Topics for Final Paper, REL 101 World Religions: Asian Traditions

Double-spaced, 1000-1500 words. (You may use parenthetical notation to indicate page numbers for textual references.)

Due in class, Friday, December 1.

Be sure to write your name, the name of the class, and the title of your topic (e.g., The Goddess and Sariputra ) and the TOPIC NUMBER at the top of the page.

You may write on your own topic if you wish. However, you must: 1) Submit a one-paragraph description by email to your GTF at least one week before the due date. 2) You must obtain approval from your section leader.

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."

You must provide direct quotations and/or page references from the readings as evidence for the ideas in your paper.

Some of the paper topics are designed around a dialogue or a creative, imaginative situation. Providing textual references WITH PAGES REFERENCES for your ideas for these topics is just as important as for more conventional topics (You may use parenthetical notes, endnotes, or footnotes).

 

Topics

 
1. Zhuangzi and the Goddess
In the Zhuangzi, there is an episode where Zhuang Zhou (Zhuangzi) becomes interchanged with a butterfly. In The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti, Sariputra becomes interchanged with the Goddess. In what ways do these episodes reflect similarities in Zhuangzi's and the Goddess' views on the nature of reality? What are the differences? Does one present a superior understanding to the other? Why or why not?
 
Additional Notes on Shinran, click here.
 
2. Shinran and Laozi (Lao Tzu)
Both the Pure Land Buddhist figure Shinran and the Daoist master presented their philosophies in response to an establishment that they perceived to be corrupt, overly ritualistic, and based on a false sense of religious or moral virtue. They either lived among or advocated for life among simple farming folk, away from the centers of power and intelligentsia.
 
A. Discuss these and other similarities as well as their differences. Do you find either one more convincing than the other? Explain.
 
Or:
 
B: Write an imaginary series of correspondence between the two, describing their situations and comparing notes about the true way to live. Have some disagreement included although you can conclude with them either agreeing or disagreeing. Be sure to include footnotes or parenthetical notes to indicate the source of your ideas.
 
3. Dogen and Shinran
The Zen master Dogen and the Pure Land master Shinran were contemporaries. They both studied on Mount Hiei, the headquarters of the Tendai school, and left the mountain due to what they perceived to be a corrupt monkhood that could not lead them to enlightenment. They both stressed a simple practice: Sitting-only for Dogen and saying the Nembutsu for Shinran.
 
A. Discuss these and other similarities as well as their differences. Do you find either one more convincing than the other? Explain.
 
Or:
 
B: Write an imaginary series of correspondence between the two, describing their situations and comparing notes about the true way to live. Have some disagreement included although you can conclude with them either agreeing or disagreeing. Be sure to include footnotes or parenthetical notes to indicate the source of your ideas.
 
4. Wonhyo and Shinran
The Korean Master Wonhyo and the Pure Land teacher Shinran both sought to break out of the opposition of monastic versus laity, but they did this in seemingly different ways. Compare and contrast their styles of realizing emptiness/oneness and compassion. Is one superior to the other? Are they ultimately presenting the same kind of vision? Do their historical circumstances account for their differences?
 
5. Two Buddhists on the Two-fold Truth
Compare the view of the two-fold truth of form and emptiness as found in two of the Buddhist thinkers we have read for this course. In particular examine the similarities and differences between them on the following questions: How do they understand the relation between attachment, form, and emptiness; and how should one practice in order to attain awakening?
 
6. Krishna and Wonhyo
We read about Krishna teaching the milk maidens by seducing them yet not making love to them in order to intensify their devotional experience in a non-attached manner. (.Joseph Campbell, Oriental Mythology - The Masks of God, 343-350 [See Course Reader]). Compare and contrast this with Wonhyo's philosophy of going into the brothels, purportedly to spread compassion among the prostitutes. What are the similarities and differences, strengths and weaknesses of the two visions of liberation?

FOR TOPICS 7, 8, & 9: These topics involve more creativity, but the requirements remain the same. You MUST provide page references and/or direct quotations from the readings, and show that you understand and can accurately represent ideas from the texts.

 
7. The Goddess Comments
Write a commentary on emptiness through the voice of the Goddess from The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti on either the episode involving Krishna and milk maidens or Wonhyo going into the brothels. Does the goddess see any hidden assumptions about gender in the story? Does she approve of Krishna or Wonhyo's "teaching" method? (You can have her comment on both Krishna and Wonhyo if you like, but you are not required to do so.)
 
8. Kate in Denkenburg
Kate finds herself caught in a civil war where the people of her own small mountain nation, Denkenburg, have been fighting over the use of the land. She is caught in the crossfire deep in the forest, and some of her own relatives are shooting at her. She has been shot in the stomach and feels that the end is near. She begins to reflect on human nature and its darker side. As her mind fades she begins to see the larger picture. Adopt the view represented in one of the thinkers read for the course and describe how she reflects upon it. For example, she might be a Taoist who has been taught that there is a Tao, a Way to everything in the cosmos. Convey her thoughts concerning what she sees as right about what she has been taught and what she sees as wrong. Is she angry about misleading ideas as she begins to see the real truth? Does she begin to doubt? Or is there an increasing sense of certainty about the validity of what she has been told?
 
9. Crisis in Homestead
Homestead, a small town which had been sustained by the local agriculture was devastated by a recent business venture. The farmers had invested in a scheme to purchase tractors and other large machinery, produce more wheat, and export the surplus grain to Russia. However, the Russian government cancelled all grain imports for five years, and the farmers went bankrupt, unable to pay for their machinery. Take any two of the thinkers examined in the course (including at least one from the second half of the course) and write a dialogue in which the two thinkers discuss the reasons for this debacle and ways in which it might have been avoided. Include an examination of human nature and the concept of virtuous leadership.