PHIL 37 – SPRING 2021 – 23403 – ONLINE

Instructor: Eric Gerlach – email:

Course Description: Introduction to the basic ideas of Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese & East Asian philosophy in the history of human thought and our world.

Course Material: A) Bookmark this page, B) watch the videos in the playlist above as you C) read and follow along with the lecture links below, D) read the online, free readings assigned at the top of each lecture page, if there are any (No textbook or reader required!) and, most importantly if you want a grade, E) complete the assignments at your own pace.  Otherwise, you will get an F, which isn’t so golden.  I will get videos of each lecture up as soon as possible, so please be patient.  Email all assignments and essays to me at by midnight on the final day of the semester.  Here is a link to the BCC Academic Calendar for the dates.  There are no required meetings, but I am here to meet with you and the group each week Wednesday mornings 11 to noon, or to talk individually by appointment.

The course will cover three broad topics: the many schools of Indian Philosophy, the many schools of Chinese Philosophy, and Zen, which is Indian Buddhism and Chinese Daoism together in East Asia.  Read the readings as you watch and read the lectures and write the essay assignments.

Indian Philosophy: A) Read this entry on Hindu philosophy & these lectures on Hinduism, Kanada, & Gautama. B) Read this entry on Jain beliefs and practices. & these lectures on the Charvakas & Jains, C) Read the Dhammapada, & these lectures on the Buddha & Dhammapada, D) Read the Brahmajala Sutta, the Samannaphala Sutta, the Potthapada Sutta and the Mahasatipatthana Sutta of the Long Discourses of the Buddha & this lecture on the Long Discourses. E) Read the Edicts of Ashoka & this lecture on Buddhism in India, and this lecture on Buddhism in Tibet.

Chinese Philosophy: A) Read  the first ten chapters of the Diamond Sutra this lecture on the Chinese School of Names, and these on Buddhism in China, & Japan.  B) Read this lecture on Chinese Thought & The Hundred Schools, C) Read the Daodejing, as much of the Zhuangzi as you can & this lecture on Daoism, and this lecture on Sunzi & The Art Of War. D) Read the Analects of Confucius, & this lecture on Confucius, this lecture on Mencius, this lecture on Xunzi & this lecture on Neo-Confucianism.  E) Read this lecture on Mozi & this lecture on the School of Names.

Zen: A) Read Chapter 1 (p – 114) of Huineng’s Platform Sutra & this lecture on ZenBodhidharmaHuineng, & Mazu, B) Read read and contemplate the koans & commentary of the Gateless Gate & these lectures on Zhaozhou & Linji, C) Read this X & this lecture on The Blue Cliff Record, the Gateless Gate, the Zen Stories, and this lecture on Musashi, & D) Read this lectures on Dogen, Hakuin & Zen in Korea &  Vietnam

Assignments: Two 4 page essays (2 x 25%) & a final 8 page paper (50%), typed, double-spaced and emailed to  Focus on an issue we cover, clearly state and argue for your position with evidence, empathy, and examples from your life, history or fiction.

To stay on pace and give yourself time, try to complete at least one essay assignment each month.  For the Spring, try to do the first essay by March, the second by April, and start the longer third essay by May.  For the Fall, do the first essay by October, the second by November, and start the longer third essay by December.  Email me with any questions about the material or your thoughts.

Here is a video with my thoughts on how to write a philosophy essay, if you are being graded by someone like me.  Trust me on this.  I know the guy.

The following are possible topics, but you should write about what interests you, take your time, and talk it out until you feel you’ve said something.

First Response Essay Topics

1)  In the ancient world, we can see traditional beliefs (legends, metaphors, rituals) mixed together with progressive science (physics, biology, psychology).  What does this tell us about ancient and modern human thought?  Has human thought changed over time, or is it still the same as it was in ancient times?  What role did philosophy play in the ancient world, and does it play the same role today?

2)  In the ancient world, we can see anthropomorphic polytheism (many human-like gods) giving rise to de-anthropomorphic philosophical monism (one beyond-human truth).  What does this tell us about human thought?  What does this tell you about your own thinking?

3)  According to the Vaisheshika and Nyaya schools, there is absolute truth and universal knowledge.  According to the Jains and Buddhists, there is no absolute truth but only particular perspective.  What do you find yourself agreeing with more, and why?

Second Response Essay Topics

1) While the Theravada Buddhists believe in a close and closed community, and that one should be a nun or monk in the monastery if one is serious about enlightenment, the Mahayana Buddhists believe in the open and common community, and that anyone, inside or outside of the monastery, can be radically enlightened.  Which of these do you prefer, and why?

2) While Buddhists, such as the Dalai Lama, argue that emptiness is the essence of compassion and enlightenment, others have argued that this is quite nihilistic.  Can emptiness or ideas of relative truth be distinguished from nihilism, and how?

3) Are notions of absolute and relative truth incompatible or complementary, and how?  Are the two positions separate, or are they one and the same?

Third Response Essay Topics

1) The two major Confucians after Confucius, Mencius and Xunzi, agree that Confucius’ teachings are wise and that we should cultivate ourselves through education and participating in society.  However, they completely disagree on whether human nature is good or evil.  Mencius argues that human nature is good, and education expands what we originally are.  Xunzi argues that human nature is evil, and society is necessary to change us from what we originally are.  Who do you find yourself agreeing with more, and why?

2) Mozi argues for universal love versus the Confucians such as Mencius who argue that love is naturally varied depending on familiarity. Are the two positions compatible? Is one more favorable than the other?

3) Hui Shi and Gongsun Long use paradoxes to show the complexity of human grammar and meaning. Are they successful? What do these paradoxes show us?

2) The Daoists use metaphors to show that “a sage’s that has a this”. Pick a metaphor from the three texts and show how it illustrates this and applies to life.

4) Much of the advice of the strategists fits together with teachings of Daoism. What does it mean that these teachings can be applied to war as well as peace of mind?

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs):  Upon completion of this class, students will be able to do the following:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the concepts of major Asian philosophers.
  2. Analyze & evaluate philosophical positions through argument that displays individual perspective.

This class is acceptable for credit at UC and CSU. It counts towards GE AA/AS area 3; CSU area C2; and IGETC area 3. It can be used as an elective for the Liberal Arts with an Emphasis in Arts and Humanities, Associate in Arts Degree Program and the Liberal Arts: Intersegmental General Education Transfer (IGETC) Certificate of Achievement and the Global Studies AA Degree.

General Student Requirements:  Students are expected to come to class prepared to ask questions and participate in discussions. All readings and assignments should be completed by the beginning of class on the day they are listed here. This class is run as a lecture/discussion course.  Students are responsible for all class material (even if they miss class). If you miss class, it is strongly advised that you ask a classmate for notes. It is your responsibility to ask if you missed something; it is not the instructor’s responsibility to remind you. Please read through the syllabus and plan ahead.

Plagiarism will not be tolerated. Plagiarists, intentional or inadvertent, will receive a zero on the assignment in question; repeat offenders will get an F for the course and will be subject to college disciplinary action. Students are encouraged to review plagiarism policies in the current Vista College catalog.  Attendance is mandatory. If you miss more than five classes, you will receive an F in the course. (Note: I do not distinguish between “excused” and “unexcused” absences; if you miss more than five classes, for any reason, you cannot pass the class.)

Disabled Student Program and Services (DSPS) are provided for any enrolled student who has a verified disability that creates an educational limitation that prevents the student from fully benefiting from classes without additional support services or instruction. Please let the instructor know if you require any support services or would like more information about DSPS.

This syllabus is subject to change at the discretion of the instructor. Any changes will be announced in class. Additional handouts of required readings may also be added.