A taste of some topics students are engaged with during Spring 2017

We’re now several weeks into the spring semester, and classrooms are filled with the sounds of lively discussion. Students and professors alike are plunging into the delights and challenges of the DRBU curriculum. Here is a taste of some topics students are engaged with. 

FIRST YEAR BA students are reading Mencius in their Chinese Classics class, analyzing his theory of human nature and how the early Chinese viewed the “good life.” In Western Classics, having begun the semester with Gilgamesh, students are exploring the Old Testament, reading excerpts of Genesis and Exodus before moving on to selections from the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. 

SECOND YEAR BA students began their third semester of Mathematics with a discussion of perspective. They are considering questions that arise with the shift from ancient geometry to that of 17th- century France, from “God’s view” to the human view of perspective.

In Western Classics class, reading Plato’s dialogues has inspired students, as they begin to understand Socrates as a person and how he dedicated his life to cultivating wisdom. 

Students in Indian Classics just finished reading Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa and are starting Bhavabhūti’s Rāma’s Last Act, a play based on the Rāmāyaṇa. Classroom conversations have centered on how a truly virtuous person makes a decision through careful deliberation and reflecting on how best to benefit all living beings. At the beginning of every seminar, the class also practices an ancient Indian spiritual exercise called prāṇāyāma, or breath control. This allows students to experience firsthand a form of asceticism that Rāma and other forest ascetics would have practiced. 

FIRST YEAR MA students in Comparative Hermeneutics are tackling Lyotard’s Postmodern Condition and will be discussing “HyperNormalisation,” a BBC documentary that examines the origins of the current state of global political and economic uncertainty.

In Buddhist Hermeneutics courses, students ponder questions such as: What did the Buddha teach? Since the Buddha wrote nothing, how are we to know if a text/teaching is authentic? For the past four weeks, students have been reading the Maha-parinibbana Sutta (DN 16) in an attempt to address these questions. 

SECOND YEAR MA students in one class are enthusiastically reading the Lotus Sutra, widely regarded as one of the most important and influential sacred scriptures of Buddhism. In another, they are reading the Avatamsaka Sutra, an encyclopedic work of immense breadth and depth, also known as the “King of Kings” among Buddhist scriptures. Buddhist Hermeneutics III, “Hermeneutics of Self,” is the last of three courses in Buddhist Hermeneutics. This class considers the subject (the person, inquirer) to be as much a primary “source” and legitimate object of study as the object of inquiry itself (the text/ author). What do the Buddhist texts say about the nature of the self? Right now, students are reading Vasubandu’s Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas and the Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra to investigate what they say about the “self."

LANGUAGE Students in both the BA and MA programs are taking either Classical Chinese or Sanskrit. In Classical Chinese 1, students are learning pronunciation, characters, and basic Chinese grammar through reading and translating passages from the Three Teachings— Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism. They view these ancient texts with a focus on ethical virtues, such as filiality, propriety, humanness, and wisdom.

In Chinese IV, students are reading and translating passages from the Analects, the Book of Rites, the Daodejing, the Zhuangzi, and the Brahma Net Sutra, and discussing their implications for ethical and ­spiritual practice. In Sanskrit class, students are translating passages adapted from the original Rāmāyaṇa epic, learning the fundamental grammar of Sanskrit, and exploring the Sanskrit version of the Amitābha Sūtra.