PAPER TOPICS II: REL 440/540 Buddhist Scriptures, Fall 2016

Due Thursday, Nov 3, in class.

The Goddess and Vimalakirti
Discuss the significance of the "Goddess" Chapter of the Vimalakirti Sutra in light of Kate Wheeler's article, "Bowing, Not Scraping." Who is Sariputra as presented in this chapter? Is he the historical Sariputra? A straw man for the "corrupt Hinyanists?" What might have been the circumstances of Buddhist India at the time the "Goddess" chapter was composed, and how does it, based on emptiness theory, relate to Kate Wheeler's questions and assumptions about Western notions of self-identity?

Sudden and Gradual enlightenment
Discuss the relation between sudden and gradual paths to enlightenment as found in the Platform Sutra. Take into account John McCrae’s views that, in fact, there are both gradual and sudden elements present. Does the Platform Sutra advocate the sudden view to the exclusion of the gradual? Does it incorporate gradual enlightenment within a sudden framework? If so, what is the rationale, and what are the potential strengths and weaknesses of these views.

Cosmic time and historical time
In the Pure Land scriptures introduced by Inagaki, we are given glimpses into 1) the cosmic narrative of Amida Buddha, and 2) the earthly or historical narrative of King Bimbisara, Queen Vaidehi, Prince Ajatasatru,Sakyamuni Buddha, and Amida Buddha. Discuss how Pure Land scriptures bring together the two “time zones,” as it were, cosmic and historical. Why is this necessary? Does this work?

Tracing Emptiness
Discuss the development of the logic of emptiness and the two-fold truth as it unfolds from Nagarjuna (Streng reading) to Bodhidharma to Dogen (or any other set of three thinkers or texts). What, if any, are the common or consistent threads, and what if, any, are the new developments or elaborations? (Hint regarding possible themes: How is delusion incorporated or not incorporated into the understanding of the two-fold truth? How are problems of practice [sudden and gradual] related to the two-fold truth?)

Status of Legends
Discuss the status of legends in Buddhist scripture. Stories about Queen Vaidehű receiving the teachings of Amida Buddha, Mahakasyapa receivingSakyamuni’s teaching of the flower, and Bodhidharma accepting Hui-k’o as his disciple all appear to be at least partially legendary. How should one view the status of the scriptures that relate these episodes, and how does that affect our understanding of them? (Hint: Are ideas put forth by Robert Buswell and/or Gregory Schopen relevant to this discussion?)

Karma (The Lafleur article is in the packet but not required reading for the course)
In "In and Out of the Rokudo: Kyokai and the Formation of Medieval Japan," William Lafleur describes four ways in which the logic of karma are worked out in Medieval Japanese Buddhism (pp. 48-59), in particular, ways to escape the bondage of karma (rokudo-bakku, release from the bonds of the six realms of rebirth). This may serve as a useful theoretical framework for understanding karma not just in the case of Japan but for the Buddhist thought of other cultures. Examining one or two sources (preferably primary sources &endash; sutras, commentaries, etc.), see how many of these can be identified, and discuss what function they serve. (Why would one need more than one model of liberation from the bonds of karma?). This topic is a bit more difficult in relation to the Zen Buddhist sources, but can be done (hint: gradual enlightenment implies a certain view of karma, sudden enlightenment also may imply a certain view or views, depending on how it is contextualized. LaFleur is specific about Zen references to karma.)