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Presentation of the Concentration

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Ko Un Poetry Reading at Smith College (2010)

Smith College was fortunate to host a poetry reading by Ko Un, the preeminent and most prolific living Korean writer. Author of more than 135 volumes of poetry, fiction, essays, translations and drama, Ko Un has twice won the prestigious Korean Literature Prize and is frequently mentioned as a favorite for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Poetry Center Web site

Madhyamaka & Methodology: A Symposium on Buddhist Theory and Method (2010)

This three-day symposium extended a conversation that was begun in 2008 in two articles in the Journal of Indian Philosophy on the question of how to read and interpret Buddhist Madhyamaka texts.

Conference Webcast

Technologies of Awareness: Buddhism and the New Mind Sciences (2010)

This one-day symposium considering the intersection of Buddhist practice, Western psychology and modern technology from leaders in these diverse areas of study.

Symposium Web site

Buddhism in Mongolia: Rebirth and Transformation (2009)

Smith College, the Five College Buddhist Studies faculty and the Manjushri Institute of Buddhist Studies hosted more than 20 specialists in history, religion, anthropology and art to share their current research and insights into Mongolian Buddhist art, history of Buddhism in Mongolia, and rebirth and transformation.

Conference Web site

Wisdom, Compassion, Peace: The Visit of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (2007)

Smith College, Hampshire College and the Tibetan Association of Western Massachusetts welcomed the 14th Dalai Lama to the Pioneer Valley on Wednesday, May 9, 2007. This momentous visit by the leader of the Tibetan people recognized the colleges' thriving exchange program with exiled Tibetan scholars in India.

Web site

Buddhist Philosophy Distinguished Lecture Series (2006-07)

This series brought six distinguished scholars to campus to meet with the Five College Buddhist Studies Seminar and to give a public lecture dealing with some topic of current interest in Buddhist philosophy.

Series Web site

TransBuddhism Symposium on Diaspora Buddhist Communities in the U.S. (2006)

The title and theme of the symposium built on the momentum of the successful Kahn Institute seminar held over the course of the 2003-04 academic year. The format of this symposium was designed to bring together several different communities: the very active group of Buddhist Studies scholars in the Five Colleges, students in the Five College Buddhist Studies Certificate Program, and four up-and-coming scholars doing research on diaspora Buddhist communities in the United States. The four invited guests—Sharon Suh, Wendy Cadge, Caroline Chen, and Abraham Zablocki—represent a new generation of scholars whose work is changing the parameters of the study of Buddhism in America.

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The symposium centered on a discussion forum on Friday afternoon, April 21, “TransBuddhism American Style: Diaspora Buddhist Communities in the United States,” with Sharon Suh, Carolyn Chen, Wendy Cadge, and Abraham Zablocki. The discussion forum on Friday was preceded by a meeting of the Five College Buddhist Studies Seminar on Wednesday afternoon, April 19, during which members discussed papers written by each of the forum’s participants. On Friday evening, following the forum, there was a catered dinner to which all students in the Five College Buddhist Studies Certificate Program were invited so as to give them an opportunity to meet and interact with the invited scholars as well as the Five College Buddhist Studies faculty.

Sharon Suh is an associate professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Seattle University; her Being Buddhist in a Christian World: Gender and Community in a Korean American Temple was published by the University of Washington Press in 2004. Wendy Cadge was the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar in Health Policy Research at Harvard University and has subsequently taken a position as an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Brandeis University. Her Heartwood: The First Generation of Theravada Buddhism in America, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2004, examines two very different communities (one convert and one ethnic), the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and a Thai Temple (Wat Phila) in Philadelphia. Carolyn Chen is an assistant professor at Northwestern University. She is revising her dissertation comparing a Chinese Buddhist and Chinese Evangelical Christian community in Southern California for publication w/ Princeton University Press. Abraham Zablocki is a visiting assistant professor at Hampshire College. He is revising his dissertation on The Global Mandala: The Transformation of Tibetan Buddhism for publication.

Women Practicing Buddhism: American Experiences (2005)

This four-day conference focused on women's experiences of Buddhism, and brought together scholars, students and practitioners from around New England and across the globe. The proceedings were then published in a book by the same name, edited by Peter Gregory (Smith College) and Susanne Mrozik (Mount Holyoke College).

Conference Web site

Lecture Series on Zen in America (2005)

The impetus for this lecture series was a call from the noted poet, essayist, and cultural critic Gary Snyder to say that he would be available to come to Smith in April to give a lecture and poetry reading. Given Snyder’s renown as a poet and his pioneering role in the history of Zen in America, we organized a lecture series on Zen in America, culminating with Snyder’s lecture and poetry reading. The speakers in the series—T. Griffith Foulk, Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, and Duncan Williams—were chosen for their being able to represent contrasting viewpoints as well as for their being able to address different aspects of American Zen.

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The series began on Monday afternoon, February 20, with a lecture by T. Griffith Foulk (professor of Religion at Sarah Lawrence College) on “American Fantasies of Chinese and Japanese Zen.” Foulk’s ground-breaking research has redefined the study of the Chan/Zen tradition. He has written extensively on the historical development of the Chan and Zen institution in China and Japan, the mythological framework in which it cast its history, and how those underlying mythical structures have shaped both modern historiography and popular conceptions of Zen. His lecture deconstructed popular conceptions of Zen in the West by showing how they were the creation of an elite group of Japanese Zen modernizers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and did not necessarily represent the way Chan or Zen was traditionally understood and practiced in China and Japan.

On Monday afternoon, March 6, Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara (abbot of the Village Zendo, New York) gave the second lecture in the series, “Nuevo Zen: Contours of Change in the American Context.” O’Hara was ordained as a Zen priest by Maezumi Roshi and was certified as a Zen master by Roshi Bernie Glassman. Her work combines the ordinary running of an urban temple with peacemaking activities, especially in the world of HIV/AIDS. She was formerly an associate professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she taught video and interactive arts for 20 years. Her talk discussed the romanticized ideas that first drew her to Zen, and how her deepening practice helped her to shed them for a more quotidian and socially engaged orientation.

Duncan Williams (associate professor of East Asian Buddhism at the University of California, Irvine) gave the third lecture on “Dislocations of Zen: Soto Zen in Pre-War Japanese American Communities” on Monday afternoon, March 13th. Williams has done pioneering work on the social history of Zen in pre-modern Japan as well as on Zen in the Japanese immigrant and Japanese American community in the United States. His The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Soto Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan was published by Princeton University Press in 2005. He is currently completing a book on the role of Buddhism in the detention camps during the internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II. His lecture was particularly valuable for illuminating an important but largely overlooked aspect of Zen in America.

The series culminated with a lecture and poetry reading by noted Zen figure, poet, critic, essayist, and environmentalist Gary Snyder. On Monday afternoon, April 3, Snyder lectured on “Reflections on the Zen Way,” and on Tuesday evening, April 4, he gave a Poetry Reading (co-sponsored by the Poetry Center). Snyder has been one of the most influential figures in the development of American Zen in the past fifty years. His early involvement with Zen was celebrated in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums (1958), in which he was portrayed as the fictionalized hero, Jaffe Ryder. That book famously associated Snyder with the Beats, and it exemplified a part of the “Zen boom” discussed by Alan Watts’ 1957 essay, “Beat Zen/Square Zen.” There was a seriousness of purpose, a rigor, and a determination to Snyder’s interest in Zen, however, that set him apart from many of the artists and intellectuals who were drawn to Zen in the 1950s, whether beat or square. Snyder studies Chinese and Japanese at Berkeley for three years before embarking for Japan in the spring of 1956, where he began his study of Rinzai Zen under Miura Isshu Roshi at Shokokji in Kyoto. He later continued his study with Oda Sesso Roshi at Daitokuji. Snyder was one of a handful of Americans in his generation to brave the formidable obstacles to go to Japan to study Zen first hand. During his twelve years there he also participated in a Zen Studies research institute that produced two translations of important Chinese Zen texts and a major reference work.

Snyder has not only been at the center of the American Zen scene since the 1950s, but the power of his personal example as well as the force of his writing also contributed much to the enthusiastic embrace of Zen practice among the generation that came of age in the 1960s. He is, of course, best known as a poet, but he is also a superb essayist. Both his poetry and prose reflect his life-long study and practice of the Japanese Zen tradition, his deep emersion in Chinese and Japanese artist sensibilities, his appreciation of Native American traditions, and his profound concern fro ecology. Snyder has published 10 collections of poetry since 1959, when his first volume, Riprap, appeared, and his work over the past five decades has attracted much critical acclaim and won numerous prizes, including the Bollingen poetry Prize, the Orion Society’s John Hay Award for Nature Writing, and a Pulitzer Prize for Turtle Island in 1975. Snyder also taught literature and ecology at the University of California for many years.

Food, Hunger, and Buddhism (2004)

This event, held on October 24, 2004, centered around a Chinese Buddhist Tantric ritual for feeding hungry ghosts performed by the monks and nuns of Fo-Guang Shan, one of the most extensive Buddhist organizations in the world. The event offered the campus and local community a rare opportunity to witness a fascinating but little-known aspect of Chinese culture and religion. That it kept the Carroll Room (208) of the Campus Center filled throughout the four-and-a-half hours of its duration is a good measure of its success. Drawing on a variety of musical and operatic styles, the ritual created a rich and colorful aesthetic and spiritual experience, whose purpose was to awaken a spirit of compassion for all beings, including the most neglected in our society. Using the message of universal compassion at the heart the ritual to call attention to the plight of the needy in Northampton and surrounding communities, the event was planned in concert with various churches and community food drives and succeeded in collecting more than 1,000 pounds of non-perishable food items, which were donated to Northampton Survival Center for distribution.

TransBuddhism: Transmission, Translation, and Transformation (2003-04)

This year-long Kahn Institute symposium allowed faculty, students and visiting scholars to explore the ways that Buddhism has changed and been changed by the societies into which it has been introduced. The symposium culminated in a book by the same name, which was released by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2010. Edited by Nalini Bhushan, Jay Garfield, and Abraham Zablocki, the book includes contributions by the editors as well as Mark Blum, Mario D'Amato, Sue Darlington, Elizabeth Eastman, Connie Kassor, Tom Rohlich, Judith Snodgrass, Jane Stangl, and Karma Lekshe Tsomo.

Many Flavors of the Dharma (2002, 2003, 2006, 2007)

This recurring two-day event brings together many of the nearly 50 Buddhist groups and organizations in the Pioneer Valley for workshops, talks, panels and performances. These celebrations feature Buddhism in a multiplicity of forms. For more on the event, see this article and this video.

Buddhism in America Lecture Series (2002)

This lecture series was held in conjunction with a new course on Buddhism in America that was offered during the spring semester of 2002. The goal of the series was to explore aspects of Buddhism in America that have been neglected in both popular and academic coverage of the field or that would be of special interest to Smith students. The first four lectures/panels brought to campus a group of seven leading scholars to explore various Asian and Asian American expressions of Buddhism that reflect the continuing importance of the global dimension of the American Buddhist scene. The second three lectures brought in three prominent American Buddhists to reflect on ways in which Buddhism is being adapted to American religious and social needs.

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The series began on Tuesday evening, February 12 with a panel on the Japanese American Buddhist Experience. Professor George Tanabe (University of Hawaii) discussed “Buddhism in Hawaii.” He was followed by Professor Duncan Williams (Trinity College), who spoke on “Buddhism in the Internment Camps.” Professor emeritus Taitetsu Unno (Smith College) concluded with reflections on “The Prospects of Pure Land Buddhism in the U.S.”

On Monday afternoon, February 18, Professor Richard Jaffe (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) lectured on “Forging a New Buddhism: Late Nineteenth-century Japanese Buddhists in Asia.” The lecture examined the international pan-Asian context that shaped the lives and thought of three late nineteenth-century Japanese Buddhist reformers whose modernization of the religion influenced the form of Buddhism introduced to the West by figures such as D. T. Suzuki. Jaffe’s book, Neither Monk nor Layman: Clerical Marriage in Modern Japanese Buddhism,was recently published by Princeton University Press.

The third event in the series was a panel on Humanistic Buddhism, which took place on Monday afternoon, February 25. The panel examined two modern forms of “Humanistic Buddhism” that have emerged as global empires in the past three decades: one a lay organization founded in Japan, and the other monastic organization founded in Taiwan. Professor Richard Seager (Hamilton College) focused on Daisaku Ikeda and the Sokka Gakkai, while Professor Stuart Chandler (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) focused on Xing Yun and the Buddha Light Society. These two organizations represent an important, transnational dimension of American Buddhism that often gets overlooked in both the popular media and the scholarly press. Richard Seager (author of Buddhism in America) is currently completing a book of Daisaku Ikeda; Stuart Chandler is revising a manuscript on Xing Yun and the Buddha Light Society.

On Tuesday afternoon, February 26 Professor Julia Huang presented a lecture on “The Compassionate Relief Society (Ciji),” a prominent Taiwanese Buddhist group with a strong following in the Chinese diaspora community. Huang recently completed a dissertation at Boston University on Ciji and is a visiting scholar at Center for the Study of World Religion, Harvard University.

On Friday, March 1, the Kent Program hosted a luncheon for Professor Roger Daniels, in conjunction with his lecture at Mount Holyoke College on February 28 on “The Incarceration of the Japanese Americans: A View from 2002.” The luncheon provided the opportunity for Smith faculty and students to meet the scholar who pioneered the field of Asian American History.

On Monday afternoon, March 11, Susan Moon lectured on “Taking Refuge in My Own True Nature: An American Woman’s Experience of Zen.” Moon is a long-time Zen practitioner, activist, writer, and editor of Turning Wheel: Journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Her lecture explored how a traditional, monastically based Buddhist practice such as Zen can speak to a contemporary American lay woman, who is concerned with issues of social justice, self-understanding, and expressing herself as a writer.

On Tuesday afternoon, March 26, Karma Lekshe Tsomo presented a lecture on “Women in Buddhism and Reinstating the Order of Nuns.” Author and editor five books on women and Buddhism, Tsomo is a fully-ordained Buddhist nun, founding member of Sakyadhita: International Association of Buddhist Women, winner of the Jacobs Peace Award, and assistant professor of Theology and Religious Studies at University of San Diego.

On Thursday afternoon, April 11, Geoffrey Shugen Arnold lectured on “Prison Dharma.” Arnold is a Zen teacher at Zen Mountain Monastery at Mount Tremper, NY, and has been involved in teaching meditation in the New York state prison system for two decades.