Last Updated 11/18/2013

45.371 Buddhist and Zen Philosophy
(Gen Ed: Arts and Humanities, Diversity, Ethics)
Fall Semester 2013: TuTh 3:30PM - 4:45PM

Professor Eric S. Nelson                                                                                  Email: Eric_Nelson at
Office: Dugan Hall 200F                                                                                         Telephone: 978-934-3996

Fall Office Hours: TTH 2:15-3:15, 5:00-6:00pm and by appointment.


Course Description
This course offers an extensive introduction to classics of Buddhist and Zen thought and practice from the discourses of the Buddha in ancient India to later developments in Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan. We will explore questions concerning knowledge, language, meditation and the mind by reading and discussing texts of various traditions of Buddhism, including Theravāda, Pudgalavāda, Mahāyāna, Mādhyamika and Yogācāra (the two primary philosophies of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism), and Chan/Zen/Son, in relation to their historical contexts, philosophical contents, and their significance for contemporary western readers. We will also consider the social and moral dimensions of Buddhism, including issues of class and gender, war and peace, and the environment.


Course Goals and Objectives

1. The goals of this course are to promote:
(a) Familiarity with a wide-range of positions and arguments of Buddhist philosophy, and
(b) Critical reasoning and reflection through considering a variety of ethical, philosophical, and religious issues.

2. The objectives of this course are for students to develop their ability and skills in:
(a) Interpreting texts by accurately and fully describing concepts and arguments
(b) Reasoning about ideas by (i) evaluating the content, structure, and strategies of Buddhist works and (ii) applying concepts and arguments to contemporary issues and their own lives, and
(c) Collaborating with other students, learning to present and support ideas in public through class participation.


Course Requirements
Students are required to:

1. Complete all assigned readings                                                               2. Maintain regular attendance
3. Participate in class discussion and discussion groups 4. Complete all written assignments on-time


Course Assignments

1. Three Exams = 75% of final course grade.

2. Short in-class individual and discussion group assignments, Class Attendance and Participation = 25% of final grade.


Required Texts (available at the UML South Campus Bookstore)

  1. [EBD] Early Buddhist Discourses (John J. Holder) (Hackett, 2006; ISBN: 0872207927)

  2. [PB] Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings (William Edelglass; Jay L Garfield) (Oxford University Press, 2009; ISBN: 0195328175)

  3. [ZS] Zen Sourcebook: Traditional Documents from China, Korea, and Japan (Stanley Lombardo, Judith Roitman, Paula Arai) (Hackett, 2008; ISBN: 0872209091)



1. Sept. 5, TH: Introduction to Buddhism and to the course

I. Self and No-Self: Discourses of the Buddha and Theravāda Buddhism

2. Sept. 10, T: Discourse on the Noble Quest and Discourse on the Kālāma, read EBD 1-25

3. Sept. 12, TH: Greater Discourses on Cause and the Foundations of Mindfulness, read EBD 26-50

4. Sept 17, T: The Greater Discourses on Mindfulness and Destruction of Craving, read EBD 50-72

5. Sept 19, TH: Shorter Discourses, read EBD 73-94

6. Sept. 24, T: Questions of Knowledge, 128-150

7. Sept. 26, TH: Questions of Knowledge and Ethics, read EBD 150-173

8. Oct. 1, T: Ethics and Society, read EBD 174-201 [compare BP chapter 32]

9. Oct. 3, TH: (In-Class) Exam 1

II. Emptiness, the Person, and Consciousness: Mādhyamika, Pudgalavāda, and Yogācāra

10. Oct. 8, T: Nāgārjuna [and Tsongkhapa], read BP 29-33 [and 224-237]

11. Oct. 10, TH: Pudgalavāda Doctrines of the Person, read BP 275-285

12. Oct 15, T: Vasubandhu’s Critique of the Pudgalavāda Theory of Persons, read BP 286-296

13. Oct. 17, TH: Film Interlude; Documentary on Meditation

14. Oct. 22, T: Vasubandhu on the Three Natures, read BP 35-45

15. Oct. 24, TH: Yogācāra and the Phenomenology of Perception, read BP 205-217 and (take-home) Exam 2 due at by November 3.

16. Oct. 29, T and 17. Oct. 31, TH: No Classes!

III. Mind and No Mind: East Asian Chan and Zen Buddhism

18. Nov. 5, T: Why Did Bodhidharma Come to the East and the Faith in Mind? Read ZS 9-18

19. Nov. 7, TH: Why Did Bodhidharma Come to the East and the Faith in Mind? Read ZS 9-18

20. Nov. 12, T: A Silent Transmission beyond the Scriptures? Hui-neng, read ZS 18-33

21. Nov. 14, TH: A Silent Transmission beyond the Scriptures? Hui-neng, read ZS 18-33

22. Nov. 19, T: Killing the Buddha? ZS 34-60

23.Nov. 21, TH The gong an (koān), read ZS 95-117

24. Nov 26, T: Documentary and Assignment
25. Nov. 28, TH: Thanksgiving

26. Dec. 3, T: Dōgen (1200-1253), read ZS 140-172 [compare BP chapters 7, 13 22]

27. Dec. 5, TH: Dōgen (1200-1253), read ZS 140-172 [compare BP chapters 7, 13 22]

28. Dec. 10, T; Dōgen, course evaluations, and (Take-Home) Final Exam 3.

Final Exam 3 due at before or by Tuesday, December 17, 2013.