Meditation Practices in Chinese Buddhism


Key Information

Lecture dates: 19-23 October 2020 Census date: 19 October 2020
Lecturer: Susan Murphy  Duration: 5 weeks (incl. 5 days on-campus)*
Location: NTI Wollongong Campus, 231 Nolan St, Unanderra, NSW 2526, Australia
Subject Code: ABS943

Subject Overview

'Meditation Practices in Chinese Buddhism’ offers students an intellectually-engaged study of the tradition and practices of Chinese Chan (later Japanese Zen) Buddhism based on experiential engagement with its practice.


The unit proceeds by continually interweaving experiential inquiry with scholarly study and critical reflection upon direct experience of the tradition and its meditation practices, in a way that will enrich further studies in Buddhist meditative thought and practices encountered in other NTI course offerings.


'Meditation Practices in Chinese Buddhism’ provides an overview of the historical and cultural circumstances that shaped the Mahayana tradition of Chan (‘Zen’) Buddhism in China, from 6th century CE through the Tang and Song dynasties, with attention to its engagement with existing Daoist philosophy and ethos, while offering direct experience of the two primary streams of Chan meditation practice - ‘Silent Illumination’, and ‘Koan Introspection’ - that emerged in the classical period.


The markedly different cultural expressions of Chan (Zen) that have formed as it  moved into a Western context will be assessed for signs of cultural accretion, adaptation, renovation or transformation within the received tradition.  


Lecture topics include

  • The Mahayana tradition of Buddhism
  • Early movement of Buddhism from India into China on the Silk Road
  • Daoism and its influence upon Buddhism in China
  • Early Chan Buddhadharma
  • Notions of lineage and transmission in a Chinese context
  • Key Tang dynasty masters and practices 
  • Key Song dynasty masters and practices
  • Caodong (‘Soto’) and Linji (‘Rinzai’) streams
  • ‘Just sitting’ and ‘Koan introspection'
  • Movement of Chan to Japan (‘Zen’),  Korea (’Son’), Vietnam (‘Thien’)
  • Some recent scholarly historical and philosophical critiques of Chan/Zen
  • Zen as it engages with the West


* Time structure:

- 1st week: pre-reading

- 2nd week: face-to-face classes at NTI Wollongong Campus
- 3rd to 5th week: time for completing written assessments