The term "Zen" has entered the American lexicon as a sort of synonym for words like "relaxing," "peaceful," "healthy," and "focused." But what is Zen? How has it been defined over its long history in China and Japan? Is it a lifestyle or a religion? In this course we will examine the many manifestations of Zen Buddhism in East Asia. Where did it come from? What does it teach? What does it mean to be a Zen Buddhist? We will begin by familiarizing ourselves with some of the most common features of the tradition: dharma transmission, the lives of famous Zen monks, Zen meditation, and Zen "art," especially as these things are represented from within the tradition itself. From this foundation we will take a more critical look at the development of Zen in East Asia, asking questions such as, Why did Zen monks sometimes mummify their masters? Or, why did they occasionally advocate war and violence? This course will also introduce students to some of the innovative forms Zen has taken in the modern world. Along the way, we will glimpse many of the traditional and modern manifestations of Zen in East Asia and the West and will have the opportunity to sample some of the key texts, material cultures, teachings, and critiques of both Zen masters and contemporary scholars.
There will be no exams. Students will have the opportunity to demonstrate their engagement with the material by producing one short (4-5 page) midterm paper and one longer(8-9 page) final paper. All are welcome; no previous experience is required.