The first year philosophy class at the Shedra

It is 10.30 in the morning, our teacher, Khenpo Jampa Donden sits in front on a throne and we all begin chanting the praises to Mañjushri. After the chanting, the Khenpo starts the class by picking a little piece of paper out of a cup which contains our names, and he goes on by asking that person a question related to the chapter that we are studying.
This is how they proceed in the Tibetan monasteries. The teacher gives a word by word commentary on a specific text, which in our case, is the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra by Shāntideva. Then, at the beginning of each lesson, a student has to answer a question related to the topic.

Usually, our Khenpo gives us the possibility to ask questions in return, which is a great opportunity since he is a very learned monk, who has studied and practiced for many years.
The text we study is a great classic, one of the most important and fundamental Mahayana treatises in Tibetan Buddhism, studied throughout all the sects and monasteries. The Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra is an exposition of the path of the Bodhisattva who cultivates a mind which aims to benefit all sentient beings. The Dalai Lama himself has said, “If I have any understanding of compassion and the practice of the bodhisattva path, it is entirely on the basis of this text that I possess it.”

It Is So refreshing for me coming out of a western university, which approaches Buddhism as an object of study, to get these authentic teachings at the Shedra with a Khenpo who himself has studied this text several times under high masters of Buddhist philosophy. Hence, beyond just academic training and objective knowledge and information, we are also learning how to practice and to apply what we are learning into our lives with the hope that we are ultimately transforming ourselves into the loving and compassionate beings that Shāntideva describes in his text, who can then make a difference in this world.

Our Khenpo is able to teach us this because he himself believes, practices and embodies the text that he teaches. This ultimately is what he imparts to us – that the text is not just meant for intellectual understanding, but is meant to be taken truly to heart, allowing ourselves to be transformed by the text.

~Gwen from Austria

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