WOOLF AND THE PALI CANON (MEDIUM GUIDANCE)

Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse may be read as an extended meditation on impermanence, and a close study of several (fictional) human beings’ efforts to come to terms with it. Impermanence is also, of course, a major theme in the selections from the Pali canon that we read earlier in the term. In a clear, analytical, well-structured paper, bring Woolf and the Pali canon into dialogue by discussing the following questions. First, in both To the Lighthouse and the Pali canon, human life is portrayed as fleeting and impermanent. Briefly discuss how each text seeks to make that point, comparing and contrasting their ways of doing so. Then choose ONE of the following characters from To

the Lighthouse to focus your paper on: Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay, or Lily Briscoe. From a Buddhist perspective, how might this character be seen as “suffering”? What are some specific examples of moments of dukkha in this character’s life? Be specific and give textual evidence for your claims, making sure to explain what dukkha is. Next, what kind of diagnosis would the Buddhist give these moments of dukkha? Here you should give not just a generic diagnosis but one specific to the character and moment(s) you have chosen. Consider, for example, the Buddhist idea of the “two darts,” and how it might apply to your chosen character in certain moments. Lastly, identify a key moment in the text when your chosen character seems to experience a moment of freedom from dukkha—a moment of apparent peace even as he or she recognizes his or her own impermanence. How might a Buddhist explain what is going on in such moments? Make sure to cite relevant textual evidence from both the Pali canon and To the Lighthouse. How plausible do you find this reading of what’s going on with the character in that moments? To the extent your chosen character experiences a moment of peace, do you think it’s best understood as involving some kind of letting go of the idea of “self”? As usual, I aren’t looking for any particular answer here; we’re just looking for a clear, thoughtful, and carefully explained response.

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