Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Koan of a Midterm

This week, I can only add a few sentences to my story of our family. With the addition of Fei to our household, things got better and better. Yuni got into advanced English classes at the community college. He began to learn how to mix the precast concrete and do other technical things. He got raises every time he came up for evaluation. My translation and tutoring businesses flourished. The kids grew like weeds. Peace began speaking all at once in full sentences (a common occurence among children in bilingual households). The girls and I continued with our regular excursions around Seattle, and a whole year went by in peace and prosperity.

I do not have time to write about our family's next set of adventures because it is mid-term season. I only have one class with a mid-term: Buddhism, but the professor has told us outright that the exam is impossible to pass. He spread it out over two 1 1/4 hour class periods. Last Thursday we had our Sanskrit vocabulary test. We got the essay portion of the test two weeks early. It will be an open book, open notes, open everything test. We can bring our outlines of the essays, but we must wait until the 1 1/4 hour period begins to write in our blue books. We have to write one-page explanations/interpretations/commentaries on each of five selections from translations of Buddhist sutras and then another one-page commentary on a quotation by an American Buddhologist.

I am listing the questions here for your edification and delight:

We have to comment on the story "Channa is Taught the Middle Way" from a mainstream sutra in Collection of Connected Discourses. For that question we need to focus on the anta-s and the madhya.

Then we need to comment on the "Story of the Burning House" in the Mahayana sutra Lotus of the True Dharma.

Then we need to comment on two chapters from Nagarjuna's Root Verses on the Middle Way--Chapter 24 "On the Four Noble Truths" and Chapter 25 "On Nirvana."

The fourth sutra text is "Sudhana's Vision of the Cosmos" from the Gandhavyuha Sutra.

And the fifth sutra text is a long exerpt from the Vimalakirti Sutra, but we particularly need to focus on Vimalakirti's thunderous silence in answer to Manjusri's question, "How [does] a bodhisattva [enter] the gate of oneness?"

Finally, we have to comment on the following quotation:

"[There is a] deep resonance of the doctrine of emptiness [shunyata] that is audible in any form of Buddhism if one but listens for it. The original Buddhist discovery of the emptiness of all things was a kind of doctrinal 'Big Bang,' the cognitive 'radiation' from which has always been and still is coursing through the Buddhist universe like a low-frequency basal pulse." (Buswell, Robert E. and Robert M. Gimello. Paths to Liberation. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1992)

I do not know how anyone can write all that needs to be written on these six questions in a mere 1 1/4 hours. I had an idea of a way to do it, and I asked the professor after class last week. He got a glint in his eye and said, "That is creative; I like creativity." And I responded, "Well, since you said that the exam is impossible to pass, and because the quote implies that all grades are emptiness, I thought I would try it this way." The other students around us were just scratching their heads. When I get my graded exam back, I'll tell you if I solved the koan or not. Tuesday will be exam day.

We do not have a mid-term in the seminar on Korean pop culture. I do, however, have some recommendations of movies and TV shows for you. We watched the movies The Host, Shiri, and Peppermint Candy in class. All are very good; Peppermint Candy is a little disturbing, but it is also very well done. As far as TV dramas go, I liked the period drama Jewel in the Palace best. And there is a great short film about K-pop fans in Hawaii that is an absolute riot: Ajumma! Are you Krazy? ( Check out this review.) For our final project, we will be interviewing K-pop fans among our friends and writing a sociological analysis of our findings. It should be fun.

We have also sent out the call for papers for our grad student conference next spring. We're pretty excited because we got our first submission within 24 hours of our call for papers going out. Check out our websites. If you know grad students in Asian Studies, feel free to pass the links along.

And finally, my professor and I gave a practice presentation of our research paper on house churches in China at the Poli Sci Department's faculty colloquium on Wednesday. It went very well. We got lots of good feedback, and after my mid-term is over, we will be furiously rewriting to meet our December 2nd submission deadline for the Singapore conference.

No news from Truth this week.


murat11 said...

Itinerant blogger drops from the sky: this was a good place to rest. I dig the passlessness of the exam, and I'm sure you are a worthy combatant for that koan round. Sounds like good things happening down at the Long Beach. Vaya con dios, amiga.

Teresa said...

Hey Murat,

Good to see you. Thanks for stopping by. I finished the midterm barely. I began writing furiously as soon as the prof walked in the door saying, "You may begin." I turned it in exactly on time. I had covered everything according to my plan. Lots of people were still sitting there writing.

The funniest thing was looking at blogger stats and seeing how many people hit my blog post by searching the texts for our midterm. I bet they were mad that they didn't find answers, just the same old questions!