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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : Asian Studies

Undergraduate Course: The Buddhist Brush: Discursive and Graphic Expressions of Japanese Buddhism (ASST10144)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course offers a perspective on literary and artistic traditions of Japan that is not found elsewhere: focussing on the rich tradition of writing in the sinitic world, it seeks to unravel the complex intertwining of literati accomplishments in the discursive, poetic and pictorial arts with the Buddhist view of life. It is designed to cater to the interests not only of students of Japan but also of religious studies and of disciplines in the literary and visual arts. It also provides a historical perspective on pre-modern artistic traditions which are being maintained and pursued in contemporary Japan. It also provides a window on the permutations of a philosophy which is deeply embedded in Japanese society.
Course description The course, which concentrates on Japan but also makes reference to Buddhism elsewhere in East Asia, offers students the opportunity to explore the way in which the brush - as a writing instrument and a painting tool - has been used to express aspects of the Buddhist way of life, whether by ordained clergy or lay people. Core elements of the course, relevant to all the topics covered, are the basic tenets of the Buddhist world-view and the technology of the writing brush. The latter embraces techniques in writing and painting - discourse and graphic expression - which are explained and analysed; theoretical issues of analysing discursive and visual sources are also essential components.

The Way of the Buddha and the Way of the Brush, are concepts central to the Buddhist ethos and their transformations in East Asia; the adoption of the brush, as a cornerstone of Chinese literature culture in Buddhist culture, is an important focus, too. Core figures in Japanese history include Kukai (774-835), whose work as public servant, prelate, calligrapher, writer and purveyor of material culture, as well as a systematic philosopher is crucial for our understanding of early Buddhist thinking, ritual practice and art. Throughout, the relations between politics and religion, court and periphery, philosophy and artistic expression, are kept to the fore, taking prominent examples from figures such as Saigyo, who renounced court positions and took the tonsure in times of bloodshed and turmoil (11th century); the writers of moral tales (setsuwa); and Basho, who is perhaps Japan's most-loved writer of prose-and-poetry travelogues. The course also takes in important figures from the mid- to late Tokugawa period (1603-1868), such as Hakuin and Jiun Sonja. Both were eminent philosophers, calligraphers and artists, but deeply engaged in the social (pastoral) tasks and political debates of the time.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. show a solid understanding of relevant Japanese literary and artistic traditions, and of the Buddhist world view espoused by the figures being analysed;
  2. assess critically sources and documents related to these Buddhist writers, in pre-modern Japanese where appropriate, and the ability to form and defend judgements about their work, in particular how the discursive and non-discursive forms of expression interact;
  3. identify and explain connexions and contrasts between different figures and eras;
  4. demonstrate Honours-level sophistication in academic writing and oral presentation.
Reading List
Abe, R. (1999), The weaving of mantra: Kukai and the construction of esoteric Buddhist discourse, Columbia University Press, New York.
Addiss, S. (2012), The art of haiku: its history through poems and paintings by Japanese masters, Shambhala, Boston.
Addiss, S. (1975), Calligraphy of China and Japan: the grand tradition, University of Michigan, Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Brinker, H.; Kanazawa, H. & Leisinger, A. (1996), 'Zen: masters of meditation in images and writings', Artibus Asiae: Supplementum 40, 3-384.
Collcutt, M. (1981), Five mountains: the Rinzai Zen monastic institution in medieval Japan, Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Graham, P. J. (2007), Faith and power in Japanese Buddhist art, 1600-2005, University of Hawai`i Press, Honolulu.
Ishikawa, K. (2011), Taction: The drama of the chisel, stylus, brush in Oriental calligraphy, International House of Japan, Tokyo.
Keene, D. (1955). Anthology of Japanese literature. New York: Grove Press.
McCullough, H. C. (1990). Classical Japanese prose: an anthology. Stanford: Stanford U.P.
Miner, E.; Odagiri, H. & Morrell, R. E. (1985), The Princeton companion to classical Japanese literature, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Mitchell, W. J. T. (1996), Word and image, in Robert S. Nelson & Richard Shiff, ed., 'Critical terms for art history', University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Ill.; London, pp. 47-57.
The Princeton dictionary of Buddhism (online resource, EUML).
Winfield, P. D. (2013), Icons and iconoclasm in Japanese Buddhism: Kukai and Dogen on the art of enlightenment, Oxford University Press, New York.
Zwalf, W. (1985), Buddhism: art and faith, British Museum Publications, London.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Information-gathering, analysis, presentation, debating
KeywordsBuddhism,calligraphy,painting,philosophy,art,discursive and graphic
Course organiserDr Abigail MacBain
Tel: (0131 6)51 1358
Course secretaryMr Callum Lennie
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