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Course Information

Instructor Info:Ryan Joo
Office Extension x5589
Term: 2014S
Meeting Info: Wednesday
02:30 PM - 05:20 PM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 108
Description: According to D.T. Suzuki, one of the most influential Zen Buddhist teachers of the 20th century, Zen is not a system of philosophy, religion, mysticism, nihilism, or even Buddhism. He says, "Zen has nothing to teach us in the way of intellectual analysis; nor has it any set doctrines which are imposed on its followers for acceptance." Then what is Zen? More importantly, what led D.T. Suzuki to teach Zen Buddhism in this way? This course will start by reading a number of popular books on Zen Buddhism in America, followed by a close analysis of their tenets. We will then move on to study Mahayana Buddhist philosophy and Daoist thought, which influenced the rise of Zen Buddhism. We will also explore Koan and Zazen meditation practices, Zen lineage, monasticism and Satori (Enlightenment) experience. Finally, the course will focus on late 19th and early 20th century Japanese Buddhist history, which is intimately tied to a particular interpretation of Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki and other modern Zen masters in America.
Evaluation Criteria:

This course has seven requirements. All must be successfully completed in order to receive a final evaluation (or grade) for this course.

1. Attendance and Participation: I expect students to come to class on time and to attend all scheduled class meetings. Feeling under the weather is not a valid reason for missing class, but serious illness is. If you have to miss a class due to serious illness, religious observance, or family emergency, you must make every effort to contact the instructor and inform him of your absence prior to the class. You should also bring a doctor’s note or other official document to your instructor. Otherwise, it will be counted as absence. Under normal circumstances, students who miss more than one class will not receive an evaluation (or grade above C). Keep in mind that when you miss a class, it becomes your responsibility to contact your classmates, or instructor to find out about the announcements and class discussion that you missed. 

The reading for each week will be approximately 70-130 pages on average. I expect students to complete the reading assignment before coming to each class and to be ready to take an active role in the discussion. Class participation is an important part of the course requirements.

2. Weekly Online Response Papers: Each week, students must post a weekly online response of 300-400 words and one discussion question to the discussion board of our course website. You should do the readings carefully and articulate what you have understood to be the key issue and recurring themes of the assigned readings. It should not, however, be a simple summary or paraphrasing of the readings, which will be evaluated negatively. All writings should be free of spelling and grammatical errors, and should be written in a formal writing style. Your instructor will occasionally hand out response questions to help you navigate the readings. For that week, you are expected to answer your instructor’s questions on the discussion board.

Students are encouraged to read their classmate’s reflections and leave at least two short comments (50-80 words each) each week. Your fellow classmates’ reactions to your response are meant to stimulate your own thoughts about the assigned readings. Your weekly response and question are due Tuesday at 10:00 PM,while your short comments on your classmates' reflections can be posted as late as 1:00 PM on Wednesday. This is a crucial component for the success of our class, and a student who fails to post more than one weekly responses will not receive an evaluation (or grade above C).

3. One Paper: Students will be asked to write one long research paper (9-10 pages) on Zen Buddhism. Students will choose a topic with the consultation of your instructor. Everyone should email one page topic proposal to by April 19 at 6 PM. The paper will be evaluated based on accurate factual descriptions of the material as well as the level of critical reflection, well thought-out argument and clear and logical development of your thesis. All writing should be typed and free of spelling and grammatical errors. Your paper must be emailed to by May 7th Wed 5:20 PM. Keep in mind that late papers will not be accepted, and plagiarism is strictly prohibited.

Plagiarism is the presentation of another person’s ideas or words as if they were your own, without acknowledging the source.  Plagiarism is a serious offense, and can result in No Evaluation for the course or even disciplinary withdrawal from the College. As you write your papers, you must be sure to cite your sources thoroughly and correctly, whether you are quoting directly or paraphrasing.  Ignorance of plagiarism is not an excuse.  If you are ever uncertain as to whether doing something is technically plagiarism, please ask your instructor and read the Ethics of Scholarship webpage on the Hub. []

You should also consult with writing reference manuals for correct citation and bibliographic formats, including for citing Internet sources. If you think that you will benefit from receiving outside help, please contact one of the three teachers at the Writing Center and make an appointment to see him/her.

4. Class Presentations: During this semester, you will be paired up with other another student or students and invited to make one 30 minute long presentation to the rest of the class. Presenters are expected to survey the assigned readings and articulate some of the key issues in our readings while posing one or two questions for the discussion. Students will have lots of latitude as far as what and how to make their presentation, although the use of multiple media (e.g. power point, YouTube, film, photo, music, bodily demonstration, drawing, map, handout, etc.) is strongly recommended. Your group will be evaluated not just on the content of your presentation but also on the effectiveness of your teaching performance. Therefore, try to meet with your group early and make your presentation as interactive, creative and intellectually stimulating as possible.

5. Portfolio: Students should maintain their own portfolio, keeping all work done for this course. This portfolio should contain 1) 7-8 exemplary printed copies of your online responses, and 2) your self-evaluation. Do write one or two paragraphs on your group presentation.  Please hand in your complete portfolio except your final paper on the last day of our class, April 30th.  No late portfolio will be accepted.

6. Film Screenings: There will be screenings of four films in class. They will start between 4:00 PM and 4:40 PM. Therefore, they can sometimes go over our scheduled meeting time. You may quietly exit the class if you cannot stay, although watching the films to the end is highly recommended.

7. Policy on Cell Phone and Laptop Computer Usage: As a courtesy to your instructor and classmates, please turn off your cell phone for the duration of the class. If your phone rings, you have to bring cookies for everyone to share in the next class. Unless it is directly related to the class presentation, you should also disable your wifi connection and refrain from using the internet as it can distract both you and your classmates. 


Additional Info:

Students are required to purchase four books for this course. They are available at the Amherst Bookstore (8 Main St. Amherst).

  • D.T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism (New York: Grove Press, 1964)
  • Thich Nhat Hahn, Zen Keys: A Guide to Zen Practice (Garden City: Anchor Press, 1973)
  • Philip Kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen (Toronto: Anchor Books, 2010)
  • Adyashanti, Falling into Grace (Boulder: Sounds True, 2011)