Buddhism and Social Change in Contemporary Asia: Spring 2018

Course Plan

Unit 1: the Social Foundations of Buddhism
April 10

Class 1: Introduction: What Is Religion? & A Brief History of Buddhism

  • Introduction to course
  • Class discussion: Is religion about what you believe OR how you live? Is religion about what happens after death/heaven/salvation OR how you find happiness and lead a good life today? What should be done when people do bad things: make a ritual, make them confess, punish them, condemn them to hell, forgive them?
  • Presentation: What Is Religion? & A Brief History of Buddhism

Class 2: Buddhist Sociology: A Community of Liberation, A Culture of Diversity, An Institution of Power

Homework for April 17:

  • Reading: The ‘Positive Disintegration’ of Buddhism (first part pp. 91-107)
  • Submit 1 page reflection on Unit 1: What is Buddhism to you?

Unit 2: Buddhist Responses to Modernity
April 17

Class 1: 4 Responses to Modernity: Buddhist Nationalism & Socially Engaged Buddhism, Market Buddhism & Buddhist Socialism

  1. Buddhist Nationalism in Japan and Sri Lanka
  2. Socially Engaged Buddhism in Vietnam, Burma, and Japan
  3. Market Buddhism in Thailand
  4. Buddhist Socialism from Tibet

Class 2: Responses to Modernity: What is authentic Buddhism?

  • 2 discussion groups: Are these movements true to or deviating from the teachings of the Buddha?
  1. Buddhist Nationalism: Buddhism is a civilizational religion speaking about the ability for all kinds of people to gain enlightenment, indeed for all sentient beings. Does Buddhism in favor of the state completely warp this teaching? Should one choose loyalty to their own country and people over the well being of others?
  2. Socially Engaged Buddhism: Buddhism is primarily focused on practicing meditation for the enlightenment of each individual. Is becoming involved in social issues and problems a total distraction and deviation from this essential path?
  1. Buddhist Socialism: How can you conceive of it when Marx said religion is the opiate of the masses? Is Socialism inherently materialistic and atheistic? If so, is this a weakness of it?
  2. Market Buddhism: The core of Buddhist teaching is that greed creates ego and suffering. How can Buddhism be reconciled with the aims and forms of capitalism? Do capitalist values and aims support the aggressive conversion people, which seems to goes against Buddhist values?
  • Entire class discussion on the validity of these 4 movements
  • Conclusion: Videos from two engaged Buddhist leaders, Sulak Sivaraksa (Thailand) & Harsha Navaratne (Sri Lanka), on these four issues.

Homework for April 24:

  • Do some of the readings on Buddhist Nationalism, Socially Engaged Buddhism, Market Buddhism, and Buddhist Socialism
  • Submit 1 page reflection on Unit 2 based on answering the questions about one of the 4 aspects of Modern Buddhism above (Buddhist Nationalism, Engaged Buddhism, Buddhist Socialism, or Market Buddhism)

Unit 3: Buddhist Economics and Environmentalism
April 24 & May 8

April 24 – Class 1: Buddhist Economics I: The “Three Poisons” Institutionalized (1st & 2nd Noble Truths)

April 24 – Class 2: Buddhist Economics II: Post Capitalist Buddhist Economics, Community Development (開発 kaihotsu) & Clean Energy (3rd & 4th Noble Truths)

Homework for May 8: Do some readings on Buddhist environmental development

May 8 – Class 1: Buddhist Environmentalism: “The Great Turning” 

1st NT: identify economic & environmental problems of your region;

2nd NT: identify structural and cultural issues and causes, especially what influence religion has.

3rd NT: vision & values: devise holding actions to deal with the worst problems you have identified above

4th NT: culture: What is the proper balance between economy and environment? What Buddhist/religious values might help guide us?; structure: What structures emerge out of this?

  • Conclusion: Video with “solar monk” Ven. Miao Hai (China)

Homework for May 15: Submit a group report on Unit 3: 1 page of the two triangles of dukkha and nirvana & 1 page text explaining your ideas and analysis (2 pages total).

Unit 4: Diversity & The Other in Buddhism
May 8 & May 15

May 8 – Class 2: Human Rights: Caste, Class, and the Revival of Buddhism in India

  • Video: Caste based gender violence in India
  • Presentation on the Mythology of Caste and the Buddha’s Reconstruction of Human Equality Part I
  • Reading from Old Path, White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Presentation on the Mythology of Caste and the Buddha’s Reconstruction of Human Equality Part II
  • Video: Dr. Ambedkar & India’s Buddhist Revival
  • Conclusion: Video with Ven. Sugato: a Buddhist monk from an outcaste background

May 15 – Class 1: Gender: Women’s Ordination and Buddhist Perspectives on Gender

May 15 – Class 2: Buddhism & Other Religions: Inter-Religious Conflict between Buddhism & Islam

Group Discussion & Project: Craft a Buddhist Declaration to Respond to the Rohingya Issue (2 pages)

  1. Groups of 3-4 (choose an identity for your group, e.g. regional Buddhist association, national inter-faith council, etc.)
  2. Organize around 4 NTs:
  • outline the suffering (is it only the Ronhingya’s?)
  • indicate the deeper causes (structural and cultural)
  • describe Holding Actions to stem the violence
  • outline a vision for the region & recommended policy initiatives

Here’s an example of one:

Homework for May 22: Submit a 2 page group declaration based on the 4 Noble Truths which call for action regarding this urgent issue

Unit 5:  Science, Death, & Buddhism
May 22 

Class 1: The Science of Dying & Meditation

  • Group Discussion: What happens after death? Does the way you die affect what happens after death? Does suicide lead to hell or is it an escape from suffering in this world? Does science or religion offer the better explanation of how to deal with end of life?
  • Presentation on Dying in the Three Yanas of Buddhism
  • Video: The Tibetan Book of the Dead : A Way of Life
  • Conclusion on the Mind Life Institute, Science & Buddhism, and Mindfulness & Jon Kabat Zinn

Class 2: Dying & Living in Contemporary Buddhism: The End-of-Life Care and Suicide Prevention Movements

Homework for May 29: Submit 1 page reflection on Unit 5

Concluding Class
May 29 Cancelled

Makeup: Friday, June 1st (Common Makeup Day)
Period: 3rd and 4th (1:00pm to 4:15pm)
Room: 457

Class 1: Global Youth Creating New Buddhist Identities & Cultures

  • Video on The Varela Young Scientist Award Winners
  • Presentation on Buddhism for the Young: INEB Young Bodhisattvas
  • Group Discussion & In-Class Work: What is the potential of Buddhism for the next generation? In what ways must it update itself to be relevant in the modern world? Should it become more scientific? What aspects should be brought out and what aspects should be abandoned? Create a list of issues that Buddhism should address and offer guidance to young people about, such as developing sexual identity, facing climate change, using social media & then develop Buddhist positions on them.

Class 2: Review of course themes

  • Class evaluation forms
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