Course Descriptions

Asian and Comparative Studies MA and PhD Course Descriptions

PARA 5100: Introduction to Hinduism (3 units)

The evolution of Hinduism from its earliest roots to the modern era. A look at the unique spiritual insights of Hinduism with attention to its historical development

PARA 5102: Introduction to Buddhism (3 units)

Buddhist philosophy and practice in ancient India, its spread throughout Asia, and its introduction to the West; emphasis on social forms.

PARA 5180: Religion and Culture of Tibetan Peoples (3 units)

An introduction to the varieties of Tibetan religious experiences, including the shamanistic folk traditions, the earliest pre-Buddhist organized religion of Bon, and the subsequent development of the Buddhist religious movements, both lay and monastic.

PARA 5501: Introduction to Chinese Philosophy (3 units)

The evolution of Chinese philosophy, looking at its unique developments from an integral perspective.

PARA 6201: Beginning Tibetan I (3 units)

PARA 6202: Beginning Tibetan II (3 units)

PARA 6203: Intermediate Tibetan I (3 units)

PARA 6204: Intermediate Tibetan II (3 units)

PARA 6205: Advanced Tibetan I (1–3 units)

PARA 6206: Advanced Tibetan II (1–3 units)

PARA 6207: Advanced Tibetan III (1–3 units)

PARA 6208: Advanced Tibetan IV (1–3 units)

PARA 6301: Beginning Sanskrit I (3 units)

PARA 6302: Beginning Sanskrit II (3 units)

PARA 6303: Intermediate Sanskrit I (3 units)

PARA 6304: Intermediate Sanskrit II (3 units)

PARA 6305: Advanced Sanskrit I (1–3 units)

PARA 6306: Advanced Sanskrit II (1–3 units)

PARA 6307: Advanced Sanskrit III (1–3 units)

PARA 6308: Advanced Sanskrit IV (1–3 units)

PARA 6561: Buddhist and Western Psychology: An Integrative Approach (3 units)

This course will be a bridge between Buddhist and Western psychology. A comprehensive psychoethical system, Buddhist psychology has influenced Western psychology comparatively recently but has contributed significant insights leading to new dimensions of wisdom and wholeness.

The old adage “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet” has been dispelled, as an increasing number of therapists investigate this ancient psychology. This course is meant to stimulate further East-West study and assist in the integration of therapeutic and meditative healing modalities.

PARA 6601: Beginning Chinese I (3 units)

PARA 6602: Beginning Chinese II (3 units)

PARA 6603: Intermediate Chinese I (3 units)

PARA 6604: Intermediate Chinese II (3 units)

PARA 6605: Advanced Chinese I (1–3 units)

PARA 6606: Advanced Chinese II (1–3 units)

PARA 6607: Advanced Chinese III (1–3 units)

PARA 6608: Advanced Chinese IV (1–3 units)

PARA 6900: Thesis/Dissertation Proposal Completion (0 units)

Proposal completion is not to exceed three semesters of work.

PARA 7003: Methodologies in the Study of Spiritual Traditions (3 units)

Major modern approaches to the study of religions and spiritual traditions.

PARA 7043: Hindu Mythology (3 units)

In this course, we will study literary and religious aspects of Hindu myths. Through the reading of primary sources in translation, the course covers the main divinities and many mythological themes of early Vedic as well as later Puranic literature. We will follow the development of mythology from the Rig Veda to the epics—the Mahabharata and the Ramayana—and up to the classical mythology of the Sanskrit Puranas.

PARA 7089: Asian Perspectives on “Self” (3 units)

What is the self? The soul? Why are such notions deemed so important in both Western and Asian contexts? Much confusion abounds when these Western philosophical and spiritual terms are used as translations for Asian notions that speak of an enduring spiritual presence at the center or core of being human. In this course, we will explore notions of the self, the soul, and personhood in Asian philosophical and spiritual literature.

Special emphasis will be placed on the Chinese philosophical traditions of Confucius and Lao Tsu, Indian philosophical and spiritual traditions of Hinduism, and Buddhist spiritual traditions of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. We will read key texts from these traditions and explore comparisons with Western philosophical and psychological literature.

PARA 7100: Buddhist Suttas (3 units)

Due to the diligence of the Buddha’s disciples nearly 2,000 years ago, we can still read the teachings of the Buddha, as though examining pearls on a string. This course will examine selected discourses on various topics that reveal the major teachings of the Buddha’s ministry.

PARA 7108: Healing the Healer: A Practicum (3 units)

Students preparing to enter the healing arts professions need to learn how to work in high-stress environments without becoming fatigued. Daily exposure to extreme emotional and/or physical problems of clients leads to burnout if the practitioner does not know how to reduce symptoms of stress. In this practicum, students will explore self-healing and renewal techniques found in Buddhist psychology.

Topics include the role of flux in mental and physical processes, the impact of positive and negative states, psychophysical techniques for psychic release and calm, and the techniques for treatment of stress.

PARA 7113: Emotion, Stress, and Health (3 units)

This topic allows one to feast on the knowledge of Buddhism and psychology. World-class psychologists and sophisticated Buddhist practitioners research the fascinating links between these three most important components. Understanding their connections among emotion, stress, and health is the key to cultivating one’s own healing powers as well as preventing destructive illness.

PARA 7120: Mind and Meditation Practice (3 units)

This course will be an exploration of the hidden mind as the creator of pain, spiritual growth, and freedom.  The deeper levels of the mind will be explored, along with the timeless transforming wisdom, which can light our own spiritual journey.

PARA 7121: Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother (3 units)

This course covers the basics of Integral Yoga based on a selection of conversations and letters from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Focus is placed on basic principles of yoga psychology, especially the spiritual or yogic attitudes to life that should be developed; on the nature, planes, parts, and possibilities of the human consciousness; approaches toward becoming more conscious of the various parts of our being and achieving a harmonization of them; and conversations of the Mother about the advent of the supramental consciousness on Earth and her work on the transformation of the physical body.

Students will also be directed to online information about the lives of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, their ashram in Pondicherry, India, the experimental city of Auroville, and other aspects of their work. The course will proceed through readings and discussions of the material, a research paper, and two essay tests on the primary concepts covered.

PARA 7125: Theravada Buddhism (3 units)

The last remaining of 18 early schools of Buddhism (Hinayana), Theravada (the Way of the Elders) is also referred to as Southern Buddhism, Pali Buddhism, or Nikaya Buddhism. This class focuses on its historical development, foundation teachings, canonical literature, and contributions to paradigms of spiritual and psychological transformation.

PARA 7127:  Psychotherapeutic Aspects of Abhidharma (3 units)

Until 30 years ago, much of Western psychology viewed Buddhism and Buddhist practices negatively. A shift occurred when a number of prominent meditators, psychologists, and psychotherapists began contributing a wide range of theoretical and practical insights concerning the benefits of Buddhist practice in conjunction with psychotherapy.

This course examines (a) the ways in which modern psychology introduced and popularized the unconscious, while at the same time not being able to offer a way out of it; and (b) the psychoethical system of Abhidhamma, introduced by the Buddha 2,600 years ago, which offers a simple path for a basic transformation of character.

PARA 7135: Emotional Insight and Spiritual Transformation (3 units)

This course explores the nature of emotion from the experiential, psychological, social, and cultural points of view in order to find the relationship between human life and divine life.

PARA 7140: Essentials of Abhidhamma (3 units)

Very little is known about the mind, consciousness, and the paradox of personality. This course will examine the major features of Buddhist psychology, including the nature of mind, consciousness, its role in the identity crises, and its therapeutic capacity.

PARA 7141: Mahayana Abhidharma (3 units)

An investigation of cognitive and emotional structures of experience based on the philosophy and psychology of the fourth-century Indian Buddhist scholar Vasubandhu (the Abhidharmakosa and the Trimsika) and subsequent Indo-Tibetan elaborations.

PARA 7151: Buddhist Ethics: The Art of Noble and Harmonious Living (3 units)

PARA 7152: Lives and Teachings of the Buddhist Saints (3 units)

Exploration of the exemplary lives of men and women who became Buddhist saints, both ancient and contemporary, with a focus on South Asia and the Himalayan regions.

PARA 7158: Buddhist Philosophical Systems: Study and Practice (3 units)

What is the existential role of philosophy in the study and practice of Buddhism? How does an examination of one’s basic outlook or viewpoint clarify the existential pursuit of spiritual transformation? What is the final goal of such transformation? These and allied questions will be explored with respect to the Indian philosophical genre known as siddhanta—i.e., philosophical systems.

PARA 7160: Tantric Buddhism (3 units)

An exploration of the esoteric and mystical traditions of Vajrayana Buddhism in India and Tibet.

PARA 7195: Visionary Traditions of India and Tibet (3 units)

An inquiry into the “hidden treasure” teachings (terma) of Tibet, with parallels to Western traditions.

PARA 7200: Buddhism Meets Shamanism (3 units)

An introduction to the varieties of Buddho-Shamanic religious contexts, including those of South Asia (India, Sri Lanka), Southeast Asia (Thailand, Burma), the Himalayas (Nepal, Ladakh, Bhutan), and Inner Asia (Siberia, Mongolia, Tibet).

PARA 7205: Buddhism Meets Psychotherapy (3 units)

This course examines how Buddhist teachings and meditations relate to the theory and practice of psychotherapy and provide a framework for “the continuum of work on oneself.”

PARA 7208: Sacred Vibration in India and Tibet (3 units)

What is sacred vibration and its manifestations as sacred sound and music in India and Tibet? We will explore the theory and practice of sacred vibrations with special attention to the function of mantra and sacred music in the spiritual transformation of mundane embodiment. The central presence for this exploration will be the Indian Goddess Sarasvati (“She who flows”)—the source of music and wisdom.

PARA 7210: Mahayana Buddhist Contemplative Traditions of Tibet (3 units)

General introduction to the topic of contemplation and meditation, according to the Mahayana traditions of India and Tibet, especially practices of calm (shamatha) and insight (vipashyana).

PARA 7211: Mahayana Buddhist Literature: Guide to Bodhisattva Conduct (3 units)

The eighth-century Indian Buddhist master Shantideva composed his classic text “Entrance into the Conduct of the Bodhisattva” (Bodhicaryavatara) in response to a challenge to “say something new and inspiring.” He chose as his topic the relation of compassion (karuna) for living beings in relation to the mystical insight into the open-ended (shunya) and interconnected nature of Being.

In this course, we will explore these key spiritual concepts from the perspective of the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist rubrics of (1) the ground (of Being itself), (2) the Path (for experientially accessing that ground), and (3) the Result (which is fully awakened and liberated presence, or Buddhahood).

The approach for this course will be an in-depth study of this text and a number of its commentaries, both Indian and Tibetan. We shall use several English translations and compare them with reference to the Sanskrit and Tibetan originals. The method of inquiry will be Socratic, philosophical, and experiential.

PARA 7212: Sacred Imaginal Traditions in Indo-Tibetan Spirituality (3 units)

Imaginal realms—whether static (sculptures, images, paintings) or dynamic (dances, rituals)—are central to the living traditions of Buddhist practice in Indic and Tibetan contexts. We will explore the theories and ritual applications of sacred space and sacred time, consecration, and initiation in Buddhism.

PARA 7213: Indian and Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism (3 units)

Survey course of Mahayana Buddhist doctrines in India and Tibet.

PARA 7214: Mahayana Buddhism: The School of the Middle Way (3 units)

The Madhyamaka critique of philosophic systems; the radical “nonconceptual” approach to reality; the altruistic bodhisattva path.

PARA 7215: Mahayana Buddhism: The School of Mind Only (3 units)

Cittamatra epistemology and description of perception; Indian idealism as karma-based psychology; and the altruistic bodhisattva path.

PARA 7216: Buddha Nature in Mahayana Buddhism (3 units)

An exploration of the permanent, luminous nature of inherent spirituality, called “Buddha Nature” (tathagatagarbha), which underlies all temporary conflict and confusion. Readings in the Mahayana Buddhist spiritual classics that highlight this indwelling nature: Srimaladevisinha Sutra, Lankavatara Sutra, Uttaratantra, and others.

PARA 7230: Studies in the Upanishads (3 units)

The Upanishads are the spiritual touchstone for most of later Hinduism. In them are contained the most profound insights on the nature of reality. Richly diverse and profound, they present not a single philosophy, but an array of possibilities to guide thinking and meditation that highlight the theme of divine unity.

PARA 7235: The Bhagavad Gita: Ancient and Modern Perspectives (3 units)

The Bhagavad Gita is a source book of ontological, ethical, and religious theories of Indian thought with practical applications in the modern world. The course looks in depth at the Gita itself and then surveys the traditional ancient commentaries and the modern commentators and interpreters.

PARA 7255: Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (3 units)

Study of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in the context of commentaries and subcommentaries, with an emphasis on the diversity of interpretation.

PARA 7257: From Indra’s Net to the Internet: The Evolution of Technology and the Expansion of Consciousness in Eastern Religions (3 units)

This course will examine how the expansion of consciousness characteristic of many Asian religions has emerged in concert with technological developments that extend humanity’s ability to travel and communicate.

The Axial Age, during which key universalizing religious movements such as Buddhism, Upanishadic Hinduism, Confucianism, Daoism and others emerged, was characterized by new developments in wheel making, horse yoking, boat building, and writing that enabled ideas to travel over larger distances more efficiently, thus exposing otherwise insular groups to the ideas and practices of those around them.

This led to the cross-pollination of ideas as well as simply the recognition that there are other ways of successfully being in the world. As technology has evolved through the printing press into the Internet and other electronic media that enable instant communication, it has fostered the ability to break down the spacio-temporal barriers that bind embodied beings by vastly extending the senses through which we experience the world, leading to a growth in consciousness of each other and the world.

Eastern religions have embraced these technologies and used them deftly to propel many of their key ideas into the future.

PARA 7260: Ecology and Yoga (3 units)

Study of the yoga tradition in India with reference to its roots in ancient Earth-based views, with the aim of creating effective ecological practices rooted in yogic attitudes.

PARA 7261: Environmental Ethics in Asian Religions (3 units)

In this course, we will examine the historical roots of environmental ethics in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, as well as ways in which contemporary practitioners draw on these traditions to address the current environmental crisis. Students will study the foundational ethic of ahimsa (nonharming), and the unique yet intersecting ways in which it manifests in various Asian paths.

We will consider nonviolence to the five elements, plants, animals, and other humans lived by exemplar practitioners as well as texts. Case studies—drawn from communities in the United States and in Asia—will illuminate tensions between theoretical values and the attempt to live these values fully.

PARA 7275: Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and Dissent in Indian Traditions (3 units)

This course examines the tension between orthodoxy and heterodoxy in Indian spiritual movements in India beginning from about 1500 BCE until the 20th century. Dissent and challenge to orthodoxy are central dynamics in the development of Indian society over the ages, but these are often ignored or glossed over in favor of superficial understandings of Indian social and historical dynamics.

PARA 7280: The Hindu Goddess (3 units)

This course offers a survey of the goddesses in the Indian tradition. The special aspect of this class is its reference not only to the “great” goddesses of the pantheon, but also to several important local and cult goddesses.

PARA 7285: Hindu Tantrism (3 units)

This course surveys the basic historical and social background of Hindu Tantrism, touching on basic Tantric concepts such as mantra, yantra, siva-sakti, and diksa, and begins the discussion of the more subtle elements of Tantric philosophy as shown in the Kashmir Shaiva systems.

PARA 7340: The Poetics of Enlightenment: Indo-Tibetan Siddha Tradition (3 units)

An inquiry into the dynamic, creative play of the Enlightened State, according to the Mahasiddha traditions of India and Tibet, with a focus on caryagiti (songs of experience).

PARA 7344: Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism (3 units)

The Chinese humanist worldview as expressed by Confucius, Mencius, Hsuntzu, Chu Hsi, and Wang Yang-Ming.

PARA 7419: J. Krishnamurti and Transformation (3 units)

An introduction to the person and teaching of J. Krishnamurti, this course examines his approach to thought, conditioning, religion, education, meditation, and personal transformation. It will explore the process of dialogue and will inquire whether or not Krishnamurti’s teaching constitute an integral approach to personal and societal transformation.

PARA 7554: Buddhist and Western Philosophies: The Search for Meaning (3 units)

A critical inquiry into the encounter between Western philosophical and Buddhist traditions.

PARA 7570: The Life of Chinese Philosophical Terms (3 units)

A study of the key terms and their different meanings and practices in Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese Ch’an (Zen) school.

PARA 7574: Concerned Mind Tea (2 units)

“Concerned mind tea” is a colloquium for the discussion of Chinese philosophy as it relates to the philosophy and questions of life. It is the quiet exploration of deeper issues of existence with a group of interested souls whose thirst for understanding is deep and abiding. This is an early-morning class that includes tea and cookies, as the atmosphere is intended to be congenial and open.

PARA 7600: Ch’an Buddhism (Chinese Zen) (3 units)

The origins and development of this school; its influence on the philosophy, social systems, and arts of China.

PARA 7605: Life Wisdom of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu (3 units)

The principal texts of Taoist thought and practice.

PARA 7654: The Divination and Wisdom of the I Ching (I Ching 1) (3 units)

Study of the Book of Changes with its commentaries and its philosophies.

PARA 7655: Confucianism: Classic Texts and Philosophy (3 units)

The teachings of China’s great philosopher and teacher, drawn from the Analects, the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, and the Works of Mencius.

PARA 7656: Tai Chi: Practice and Theory (1 unit)

This course combines the practice of Tai Chi with guidance on the deeper philosophical principles underlying the practice.

PARA 7900: Thesis/Dissertation Seminar (0 units)

The advanced student’s research and writing of a thesis or dissertation progresses with the mentorship of, and in close consultation with, one’s Thesis or Dissertation Chair and Committee.
Prerequisite: Advancement to candidacy.

PARA 7901: Karma and Rebirth in Comparative Perspective (3 units)

This course focuses on Hindu, Buddhist, and Chinese comparative perspectives of the doctrine of cause and effect, as well as the origins and ends of life.

PARA 8030: Seminar on Chinese Philosophy (3 units)

Taoist and Buddhist texts will be studied and discussed. Course content varies.

PARA 8799: Independent Study (1–3 units)

Coursework that extends a student’s field of inquiry beyond current CIIS courses. Requires a syllabus and contract signed by the student and faculty member, and approved by the Program Chair.

PARA 8888: Special Topics (1–3 units)

A course of study not currently encompassed in the curriculum but relevant to evolving topics of growing importance in Asian and Comparative Studies.

PARA 9600: Comprehensive Exam (0 units)