead discussions, you must prepare 1) a written list of questions on the day in which you help lead the discussion, and 2) a critical evaluation of your own questions in the next class after the day on which you help lead discussion. In the critical evaluation of your own questions, indicate which questions were successful in promoting good discussion and which questions were not successful; if possible, offer an analysis of why your questions were or were not successful. (N.B. Even if your questions turn out to be unsuccessful in promoting good discussion, you may still get a good mark for the assignment if you provide a good analysis of why your questions failed.) 

      In addition to helping lead two discussions, each student is expected to be prepared to contribute to each class discussion. The quality, not the quantity, of your contributions will be evaluated throughout the term.

    3. Summary of assignments, deadlines and weights
    4. Assignment 
      Pct. final mark 
      Date Due 
      First article 
      35% 
      17 October 2000 
      Second article 
      40% 
      5 December 2000 
      Discussion questions 
      15% 
      On dates scheduled 
      Class participation 
      10% 
      Throughout term 

       
    5. Criteria of evaluation

    6.  

       

In the assignment of grades, the following criteria will be used.
 
A (Excellent)  The submitted work is consistent with the quality of professional work in the discipline. The student clearly indicates the level of skill necessary eventually to do advanced work in the discipline at the postgraduate level by submitting work that is coherent, thoughtfully organized and well-documented and that reveals the student's ability to offer critical judgement of already existing scholarly material. 
B (Very good)  The submitted work demonstrates that the student has a definite potential to do work of professional quality in the discipline. The work is a coherent, well-organized and thoroughly documented presentation of factually accurate and relevant information. 
C (Good)  The submitted work demonstrates that the student has a basic command of all the material covered in the essay. The student's work is factually accurate and covers all the relevant points. The writing is coherent and well-organized but would require editing before being of professional quality. 
D (Marginal)  The submitted work indicates that the student may not have a basic command of all the material covered in it. There is too little information presented, or some of the information presented is not wholly accurate or shows questionable judgement in the student's ability to distinguish relevant from irrelevant details. The presentation of information is poorly organized, confusing or chaotic, or the writing is marred by errors in spelling, grammar, syntax or diction (choice of words appropriate to convey the intended meaning). 
F (Inadequate)  The submitted work indicates that the student clearly lacks a basic command of the material covered. There is too little information presented, or much of the information presented is inaccurate or shows poor judgement in distinguishing relevant from irrelevant details. The presentation is poorly organized, confusing or chaotic, or the writing has numerous errors in spelling, grammar, syntax or diction. 
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