As a student in LTWL 136 your grade will be based upon two assignments, plus class attendance and participation. The assignments are:
- Quotation Journal
- Class Experiments
Quotation Journal — 10%
While doing the reading for every class you should copy down at least one quotation that you find particularly intriguing, enlightening, meaningful, or otherwise important. The quotation can be as short as a single sentence or as long as a full paragraph. The length is up to you.
After you copy the quotation into your journal, you should then explain your rationale for choosing that particular passage. Why did you choose that passage? How is it significant? interesting? revelatory? intellectually or existentially stimulating for you? Your grade for this assignment will be based upon your explanations and reasons. So if you write things like: “I thought it was cool” or “I liked what the author said here” you will receive a low grade. In other words, I expect you to engage with the author intellectually and/or emotionally. Choose passages that speak to you and articulate why.
You should keep this journal on paper – not electronically. I particularly like the “Decomposition Books” available at the UCSD Bookstore or through amazon.com. You should write at least one full page (including the quoted passage) per class meeting. One page per class is the minimum. There is no maximum.
Class Experiments — three experiments @ 25% each
Below you will find descriptions of three experiments designed to help you imagine how Buddhists are inclined to experience and consider the world. There are specific due dates for you to submit reports on your experiments. But you can undertake the three experiments in whatever order you want.
Although I describe three experiments, in fact you also have the option to perform the experiment called, “Follow a Buddhist Precept” two times. So to be clear: You are required to do three experiments for this class. You can choose to do the Day Walk and the Plant Companion Experiment and to Follow a Buddhist Precept. Or, alternately, if you choose to Follow a Buddhist Precept two times, you can then choose between doing either the Day Walk or the Plant Companion Experiment. This should all become clearer to you as you read through the choices.
- The due dates are as follows:
Experiment #1: Tuesday, October 31
Experiment #2: Tuesday, November 21
Experiment #3: Monday, December 11
Option One: Day Walk
Undertake a “Day Walk,” and then write an essay (at least 5 pages) in which you discuss how this experiement affected your relationship to the natural and social world. Preferably, this essay will make use of class readings as well as your own experiences.
To learn what I mean by a Day Walk, click here. If you are uncertain about this assignment, or need more clarification, please come see me during Office Hours, T/Th 12:30-1:30. Most days, we can also talk after class.
Option Two: Plant Companion Experiment
Select a plant to be your plant companion for the quarter. At least one hour each week, sit with your selected plant companion (or in it, or, if the plant is large enough, on it). Keep a journal in which you reflect on the experience of cultivating a relationship with your plant companion. (You can use the same journal that you use for quotations. But if you do that, make sure you demarcate which pages are dedicated to the Plant Companion Experiment.)
What should you include in your journal? Perhaps you can begin by reflecting on why you chose that particular plant. Work then to name the species of the plant, describe the general characteristics of the species, and indicate if the plant is a species native to the San Diego region. If you are able, include a history (brief) of the species and the particular plant that would be an interesting entrance into the project. For example, suppose you select a large tree and learn that it is one of our eucalypti. You might determine the age of the tree — which may indicate if the tree was on the land before the campus grew around it or if the tree was planted by people on the campus. You will probably want to explore (if it’s possible) the history of that particular plant. We will discuss the project at various points throughout the quarter.
Possible other journal entries for your PCE: drawing the plant, writing a letter to the plant, introducing your plant to a friend of yours and writing reflections on what that was like.
The purposes of this experiment are many. Let’s start with this one: The purpose of this experiment is to give you the framework you need to self-consciously cultivate a relationship with an aspect of your natural surroundings and reflect on that relationship in the context of your past relationship with your surroundings and your future relationship with your surroundings. The purpose of this experiment is to call to your attention, repeatedly, your relationship with the natural world.
If you are going to choose to do this experiment for the class, you should begin right away at the beginning of the quarter. You can then submit your Plant Companion Journal during Finals week, as the third of your three experiments.
Option Three: Follow a Buddhist Precept
You may choose this option twice, to satisfy two of your class assignments, as long as you experiment with a different precept each time.
Buddhist laymen and laywomen are typically expected to adopt five ethical precepts. They vow to refrain from taking life; from taking that which is not given; from false speech; from committing sexual misconduct; from using intoxicants. Each of these five precepts can be interpreted in ways that go beyond the most superficial meanings. At various points during the quarter, we will discuss these precepts’ significance and diverse interpretations.
If you decide on this option, I want you to choose one of the five precepts and to follow it for one week as strictly as you are able. After one week of following the precept, you should write an essay (at least 5 pages) in which you discuss how changing your behavior affected your relationship to the natural and social world. Preferably, this essay will make use of class readings as well as your own experiences.
Here is some further guidance: If, for instance, you choose the first precept, to refrain from taking life, this does not mean only to avoid killing other sentient beings, but also to avoid benefiting from their death. Thus, for the week you should avoid eating meat, wearing leather, or other animal materials, and so on. In a positive sense, you can also attempt to cultivate reverence for other sentient beings, and to help them in ways that you might not have otherwise considered. For instance, some time during the week you might find an insect or other creature that you find repulsive or disgusting, and cultivate a sense of love, acceptance, and compassion for it.
If you choose this (or any other) precept, but are unable to follow these guidelines, then a significant part of your essay will include reflection on why you could not follow the precept: what is it about you or the world in which you live that makes not taking life so difficult. The point here is not to turn you into a Buddhist or vegetarian. (Indeed, most Buddhists are not vegetarian; most eat meat.) The point is to give you the opportunity do things that you might not otherwise do, and to develop empathy for others as well as insight about yourself by reflecting on your inner response to these new ways of being in the world.
Here is a piece of advice: During the week, while you are trying to follow this (or any other) precept, you should keep a journal in which you keep track of your difficulties and successes. For instance, keep track of animal products you simply could not avoid using, or the bacon cheese hamburger you were tempted to eat, but didn’t. Keeping track of your engagement with the assignment in this way, day-to-day, hour-to-hour, will help you to write a much stronger paper at the end of the week.
The second precept, to avoid taking what is not given, requires you to avoid stealing. Beyond that, it can also mean not making assumptions about other people or not taking others for granted. It can also mean paying a fair price for goods and services. Cheap food, cheap clothing, cheap stuff: it’s only cheap because human beings are exploited as a cost of its manufacture. For you and for me it doesn’t cost a lot of money because people we don’t see in distant countries are paying the price with their vital energies, with their lives; because the natural world is being destroyed, and nobody pays the cost of remediation. Thus, to avoid taking what is not given, might also mean only buying food and other goods for which you can be sure that the people involved were paid a fair wage for their labor; that they had fair working conditions; that were produced in environmentally sound ways, and so on.
A modern Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, interprets this precept in this way: “Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.”
If you choose the third precept, to refrain from false speech, you should avoid telling any lies, avoid engaging in harmful speech, avoid useless chatter and gossip. Here too, Thich Nhat Hanh gives some guidance, “Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.”
Finally, to avoid using intoxicants, again, means more than not getting stoned, not drinking alcohol, not drinking coffee. Most students at UCSD (most faculty too) are addicted to their smart phones — Snapchat or Instagram or FaceBook or texting. To follow this precept in the modern world means using technology in a way that is not intoxicating, not addictive. Thich Nhat Hanh interprets the precept thus: “Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, for family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.”