Contemplative Thought

Contemplative Studies inquires into texts, art, ritual, philosophy, embodied practices, or myth with an interest in how these reveal, conceal, reflect, guide or otherwise engage the reader’s contemplative potential. This in turn invites a meta-inquiry into how we come to an intelligent understanding of our own experience, and what kinds of development, training, and intelligence (beyond simply intellectual) is intended in these practices. For these purposes “contemplative” refers to a broad spectrum of practices and inquiry oriented to subjective expansion, awareness, and stillness.

Such inquiry requires rigorous grounding in the epistemology and ontology of the system, since theories of mind and views of reality are intimately connected with how contemplative practices are structured, their relation to doctrine, and expected outcomes for the practitioner. Each tradition has its own major mystics or contemplative philosopher whose work offers thematic structures into which the rigorous reader of texts and tradition can inquire. In Buddhism, such studies ideally involve mean familiarity with the field of Mind and Awareness (blo rig) and the Sautrantika system in which it is embedded in order to inquire into texts and contemplative practices grounded in the Middle Way (including Tantra, Dzogchen, etc.) by figures such as Dharmakirti, Asanga, Tsongkhapa, Longchen Rabjam, Jigme Lingpa, Jamgon Kongtrul and their commentators. In the West, this could mean looking at the contemplative purposes of figures from Plato to Augustine to contemporary and unchurched practices, to the current conversation between contemplative practice and modern science. Such work often means looking into categories that other readers ignore—for example, inner vision and its connection to subtle energies or to levels and signs of deepening concentration.

Contemplative studies is especially complementary with work in textual and cultural history, comparative mysticism, psychology and religion, as well as, at Rice, the G.E.M. program. The goal is to provide students with an additional, and emically sensitive lens through which to read and analyze material. Students with a focus on contemplative studies are expected to take the one-credit contemplative practicum for at least two of their four semesters of classwork.

Faculty Contact Prof. Anne C. Klein