Zen Buddhism Aesthetic Cultivation of Self Cornell

“Zen Buddhism: Aesthetic Cultivation of Self” (ASIAN 3316) explored Zen Buddhism’s religious, historical and aesthetic developments. It was co-taught by Jane-Marie Law, associate professor and director of Cornell’s religious studies program, and Ellen Avril, Johnson Museum chief curator and curator of Asian art.

Through the reading of texts in translation and the study of works of art in the Johnson Museum’s collection, the course examined the rise of the Chan tradition in China, the lineage of Chan patriarchs and their associated legends, the establishment of Zen in Japan during the Kamakura period, and the development of both Rinzai and Soto Zen. The class learned about how Zen thought and praxis came to life in art and material culture through the development of Zen painting and calligraphy, tea ceremony, cuisine, and gardens. The course examined the lives and writings of Dogen and Hakuin and considered how the practice of meditation, as well as daily work activities such as cooking and cleaning (samu), became methods for religious cultivation to develop equanimity, ethics, compassion, and intellectual discernment.

Guest teacher Masaki Matsubara, who earned his PhD at Cornell and is the head priest of Butsumoji and International Zen Center in Chiba prefecture, conducted a tea ceremony for the class and led a meditation session opened to the public. Guest lecturer Sadako Ohki, associate curator of Japanese art at Yale University Art Gallery and practicing calligrapher, demonstrated Zen calligraphy for the class and for the public. An optional field trip to New York City gave students the opportunity to see Chinese and Japanese art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Asia Society’s temporary exhibition Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Sea of Buddha at Pace Gallery, and to meet with ceramic artist Ohi Toshio.

In addition to being supported by the Johnson Museum’s grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this course was also awarded an “Internationalizing the Cornell Curriculum Grant” to develop an optional ten-day trip to Japan offered to students so they could spend time in Zen temples and a monastery. Furthermore, students studying Japanese language signed up for an optional one-credit language course that explored Zen practice and arts vocabulary, taught by Naomi Nakada Larsen, Cornell senior instructor of Japanese language.

Fourteen students participated in the class trip to Japan, which included stays at three temples: Butsumoji in Chiba, and Engakuji and Kenchoji in Kamakura. Activities included daily meditation, communal meals and samu (cleaning), along with visits to museums, galleries, and other Buddhist temples in the Kamakura area for special lectures and viewings of collections, gardens and teahouses.

Read more about this class in the Cornell Chronicle.

Spring 2016 Zen Buddhism: Aesthetic Cultivation of Self students
Nikita Bernstein
Paola Camacho-Lemus
Alina Carrillo
Tomasz Chmielewski
Jenny Ding
Anshu Gaur
Andrew Harner
Daniel Hughes
Alex Hutchins
Holly Kim
Phyllis Knight
Yiding Ma
Lisa Malloy
Michael Mauer
Andrew Mossman
Maria Mu
Ian Prager
Sara Schaffzin
Tyler Stepke
Yuanyuan Tang
Maya Van Drunen
Reid Wade
Tara Williams
Zhenhang Wu
Jeffrey Zhou