Saturday, January 25, 2014

Skilful means

I think I've got a socko start for "Buddhism and Modern Thought." We'll begin with Bertolt Brecht's 1931-32 poem "The Buddha's Parable of the Burning House," which is an incomplete memory of a famous upāya parable in the Lotus Sutra. So next we'll look briefly at that section of the Lotus, which, conveniently, introduces the great (mahāyāna) and lesser vehicles (hinayāna) - the latter not a term used by the people so designated, of course! Beyond the politics of Buddhist namings, I can also introduce the termnavayāna (new vehicle), used by Ambedkar for his new Buddhism and also used by some people for Western Buddhism. But that's not all! I'll tell the class that the Lotus Sutra was the first translation by the man who coined the word "Buddhism" in 1844, Eugène Burnouf. And then, finally, we'll watch a video of a 2011 performance by Theaster Gates and the Blind Monks of Mississippi which goes from an (invented) African-American slave work song to a chanting of the name of the Lotus Sutra, the central practice of Soka Gakkai, a Nichiren-based lay movement started in Japan in 1930 and currently the most widespread of Buddhisms among Americans of color.

A lot - indeed much too much. But that's the point. My task is to convince students it's worth spending a semester learning more!

(Image of the Buddha delivering the parable of the burning house is from Dunhuang.)

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