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Writing the Buddhist Essay
Dates: Jan 19, 2021 - Feb 23, 2021
Online Course

Instructor(s): Jess Row

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What is a Buddhist essay? It's an exploration, in prose, of a theme or concept in Buddhist life from a distinct personal perspective. While not necessarily autobiographical, a Buddhist essay is a piece of writing that speaks from the heart, manifesting curiosity, meditative insight, hard-earned wisdom from a lifetime of practice, righteous anger—the whole kaleidoscope of human emotions, grounded in an understanding of the Buddhadharma. For the purposes of our workshop, we'll think of the Buddhist essay as relatively short—a text that can be read in one sitting. 

We'll begin by reading a selection of classic and contemporary essays, including selections from Dogen's Shobogenzo and Sosan Taesa's Mirror of Zen, Myoe's "Letter to an Island," Robert Aitken's "Eating the Blame," Jane Hirshfield's "Poetry and the Threshold Life," Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's "Pedagogy of Buddhism," and angel Kyodo william's "Your Liberation is on the Line." While we read, we will work on short and playful exercises to generate ideas for our own essays, and then by the third week we will begin sharing short drafts with one another in small groups. By the end of our six-weeks together course, you should have a complete first draft of at least one essay.


Online Course: Our intention is to build sangha and provide meaningful virtual interactions with each other and teachers in our online courses. When registering for an online course, please note that you should plan to commit to attending all scheduled sessions. The schedule of Zoom meetings for this course (shown in US Eastern Time) is as follows:


Meeting Schedule: Tuesdays, 7:00 – 9:00 pm between January 19 – February 23

Meeting Dates: January 19, 26, February 2, 9, 16, 23


Please check the time of the group meetings in your timezone here, and please note that sessions will not be recorded.


Registration fees for online courses are nonrefundable after the course start date. Cancellations prior to the start date of the course will incur a $50 admin fee. Thank you for your understanding.

  • Jess Row is a novelist, essayist, and senior dharma teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen, where he has been a student since 1994. His books include the novel Your Face in Mine and the essay collection White Flights: Race, Fiction, and the American Imagination. His essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Bookforum, The New RepublicThe New York Times Book ReviewKyoto Review, The Believer, and CNN.com.


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