Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

Term Paper Pressure


The process of writing a term paper is always painful in a way. You’re writing a paper for a class in which you wish to get a good grade and the paper is almost always at least 50% of the grade (75% in my case). That’s a little pressure. In my case, you can add to this pressure the fact that the class is taught by a professor that you admire and whom you’d like to be your dissertation advisor (if you are even accepted into the doctoral program).

If I completely screw this paper up, it isn’t going to make a good impression on him and if I don’t work with this professor, I’m unlikely to be accepted into the doctoral program with my areas of interest (there are only a few people in the entire country who specialize in Japanese esoteric Buddhism, most are only vaguely aware of its existence).

So, it had better be a good paper, eh?

I’ve spent my third or so day in a row pouring over the history around the Mahavairocana Sutra and the Susiddhikara Sutra</a> (apparently, it doesn’t work to call them the “Mahavairocana and Susiddhikara Sutras” collectively). I have about eight pages of double-spaced text and 33 (!) footnotes, documenting statements. This outlines the purpose of my paper (about two pages) and the history of these two texts, their travels and translation in China, and how they wound up being connected to Shingon and Tendai.

At this point, the next week and a half or so will be going back and forth through these two texts, summarizing the ritual content in general terms and some specifics, and then comparing this ritual content between the text. Even my professor, Dr. Payne, admits that I may not get a lot useful out of it at the end but, as he wrote in all caps, “YOU CAN’T KNOW THE END OF THE PATH UNTIL YOU WALK IT …The very fact that you can’t see where this is leading is REALLY GOOD. If you already knew, why would you be doing this work?”

Let’s see how this goes. Maybe I’ll fly! If nothing else, I have my charming career in software to focus on. I hear you can get decent jobs at that still.