Topics for Paper III, REL101 World Religions: Asian Traditions

Due Friday, November 10, 2017 in class.

Topics (You may choose to do either "Your Own Topic" or one of the "Defined Topics" below. Be sure to follow the instructions in either case. Whether you do your own topic or one of the defined topics, you must provide page references/direct quotations from the readings to back up your ideas and arguments.

A. Your Own Topic
Select one passage from a primary source we have read for the course up to this point. i) Discuss why that passage is key to understanding the main ideas of the reading as a whole. ii) Relate that passage to two other passages from the reading to show how your idea about what the passage means is confirmed by other passages from the same or related texts. iii) What do you find compelling about the ideas in the passage in question, and what do you find to be problematic or questionable? iv) Discuss how the ideas represented in that passage made you reconsider your ideas about religion and/or ethics. AS THE TITLE OF YOUR PAPER, write "A." followed by an appropriate TITLE for your paper based on its content. For example, you might write: A. Going beyond Beautiful and Ugly in the Way of Lao Tzu.

B. Defined Topics

1. The Dao that Cannot Be Named
At the beginning of the Tao Te Ching (Daodejing) (Ch. 5, p. 1), Laozi (Lao Tzu) states, "The way (dao) that can be spoken of is not the constant [true] way." He seems to be pointing to the Way beyond words, yet he goes on to discuss the Dao throughout the rest of the work. What does this first statement mean, and what is the relation between words and dao, according to the Tao Te Ching? You might discuss genre (poetry, verse), mode of expression (non-linear, non-dualistic), and economy of expression (fewer words), giving examples.
2. Oneness and Complementary in the Dao
At times Laozi seems to describe the Way (Dao) as something that is beyond words and beyond opposites (good/bad, beautiful/ugly), yet at other times he seems to favor one side over another (female or male, valley over peak, dark over light). Examine what this means. Is this merely a contradiction in the text, or is there someway of accounting for this difference between a seemingly egalitarian vision of oneness beyond opposites versus a vision that favors one side over the other?

3. Zhuangzi and the Unfolding of the Way
Discuss the possible development of the Daoist understanding along the following terms: Perspectivalism -> Dissolution of Boundaries -> Oneness (pp. 40-41, 44, 38). Explain this, and then raise at least one possible problem with this view of oneself within the Dao, for example, in terms of making decisions about how to live. Here is the famous butterfly passage that some associate with the dissolution of boundaries:

Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things (p. 44).

4. Zhuangzi and the Problem of the Skillful Assassin
In the Dao, opposites are complementary and ultimately dissolve in the flow of the oneness of the Way: true and false, beautiful and ugly, right and wrong. Then, what is the basis for ethics, if any? Could there be a skillful Daoist assassin if there is a skillful Daoist butcher (Cook Ding)? Why or why not? (Hint: Think about the case of Woodworker Qing.)

Here are some further suggestions concerning the first paper topic on the Daoist assassin.

Here are some things you could consider:

a) What is the basis of ethics in Daoism?
Daoism: Disharmony with the Dao versus Harmony with the Dao.
Buddhism: Suffering versus Liberation from Suffering.
Some other religions: Hard list of rights versus wrong.

b) Why kinds of figures appear in the Zhuangzi?
Do we find Daoist bureacrats? What about Daoist robbers, rapists, and murders?
Why are they included or not included?

c) What is the possible state of mind of a Daoist assasin? Does it fit in with the Dao or not?

5. Bodhidharma and Daoist Influences
Describe at least three ways in which the Zen Buddhist legend of Bodhidharma seems to reflect Daoist influences. (Hint: Discuss aspects such as emphasis on simplicity, individual intuition, closeness to nature). Also, identify at least one way in which Bodhidharma differs from Zhuangzi. (Don't forget to cite page references and/or use direct quotations from the readings.)
6. The Hollow Center of Japanese Mythology and Mahayana Emptiness According to the Goddess
According to Kawai, Japanese mythology has a hollow-centered structure. What are the similarities and differences between the role of the moon god as the "hollow" center and emptiness in the Mahayana Buddhism of the Goddess Chapter from the The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti? Discuss the religious and social implications of each.