Episode 01 – Inhabiting the Stories: Buddhism from the Inside, with Vanessa Sasson

In this episode, Sarah Richardson speaks with Vanessa Sasson, who teaches Religious Studies at Marianopolis College in Quebec, where she also co-teaches a popular course in which students travel to Nepal.

Sarah and Vanessa talk about how Vanessa got interested in the study of Buddhism, about her new novel about Yasodhara, the Buddha’s wife, and about how writing a work of fiction has changed her approach to teaching.

Show Notes

1:18 – Sarah introduces Vanessa and her academic career

2:12 – Introducing what the podcast is and how it came about

2:50 – Vanessa outlines where she teaches and who her students are

2:28 –  Student prior engagement and presuppositions of Buddhism

2:39 – Unraveling the false romantic ideals about Buddhism

6:25 – How to work through biases and assumptions

7:11 – Discussing Buddhism as a religion not as a philosophy

11:15 – Vanessa’s personal formation and introduction to Buddhism

13:39 – Active learning and student engagement

15:26 – Answer the “why”

16:30 – Students challenging the “why”

17:13 – The “why” for students who are not Buddhist studies students

21:19 – Dealing with the vastness of Buddhism

23:31 – Course topics

26:24 – Creative writing and the publication of Yasodhara

28:44 – Choosing to intervene and expose female voices

32:21 – Missing scenes

35:11 – The absence Yasodhara in narratives

38:05 – Emotional resilience of Yasodharra within narratives

39:24 – Summary of Yasodhara

41:50 – How to imagine the physical world of the Buddha

44:17 – Using art to imagine physical worlds

45:30 – The invention of new characters for Yasodhara

46:34 – Struggles in creating characters

48:34 – The potential role for the public academic

54:12 – Development of teaching

56:45 – Imaging characters who were always there

1:00:11 – Endings

Resources Mentioned

Vanessa’s 2018 book, Yasodhara: A Novel about the Buddha’s Wife, published by Speaking Tiger Books