Courses to touch on Tibetan Buddhism

By JESSICA KELTZ, UB Reporter, Dec 1, 2005

Buffalo, NY (USA) -- As part of a slate of activities planned around the upcoming visit to UB of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a comprehensive list is being compiled of Spring and Fall 2006 classes that will touch on Tibetan Buddhism and related topics.

"We're trying to get the message out to professors who teach relevant courses and to our World Civ instructors," said Thomas Burkman, director of the Asian Studies Program in the College of Arts and Sciences and a member of the planning committee for the Dalai Lama's visit. Burkman said a list of relevant courses appears at /dalai_lama/, and will be updated as more courses come to light.

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to visit UB in September 2006, giving a public presentation in UB Stadium, as well as speaking to smaller groups throughout the university.

Many courses typically include at least some information about Buddhism, and of those, some may feature a syllabus altered to coincide with the visit, Burkman said.

For example, "Spirituality in Social Work," an elective for students in the School of Social Work, will be offered in the spring semester. Bonnie Collins, adjunct professor of social work who's been teaching the course for about 10 years, said that as part of the course, students complete a presentation on a religion or spiritual tradition with which they're unfamiliar. Students commonly choose Tibetan Buddhism for this assignment, Collins said, and she plans to suggest it to her students and otherwise keep them aware of the Dalai Lama's visit. She added that she may teach the course again in the summer.

In addition, two undergraduate electives have been developed especially for the Dalai Lama's visit.

In "Tibet: Myth and Reality," which Burkman will coordinate, a series of speakers will lend their insights on Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, and how they differ from common American perceptions of them.

"There's so much information about Tibet that is shallow and utopian," Burkman said. "The purpose of the course is to try to sift through the idealized images of Tibet and get to the heart of realities of life and thought in Tibet."

The course has no prerequisites and Burkman encourages members of the general public to consider auditing it. It will be taught on Wednesday evenings during the Spring 2006 semester.

In Fall 2006, Jeanette Ludwig, associate professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, plans to teach a survey course about Buddhism.

"We'll be looking at the three major branches of Buddhism and perhaps, toward the end, a little bit about Western approaches," Ludwig said. "I want to address key concepts and I want to examine some of our presuppositions about Buddhism because it's become very popular lately and as a result, there have been a lot of misconceptions and distortions. A lot of wishful thinking has entered into Americans' perceptions of the religion."

Ludwig said she will address Tibetan Buddhism (one of the religion's three main branches) early in the course to give students some background in time for the Dalai Lama's visit. She said Tibetan Buddhism seems to be better known in the U.S. than other branches of Buddhism because of the political situation in Tibet and because of the Dalai Lama's international prominence.

"We want to be sure that people can understand and can situate him in the larger Buddhism context historically, theologically," she said. "That's really what my course is trying to do."

Burkman said that UB officials worked for several years with the Dalai Lama's New York City office to bring him to campus.

"UB has extensive and deepening Asian connections and research and academic programs," he said. "We have constantly brought performing artists and scholars from Asia to our campus to enrich our Asian Studies Program. This is seen as a way to enlarge and affirm UB's deep interest in Asian culture and issues."

He called the visit the "biggest religious event in Buffalo" since South African Bishop Desmond Tutu visited UB in January 1989.

Burkman said the Dalai Lama's visit also will spotlight religious diversity in the larger Buffalo area.

"In my observation, there is more Buddhist activity, both on campus and in the Buffalo community, than meets the eye," he said, describing an array of speaking events, seminars, meditation sessions, groups and temples. "It's no longer exotic or foreign. It is now part of the multicultural mix of North American life.

"Buddhism is not 'over there,' it is here. It is not them, it is us," he added.

Other UB events that will coordinate with the Dalai Lama's visit include a film series, a possible UB Reads selection and a conference on Buddhism and law. See /dalai_lama/ for more information as it becomes available.

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