Spring 2015

Eastern Classics Preceptorials Schedule

Preceptorial 1     Preceptorial 2    Preceptorial 3     Preceptorial 4




Eastern Classics Preceptorial 1

Dates: 1/20 to 3/12

TitleThe Yogavasistha

Tutors: Michael Wolfe


“Sometimes many people have the same dream: several people experience the same hallucination and many drunkards may all of them simultaneously experience the world as revolving around them. Several children play at the same game…Even as the mind sometimes forgets what it actually experienced, it also thinks it has experienced what it has never seen.”—The Yogavasistha

How do we tell the difference between dream and reality? Sleeping and waking? Life and death? Catching us up in a web of questions like these, the storytelling sage Vasistha seeks not to unravel these strands of inquiry, but to tangle us up ever more hopelessly in their knots. He wants to persuade us that life is but a dream—but not for the sake of waking us up from the dream. Though it has been tremendously influential in India, the Yogavasistha has been underappreciated in the west—in part, because we’re not sure how to classify a religious work that is simultaneously didactic and disorienting, analytic and creative, pious and irreverent. Braiding together a string of tales about multiple realities and free-floating identities, Vasistha keeps his audience spinning in a ruthlessly playful state of vertigo. Yet all of thesage’s visions and revisions serve to illustrate a simple, serious lesson: that we should not aim for liberation from the dream, but liberation within the dream.


Meeting 1: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 1 – 55; excerpt from Ramayana (photocopy)

Meeting 2: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 55 – 92

Meeting 3: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 92 – 142

Meeting 4: YV pp. 258-268; Arya pp. 350 – 358 (photocopy); “The Indian Life”, excerpt from

           Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, pp. 520 – 558 (photocopy); optional reading: excerpt from Ibn Arabi’s Meccan                      Revelations (photocopy)

Meeting 5: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 145 – 186

Meeting 6: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 186 – 196; Yoga-Vasistha of Valmiki, translated by Ravi 

Prakash Arya, Volume 2 pp. 154 – 196 (photocopy) 

Meeting 7: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 199 – 258

Meeting 8: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 268 – 322

Meeting 9: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 325 – 366

Meeting 10: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 366 – 422

Meeting 11: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 422 – 472; R. K. Narayan’s Gods, Demons, and Others, pp. 24 – 33 (photocopy)

Meeting 12: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 472 – 529 (ending at VI.2:44) 

Meeting 13: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 529 (beginning at VI.2:44) – 588 (ending at VI.2:96)

Meeting 14: YV pp. 588 (beginning at VI.2:44) – 625 (ending at “BHASA said”)

Meeting 15: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 625 (beginning at “BHASA said”) – 682

Meeting 16: Vasistha’s Yoga pp. 682 – 725





Eastern Classics Preceptorial 2

Dates: 1/20 to 3/12

TitleA Dream of red Mansions

Tutors: Michael Bybee


The greatest novel of China, A Dream of Red Mansions (first edition, 1791, also known as The Story of the Stone) is perhaps the most read and least understood novel in the world. 

A whopping five-volume saga, the tale chronicles a great family’s degeneration and collapse—economically, socially, and morally—by focusing primarily on the divided aspirations of Jia Baoyü, a spoiled dissolute youth who detests conventional learning and prefers the company of his female cousins and servants.  Among these are Lin Dai-yü (Black Jade), a delicate beauty, and her rival for his affections, Xüe Bao-chai (Precious Clasp).  Its principle author Cao Xüeqin (1715? – 1763) aimed for graphical realism (as opposed to historical fantasy) and drew his individual characters with far greater detail and profundity than any predecessor. 

As a product of the 18th Century, this tale can and does draw upon the whole of the Chinese literary tradition—from classical poetry and philosophy to “modern” prose stories and even the other “classical” novels (e.g, The Golden Lotus, The Journey to the West, and The Romance of the Three Kingdoms). 

On these grounds, we might take A Dream of Red Mansions as the ultimate culmination and fullest representation of Chinese culture.  

Reading Schedule: Tuesdays—10 chapters, Thursdays—5 chapters


Eastern Classics Preceptorial 3

Dates:  3/31 to 5/21

Title:  On a Portrait of Myself - Dogen

Tutors: Michael Wolfe


Cold lake, for thousands of yards, soaks up sky color.
Evening quiet: a fish of brocade scales reaches bottom, then goes
First this way, then that way; arrow notch splits.
Endless water surface moonlight brilliant.
— Dogen


‘Must contemplate’ has nothing to do with someone contemplating or with something contemplated. It has no correspondence to ‘right’ contemplation or to ‘false’ contemplation. It is just contemplating. Hence, it is not the self contemplating, and it is not another person contemplating. It is ‘Look!!! temporal conditions!!!’ It is the Buddha-nature’s emancipated suchness. It is ‘Look!!! Buddha! Buddha!!!’ It is ‘Look nature!! nature!!!’ (Dōgen, Busshō)

We will read slowly and carefully selected writings of Zen Master Dōgen (Japan, 1200-1253), most of which are not read in the Seminar. In preparation, we will spend the first week considering a few of the Buddha’s earliest discourses from the Pali Nikāyas.



The Heart of Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō, trans. NormanWaddell and Masao Abe; 
Moon in a Dewdrop, Writings of Zen Master Dōgen, ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi.



1. The Book of the Beginning, pp.19-63 (Lists – Puloman)

2. pp.63-123 (Astika)

3. pp.123-210 (The Descent – Latter Days of Yayati) (pp. 145-154 may be skimmed quickly)

4. pp.210-73 (Latter Days of Yayati – The Origins )

5. pp.274-344 (The Fire in the Lacquer House – Citraratha concluded)

6. pp.344-405 (Draupadi’s Bridegroom Choice – Arjuna’s Sojourn in the Forest

7. pp.405-31 (the Abduction of Subhadra – Burning of the Khandava Forest): discussion of whole of Book 1.

8. The Book of the Assembly Hall: Read italicized summaries pp.33-106, then read whole pp.106-69 (The Dicing – The Sequel to the Dicing). At this point note that the Sauptikaparvan volume has narrative summaries in the back; read summary for Book 4, The Book of Virata.

9. The Book of the Effort, pp.187-254 (Embassy of Samjaya)

10. pp.254-94 (Dhrtarastra’s Vigil – Sanatsujata)

11. pp.294-339 (The Suing for Peace)

12. pp.344-82 (The Coming of the Lord ); 415-442 (The Coming of the Lord. continued)

13. In Volume 3, The Book of the Forest, 780-795 (The Robbing of the Earrings), then The Book of the Effort, pp. 442-461 (The Temptation of Karna)

14. The Book of the Effort, pp.461-532 (The Marching Out – Amba)

15. The Sauptikaparvan: read Summaries in Appendix, then main text pp. 5-86





Eastern Classics Preceptorial 4

Dates: 3/31 to 5/21

Title:  The Pali Nikaya

Tutors: Michael Bybee


The Pali Nikayas generally (but not universally) constitute the oldest stratum of Buddhist works—and some (e.g., the Sutta Nipata) exhibit the oldest Pali in existence.  Of these texts, the Majjhima Nikayas contain the core tenets and vital conceptual analyses of early Buddhist philosophy, for example, impermanence (anicca), insubstantiality (anatman), unsatisfactoriness (dukha), karma, and rebirth.  They lack authoritative texts only on causality (paticcusamupada), described at length elsewhere in the Nikayas. 

To gain a sense of early Buddhism’s philosophical concepts, arguments, and doctrines, our preceptorial will survey selected Majjhima Nikayas, a couple of sutras from the Digha Nikaya, and two Dhammapada entries (couplets 114 and 395) together with the various suttas to which they refer (the Kisagotami sutras) and their non-canonical commentaries. 

Warning:  Anthologies and “selections of scriptures” often truncate, appropriate, and recontextualize early Buddhist texts into a series of non sequiturs and pithy proverbs.  Such abridgments turn profound philosophical arguments into apothegms congenial to contemporary religious practices, to Occidental audiences, or to later Buddhist developments, but they quite miss the point of these early texts.  Do not be misled.  Not only are many “middle-length” discourses quite long, but you will find their philosophical content intensely abstruse—and shockingly argumentative, even bellicose.  Moreover, the Nikayas predate, deemphasize or ignore more modern, more familiar tenets, e.g., Mahayana and Vajrayana concepts such as the bodhisattva, emptiness (sunya), and skillful means (upaya kausalya), Sarvastivadan notions such as svabhava, and Sautrantika and Theravada concepts such as bija.  Thus, these texts probably advocate positions at great variance with (even in some tension with if not contradictory to) positions you may have identified on other grounds as characteristically “Buddhist.” 


Texts (available in the bookstore and the library): 

The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi,Boston:  Wisdom Publications, 1995.   



We shall endeavor to have a seminar discussion each meeting on the assigned reading.  To aid us in this, we shall each bring to every session an opening question designed to serve as a “window” into discussing the texts we read. 

For the sixth and tenth sessions, we shall write two very short papers addressed to our colleagues in the course.  For the eighth and twelfth sessions we shall respond to our colleagues’ papers.  We shall also write a rather more substantial essay due on the last day of class. 

I base grades on the quality of the opening questions presented at the beginning of each seminar, on the quality and frequency of the preceptorial participation, and on the quality of the writing.  


Tentative Schedule of Readings

D means Digha Nikaya (pagination from the Wisdom Publications edition, Walshe trans.)

M means Majjhima Nikaya (pagination from the Wisdom Publications edition, Nanamoli and Bodhi trans.)


1st Session: 

Samannaphala Sutra (D 2) “Fruits of the Homeless Life,” pp. 91-110

2nd Session: 

                Potthapada Sutra (D 9) “About Potthapada States of Consciousness,” pp. 159-170

3rd Session: 

Alagaddupama Sutta (M 22) “The Simile of the Snake,” pp. 224-236

Culamalunkya Sutta (M 63) “The Shorter Discourse to Malunkyaputta,” pp. 533-536

Aggivacchagotta-sutta (M 72) “To Vacchagotta on Fire,” pp. 590-594

4th Session: 

                Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta (M 38) “Greater Discourse on Destruction of Craving,” pp. 349-361

Pancattya Sutta (M 102) “The Five and Three,” pp. 839-846

5th Session: 

Madhupindika Sutta (M 18) “The Honey Ball,” pp. 201-206

Mahavedalla Sutta (M 43) “The Greater Series of Questions and Answers,” pp. 387-395

Chachakka Sutta (M 148) “The Six Sets of Six,” pp. 1129-1136

6th Session:  very short paper due

Ariyapariyesana Sutta (M 26) “The Noble Search,” pp. 253-268

                Kandaraka Sutta (M 51) “To Kandaraka,” pp. 443-453

7th Session: 

Tevijja Vacchagotta Sutta (M 71) “To Vacchagotta on the Threefold Knowledge,” pp. 587-589

Sandaka Sutta (M 76) “To Sandaka,” pp. 618-628

Canki Sutta (M 95) “With Canki,” pp. 775-785

8th Session:  responses due

Bhayabherava Sutta (M 4) “Fear and Dread,” pp. 102-106

Sammaditthi Sutta (M 9) “Right View,” pp. 132-144

Saccavibhanga Sutta (M 141) “The Exposition of the [Four Noble] Truths,” pp. 1097-1101

9th Session: 

Mahahatthipadopama Sutta (M 28) “The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Elephant’s

                Footprint,” pp. 278-283

Dighanakha Sutta (M 74) “To Dighanakha,” pp. 603-607

Ratthapala Sutta (M 82) “On Ratthapala,” pp. 677-691

10th Session:  very short paper due

Mahaassapura Sutta (M 39) “The Greater Discourse at Assapura,” pp. 362-371

Almbalatthika Rahulovada Sutta (M 61) “Advice to Rahula at Ambalatthika,” pp. 523-526

Ganaka Moggallana Sutta (M 107) “To Ganaka Moggallana,” pp. 874-879

11th Session:

Mahamalunkya Sutta (M 64) “The Greater Discourse to Malunkyaputta,” pp. 537-541

Culakammavibhanga Sutta (M 135) “The Shorter Exposition of Action,” pp. 1053-1057

Mahakammavibhanga Sutta (M 136) “The Greater Exposition of Action,” pp. 1058-1065

12th Session:  responses due

Dvedhavitakka Sutta (M 19) “Two Kinds of Thought,” pp. 207-210

Magandiya Sutta (M 75) “To Magandiya,” pp. 607-617

13th Session: 

                Couplet 114 from Dhammapada and the Pali Suttas to which it refers 

14th Session: 

                Satipatthana Sutta (M 10) “The Foundations of Mindfulness,” pp. 145-158

Mahacattarisaka Sutta (M 117) “The Great Forty,” pp. 934-940

15th Session:

Mahasaccaka Sutta (M 36) “The Greater Discourse to Saccaka,” pp. 332-343

16th Session:  substantial paper due