All events are free and open to the public

Spring Term 2018

Thursday, February 8, 2018, 5 pm
Buddhism and Divination in Tibet
Brandon Dotson, Georgetown University
2018 Khyentse Lecture
Heyns Room, The Faculty Club

Dotson talk image

As a poor cousin of both science and religion, a begrudged relative of ritual, and a strange bedfellow of play, divination persists at the margins of established traditions. Buddhism shows some ambivalence toward divination, sometimes barely tolerating it, and other times making full use of divination as a medium for Buddhist messages. Buddhists, for their part, have employed divination in much the way that they have turned to astrology for clues about their karmic accounts, a determining factor in their lives that would be otherwise maddeningly opaque to all but the enlightened.

In Tibet, various forms of divination persist both within and alongside the Buddhist and Bon religions. Excavated divination texts from Dunhuang and from other Silk Road sites furnish us with traces of the dynamic processes by which Buddhism absorbed various divination techniques practiced in 8th to 10th centuries. This lecture will introduce an early form of Tibetan dice divination involving intimate exchanges with gods and with goddesses (sman), and will consider how Buddhism variously transformed, absorbed, and transmitted such divination practices up to the present day.

Brandon Dotson is an associate professor of Buddhist Studies at Georgetown University. He did his graduate training at Oxford University (2007), and has worked and taught at Oxford, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich. His most recent books are Kingship, Ritual, and Narrative in Tibet and the Surrounding Cultural Area (edited volume, 2015) and Codicology, Paleography, and Orthography of Early Tibetan Documents (co-authored with Agnieszka Helman-Wazny, 2016).

Event Contact: buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510.643.5104

Thursday, February 15, 2018, 5 pm
The Merit of Words and Letters: Sutra Recitation in Japanese Zen
Erez Joskovich, Shinjō Itō Postdoctoral Fellow in Japanese Buddhism, UC Berkeley
180 Doe Memorial Library

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Classical Chan/Zen literature is famous for its disparagement of scriptural authority, ranging from the well-known slogan “separate transmission outside the scriptures...,” attributed to Bodhidharma, to stories of renowned Zen masters abusing Buddhist scriptures. Nevertheless, similar to other Buddhist schools, incantations of sutras and invocation of dhāranī have been a significant component of Zen monastic life throughout history. Not only do Zen monks not burn sutras, but in fact daily and monthly sutra-recitation services, including different offerings and prayers, take up more of the monks’ time and effort than does any other activity, including zazen.

This talk examines the liturgical function of Buddhist scriptures within the Japanese Rinzai Zen School. Specifically, it aims to better understand how Zen practitioners interpret the meaning and purpose of sutra recitation, and how they bridge the apparent gap between the disparagement of scriptural authority and the pervasiveness of Buddhist scriptures in their monastic life. To achieve this goal, we will explore the Kankinbō 看経榜 (“Reading Sutra Placard”) chapter of Goke sanshō yōromon 五家參詳要路門 (“An Examination of the Essential Teaching of the Five Houses”; T 2576), written by the eminent eighteenth-century Japanese Rinzai monk Tōrei Enji (東嶺圓慈, 1721–1792).

Tōrei discussion combines various mental and physical benefits of sutra recitation, as well as its power to positively affect natural and supernatural environments. Thus, this work highlights the multifaceted understanding of texts as ritual objects, one that challenges any strict distinctions between worldly benefits and spiritual cultivation. Moreover, Tōrei exegetical efforts to explain the function and to justify the legitimacy of sutra recitation clearly indicate that the tension between antinomian rhetoric and worship was a major concern for pre-modern Zen masters, and not, as some scholars have argued, merely the result of projecting Western categories on traditional Zen practice. Accordingly, I contend that the Kankinbō can advance our understanding of the relations between the orthodox view of rituals within the Rinzai Zen tradition and its modern interpretations in Japan and elsewhere.

Erez Joskovich is a Shinjō Itō Postdoctoral Fellow in Buddhist Studies. He specializes in the intellectual and religious history of Chan/Zen Buddhism, with a particular focus on the development of Japanese Zen since the 18th century to the present. His doctoral dissertation is a detailed study of the development of lay Zen in modern Japan. While working on his thesis, he was awarded fellowships from the Japan Foundation and the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT). The fellowships enabled him to work as a visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo (2008-2012). He received his Ph.D. (June 2014) from the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Tel-Aviv University (in collaboration with the University of Tokyo). Other research interests include Buddhist ethnography, ritual, and performance studies

Event Contact: buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510.643.5104

Thursday, February 22, 2018, 5 pm
From chan to Chan:  meditation and the semiotics of visionary experience in medieval Chinese Buddhism
Eric Greene, Yale University
180 Doe Memorial Library

Greene talk image

In this talk Eric Greene argues that a distinguishing feature of “early Chan” discourse relative to mainstream Chinese approaches to “Buddhist meditation” (chan)was the rejection of the semiotic potential of visionary meditative experiences. Drawing from early Chan texts, contemporaneous non-Chan meditation manuals, and recently discovered stone inscriptions from Sichuan, he suggests that one way Chan partisans redefined what it meant to be a master of “meditation “ was by claiming that extraordinary meditative visions were never signs of attainment. This rejection was, Greene proposes, a key element of the “parting of the ways” that during this time began to separate (ideologically, at least) the streams Chinese Buddhist thought and practice typically classified as “Chan” and “Pure Land” respectively.

Eric Greene (PhD Berkeley, 2012) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Yale. His research focuses on the history medieval Chinese Buddhism, with a particular focus on Buddhist meditation in China, Buddhist rituals of repentance, and Chines Buddhist translation practices.

Event Contact: buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510.643.5104

Friday-Sunday, March 2-4, 2018
Workshop on Tannishō Commentarial Materials
Jodo Shinshu Center
2140 Durant Avenue, Berkeley

Sponsors: Center for Japanese Studies (CJS), Center for Buddhist Studies, Otani University, Ryukoku University. 

For more information on participation and registration, please visit the Center for Japanese Studies events page.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018, 5 pm
2018 Chao Lecture
Meditation and Nonconceptual Awareness
Perspectives from Buddhist Philosophy and Cognitive Science
Evan Thompson, University of British Columbia
Toll Room, Alumni House, UC Berkeley

Thompson talk image

Mindfulness meditation practices are often traditionally said to induce “nonconceptual” forms of awareness, and scientists and clinicians often repeat such descriptions. But what does “nonconceptual” mean? Clearly, without a precise specification of what a concept or conceptual cognition is, the notion of nonconceptuality is equally ill-defined. I present an account of concepts, concept formation, and nonconceptual awareness based on combining ideas from Buddhist philosophy and cognitive science. On the Buddhist side, I draw from Dharmakīrti’s “exclusion” (apoha) theory of concept formation and the Yogācāra view of conceptual cognition as necessarily structured by the duality of “grasper” (grāhaka) and “grasped” (grāhya) (i.e., by the duality of subject versus object). On the cognitive science side, I distinguish between sensory discrimination, perceptual categorization, and mental conceptualization (the deployment of concepts in thought). According to both Dharmakīrti’s “exclusion” theory and cognitive science considerations, perceptual categorization is the most minimal form of conceptual cognition. It structures our engagement with the world at a basic and prelinguistic level, and it is motivationally and affectively biased. Combining these Buddhist and cognitive science ideas provides a philosophically precise and empirically useful way to define “nonconceptual awareness” and “nondual awareness.” Nonconceptual mental events do not undergo or result from “exclusion” (apoha), and they do not involve perceptual categorization. Nondual awareness in addition lacks the grasper-grasped (subject-object) structure and is not motivationally and affectively biased. I apply this framework to scientific studies of Buddhist mindfulness meditation practices, with attention to experimental studies of the effects of these practices on the perception and experience of pain. One take-home message is that cognitive scientists, clinical scientists, philosophers, Buddhist scholars, and experienced meditation practitioners need to work together. In particular, more attention needs to be given to the cross-cultural philosophical issues about concepts discussed in the lecture to clarify and advance the empirical investigation of mindfulness meditation practices.

Evan Thompson is Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and an Associate Member of the Department of Asian Studies and the Department of Psychology. He is an Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He is the author of Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2015); Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind (Harvard University Press, 2007); and Colour Vision: A Study in Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Perception (Routledge Press, 1995). He is the co-author, with Francisco J. Varela and Eleanor Rosch, of The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991, revised edition, 2017). He received his B.A. in Asian Studies from Amherst College and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto. He was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto from 2005 to 2013, and held a Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Science and the Embodied Mind at York University from 2002 to 2005. In 2014, he was the Numata Invited Visiting Professor at the Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He has also held invited visiting appointments at the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement (ICE) at Dartmouth College, the Faculty of Philosophy, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, the Ecole Polytechnique (Paris), the Center for Subjectivity Research at the University of Copenhagen, and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Event Contact: buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510.643.5104

Tuesday and Thursday, March 13/15, 2018, 5-7 pm
Tuesday and Thursday, March 20/22, 2018, 5-7 pm
Chao Seminars
Emptiness, Mind, and Reality
Buddhist Interventions in the Realism Versus Anti-Realism Debate in Contemporary Philosophy
370 Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley

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Registration for the seminars is encouraged. Those registered will have access to assigned readings through a dropbox link. Register by sending an email to buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu.

Does it make sense to think that we inhabit a world that exists and has a nature independently of how anyone takes it to be? Realists answer yes, and argue that objective knowledge is impossible unless it tells us how things are independently of what anyone might think. Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy, however, specifically the Madhyamaka and Yogācāra traditions, is usually understood to be anti-realist, because it denies either that things have intrinsic natures (Madhyamaka) or that things have intrinsic natures independently of the mind (Yogācāra). Philosophical scholarship on Madhyamaka and Yogācāra often relates them to anti-realist or idealist ideas in modern European philosophy (e.g., from Kant, Wittgenstein, and Phenomenology). For example, Madhyamaka is variously interpreted as a form of conventionalism, global anti-realism, or quietism, while Yogācāra is sometimes read as a form of transcendental phenomenology. These four seminars will examine core ideas from Madhyamaka and Yogācāra in light of the resurgence of realism in contemporary philosophy. For example, Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Taylor argue that we can “retrieve” realism by giving up the idea that knowledge consists of ideas in the mind representing the external world; by denying this “meditational epistemology” we can regain a view of knowledge as being based on our direct access to the everyday world and the physical universe of science. Quentin Meillassoux argues that the way to be a realist is to give up “correlationism,” which is the idea that we only ever have access to the correlation between the mind and the world and never to either one considered apart from the other, and he argues that the reason to reject correlationism is that it cannot make sense of the meaning of scientific statements about the world anterior to the appearance of human beings. How should the contemporary Madhyamaka or Yogācāra philosopher respond to these kinds of arguments? What contributions can Madhyamaka and Yogācāra make to the contemporary debates about realism and anti-realism? These questions will be the guiding ones of the four seminars. We will read selections (in translation) from Nāgārjuna’s Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā) and The Dispeller of Disputes (Vigrahavyāvartanī), as well as Vasubandhu’s Treatise on the Three Natures (Trisvabhāvanirdeśa), together with relevant secondary readings relating these texts to contemporary philosophy.

Seminar 1: March 13: Madhyamaka Versus Realism: Setting up the Debate
Seminar 2: March 15: Epistemology:  Madhyamaka Versus Nyāya
Seminar 3: March 20: Yogācāra: Mind and World.
Seminar 4: March 22: Ambiguity, Paradox, Dialetheism, Quietism

Attendees at the Chao Lecture and Chao Seminars may also be interested in the workshop on Conceptuality and Nonconceptuality in Buddhist Philosophy, to be held on Friday-Sunday, March 23-25, 2018 (see below).

Event Contact: buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510.643.5104

Friday-Sunday, March 23-25, 2018
Conceptuality and Nonconceptuality in Buddhist Philosophy Workshop
Toll Room, Alumni House

Supported by a generous gift from the Mind and Life Institute. https://www.mindandlife.org/

Friday March 23: 2 pm to 6 pm
Saturday March 24: 9:30 am to 6 pm
Sunday March 25: 9:30 am to 12:30 pm

Paper presenters:
Dan Arnold (University of Chicago)
Christian Coseru (College of Charleston)
John Dunne (University of Wisconsin)
Jay Garfield (Smith College)
Sonam Kachru (University of Virginia)
Birgit Kellner (Austrian Academy of Sciences)
Ching Keng (National Chengchi University, Taiwan)
Catherine Prueitt (George Mason University)
Robert Sharf (UC Berkeley)
Mark Siderits (Illinois State University)
Evan Thompson (University of British Columbia)
Roy Tzohar (Tel Aviv University)

Bronwyn Finnigan (Australian National University)
Anand Jayprakash Vaidya (San Jose State University)
Koji Tanaka (Australian National University)

Download the abstracts here

Event Contact: buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510.643.5104