Buddhist traditions often understand the Dharma as inexpressible, a teaching beyond the realm of words and language. Practitioners, however, have long turned to poetry to share their experience of the Buddhist path. We see this already in the Therīgāthā and Theragāthā, songs of insight, aspiration, and loss composed by the early generations of Buddhist women and men that were included in the Pāli Canon. The great Buddhist philosophers Nāgārjuna, Śāntideva, Dōgen, and Tsongkhapa all wrote poetry expressing their sense of devotion and wonder in a language of imagery that moves their readers beyond the limits of reason. Poetry was at the heart of much East Asian Buddhism, where the beautiful play of language was cultivated as a practice. Today, Buddhist poets in Asia and the West have become some of our most skillful teachers, inspiring us on the path, presenting objects of meditation, revelation, and beauty. This course will be devoted to the slow and careful reading of poetry from a variety of Buddhist traditions and will serve as an introduction to the diversity of Buddhism and its poetic practices. We will attend to the ways in which these poems are works of art, historical documents, Dharma teachings, and personal expressions of the challenges and refuge of the Buddhist path. We will also write our own dharma poems, inspired and informed by the poetry and practices we explore together.
To understand some of the diversity of Buddhist traditions and practices; develop a sense for some of the many kinds of Buddhist poetry; develop a sense for some of the many ways in which traditional meditation practices and the practice of poetry can be mutually nourishing; practice close, slow reading of rich texts and how to talk about them with friends; and explore writing poetry as a form of dharma practice, and the joy of sharing this practice with others.