Introduction to Buddhist Thought and Practice (RLST 125 / SAST 267)
This course will introduce significant aspects of Buddhist thought and practice, primarily as it manifested in India and South Asia. It begins with an overview of the historical Buddha’s life and the development of early Buddhist ideas and practices. The course then introduces the Mahāyāna or Great Vehicle tradition that began to emerge around the first century BCE, as well as later forms of esoteric Buddhism known as Tantra. The course concludes with the development of modern Buddhism in Asia and its manifestation in the West. Readings consist mainly of primary Buddhist texts in translation, which are supplemented as necessary by works of secondary scholarship. The course broadly examines the topics of Buddhist philosophy and ethics, monastic and ascetic life, meditation and ritual practices, and the material culture of Buddhist societies, including artistic traditions, architecture, and book culture.
Yoga: Art, Text, and Practice (RLST 382 / HSAR 480 / SAST 464)
Co-taught with Tamara Sears. This seminar investigates the relationship between texts, images, and the practice of yoga, focusing on the Indian traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, as well as modern manifestations in the west. Readings emphasize primary sources from the Indian visual and literary traditions, together with secondary scholarship on the historical, religious, social, and political contexts in which those traditions arose. Readings also address the theoretical frames through which yoga has been studied and discussed. Themes include contemplative practices, bodily disciplines, ritual, role of yoga in tantra, narrative painting, and architecture.
Who is the Dalai Lama? (RLST 013 / SAST 056 / EAST 013)
This seminar introduces the institution of the Dalai Lama and the individuals who filled that role from a wide range of sources and perspectives. Topics include regional histories of Buddhism; the unique Tibetan tradition of recognized reincarnations (tulkus) and the Buddhist philosophical principles that support it; and a survey of the most important Dalai Lamas from the fifteenth century to the present day. The seminar examines the activities of the current Dalai Lama in his role of traditional Buddhist teacher, political leader, and international superstar, through the lenses of the PRC government media, Indian exile communities, and the modern West. Readings include writings of the past and current Dalai Lamas as well as supporting secondary literature.
Pilgrimage in Comparative Perspective: World Religions in Practice (RLST 103) Co-taught with Stephen Davis. This course provides a methodological and historical introduction to the practice of pilgrimage in different cultural and religious settings, beginning with a consideration of anthropological perspectives on the phenomenon of pilgrimage, and then continuing with investigations of Greco-Roman, Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Indian, and Buddhist traditions, as well “secular” forms of ritualized travel.
Tibetan Buddhism (RLST 126 / SAST 262) This course serves as an introduction to major themes of Tibetan Buddhist thought and practice. Beginning with a close study of Patrul Rinpoche’s classic nineteenth-century guide to Tibetan Buddhism, the early part of tahe course focuses on the doctrinal foundations of the tradition. This will be followed by a historical and more critical examination of Tibetan religious history, proceeding from Buddhism’s Indian antecedents and its initial arrival in Tibet during the seventh century through the present day. The course will explore a wide range of Tibetan religious culture and practice including Buddhist ethics, systems of monastic and ascetic life, ritual activities, sacred geography and pilgrimage, lay religion, as well as the status of Tibetan Buddhism under Chinese occupation and in the West. The majority of readings will consist of primary texts in translation, and will concentrate on Tibet’s rich narrative literary tradition. These will be supplemented by secondary literature on the study of religion and Tibetan Buddhism.
Visual Worlds of Himalayan Buddhism (RLST 127) How do Tibetan Buddhists look at religious images? What do pilgrims in Nepal see when faced with sacred monuments? Why do devotees in Bhutan display erotic caricatures in public? This seminar will explore the ubiquitous role of images and imagining in the religious traditions of the Himalayan region. Readings and viewings will examine the painting, sculpture, architecture, and performing arts of the Himalaya (including Tibet, Nepal, north India, and Bhutan), placing them in the context of local religious beliefs, ritual practices, and literary canons. The seminar aims to understand how Himalayan cultures produce religious images and the ways of seeing that invest them with meaning. Classes will address specific modes of visual representation, the relationships between text and image, the social lives of images, as well as processes of reading and interpretation. Later sections will survey broader visual representations of the Himalaya, both as self-reflections and in the imagination of the western gaze.
Rituals of Buddhist Tantra (RLST 180 SAST 312) Buddhism has often been described as a philosophical tradition based on systems of logic and reasoning (said to reflect the original teachings of the Buddha as described in Buddhist texts), one that largely rejects ritual practices as mere superstition. More recently, however, we have come to understand the central role ritual has played throughout the history of Buddhism’s development and its spread across different cultural regions. Rituals, we find, pervade nearly all aspects of Buddhist life from monasticism to lay culture and from elite scholasticism to family practice; rituals, we now know, are inscribed in the very texts that were said to shun them. This seminar explores Buddhist ritual traditions, focusing on the cultural centers of India and Tibet and examining both theoretical frameworks and practical applications. The seminar begins with a brief introduction to the ritual field of pre-Buddhist India before covering the traditions of early Buddhism in India as well as later Mahāyāna developments in India and Tibet, including monastic protocol, social and institution-sponsored practices, cults of the book, and the use of prayer and mantra. A large portion of the course will be devoted to exploring the rich traditions of Buddhist tantra in India and Tibet, focusing on their ritual communities and the practices they developed and transmitted.
Reading Tibetan Buddhist Texts (RLST 413) This course explores the foundational doctrinal systems of Tibetan Buddhism, combining a systematic study of traditional Buddhist exegetical works in English translation with an immersion in the basic vocabulary and grammar of classical Tibetan. The course adopts as its principal texts Gampopa’s The Jewel Ornament of Liberation and Tsongkhapa’s The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. These seminal works represent two of Tibet’s best-known religious traditions and set forth related, though frequently divergent, approaches to engaging with the Buddha’s teachings in the Tibetan Buddhist world.
Buddhist Traditions of Mind and Meditation (RLST 413 / SAST 459) This seminar surveys a range of Buddhist meditation practices in the context of traditional theories of mind, perception, and cognition. Beginning with canonical descriptions of the mind and its variety of mental states, the course will then examine early scriptural expositions on the two principal types of meditation techniques: serenity or concentration meditation (samatha) and insight meditation (vipassana). We will then examine techniques for cultivating compassion and the view of emptiness that were central to the later Indian traditions of the Mahāyāna or Great Vehicle. The course will finally turn to the elaborate systems of Tantra that developed in India and spread through Tibet, which incorporate the visualization of deities and recitation of mantras. Readings will include both primary Buddhist canonical works and commentaries by contemporary Buddhist teachers in English translation as well as secondary scholarship on the historical context of Buddhist meditation systems, cognitive theory, and ritual practice.
Biography in Asian Religions (RLST 583) This seminar examines a variety of primary texts and secondary theoretical works on biography and autobiography in order to evaluate the significance of life writing in the religious traditions of Asia. We will cover a broad range of historical periods, from early medieval to modern, and geographic regions, including South, Southeast, and East Asia. Topics will include the structure, function, style, production, and reception of life writing, as well as more thematic questions of religious transmission, soteriology and praxis, formations of self-identity, and gender. Seminar meetings will focus primarily on the discussion of assigned readings. Students will be responsible for weekly written responses, class presentations, and a final written paper based on a traditional auto/biographical work of their own choosing.
Advanced Readings in Tibetan Buddhism (RLST 593) This seminar examines a range of Tibetan Buddhist literature including doctrinal, historical, biographical, and polemical works. The focus will be on primary materials although relevant secondary sources on the study of Tibetan literature and literary genres will be included. Some knowledge of Classical Tibetan is required.