Thursday, September 07, 2017

Blank slate

I'd love to think that everyone in "Buddhist Modernism" got everything on this map - I'd given the class a blank map and asked them to locate a dozen Buddhist countries represented in Figures of Buddhist Modernity in Asia as well as three famous historic sites, Bodhgaya, Bamiyan and Borobodur. Confronted again with the way American education makes geographical ignoramuses of us - although one student knew everything, another pair of students were pretty sure only of where China was, and most others didn't do much better - I'd be happy if some of them got something. At least a sense that Buddhism has tangled with many cultures over a long time? And, once we placed our historic sites (in India, Afghanistan and Indonesia) that it hadn't just spread outward like a melting blob of butter but was no longer a significant presence in places where it had once been important, including the land of its birth.
But I'm afraid for some of the students the particulars of this story won't have stuck, because there was nothing for it to stick to - not just a map of Asia means nothing but maps tout court. Kant was right about this at least: without a knowledge of geography how could you have an understanding of the world and history and your place in it?

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