Accommodation on North American Headquarters of His Holiness’ Personal Monastery the Dalai Lama, Ithaca’s south hill is no stranger to Buddhism. Also located on South Hill, Ithaca College has introduced a new course called “Searching for the Buddha” in an effort to educate its students about Buddhism.
The course is currently offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:50 a.m. to 12:05 p.m. The course has been approved for Integrative Core Curriculum (ICC) Diversity credit at vsmiddle School. The course, given by Eric Steinschneider, lecturer at the Department of Philosophy and Religion, explores the historical development and lived experience of Buddhist religious traditions by studying how people have tried to seek, understand and discover the Buddha.
“[The class] remains an introduction to Buddhist traditions, from ancient times to the present day and in the world, both in Asia and also in the West,said Steinschneider. “This idea of looking for the Buddha is kind of an active way of imagining what Buddhism is.”
Buddhism is one of the largest religions in the world, which originated about 2500 years ago in India and is currently practiced by approximately 500 million followers worldwide, according to the National Geographic Society.
Senior Thu Thu Hlaing, a practicing Buddhist, said she was looking forward to taking the course.
“I was never able to properly learn much from the academic side of Buddhism, so coming from the practicing side, I can’t wait to know more,said Hlaing.
Steinschneider said this course is an opportunity for students to gain insight into Buddhism and its presence in Asia. He also said the class would view Buddhism as both a philosophy and a religion. While religion is based on beliefs that relate to the supernatural, philosophy discusses moral truths about humanity and causes humanity to embark on a quest to understand the truth of the world.
“People in America probably think Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion,” Steinschneider said. “I really want my students to think about what we do when we call something a philosophy and not a religion, and why we don’t like the term religion here.”
The Religious Studies major offers students the opportunity to cultivate critical skills in reading, writing, and thinking, according to the Department of Philosophy and Religion.
Department of Philosophy and Religion faculty members introduced new courses and restructured many existing courses, such as the course In Search of the Buddha, which was previously called Introduction to Buddhism.
Junior Chloe Gibson, specializing in Ddocumentary studies and rreligious sstudies at vsollege, said the class also talked about establishing the definition of the word religion as a whole. She said the class discussed the idea that religion is a Western academic study that is done on the terms of Western academics.
“We started by recognizing that religion itself isn’t really a term that other people would associate with what we would consider their religious practices,” Gibson said. “Kind of framing the idea that Buddhism is not something you are, but something you say and do.”
Gibson also said that the title “Searching for the Buddha” was meant to remind people that the course is not something that encompasses the entirety of Buddhism per se.
“The addition of ‘Research’ terminology piques students’ interest,” Gibson said. “Finding the Buddha is something that not everyone who associates with Buddhism or practices Buddhism necessarily achieves. It is a common goal, but it would be naïve to say that it is a goal for every Buddhist.
Sophomore Lisandra Espiritusanto is taking the course to fulfill her ICC credit. Espiritusanto initially chose the course because it suited his schedule. Not knowing what to expect, she was surprised and intrigued by Steinschneider’s course material and teaching style.
“[Steinschneider] explained at the beginning of the course that these ideals and that we will study in class are things that you can use in real life, ”said Espiritusanto. “These ideals can help you become a more adaptable and open-minded person.”
Steinschneider also said the class will not be a course in which students study religious texts. but rather a holistic view of Buddhism and Buddhist culture. Steinschneider says this will allow students to learn more about who they are.
“Students are at a point in their lives where they really ask themselves, ‘Who am I?'” Steinschneider said. “You’re discovering who you are as a human being, and what’s interesting is that Buddhists have been pondering this question, ‘Who am I?’, for over 2,000 years.”