PHL 353  ZEN AND THE CULTURE OF JAPAN  TTh 2:10-3:50    Dr. John G. Sullivan  SPRING 2004

Office: Philosophy House 101      (o) 278-5697     (h) 584-4029    CB 2102     Email:
  Homepage:  Course Page  http://

Office Hours:     Monday -- Thursday ------------------------------------------------------------ 10:00 a.m. to noon
                          Thursdays   ----------------------------------------------------------------------  4:00-- 5:00 p.m.

+ other times by appointment.
 This course will examine the contribution of Zen Buddhism to the cultural soul of Japan. From the middle ages on, Zen masters such as Eisai, Dogen, Ikkyu, Bankei, Hakuin and the gentle Ryokan keep this “crazy cloud” tradition alive.  The Zen spirit also takes root in the arts of peace such as meditation, architecture, gardening, flower arranging, calligraphy, painting, poetry, Noh drama and the tea ceremony, as well as the arts of war such as Zen archery, swordsmanship and aikido. We shall explore these facets in lively fashion --  for the sake of a deeper understanding of Japan and for the sake of new possibilities for our own thinking and living.


 1) To introduce students to a new way of seeing and being -- Zen Buddhism and its particular embodiments in
                 the arts of Japan.
 2) To aid students to move back and forth between Japanese culture and our own American culture, and
                between the living past and the living present.

 3) To gain new possibilities to live more widely and more deeply.


    Alan W. Watts, The Way of Zen (New York: Random House, 1957) ISBN 394-70298-0 (pbk)

    Lao Tsu,  Tao Te Ching, trans. Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, 25th Anniversary Edition
                         (New York: Random House Vintage, 1972) ISBN 0-679-77619-2 -- large format pbk

    Daisetz T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press,  Bollingen series LXIV, 1959)
                        ISBN 0-691-01770-0 (pbk)

    Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (New York: Weatherhill, 1970)  0-8348-0079-9 (pbk)

          Recommended:  Kazuaki Tanahashi & Tensho David Schneider,  Essential Zen
                           (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994) ISBN 0-06-251046-0 (pbk)
VEHICLES FOR FEEDBACK: Homework, group presentations, tests, and paper:

   A)  HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENTS ------------------------------------------------------worth a possible 15 points

 Homework questions will be on the web -- on the assignment link from the course menu page  --- see  http:// sullivan/zenjapan.htm.

 DOING HOMEWORK FAITHFULLY IS A DISCIPLINE.  Homework questions are the basis for class discussion. The homework assignments will be collected on EACH CLASS DAY for the first TEN weeks.  Each assignment is worth 3/4 point; one week‘s assignments = 1 1/2 points; the ten weeks'  work adds up to 15 points. Except for cases where a student has missed class with a valid excuse and contacted me, ASSIGNMENTS HANDED IN LATE WILL GAIN NO CREDIT.

   B) THREE GROUP PRESENTATIONS ------------------------------------ each worth 7 points; together, 21 points

       Five groups will be formed. Each group will take its name from the following system of seasons:  Summer (element Fire, color Red);   Late Summer (element Earth, color Yellow);   Autumn (element Mental/Air, color White);   Winter (element Water, color Blue);   Spring (element Wood, color Green). Order of presentation is given below;  for dates, see  Scheduling.
           1st Set Presentations:    a) Summer: the four noble truths
               b) Late Summer:  the insight/resolve or knowing/loving phase +  sila phase
               c) Autumn: the samadhi phase and how it moves back into knowing/loving
               d) Winter: the first 5 of the Oxherding Pictures and
               e) Spring: the second 5 of the Oxherding Pictures

           2nd Set Presentations:  a) Summer:         Ikkyu age 50 in 1444 -- year of Zeami’s death
              b) Late Summer:  Bankei  (a young man in 1650)
              c) Autumn:           Hakuin (receives his Zen name c. 1750)
              d) Winter:            Ryokan (1789 appointed head of  monastery at Entsu-ji)
              e) Spring:            Shunryu Suzuki  (1905-1971)

         3rd Set of Presentations:  on the arts of war and peace -- groups to be assigned by paper topic

Paper Topics will be typically on one of the martial arts  (e.g.  archery, sword, aikido)  -- or --one of the  arts of peace -- meditation, painting, calligraphy, poetry, gardens, flower arranging, architecture, Noh drama, tea ceremony.  Students may also chose to write on specific Zen Masters or on some other aspect of  Zen.
C) ONE IN-CLASS TEST ----to be given on Tuesday, March 9, 2004  ----------------------------- worth 18 points

         Test is all essay questions.  There will be 3 sections with three questions each -- i.e. 9 possible questions.
        You must choose and answer one question from each section or three questions total.

D) PAPER  -- minimum 12 typed pages ---due on Thursday, April 15, 2004-------------------------- worth 22 points

 The paper is to be done on one of the Japanese arts which exemplify the influence of Zen Buddhism on the culture of Japan.  See topics listed under third presentation above.  Length is meant very seriously.  I want 12 full pages of great stuff !!   See other instructions regarding the paper on pages 3-4 of this syllabus.  The deadline is meant seriously.  One point deducted for each day late.
E) CUMULATIVE FINAL  --  in exam period  ----------------------------------------------------  worth  24 points

                                  Our final is scheduled for Thursday, May 13th from 11:30 a.m. -- 2:30 p.m.

Grading at a Glance
 a) Daily written homework worth ------------------------------------------   15 points
 b) In-Class Essay Test --  Mar. 9th --  worth   ----------------------------    18 points
 c) Three group presentations worth 7 points each ---------------------------  21 points
 d) One min. 12 page research paper -- due April 15-- worth ---------------  22 points
 e) Cumulative Final in exam period worth ----------------------------------   24 points
                                                                                          TOTAL              100 points
SCHEDULING:             Tuesdays                                                              Thursdays
                                       Feb.   3                                                                Feb. 5
                                       Feb. 10                                                                Feb.  12
                                       Feb. 17                                                                Feb.  19 (Summer Group presents)
                                       Feb. 24 (Late Summer Group presents)                Feb. 26 (Autumn Group presents)
                                       Mar.  2 (Winter & Spring Groups present)            Mar.  4  -- review for test
                                       Mar.   9 -- First Test                                          Mar.  11
                                       Mar. 16                                                                Mar. 18 (Summer Group presents)
                                       Mar. 23 (Spring Break)                                        Mar. 25 (Spring Break)
                                       Mar. 30                                                               April 1 (Late Summer Group presents)
                                       April  6 No class -- SURF presentations              April  8  (Autumn Group presents)
                                      April 13 (Winter Group presents)                          April 15 Final copies of papers due
                                      April 20  --(Spring Group presents)                      April 22
                                      April 27--  new group paper presentations             April 29 - new group paper presentations
                                      May   4  -- new group paper presentations             May 6
                                      May  11 -- last class,  review for exam                   May 12 (Reading Day)
                                       May 13 -- 11:30-2:30 Final Exam


     Attendance:  Class attendance is absolutely crucial.  I expect the same responsibility in regard to this as you would show in your career work. For absences to be excused, you must have serious reason and must let me know within 24 hours on either side of the absence why you chose not to be present. Call or e-mail and leave word. You need not talk directly to me. My office phone is 278-5697; my e-mail address is I have no predetermined number of excused absences, yet I expect they will not be excessive. Unexcused absences will be penalized at the rate of 1 point off final mark for each.
NOTE: Absences the day before or the day after a break will be penalized, even if you call in.
            Elon policy speaks strongly against such absences.

    Preparation:  Come to class prepared, having done the reading and homework. Class preparation and participation will be taken into account as an important factor when I judge borderline marks.

     Tests:  There will be no make-up tests given.  If missing a test is unavoidable, a student with proper documentation will be allowed to write a paper in lieu of the missed test.

1.  Define your focus early.

In general, I want you to write on Zen and one of the following arts of Japan -- one of the martial arts   --  e.g. archery, sword, aikido  --  or one of the arts of peace -- e.g. meditation, painting, calligraphy, poetry, gardens, flower arranging, architecture, Noh drama, tea ceremony, monastic practice. You may also chose to write on a specific Zen masters or Zen philosopher or on some other aspect of  Zen.

Assemble material from our library and other libraries in ample time --  live with the topic over time.

2. I want a paper you could NOT have written before this course !!!!!!!

  Let paper utilize key distinctions that we are making in class.  Let paper show forth an understanding of Japanese aesthetics e.g. use of such orientating categories as “wabi” and  “sabi” and “yugen”.  Use books read for class and handout material as well as special sources.
3. An upper-level college philosophy paper cannot be a paper that simply gives information.
You must step back from the information and DO SOMETHING with the information -- apply it, compare it, critique it, make further suggestions for carrying the inquiry forward, etc.  You can reflect on your sources.  You can move forward and see how this study fulfills our three class objectives (above).

4. Organize the paper creatively so that the format of the paper mirrors the topic you are presenting.

For example, you may use pictures or calligraphy.  You may write from the point of view of a person who is a disciple of a master or a visitor seeing the art for the first time, etc. Think of your audience as intelligent peers but without special background in Zen.
5.  Length: 
I take length seriously. I am using length to give you a sense of the scope of treatment I require.  Please do not give me that old “false-dilemma” -- “Do you want say 9 or 10 solid pages or 12 pages with 2 pages of B.S. filler?”  I want minimum 12 solid pages.  Anything less will be graded accordingly-- a grade point off for every missing page!  Then grading for quality of the work with points remaining as the base.  For example, if you hand in a paper of 10 pages then you start with a possible 20 points (out of 22) and if you get a B (say 85 then it will be 85% of 20, not 22 -- i.e. you would make 17 for the paper!
6.  Quality:
Minimum standards are those for any serious college-level paper: correct length and form, no spelling errors, no grammatical errors, endnotes in proper form, revised and proofread by you and another person.  When you quote, reference the quote.  If you are paraphrasing another, let me know that is what you are doing.  Basically, I want to see what comments are from another (Good Research) and what are your own wonderful remarks and insights (Good Creativity).  I expect Endnotes and Bibliography.  See Troyka Handbook. PLEASE PAGINATE.

    A “C-level” paper means that you have written a paper adequate for college-level work, but, in the words of my grandfather, “nothing to write home about.”  Generally, these papers simply summarize and use secondary material in a “scissors & paste” fashion.  A minimum amount of presentation of argument and/or insight is present, but not very well done.

     A “B-level” paper shows above average work -- good writing, interesting writing, making points that are thoughtful, insightful concerning assumptions, alternatives, noting key distinctions and their implications, using comparisons and assessments that start to make the reader sit up and take notice.

     An “A-level” paper does all of the above in a superior way  -- imaginative, insightful, a paper the reader might want to share.  In finishing such a paper, the reader should say: “This is really excellent -- well-organized and well-written, exciting to read, striking insights, and the whole paper hangs together with an imaginative beginning and a powerful ending.  I want my friends to have a look at this.”

The Most Common Error:  Waiting until the 11th hour to begin, leaving little or no time for you to reflect on your work, consult with classmates, or with me, etc.  Beware of accepting the label that you are a “single text author.”  Even if you are, allow time for another to read your work and for you yourself to revise it.
HOMEWORK: Doing homework faithfully is meant to be a Zen discipline. Homework questions are basis for discussion.

(A)  Homework answers should be brief essays -- no less than 1/2 page; no more than one page.  At the start,
  the first essay question will always be from the Tao Te Ching; the next two, from Watts.
(B)  Suppose a real life situation arises for you -- one relevant to your study of eastern ways of being.  You may write about this as a  “Wild Card” entry in place of one of the questions asked.  Label as such and show how you are using eastern philosophy in relation to the situation.
(C)  The homework answers will be collected at the end of each class.  Each day’s homework is worth 3/4 of a  point; the 2 assignments for a week are worth one and a half points. Over the semester,  you can earn 15 points -- one and a half letter grades! -- just by faithfully doing your daily work.
       Except for cases where a student has missed class with a valid excuse and contacted mewithin 24 hours,
(D) Please Title each set of homework questions as below: e.g. Assignment A (for Thurs. Feb. 5th).
Assignment A:  Given Tues.. Feb. 3rd for Thurs. Feb. 5th, 2000.  Read and comment on one or two chapters of the  Tao Te Ching (abbr. TTC).  Read Watts, The Way of Zen (abbr. WZ) chapter 1, pp. 3-28.

1) Pick one or two chapters of the TTC.  [Don’t start with chapter one which poses special difficulties.]
 Read the chapter or chapters as poetry.  Reflect on the reading, seeking how the material might apply to your life, what issues it raises for you, how it may violate so-called “common sense,” etc.  Give chapter number(s) and make your comments in essay form -- no less than 1/2 page.

2) [From WZ] Language seems to act like a cookie-cutter, cutting up reality by means of nouns, verbs, etc. In what ways does the Tao aid us to escape from the tyranny of language?  How might “living in the Tao” aid us to live more fully?  What would such living look like?  Discuss.

3) [from WZ]   Answer -- in essay form -- one of the following:
 3a.  How is the Tao like and unlike the Jewish or Christian notion of God?       OR
 3b.  In ordinary education, the goal is to accumulate more knowledge.  In the Tao, the aim appears to be to unlearn, to let go, to not strive.  But surely this seems to be a recipe for disaster. In what possible ways might you make sense of this seemingly upside-down teaching?  Discuss.
          Go to and then scroll down to courses.  Click on Zen and the Culture of
          Japan and from that Menu Page, go to Assignment Page.


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