Buddhist Meditation in India and Tibet
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- Full Year
Buddhist Meditation in India and Tibet sets out to provide a systematic account of the origins, features, phasing and roles of meditation techniques on the Buddhist path to liberation. Broadly speaking, it falls into four segments. (1) It identifies the doctrines and practices that connect the brahmanical and Buddhist schools of meditation of ancient India; (2) it explores the characteristics of Buddhist meditation as developed in the Pali Nikāyas and Therāvāda commentarial and practice literature with their role on the Buddhist Path. For example, it will map and challenge the interplay between concentrative calm (samatha) and analytic insight (vipassana), discuss the role of the four immeasurables (appamāṇa) and examine the role of mindfulness (smrti) in the process of mental purification; (3) it charts the changes in meditation theory and practice following the advent of the Mahāyāna at the beginning of the common era. Meditation practice in Mahāyāna Buddhism possesses a set of fundamentally different objectives and requires radical adjustments in the parameters of the spiritual training within which it is cultivated. This section connects with the yogic ideals followed by the Mahāsiddha tradition and their role among the emerging tantric practitioner of the Vajrayāna; (4) finally, the course explores the transition of Indian Buddhist meditation practices to Tibet and the ways in which they found accommodation in their new geographic and cultural setting. It will commence with a study of issues at stake in the Great Debate of Lhasa and then proceed with an analysis of the advanced systems of meditation cultivated by the rDzogs chen communities. This segment will also consider meditation practices current in the Central Asian Buddhist communities of Tang China and their impact on the Tibetan tradition. This will provide the student with a near seamless transition to ‘East Asian Traditions of Meditation’. Finally, and still within the Tibetan component, the course will examine the role of the yogic traditions in Tibetan religious culture, from inception to the 15th century, and chart the range of practices—as well as the benefits they purport to generate—most commonly observed in those traditions. It also serves as nexus, connecting the other two courses of this MA and thus helps to create a conceptually integrated, geographically interwoven and chronologically linked study of the traditions of yoga and meditation in India, Tibet and the Far East. Prior knowledge of Buddhism is not required since this course includes an introduction to the Buddhist traditions of India and Tibet.
Objectives and learning outcomes of the module
At the end of the course, the student should be able to:
- demonstrate that s/he has acquired a good understanding of the historical and doctrinal processes that shaped the emergence of Buddhist Meditation as a separate tradition of contemplation in Ancient India.
- identify the differences that mark brahmanical meditation practices from those of the Buddhist tradition.
- relate specific meditation practices to understandings of the processes of transformation, ideals of human perfection and achievement (including supramundane qualities) and to Buddhist cosmology.
- analyse key textual authorities and meditation traditions.
- chart the transition of meditation in mainstream Buddhism to the broadened parameters of contemplation in Mahāyāna Buddhism and evaluated the role of the latter in the path towards liberation.
- map the roles and characteristics of meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, their connections to the Indian and Chinese meditation systems as well as their impact on, and realisation in, South Asian and, especially, Tibetan religious art.
Method of assessment
Coursework: one 2,000 word essay (20%); one 4,000 word essay (35 %); one 4,000 word essay (45 %).