Wednesday, May 03, 2017


Yesterday's classes both ended in Japan! (So did today's stroll through the BBG where we saw the last sakura and the first tree peonies.)

In the sacred mountains class, Japan came as the end of a trifecta. We first watched the final half hour of Zhang Yang's documentary "Kang Rinpoche," witnessing the arrival at Mt. Kailas of a group of Tibetan villagers who'd started their 1200 km full body prostrating pilgrimage a year beforehand. Then we discussed Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s last sermon. And finally it was Dogen's "Mountains and Waters Sutra," a piece of which we'd encountered before. What all three had in common was movement. The Mangkang villagers show the effort of pilgrimage. Dr. King chronicles the progress he's seen, progress which has taken him to the"mountaintop" from which he can see the road that has brought them so far, and the Promised Land. And Zen Master Dogen tells us that mountains walk - and don't say they don't! To doubt the walking of the mountains means that one does not yet know one's own walking.
In the Confucian ethics class it was, by coincidence, the person most responsible for anyone beyond the Soto School of Zen's knowing about Dogen, Watsuji Tetsuro. I've spent a lot of time in Watsuji's company over the years, going back to my year at Tokyo University in 1992-93, but this was the first time I'd approached his Rinrigaku from the perspective of Confucianism. It makes more sense than the Buddhist- or Heidegger-focused readings common in the West would lead you to expect. The 倫 rin of Watsuji's ethics (倫理学 rinrigaku), template for his famous 間柄 aidagara, are Mencius' five relations! And his attention to everyday interactions has a Confucian feel to it, too. But then he was the son of a Confucian scholar, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine! The Western and Buddhist legacies are there, too, of course, and Watsuji's (he would say distinctively Japanese) appreciation of cultural plurality. But it makes a nice denouement for our course on Confucianism's prospects beyond the Middle Kingdom.

The courses continue for another week. Teams of students will give reports on assorted sacred mounts, from Nanda Devi to Shasta (but not Fuji). And our Confucian book club will return to the Analects.

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