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Assignment Questions

Zen mind Beginner’s mind

One basic task in this assignment is to make sense of some challenging idea from the readings.

The other basic task is to show how some challenging passage(s) in Suzuki’s Zen Mind, and some passages from earlier course readings, are mutually illuminating. That is, show how one can better make sense of difficult passages in Suzuki’s writings if one understands some ideas from earlier Hindu/Buddhist writings. Or, conversely, show how some passages in Suzuki’s book might help a modern person make sense difficult ideas from earlier Hindu/Buddhist writings.

“Making sense” means (a) saying how it would concretely change a person’s life or attitudes if they accepted a particular Buddhist idea, and (2) giving good reasons why a sensible person today might continue to take this idea seriously. This means avoiding strategies beginning students frequently use to show that Buddhist teachings do not make sense. Click here for a description of these strategies, and opposite strategies helpful in interpreting Buddhism in a way that does make sense.

Address yourself to someone unfamiliar with this tradition. Show your own ability to make sense of difficult ideas in the course readings, by your ability to explain these ideas in your own words — for example by making up your own examples, images, and comparisons.

Focus your paper on a single topic, or a closely related set of topics. Of course a good explanation will bring in other ideas to explain this central topic, but keep the paper focused and organized. Do not briefly describe many Buddhist ideas without attempting to relate them to each other and organize them around some single theme.

I give you credit for choosing a challenging topic, something relatively difficult to make sense of. Push yourself. Pick a topic that is on the edge of your own abilities to make sense of, so you will learn something from writing the paper; the paper will help you make sense of something.

Draw on ideas from the readings, but if you just repeat words from the readings, I can’t tell how well you understand the ideas. Give some explanations in your own words, make up your own examples and images, etc.

Do not write about karma and reincarnation.

Do not draw on sources other than the assigned readings. This is not a research paper. Do not avoid personal grappling with difficult ideas in the course readings by repeating information you have learned from elsewhere.

Even if you have difficulty expressing yourself in English, write in your own words. As long as I can understand the ideas you are trying to express, poor English grammar will not bring your grade down. Keep in mind University rules against Plagiarism.
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