Final Assignment Overview Your final assignment is a creative project exploring the

Final Assignment


Your final assignment is a creative project exploring the foundation practices in The Torch and Turning, as well as issues covered in the course. Your primary tool for creating and analyzing the foundation practices is the idea of secularization. In this project you will do two things: Adapt and Annotate.

1. Adaptation

Adapt and develop one or more of the Tibetan Buddhist foundation practices for a secular publication venue, such as an article for a specific magazine or blog in a well-defined genre. 

Examples include:

Cosmopolitan. Fashion, glamor, popular culture, self-help

“Compassion” from Cosmo.

Scientific American; Full range of science topics

On “oneness”. Note this is locked behind subscription. 

New Yorker. Long-form non-fiction and narrative, reviews of culture, humor.

Humorous take on a fall foliage “meditation”

People. Entertainment industry.

A “mindfulness” meditation in the shower. 

Psychology Today, etc.), 

Essence. Culture, entertainment, health, fashion.

“Ritual”, an interview with a writer from Burkina Faso. 

Real Simple. Home, fashion, health and beauty, lifestyle. 

“Meditation” example: meditation in the shower.

Runner’s World

“Spiritual”, article on running and spirituality

Blogs on self-help, self-development, health and wellness, psychology, etc.



New York Times’ Well  blog’s recent post on meditation.

Apps with prose content


Example: stress relief from news anxiety.

Visualization overview

Your writing project will involve “secularization” of one or more foundation practices to meet the genre of a secular magazine or blog. 

A secular practice is simply one that makes no reference to ultimate and transcendent goals as typically expressed by religions (nirvana, heaven, salvation, etc.), does not rely on the authority of a religious hierarchy, and is not expressed through symbols or stories derived from religious traditions. 

Positively put, secular practices that involve self-development typically deal with body and emotions in a naturalistic, or materialistic sense, rather than with the soul, rebirth, or a theological idea that involves transcendence from a material state. Wikipedia’s entries on “Secularity” and “Secularization” are useful summaries. 

Secularization here is similar to McMahan’s idea of “modernism”, which involves three cultural processes: detraditionalization; demythologization, and psychologization:

McMahan, The Making of Buddhist Modernism, page 42. Three important terms: Detraditionalization; demythologization; psychologization.

Detraditionalization: from tradition to self. This is taking a practice out of its traditional context and using it as a personal activity for one’s own goals

Authority shifts from overarching, impersonal source in traditional institutions and its past  to spiritually-informed experience of self in the current time.

Lacks institutional structures

Elevates reason and experience over tradition to assert freedom to accept or reject claims of tradition

Individualized, privatized, a matter of choice

“Instrumentalization”: components of traditional practice and thought can be repackaged with focused goals. 

“Essence” of Buddhism about personal experience

More lay than monastic

Emphasis on meditation, internal experience, individual authority

Demythologization: from stories of gods and the cosmos to narratives of individual selves. This is taking a practice out of the context of traditional stories and narratives and re-fitting it in into a personal narrative, usually self-development or self-improvement

“The process attempting to extract—or more accurately, to reconstruct— meanings that will be viable within the context of modern worldviews. 

“Traditional” Wheel of Life example from Burmese teacher Sayadaw: “The Wheel of Rebirth is very dreadful. Every effort should therefore be made to acquaint oneself

“Modernist” Wheel of life example from Tibetan teacher Trungpa: “The realms are predominantly emotional attitudes towards ourselves and our surroundings.”

Hungry ghost rituals: traditional about ghosts; modernist about socially disadvantaged

Internalizes, or socializes, what in traditional accounts are realities, the way things are.

Takes the supernatural out of narratives, for example Buddha’s story with no gods.

Selects components of tradition that appear consistent with science

Psychologization: from theology to mind. This is making a practice not about transcendent religious claims about reality, but rather about the mind and emotions of a single individual

Example. 1969 Huston Smith, “these gods that seem so solid, so objectively real, actually represent our own psychic forces.”

Example. Tibetan gods become the unconscious in psychologist Carl Jung’s influential introduction to a translation of a classic Tibetan Buddhist text, The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

For Jung, Buddhist ideas of ultimate reality also become a “collective unconscious”

Zen meditation riddles become psychoanalysis. 

Meditation’s purpose shifts from transforming consciousness to achieve enlightenment to transforming perceptions of pain in medical pain management, as for instance in MBSR, “Mindulness-Based Stress Reduction.

New kind of authority that claims unique insight into human mind, perception, and emotion, and especially science of well-being.

Summary. In other words, it’s the story, the institutional context, and the intellectual/theological context that tends to make practices “traditional” or “modernist”, or even “religious” or “secular”: how about a prostration versus a burpee? Similar moves, distinct contexts

Now, “modernism” is not the same as “secularization,” because in modernism there can be explicit reference to religions and religious statements about the transcendent. But McMahan’s modernism is on the way to secularization because secularization often includes the three cultural processes of detraditionalization; demythologization, and psychologization

We use the term secularization as a guide because it allows us to ask:

What can be kept from The Torch’s practices to make an effective practice in a secular global setting? 

What can be adapted slightly? 

What should I add? 

And, most importantly, what is lost in the process of translating a traditional practice into a secular practice?

In asking these questions and answering them through crafting a new secularized practice out of one of the Buddhist foundation practices, we ideally are able to better understand:

What matters most in the Buddhist practice

What the building blocks of that practice are

How religious practices from many traditions have undergone secularization processes over the last century or so.

The key to creating something interesting is to identify the essential message of each chapter:

Perhaps start by writing a few sentences for each of the eight

Then work from specific passages in the books that you think are rich and interesting. 

Next, work on translating the story, steps, or exemplary passages you’ve extracted into another form.

We have looked at a lot of the imagery in the Torch. 

Draw inspiration from the types of imagery used by Dudjom Rinpoché. 

Make up your own imagery. 

For instance, here are stories in each of the chapters: sketch them to increase your understanding of them, and to develop your own version of them. 

The foundation practices as a whole are like an elaborate self-help program; write an article in the Cosmo style on them. Really, the writing style is open on this, provided you aim for a particular genre.

Assess what makes that practice “religious”, as well as what gives it impact. Then consider how you can best transfer those components that give it impact into a “secular” context, while leaving behind or transforming those elements that make it inherently religious. We put these two words, “religious” and “secular” in quotes here because you will need to define the features of a practice that make it more religious or more secular.

For this to be a rich assignment, it is best to choose a Buddhist practice that is rich – if you choose something very simple, there may not be much to say about it or much interesting to adapt. Regardless, whatever you choose, it has to be a whole practice as it is done in traditional Buddhist contexts – its traditional start to its traditional end. Make sure there is a beginning, a middle, and an end, even if it is just part of one of the foundation practices. There are many sub-practices within them. Start by documenting all its aspects – breathing, prayers, whether done individually or with others, considerations to keep in mind during the practice, etc.

2. Annotation

Your finished work must be also annotated to explain how each of The Torch’s practices is represented in your work:

Provide an analysis of interesting issues that come up in this process of recontextualization and secularization.

Cite direct quotations from the books, making the relationship between the primary source and your project clear.

Annotations must show how your work conveys an understanding of overall goals of the foundation practices as well.

In other words, the work must show an overarching structure of your interpretation of the ideas and practices presented in The Torch.

Be sure to answer the questions:

What did you keep from The Torch’s practices to make an effective practice in a secular global setting? 

What did you adapt slightly? 

What did you adapt extensively

What did you add? 

And, most importantly, what is lost in the process of translating a traditional practice into a secular practice?

Finally, integrate your work on the in-class exercises into the project by 3-4 specific instances in your annotations where your new practice draws from or intersects with the secular thought experiments and contemplative exercises we have conducted throughout the course. 

This could be specific exercises, or insights or ideas you thought of when you were working on the exercises.

Grading, Word-count, Submission
50% Creative Project (400-600)

Translate 1 or more preliminary practices into a new form, in writing, as fully as you are able.

Coverage of Topic. Work to understand the essential point of each preliminary practice, and express that in a
new form.

Aim for 2 pages, single-spaced on the creative side please.

Aim for another page, single spaced, 50% Annotation and analysis (about 500 words):

Explain how you represented each component of one or more foundation practices.

Note key passages, terms, and ideas that you draw on from the books (using a standard citation method,
i.e. MLA, Chicago, etc.).

Explain the specific elements of The Torch that you kept, adapted, left, and added.

Describe your process for turning the books into a new form.

Submit as a PDF