T. Griffith Foulk

BA, Williams College. MA, PhD, University of Michigan. Trained in Zen monasteries in Japan; active in Buddhist studies, with research interest in philosophical, literary, social, and historical aspects of East Asian Buddhism, especially the Ch’an/Zen tradition. Co-editor in chief, Soto Zen Text Project (Tokyo); American Academy of Religion Buddhism Section steering committee, 1987–1994, 2003–; board member, Kuroda Institute for the Study of Buddhism and Human Values. Recipient of Fulbright, Eiheiji, and Japan Foundation fellowships and grants from American Council of Learned Societies and National Endowment for the Humanities. SLC, 1995–

Undergraduate Courses 2020-2021

Religion

Zen Buddhism in Japan and America

Open , Seminar—Spring

The American fascination with Zen Buddhism began during the postwar occupation of Japan and took off during the 1950s, when Jack Kerouac and other members the “beat generation” styled themselves as freewheeling Zen “dharma bums.” In the 1960s, the Zen writings of D. T. Suzuki became popular and introduced the possibility of satori, or spiritual “enlightenment,” which seemed to fit right in with the “turn on, tune in, drop out” philosophy of the hippie movement and its use of psychedelic drugs. From the 1970s, Zen centers sprang up across the United States and Europe, giving people who were serious about gaining satori a taste of the rigors of Japanese-style Zen monastic training with its long hours of zazen (sitting meditation) and emphasis on ascetic endurance. Karate and other martial arts dojo opened in neighborhoods everywhere, and anyone who trains in one is likely to hear something about the deep historical connection between Zen and Bushido (the “way of the warrior”) in Japan. Meanwhile, Zen has also became known in the West for its refined aesthetic sense, as represented in the "Zen arts" of the tea ceremony, flower arranging, ink painting, landscape gardening, and Noh theatre. The project of this course is to pull back the curtain of these Western images of Zen and to look behind them to see what Zen Buddhism in Japan has really been like from the time of its initial importation from China in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) down to the present. It may be surprising to learn, for example, that Zen was instrumental in introducing Confucian-style ancestor worship to Japan and that, even today, the main occupation of Zen monks is the performance of funerals and memorial services for ancestral spirits. Zen monasteries were, indeed, built and patronized by samurai rulers right down to the advent of the Meiji period in 1868, when Japan began a headlong rush to adopt many elements of Western technology and culture; but what attracted samurai to the religion was largely the elite Chinese culture that samurai conveyed, not any warrior spirit of fearlessness in the face of death. Ironically, much of what Americans think of as "Zen" was invented in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as the Zen Buddhist priesthood in Japan struggled to make itself relevant in the modern scientific age of colonialism and militarism. The notions that Zen dispenses with religious superstition and empty ritual, for example, and that it is a kind of spirituality that can be practiced in the midst of everyday life no matter what a person's occupation, were formulated in Japan by Zen monks and lay practitioners who had been deeply influenced by Western cultural norms such as rationality and individualistic self-help. Similarly, the idea that Zen training could toughen up soldiers to fight for the empire dated from a time when the samurai class had been dissolved and the country was busy conscripting into the military all the sons of farmers and merchants. In the postwar period, the theme of “Zen and Bushido” was conveniently muted, while “Zen and the arts” was promoted both within Japan and abroad. This course explores these and other aspects of the history and current status of Zen Buddhism in Japan. Some background knowledge of the Buddhist tradition is desirable but not mandatory.

Faculty

Religion in Contemporary Japan

Open , Lecture—Fall

This course is an examination of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions in Japanese society today, covering all of the major religious traditions and movements in contemporary Japan: Shinto, the various schools of Buddhism, Shugendo, Christianity, and the so-called New Religions that have flourished in the postwar period. Issues of historical development are touched on but only as an aid to understanding the current religious scene. The approach is thematic, with a focus on elements of Japanese religiosity that recur in different traditions such as: ancestor worship, beliefs in fate and karma, festivals, pilgrimages, the sanctification of natural phenomena, taboos against impurities, exorcisms, and rites of purification. Extensive use will be made in class of a variety of audio-visual materials, including animated films, documentaries, and amateur videos of ritual performances. The aim of the course is to provide insights into the intellectual, ethical, aesthetic, and spiritual wellsprings of contemporary Japanese culture at large, not simply to familiarize students with the basics of Japanese religion narrowly conceived. Prior study or experience of things Japanese (language, literature, history, etc.) is desirable but not required.

Faculty

Chan and Zen Buddhism

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course is an in-depth, historical examination of the philosophy, mythology, literature, institutional arrangements, religious practices, art, and architecture associated with this most famous and widely misunderstood school of East Asian Buddhism. The Chan (Zen) school of Buddhism arose in China as the result of a cross-cultural exchange of epic proportions: the gradual intrusion into China of an alien set of religious ideas, values, and practices—those belonging to Indian Buddhism—between the first and the eighth centuries of the Common Era and the subsequent efforts of some 20 generations of Chinese Buddhists to defend, adapt, domesticate, and finally make the foreign religion entirely their own. Chan became the most “Chinese” school of Buddhism by defining itself in terms of indigenous concepts of clan genealogy; by exalting members of its spiritual lineage as native-born buddhas; and by allowing those buddhas to speak in the vernacular, using a mode of rhetoric that was heavily influenced by the Confucian and Daoist traditions. The course begins by outlining Indian Buddhist doctrines and practices that were imported into China and by summarizing the indigenous cultural milieu that was initially quite hostile to the alien religion. We will then explore the various compromises and adaptations of Indian Buddhist teachings, practices, and institutions that took shape within the Chan tradition and enabled it to emerge in the Song dynasty (960-1278) as the predominant school of Chinese Buddhism. Background knowledge of East Asian history, languages, or religions is desirable but not required.

Faculty

The Buddhist Tradition in India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia

Open , Lecture—Spring

This introductory course treats the evolution of Buddhism in India from the origins of the religion as a group of “world-renouncing” ascetics through the development of large, state-supported monastic communities and the emergence of the major reform movements known as Mahayana and Tantra. The course also focuses on the Buddhism of two regions of the world—Southeast Asia and the Tibetan plateau—where the respective traditions have been most self-consciously concerned with maintaining precedents inherited from India. Equal attention is paid to: (1) matters of philosophy and doctrine, (2) religious rites and practices, and (3) social and institutional arrangements. The lectures will be accompanied by copious audio-visual materials.

Faculty

Previous Courses

The Buddhist Tradition in East Asia

Open , Lecture—Spring

This introductory course focuses on the Buddhism of East Asia: China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Buddhism first began to take root in China in the early centuries of the Common Era, having been transmitted from India via Central Asia and the maritime states of Southeast Asia. Buddhism initially met with much resistance, being branded an “alien” cult that was at odds with native Chinese (especially Confucian) values. Eventually, however, the Indian religion adapted to Chinese culture and came to have a profound influence on it, spawning new schools of Buddhism such as Tiantai, Huayan, Pure Land, and Chan (called Zen in Japan). The smaller, neighboring countries that fell under the sway of Chinese civilization—Korea, Japan, and Vietnam—first imported forms of Buddhism that had taken shape in China, not India; but each, in turn, further changed the religion in ways that accorded with their own indigenous cultures. Equal attention is paid in this course to: (1) matters of philosophy and doctrine, (2) religious rites and practices, and (3) social and institutional arrangements. The lectures are accompanied by copious audio-visual materials. The course has no prerequisite, but it is suitable for students who have already taken the companion lecture, The Buddhist Tradition in India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia, which is offered in the fall.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Buddhist Tradition in India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia

Open , Lecture—Fall

This intoductory course treats the evolution of Buddhism in India, from the origins of the religion as a group of “world-renouncing” ascetics through the development of large, state-supported monastic communities and the emergence of the major reform movements known as Mahāyāna and Tantra. The course also focuses on the Buddhism of two regions of the world—Southeast Asia and the Tibetan plateau—where the respective traditions have been most self-consciously concerned with maintaining precedents inherited from India. Equal attention is paid to: (1) matters of philosophy and doctrine, (2) religious rites and practices, and (3) social and institutional arrangements. The lectures are accompanied by copious audio-visual materials. For students who wish to continue studying the development of the Buddhist tradition in other parts of the world, a companion lecture course, entitled The Buddhist Tradition in East Asia, is offered in the spring semester.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: The Buddhist Philosophy of Emptiness

Open , FYS—Year

The concept of a “thing”—an entity that exists in and of itself, separate from all other things—is nothing but a useful fiction: In the real world, there actually are no “things” that meet that description. This, in a nutshell, is the startling proposition advanced by the Buddhist doctrine of śunyatā, or “emptiness,” as the Sanskrit term is usually translated. Often misconstrued by critics as a form of nihilism (“nothing exists”), idealism (“all that exists are mental phenomena”), or scepticism (“we can never know what really exists”), the emptiness doctrine is better interpreted as a radical critique of the fundamental conceptual categories that we habitually use to talk about and make sense of the world. This FYS course has several aims. In general, it is designed to help students develop the kind of research, writing, and critical thinking skills that are needed for academic success in college and in whatever career paths they may pursue thereafter. More specifically, the course aims to impart a clear, accurate understanding of the “emptiness” doctrine as it developed in the context of Buddhist intellectual history and found expression in various genres of classical Buddhist literature. Another aim of the course is to explore ways in which the emptiness doctrine, if taken seriously as a critique of the mechanisms and inherent limitations of human knowledge, may be fruitfully brought to bear in a number of different disciplines, academic and otherwise. In the fall semester, the class will read and discuss a number of Buddhist texts—primary sources in English translation from the original Sanskrit or Chinese—that advocate the philosophy of emptiness, as well as some secondary scholarship on the subject. Students will also be given a series of homework assignments that target basic academic skills in the humanities and social sciences (e.g., how to do bibliographic research and evaluate the reliability of sources, how to annotate scholarly writing, etc.). Individual conference meetings with the instructor in the fall will be devoted to learning and improving those skills. In the spring semester, the class will read and discuss a number of scholarly works written in English that deal with Western (non-Buddhist) traditions of historiography, literary theory, and scientific inquiry. The readings are designed to introduce students to some of the main intellectual trends in the humanities, social sciences, and “hard” sciences that they are likely to encounter in other college courses. At the same time, the class will learn how to use the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness as an analytical tool to critique the conceptual models employed in the various academic disciplines treated in the readings. For individual conference work in the spring, each student will be required to use that tool to analyze the fundamental nomenclature—the way of dividing up the world into “things”—employed by some particular field of human endeavor, which may be an academic, artistic, or athletic discipline or any other endeavor (e.g., political or economic) in which the student is especially interested. At the end of the semester, each student will have half of a class meeting to introduce his or her particular field of inquiry to everyone else. Students will select some representative readings that the class will do in advance, lead a discussion of those readings, and present their own critical analysis of the nomenclature used in the field in question. All students will have an individual conference meeting with the instructor on a weekly basis for the first six weeks of the course; thereafter, conferences may be held on a biweekly basis, depending on student progress.

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Buddhist Meditation in East Asia

Open , Seminar—Spring

Buddhists believe that there are three modes of karma, or “action”: 1) bodily, 2) verbal, and 3) mental. That is to say, we can “do” things with our bodies, with our speech, and with our minds. All three modes of karma have moral value in the sense that whatever actions we perform are either good, bad, or neutral; and all actions of body, speech, and mind have consequences that are inevitably experienced sometime in the future. The results of physical and verbal actions may be more immediately obvious than those of mental actions (thoughts and emotions), but Buddhists regard the latter as even more consequential—for they are the underlying ideas and intentions that motivate and inform speech and physical action. Moreover, Buddhists hold that deluded thinking concerning the “self” and external “things,” because it gives rise to unwise attachment, is the root cause of all suffering experienced by humans and other living beings in the round of rebirth (samsāra). Given this fundamental outlook, Buddhists regard regulation of one’s own mind as the key to both individual happiness and social harmony and justice. They say that among the three kinds of karma, “mind” is primary; but it is also the mode of action that is sublest and hardest to control. Throughout its long and diverse history, the Buddhist tradition has developed a wide variety of techniques for controlling and developing one’s own mind, many of which have been referred to in English using the word “meditation.” This course focuses on major types of meditation practiced in the Buddhism of East Asia: China, Korea, and Japan. Those include: techniques for calming the mind and entering into deep trance states; procedures for gaining insight into what is ultimately real; mental exercises for recalling and repenting bad deeds done in the past; the recollection of buddhas and bodhisattvas performed in conjunction with devotional prayer; a wide range of visualization practices designed to put one in direct touch with powerful sacred beings and forces; and the “investigation of words” attributed to Chan and Zen masters, also known as kōan practice. This is a self-contained, semester-long course taught in the spring that is also designed to complement a companion course that is taught in the fall: Buddhist Meditation in India, Southeast Asia, and Tibet. Students may take just one or the other of the two courses without any problem; those who take both will get the kind of sustained, integrated, in-depth exposure to all aspects of Buddhist meditation that is characteristic of a yearlong seminar at Sarah Lawrence College.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Buddhist Meditation in India, Southeast Asia, and Tibet

Open , Seminar—Fall

Buddhists believe that there are three modes of karma, or “action”: 1) bodily, 2) verbal, and 3) mental. That is to say, we can “do” things with our bodies, with our speech, and with our minds. All three modes of karma have moral value in the sense that whatever actions we perform are either good, bad, or neutral—and all actions of body, speech, and mind have consequences that are inevitably experienced sometime in the future. The results of physical and verbal actions may be more immediately obvious than those of mental actions (thoughts and emotions), but Buddhists regard the latter as even more consequential; for they are the underlying ideas and intentions that motivate and inform speech and physical action. Moreover, Buddhists hold that deluded thinking concerning the “self” and external “things,” because it gives rise to unwise attachment, is the root cause of all suffering experienced by humans and other living beings in the round of rebirth (samsāra). Given this fundamental outlook, Buddhists regard regulation of one’s own mind as the key to both individual happiness and social harmony and justice. They say that among the three kinds of karma, “mind” is primary—but that it is also the mode of action that is sublest and hardest to control. Throughout its long and diverse history, the Buddhist tradition has developed a wide variety of techniques for controlling and developing one’s own mind, many of which have been referred to in English using the word “meditation.” This course focuses on major types of meditation practiced in the Buddhism of India, Southeast Asia, and Tibet. Those include: techniques for calming the mind and entering into deep trance states; procedures for gaining insight into what is ultimately real; the cultivation of “mindfulness” of one’s own physical and mental actions, which has now been borrowed by Western psychotherapy; mental exercises designed to suppress negative emotions (e.g., anger) and foster positive ones (e.g., loving kindness); the “contemplation of impurity,” which involves meditating on decomposing corpses; procedures for recalling and repenting bad deeds done in the past; and a wide range of Tantric visualization practices designed to put one in direct touch with powerful sacred beings and forces. This is a self-contained, semester-long course taught in the fall that is also designed to complement a companion course that is taught in the spring: Buddhist Meditation in East Asia. Students may take just one or the other of the two courses without any problem, but those who take both will get the kind of sustained, integrated, in-depth exposure to all aspects of Buddhist meditation that is characteristic of a yearlong seminar at Sarah Lawrence College.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Religion in Contemporary Japan

Open , Seminar—Spring

Prior study or experience of things Japanese (language, literature, history, etc.) is desirable but not required.

An examination of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions in Japanese society today, this course covers all the major religious traditions and movements in contemporary Japan: Shintō, the various schools of Buddhism, Shūgendō, Christianity, and the so-called New Religions that have flourished in the postwar period. Issues of historical development are touched upon but only as an aid to understanding the current religious scene. The approach is thematic, with a focus on elements of Japanese religiosity that recur in different traditions, such as ancestor worship, beliefs in fate and karma, festivals, pilgrimages, the sanctification of natural phenomena, taboos against impurities, exorcisms, and rites of purification. Extensive use will be made in class of a variety of audiovisual materials, including animated films, documentaries, and amateur videos of ritual performances. The aim of the course is to provide insights into the intellectual, ethical, aesthetic, and spiritual wellsprings of contemporary Japanese culture at large, not simply to familiarize students with the basics of Japanese religion narrowly conceived. This is a self-contained, semester-long course taught in the spring that is also designed to complement a companion course that is taught in the fall: Japanese Religion and Culture (a historical survey). Students may take just one or the other of the two courses without any problem; but those who take both will get the kind of sustained, integrated, in-depth exposure to all aspects of the religions and culture of Japan that is characteristic of a yearlong seminar at Sarah Lawrence College.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Japanese Religion and Culture

Open , Seminar—Fall

Prior study or experience of things Japanese (language, literature, history, etc.) is desirable but not required.

A historical survey of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions in Japan from ancient times down to the present, this course covers all of the major religious traditions and movements—Shintō, Buddhism, Shūgendō, Confucianism, and the so-called New Religions—as well as various elements of religion and culture (e.g., Noh theatre, Bushidō) that are not readily subsumed under any of the preceding labels. Readings include many primary sources (Japanese texts in English translation), and audio-visual materials are used whenever possible to give a fuller picture of traditional religious art, architecture, and ritual performance in Japan. This is a self-contained, semester-long course taught in the fall that is also designed to complement a companion course that is taught in the spring: Religion in Contemporary Japan. Students may take just one or the other of the two courses without any problem; but those who take both will get the kind of sustained, integrated, in-depth exposure to all aspects of the religions and culture of Japan that is characteristic of a yearlong seminar at Sarah Lawrence College.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Buddhist Tradition in East Asia

Open , Lecture—Spring

This introductory course focuses on the Buddhism of East Asia: China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Buddhism first began to take root in China in the early centuries of the Common Era, having been transmitted from India via Central Asia and the maritime states of Southeast Asia. Buddhism initially met with much resistance, being branded an "alien" cult that was at odds with native Chinese (especially Confucian) values. Eventually, however, the Indian religion adapted to Chinese culture and came to have a profound influence on it, spawning new schools of Buddhism such as Tiantai, Huayan, Pure Land, and Chan (called Zen in Japan). The smaller neighboring countries that fell under the sway of Chinese civilization—Korea, Japan, and Vietnam—first imported forms of Buddhism that had taken shape in China, not India; but each, in turn, further changed the religion in ways that accorded with their own indigenous cultures. Equal attention is paid in this course to (1) matters of philosophy and doctrine, (2) religious rites and practices, and (3) social and institutional arrangements. The lectures are accompanied by copious audiovisual materials. The course has no prerequisite but is suitable for students who have already taken the companion lecture, The Buddhist Tradition in India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia, which is offered in the fall.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Buddhist Tradition in India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia

Open , Lecture—Fall

This intoductory course treats the evolution of Buddhism in India from the origins of the religion as a group of "world-renouncing" ascetics through the development of large, state-supported monastic communities and the emergence of the major reform movements known as Mahāyāna and Tantra. The course also focuses on the Buddhism of two regions of the world—Southeast Asia and the Tibetan plateau—where the respective traditions have been most self-consciously concerned with maintaining precedents inherited from India. Equal attention is paid to (1) matters of philosophy and doctrine, (2) religious rites and practices, and (3) social and institutional arrangements. The lectures are accompanied by copious audiovisual materials. Readings include An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History, and Practices, 2nd ed., Peter Harvey, Cambridge University Press, 2013. For students who wish to continue studying the development of the Buddhist tradition in other parts of the world, a companion lecture course, The Buddhist Tradition in East Asia, is offered in the spring semester.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Chan and Zen Buddhism

Open , Seminar—Year

This course is an in-depth, historical examination of the philosophy, mythology, literature, institutional arrangements, religious practices, art, and architecture associated with this most famous and widely misunderstood branch of East Asian Buddhism. The Chan (Zen) school of Buddhism arose in China as the result of a cross-cultural exchange of epic proportions: the gradual intrusion of an alien set of religious ideas, values, and practices—those belonging to Indian Buddhism—into China between the first and the eighth centuries of the Common Era and the subsequent efforts of some 20 generations of Chinese Buddhists to defend, adapt, domesticate, and finally make the foreign religion entirely their own. Chan became the most "Chinese" school of Buddhism by defining itself in terms of indigenous concepts of clan genealogy, by exalting members of its spiritual lineage as native-born buddhas, and by allowing those buddhas to speak in the vernacular, using a mode of rhetoric that was heavily influenced by the Confucian and Daoist traditions. The course begins by outlining the Indian Buddhist doctrines and practices that were imported into China and by summarizing the indigenous cultural milieu that was initially quite hostile to the alien religion. It then explores the various compromises and adaptations of Indian Buddhist teachings, practices, and institutions that took shape within the Chan tradition and enabled it to emerge in the Song dynasty (960-1278) as the predominant school of Chinese Buddhism. The main theme of the second semester is the transmission of the Chan school of Buddhism to Japan, where it became known as Zen, and the subsequent development of the tradition in that country from the 13th century to the present. Books and readings include Encyclopedia of Buddhism and Zen Masters of Meditation in Images and Writings, Brinker, both PDF files; Buddhist Wisdom: The Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra, Conze, Edward, trans., Vintage, 2001; ; and The Vimalakirti Sutra, Watson, Burton, trans., Columbia University Press, 2000. A background knowledge of East Asian history, languages, or religions is desirable but not required.

Faculty
Related Disciplines