Can you tell me what this course is about and who the audience is? 
This course dives into the world of Tibetan Buddhism, its doctrines, philosophies, practices, rituals, and the myths and legends that ornament the tradition. The course is designed to be accessible for both those who have taken other introductory courses in Buddhism and those who are encountering Buddhist concepts in the classroom for the first time.

How is this course different from our Introduction to Buddhism survey course? What themes are focused on more or less?

Unlike Introduction to Buddhism which focuses on Buddhism as it began and spread in India, this course focuses on Buddhism and its evolution as it travelled from India over to the other side of the Himalayas to Tibet: the land of snows. Buddhism in Tibet is unique among the other forms of Buddhism around the world due to its heavy emphasis on the Vajrayana, or tantric Buddhism and this will be something that will be introduced and explored in detail during this course. Since Buddhism’s arrival in Tibet during the 8th century, it has permeated into all levels of Tibetan society and worldview. As a result, it is possible to understand the tradition and its teachings by looking not only at the literature of the elites, but also by looking at folk songs, life stories, local legends, and oral histories ­– examples from these genres will be explored during this course.   

What type of material will students be reading in this course? Any favorite texts you enjoy going over?

The core course readings consist mostly of English translations of and academic commentaries on original Tibetan Buddhist texts. One text which we will read during the first half of the semester is one of my all-time favorites. It is known in English as The Words of My Perfect Teacher. It was written down in the 19th century by Patrul Rinpoche, but its contents had circulated for hundreds of years by word of mouth – from teacher to disciple, from wandering yogi to yak herders, and from great lamas to kings and royalty. As a result, it contains many stories, legends, similes, proverbs, and anecdotes that are not found in other texts. Moreover, the text’s author was able to retain the vernacular essence of the teachings and so, the text offers rare glimpses into the lives of Buddhists from all levels of Tibetan society. How does a yak herder understand karma? How does a prince process death and impermanence after the sudden loss of the love of his life? What does the process of looking for the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation look like? Come and find out!

What type of assignments can students expect to demonstrate their learning?

The assignments are designed to encourage engagement with the contents of the course. There will be regular quizzes and discussion posts for the sections. The two midterms consist of two in class assessments that will involve analyzing quotations from The Word of My Perfect Teacher. The final assessment takes place during the last class and will consist of a series of questions consisting of true/false, short answer, multiple choice, definitions, analysis, and reflections. The extra credit assignments will involve visiting Tibetan Buddhist centers in the Ann Arbor area.

Are there any plans for trips or guest speakers? 

The star guest speaker will be a “living Buddha” from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, one of the highest-ranking reincarnates alive today, the 20th Arjia Rinpoche reincarnation, Lobsang Thupten Jigme Gyatso (b.1950). There will also be another guest speaker, someone who can reveal the firsthand experience of searching for a reincarnated lama ­– their identity I will keep a secret for those who join the class! There will be a trip organized to visit Jewel Heart, Ann Arbor’s local Tibetan Buddhist center and to speak to the resident teacher as well as the local Buddhist community.

Finally, why do you think this topic is relevant to the 21st century student? 

Today, spirituality and other new age movements continue to gain popularity in our society. Many of these movements draw from older traditions such as Buddhism and oftentimes there are cases of appropriation and misunderstandings. Among the various Buddhist traditions that are spreading throughout the West today, Tibetan Buddhism represents one of the most popular forms. Understanding where things come from, what they mean in their traditional contexts, and what they do not mean is important as we try to build a society that is more diverse, politically correct, and inclusive. This is what this course offers – an authentic window into the world of Tibetan Buddhism as explained by the tradition itself and commentated upon by scholars who have spent decades studying the tradition. 

If you have any questions about this course, please reach out to Professor Ujeed or the curriculum coordinator at More information on ASIAN 231 can be found here.