Introduction to Philosophy – Asian Traditions

January 29, 2001

In search of answers to fundamental questions about life, if we turn to Asia, we would need to ask. “What are Asian ways of thinking? What are Asian sources of wisdom?” Some people look at Asia and see countries, others see cultures. In this course, we see Asia as moving philosophical tectonic plates upon which ride the histories and cultures of its countries. What forms and moves these philosophical developments in Asia? As we seek answers to such questions as these, we may discover options to our own initial answers to questions about self, world, and values that drive our own lives.

Have you ever wondered who you really are, what it means to be a “me,” and how this self figures in the “big picture” of the world? If so, this interest places you in the company of some of the greatest minds in history. This course invites you to participate in an important humanistic investigation, the philosophical quest. Embark on this quest and you may well discover why Asia is Asia, how other ways of thinking differ, what Asia may have to offer to the rest of the world, and at the very least, what philosophy is.

The philosophical quest is not merely a quest, it is a journey of discoveries. It does not end with discoveries, but must proceed beyond insight to a further philosophical enterprise of making it into an intelligible and lived reality. This course examines Asian philosophies as process rather than product, and the paradigm process that drives us will be this expanded conception of the philosophical quest.

This course is designed to provide the student with an introduction to major Asian philosophies and their investigations of self, world, and values, but instead of exclusively studying them, this course primarily aims at developing our thinking skills. Hence, discussion and activities will frequently format the class. Lecture presentation of the material will be augmented by videos and will generally progress from stereotypical conceptions of each tradition to philosophical investigations which challenge those stereotypes. For purposes of thematic continuity and didactic development, this course allows the conceptual demands imposed by one tradition in particular, Zen Buddhism, to guide the selection of material covered in each of the other traditions throughout the semester. Thus, when we consider the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita from India we highlight themes such as selfhood, enlightenment, and praxis that are conceptualized and embellished in characteristic fashion by Taoism, Confucianism, and Hua-yen Buddhism. These themes are treated in a way that sets the stage for a responsible understanding of Zen Buddhism. The course is organized in this way so that it can fulfill its more general objectives.

Upon successful completion of this course, the student should be able to critically reflect upon and articulate his or her ideas about reality; understand the concerns and vocabulary of major schools of Asian philosophy; appreciate contrasts between Asian and Western thought; recognize the methods of philosophical reflection; be aware of his or her personal value system; be aware of the development of the schools of Asian philosophy and their occasional influence on each other; appreciate the influence of Asian philosophy on the West; and express ideas and opinions clearly in writing. In addition, the student will have exercised a flexibility in dealing with different models thinking about world and selfhood. Though flexibility this kind of empathetic understanding entails a temporary suspension of personally held beliefs, It also supplies a subsequently greater need for responsible personal judgment skills. This course is designed to develop these thinking skills and competencies.

This course is divided into five units with the following general terms of duration and content:

In Unit 1: Philosophical Projects” (2 weeks), we engage in activities and discussions which lead an understanding of our course’s thematic projects and working definitions.

Unit II: Sources in Chinese Thought (5 weeks). Turning to China, we focus on Taoism and Confucianism for world views that shape Chinese thought.

Unit III: “Sources in Indian Thought” (3 weeks). We will be examining excerpts in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita for solution options to our philosophical est.

Unit IV: “Early Buddhism, Hua-yen Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism” (5 weeks). Buddhism’s experiential origins, historical development, and philosophical implications will be examined for its solution options to our philosophical quest.

Unit V: “Overview” (I week). Personal judgment and a reconsideration of original philosophical problems brings the course to closure.

All submitted papers must meet college standards: typed or computer printed, punctual, and documented where necessary. Good attendance (at least 75% of recorded attendance tallies) and timely submission of all required assignments are minimum and necessary conditions for passing the course. The first paper may be submitted for a possible higher grade (subject to certain conditions).

Required assignments:
Paper I on Chinese Philosophy 150 points
Paper 11 on Indian Philosophy 150 points
Final Paper 150 points
Task Force Project 50 points
Total 500 points

450-500 points = A
400-449 points = B
350-399 points = C
300-349 points = D
0-299 points = F

TEXTS: Koller, John: Oriental Philosophies, latest edition
Handout material from primary sources.
A recommended optional text is Kasulis: Zen Action, Zen Person. Plan on finding and reading appropriate selections from the text several times before each course unit.Studying in this way is more likely to generate the questions that make class activitiesmeaningful. Texts are meant to be samplers that introduce philosophical traditions.Rather than studying the texts, study the traditions with every resource available: texts, libraries, teachers, colleagues, etc.

When philosophy is studied as an object, it appears vast,incomprehensible, and strange. The words and ideas of philosophers then appear as much ado about nothing. When philosophy is performed as an activity, when it is what we do as seekers, then it appears that philosophy is the story of one’s life, inseparable, meaningful, and invested with personal necessity. Then the words and ideas of philosophers are as helping hands to further insight. Though at times the subject material may appear exotic and bewildering, return to your own fundamental questions about life and then look to the various philosophies as pointers to insight. The exotic will then speak your language. Bewilderment is at times a good sign. It may signal an encounter with a way of thinking that we would not have otherwise developed on our own. One way to deal with bewilderment is to develop your knowledge base of facts about each philosophical tradition through independent research of library resources. Extensive reading can make the material easier to understand and may occasion your discovery of underlying meanings and personal insights. This may lead to discoveries that more than compensate for initial bewilderment. Don’t be surprised if your work becomes exhilarating and meaningful play. The instructor will frequently employ two “voices” in class. One voice is that of the teacher who structures and presents instruction. The other voice is that of a representative of a particular philosophy. Please do not confuse the two and mistake representation as advocacy by the teacher. Accordingly, students are also invited to engage in discussions with a voice of academic objectivity that does not necessarily express personally held beliefs. [

Please keep personal copies of submitted papers, particularly final projects, before submitting work. Also, if anyone has special circumstances that require adjustment of the way in which requirements of the course are to be met, please inform the instructor at least two weeks in advance.

Consideringdropping the course? Please do not simply disappear. At the very least, formallywithdraw so that you do not receive an “F” on your record. Sometimes talking with the instructor can alleviate problems before you make up your mind to withdraw.

(other note: students may leave if the instructor has not arrived within 15 minutes after the scheduled starting time on any given day.)

Does learning by doing appeal to you? Would you like to receive as much as 170 points through volunteer work? This Service Learning optionwill replace the second paper requirement, Paper II. The total number of pointsallocated to this project is 170, which is 20 points more than the 150 points allocated tothe Paper 11 requirement. [If you choose to do both Service Learning and Paper II,Service Learning will amount to a maximum of 30 extra credit points.]Here are somedetails: In partial fulfillment of course requirements and as a means of acquiring,processing, and demonstrating the learning objectives of the course, you may elect tosubmit a reflection paper, evaluation, and journal that are based on pro bono serviceactivity in the community at large. Pro bono service activity is activity that providesidentifiable benefit to the community on a regular basis for at least twenty hourswithout pay at an approved volunteer site such as Project Dana, a homeboundhandicapped and elderly care program. This semester, activities related to HIV/AIDS andHawai’i Hospice will be particularly encouraged. The twenty-hour minimum includes upto five hours of time for required meetings and training sessions. Only service that isprovided during the current semester that would not have been otherwise providedconstitutes appropriate service activity. Through the Service Learning Project, as adesirable competency outcome for the course, the student should be able to understand,test, apply, and reflect upon the process of developing decision-making competency.The instructor will assist qualified students in placement and orientation needs.Thereafter, the student’s responsibilities to his/her service agency should be addresseddirectly with that agency. The success of a student’s service activity is to be measurednot by the amount of benefit afforded to the beneficiary, but by the quality and extent towhich the student learns and demonstrates skills and concepts which are appropriatelearning objectives of this course.

The Service Learning student needs to:
Apply for this option and obtain approval by the end of the third week of the semester;
Have a schedule flexible enough to accommodate the required orientation meetings,training sessions, and instructor appointments in addition to the hours in which serviceis provided;
Perform service concurrently with the course;
Honor commitments to the service agency, service beneficiaries, instructor, and Service Learning Project;
Work with an agency contact person who will oversee and account for the provided service;
Be responsible for setting appointments with the instructor to discuss placement, appropriate reflection paper projects, and course-related matters;
Submit to the instructor: 1) a reflection paper (three-page minimum length) which is due one month before the semester ends, 2) an agency-verified journal of service activities and hours, and 3) an evaluation paper (one-page minimum length) that is dueon the last day of instruction.

School: Kapiolani Community College
Professor: Dr. Robin Fujikawa
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