An Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy and Religion

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Course Information
Discipline(s): 
Religious Studies
Asian Studies
Philosophy
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Credits: 
3
Language of instruction: 
English
Contact Hours: 
45
Prerequisites: 

None.

Additional student cost: 

None.

Description: 

This course is intended to introduce prospective students to Chinese philosophies and Buddhism. Through an exploration of religious and philosophical development in China, students will be able to better understand the influence on contemporary Chinese ideology and everyday life. On the philosophical side, the focus will be on Daoism (as a school of thought and as a special Chinese indigenous religion) and Confucianism. On the religious side, emphasis will be placed on Buddhism. Though rooted in textual analysis, this a multi-faceted course integrating a practical, hands-on component that differentiates it from other theory-only philosophy and/or religion courses with the addition of supplementary media materials. 

Attendance policy: 

Regular class attendance is considered mandatory.  Please refer to the Center Academic Policy Guidelines which include class attendance policy.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course students will be able to:

  • Describe the evolution of Chinese Buddhism
  • Have an understanding of modern Buddhist practice
  • Name the essential facets of Chinese religious perspectives, identifying factors that contributed to traditional Chinese ideology
  • Explain how Chinese people apply the religion practice in their everyday life to maintain both physical and mental health through Daoist stimulation exercises and Buddhist meditation
  • Analyze the influence of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism on cultural, political and social phenomena in China today
Method of presentation: 

Lectures with interactive student discussions and presentations. Experts on specific literature and guest lectures will be incorporated as appropriate. Field trips will be arranged to sites of significance to Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. These visits will give students the opportunity to directly experience issues discussed in class.

Required work and form of assessment: 
  • In-class presentations - 15%
  • Attendance and participation - 15%
  • Midterm written paper (5-8 pages) - 30%
  • Final written paper (10-15 pages) - 40% 

Students will be required to preview the assigned materials in preparation for classroom discussions with special attention given to students’ post-reading feedback. The final project will ask students to select a topic in Chinese religion and develop it into an academic paper, with perspectives from their own cultural background. Individual counseling and instruction on how to write the midterm and final papers will be given by the instructor. Students are expected to use the primary source materials to substantiate their ideas. Attendance is mandatory.    

content: 
Week Content Readings
1

What is Buddhism? – “If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism,” said Albert Einstein. What did Einstein mean? There is more to this 2,500 year-old religion than robed monks chanting and clanging gongs. Topics covered include the essence of Buddhism practice, the concept of Buddha, and lineage. 

  • The Joy of Living. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. New York City: Harmony Books. 2008. Chapter 1-2.
  • From Believers to Bodhisattvas: The Lectures of Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro. 2013. Selected chapters.
2 Siddhartha and the three turnings of the dharma wheel – Who is Siddhartha: a legend, a myth, a golden statue? Siddhartha’s quest to seek the truth and his subsequent teachings form the core of Buddhism, so a basic understanding of his life and those teachings is essential. How are those teachings relevant in a modern context, and how are they practiced by Buddhists in various countries?   
  • Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind. Dzogchen Ponlop. Boston: Shambala Publications. 2011. Chapters 1-3.
  • What Makes You Not a Buddhist. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse. Boston: Shambala Publications. 2008. Chapters 1-4.
  • Media Materials: The Buddha. Dir. David Grubin. PBS, 2010. Documentary. 
3

Wisdom in Buddhism: exploration of mind – What does the Buddhist concept of natural mind entail? Long-standing mental habits, often acquired unconsciously, obscure this natural mind, but science has validated neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change), meaning that neuronal connections can be rewired, meaning that habits can be unlearned. What then, stands in the way of us discovering our natural minds? The “three poisons” of ignorance, attachment, and aversion.

 

  • The Joy of Living. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. New York City: Harmony Books. 2008. Chapter 3.
  • Crazy Wisdom. Chogyam Trungpa. Boston: Shambala Publications. 2001. Selected chapters.
4

Wisdom in Buddhism: relative truth and ultimate truth – Who are you? Are you as distinct and independent as you currently think? Or might you be simply a temporary assembly of water, wind, temperature, and solid material that give rise to the appearance of a body as advances in quantum mechanics suggest? Advances in science support Buddhist beliefs with concrete evidence. Here, with the line blurring between religion and science, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle will be discussed in depth. Since the idea of relative truth cannot be mentioned without referencing perception, the concept of perception will be examined from the Buddhist, neuroscientific, and cognitive psychological view.

  • The Joy of Living. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. New York City: Harmony Books. 2008. Chapters 4.
  • Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind. Dzogchen Ponlop. Boston: Shambala Publications. 2011. Chapters 4-5.
  • Media Materials: Words of My Perfect Teacher. Dir. Lesley Ann Patten. ZIJI Film & Television, 2003. Documentary.
5

Compassion in Buddhism – Compassion here, cannot be equated with love, which is based on a dualistic view that there is an inherent self distinct from others. This renders human love as we know it, selfish and limited. Compassion refers to an openness that the fundamental nature of all sentient beings is oneness. Through a deep observation of our own concerns, we see the truth that all sentient beings share the same concern in wanting happiness and avoiding suffering. The more clearly we see the interdependence of all sentient beings, the less we will be misled by dualistic notions. In this way, we will finally develop the openness and equanimity we ultimately seek.

  • The Joy of Living. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. New York City: Harmony Books. 2008. Chapter 5.
  • From Believers to Bodhisattvas: The Lectures of Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro. 2013. Selected chapters.
6 Death and Reincarnation – Death is a topic often tiptoed around or altogether avoided in Western culture. However, in Buddhism, it is a well-worn subject, with detailed accounts of what occurs after that last breath. Death is not regarded as an ultimate end, rather a transitory stage for our streams of consciousness, which continue onward in different forms. It is but the end for the current body we inhabit. The near-death experiences of numerous people offer scientific evidence of reincarnation, proving what Buddhists have believed all along.
  • Relevant handouts,
  • The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Sogyal Rinpoche. San Francisco: Harper. 2012. Selected chapters.
  • Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives. Brian L. Weiss, M.D. New York City: Fireside Books. 1988.
  • Media Materials: Unmistaken Child. Dir. Nati Baratz. Oscilloscope, 2008. Documentary. Little Buddha. Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci. Miramax Classics, 1993. Film.
7 Why we are unhappy: the Buddhist practice of meditation – What accounts for the marked increase in depression rates whilst quality of life has also been on the rise? Are there ways other than Prozac to confront the stresses and downs that characterize life as we know it? Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, the author of The Joy of Living, has been dubbed the “happiest man in world” after undergoing an academic research project conducted in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin’s Waisman Laboratory for Brain Research. Why does he advocate meditation, and why does meditation play such a crucial role in Buddhism? What is its purpose, and what are its benefits?   
  • The Joy of Living. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. New York City: Harmony Books. 2008. Chapter 8.
  • Media Materials: A Joyful Mind. Dir. Paul MacGowan. Open Mind Media and Tergar International, 2010.
8

Summary of Buddhism – Interactive discussion with a reincarnated Tibetan lama from Larong Buddhist Academy

Field trip: King Ashuka Temple in Ningbo

 
9

Confuciusm – During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC), China was torn apart by territorial inter-state wars; its people were thrown into upheaval and the demise of Chinese civilization was threatened. In order to salvage China and respond to this dire situation, various scholars proposed strategies. Among them was Confucius (551-479BC). What were his core ideas on how best to save and govern China? How does Confucianism compare to Buddhism and other ancient schools of thought?

  • Introduction to Confucius, Confucianism, and The Analects. Rachel McDevitt. Education About Asia: Volume 12, Number 1. 2007.
  • Introducing Chinese Religions. Mario Poceski. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. 2009.
  • An Intellectual History of China. Edited by He, Zhaowu, Bu, Jinzhi, Tang, Yuyuan, & Sun Kaitai. Beijing: Foreign Language Press. 2000. Chapters 1, 2, and 3. 
10 The philosophy of The Analects – As one of China’s “Four Classics,” The Analects remains a very influential book in the East. What were Confucius’ thoughts on politics, society, and education and to what extent did the chaotic historical context play a role in forming his proposals/ideas? How do these ideas manifest themselves in present day China? 
  • The Analects. Translated by Arthur Waley. Beijing: Beijing Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 1998.
11

Daoism – What exactly is Daoism? Surely, more than “the way,” as commonly translated. And how does it differ from Confucianism? Daoism has been an integral part of Chinese society since the 6th Century BC when introduced by Lao Zi and later developed more fully by Zhuang Zi. From its birth until the present, it has figured prominently in Chinese society in particular when in the throes of chaos. What are some of its essential components, and how have its ideas influenced both Chinese society at large and individual behavior?

  • Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu. Translated by Jane English and Gia Fu-Feng. New York City: Vintage Books. 1997.
12 Final Exam  

 

Required readings: 
  • An Intellectual History of China. Edited by He, Zhaowu, Bu, Jinzhi, Tang, Yuyuan, & Sun Kaitai. Beijing: Foreign Language Press. 2000.
  • Crazy Wisdom. Chogyam Trungpa. Boston: Shambala Publications. 2001.
  • From Believers to Bodhisattvas: The Lectures of Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro. 2013.
  • Introducing Chinese Religions. Mario Poceski. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. 2009.
  • Introduction to Confucius, Confucianism, and The Analects. Rachel McDevitt. Education About Asia: Volume 12, Number 1. 2007.
  • Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives. Brian L. Weiss, M.D. New York City: Fireside Books. 1988.
  • Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind. Dzogchen Ponlop. Boston: Shambala Publications. 2011.
  • Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu. Translated by Jane English and Gia Fu-Feng. New York City: Vintage Books. 1997.
  • The Analects. Translated by Arthur Waley. Beijing: Beijing Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 1998.
  • The Joy of Living. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. New York City: Harmony Books. 2008.
  • The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Sogyal Rinpoche. San Francisco: Harper. 2012.

MEDIA REFERENCES:

  • Little Buddha. Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci. Miramax Classics, 1993. Film.
  • The Buddha. Dir. David Grubin. PBS, 2010. Documentary.
  • Unmistaken Child. Dir. Nati Baratz. Oscilloscope, 2008. Documentary.
  • Words of My Perfect Teacher. Dir. Lesley Ann Patten. ZIJI Film & Television, 2003. Documentary.