EVE KOSOFSKY SEDGWICK

ARCHIVE / TEACHING / COURSES RELATED - CUNY, DOCUMENTS
ASIAN ENCOUNTERS

This seminar concerns the relation of Asian religious thought – especially Buddhism – to European and American culture. Brahmanism and Buddhism have ‘arrived’ and been influential in western thought in many forms through many different encounters over many centuries. Thus, by now an Asian encounter with western culture must also be understood as a re-encounter with a palimpsest of previous Asian currents and influences (as well as vice versa). Necessarily, then, the seminar also involves a range of difficult methodological, theoretical, and political issues surrounding authenticity, dissemination, appropriation, and perhaps especially, pedagogy.

Assigned Readings:

Cleary, Thomas, tr. The Essential Tao. HarperSanFrancisco.
Kerouac, Jack. Dharma Bums. Penguin.
Kipling, Rudyard. Kim. Penguin.
Merrill, James. Divine Comedies. Atheneum. (Out of print – will duplicate and hand out)
Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. HarperSanFrancisco
Stone, Jacqueline I. ‘The Contemplation of Suchness.’ In Tanabe, George J., ed. Religions of Japan in Practice. Princeton U. Press (handout)
Thurman, Robert A. F., tr. The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti. Pennsylvania State U. Press.
Walker, Alice. Meridian. Pocket Books.
Watts, Alan. The Way of Zen. Vintage.
Wordsworth, William. ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Reflections of Early Childhood.’ Handout.

Recommended Supplementary Readings:

Fields, Rick. 1992. How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America. Shambhala. Fascinating and very readable discussion of many traditions of American Buddhism since the 19th century.
Halbfass, Wilhelm. 1988. India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding. Albany: State U. of New York Press. Especially good for its discussion of Hindu/Buddhist influences on European thought in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Lopez, Donald S., ed. 1995. Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism. U. of Chicago Press. A collection of incisive and very informative essays on Western Buddhism and Buddhology, written under the stimulus of Edward Said’s Orientalism.

Schedule of Classes:

Jan. 30: Introduction: Heart Sutra (handout)
Feb. 6: Kim (first half)
Feb. 13: No class (Monday schedule)
Feb. 20: finish Kim / Wordsworth (handout)
Feb. 27: Sogyal Rinpoche (first half)
March 6: finish Sogyal Rinpoche
March 13: Vimalakirti (first half)
March 20: finish Vimalakirti
March 27: The Essential Tao
April 3: Alan Watts
April 10: No class (spring break)
April 17: Dharma Bums / Diamond Sutra (handout)
April 24: Meridian (first half); ‘Contemplation of Suchness’ (handout)
May 1: finish Meridian
May 8: James Merrill (handout) (first half)
May 15: Last class: finish James Merrill
May 25: All papers and written work due

Course Requirements:

All auditors and enrolled students are required to
(1) keep up with the reading on a weekly basis, and
(2) speak in class at least once every week.
Enrolled students are required to complete a mutually-agreed-on writing project. Depending on where you are in your graduate work and what you want to use this class for, you have a variety of options for this project. One possibility would be a reading journal, with weekly entries of >5 pages recording your reflections on the current assignment, perhaps in relation to your other ongoing reading projects. Or you might choose to write a full-dress (20-25 pp.) paper, which could be structured either around one or more of the texts studied, or around an encounter between another literary text and some of the material from this seminar. Another possibility would be individual/small group research on some other aspect of Asian-western encounters.
I expect you to consult with me substantively, early, and often about the nature and progress of your writing project.

Heart Sutra of the Prajna Paramita
(from the Sanskrit)

When the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara practiced the Profound Perfection of Transcendent wisdom, he saw that the Five Aggregates* were empty, thus completely relieving misfortune and pain.
Sariputra, form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form. Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form. Feeling, perception, intention, and consciousness are also like this.

Sariputra, all things, having the nature of emptiness, have no beginning and no ending; they are not defiled or pure, increased or decreased. Thus, in emptiness there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no intention, no consciousness. There is no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind. Therefore, there is no sight, sound, odor, taste, object, and knowledge. There is nothing from the visual world to the conscious world.

There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so on up to no aging and death, and also no extinction of aging and death. There is no suffering, no cause of suffering, no suppression of suffering, no path to annihilation of suffering. There is no path, no wisdom, and no gain.

No gain and thus the Bodhisattvas realize the Profound Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom, and so their minds are unhindered. No hindrance, therefore no fear. Far beyond deluded thoughts, this is Nirvana. All the Buddhas of the past, present, and future have fully awakened into unsurpassed, complete, perfect enlightenment by realizing the Profound Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom.

Therefore, the Profound Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom is known as the great mantra, the vivid mantra, the best mantra, the unsurpassable mantra. It completely clears all pain. This is the truth and not a lie. So set forth the mantra of the Profound Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom, set forth this mantra and say:
ga-te ga-te para-gate para-samgate bodhi SVAHA!

End of the Heart Sutra of the Prajna Paramita

*The aggregates of which a human body is composed: form, feeling, conception, impulse, and consciousness

The Heart Sutra
(from the Tibetan)

Thus have I heard. Once the Blessed One was dwelling in Rajagriha at Vulture Peak mountain, together with a great gathering of the sangha of monks and a great gathering of the sangha of bodhisattvas. At that time the Blessed One entered the samadhi that expresses the dharma called “profound illumination,” and at the same time noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, while practicing the profound prajnaparamita, saw in this way: he saw the five skandhas to be empty of nature.
Then, through the power of the Buddha, venerable Shariputra said to noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, “How should a son or daughter of noble family train, who wishes to practice the profound prajnaparamita?”

Addressed in this way, noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, said to venerable Shariputra, "O Shariputra, a son or daughter of noble family who wishes to practice the profound prajnaparamita should see in this way: seeing the five skandhas to be empty of nature. Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness. In the same way, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness are emptiness. Thus, Shariputra, all dharmas are emptiness. There are no characteristics. There is no birth and no cessation. There is no impurity and no purity. There is no decrease and no increase. Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness, there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no appearance, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no dharmas, no eye dhatu up to no mind dhatu, no dhatu of dharmas, no mind consciousness dhatu; no ignorance, no end of ignorance up to no old age and death, no end of old age and death; no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path, no wisdom, no attainment, and no non-attainment. Therefore, Shariputra, since the bodhisattvas have no attainment, they abide by means of prajnaparamita.

Since there is no obscuration of mind, there is no fear. They transcend falsity and attain complete nirvana. All the buddhas of the three times, by means of prajnaparamita, fully awaken to unsurpassable, true, complete enlightenment. Therefore, the great mantra of prajnaparamita, the mantra of great insight, the unsurpassed mantra, the unequaled mantra, the mantra that calms all suffering, should be known as truth, since there is no deception. The prajnaparamita mantra is said in this way:
OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA

Thus, Shariputra, the bodhisattva mahasattva should train in the profound prajnaparamita.
Then the Blessed One arose from that samadhi and praised noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, saying, “Good, good, O son of noble family; thus it is, O son of noble family, thus it is. One should practice the profound prajnaparamita just as you have taught and all the tathagatas will rejoice.”
When the Blessed One had said this, venerable Shariputra and noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, that whole assembly and the world with its gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas rejoiced and praised the words of the Blessed One.