Bachelor in Buddhist Studies Dr. Kashinath Sanskrit Study

Sing, Sing, get the Swing!

It is almost frightening how fast my three years of studying at RYI in the BA program have passed by. Now there are only a few weeks of the final semester left and therefore, I
would like to take the opportunity to share my experiences of my third study year with you. I made two major decisions regarding my study plan which I have not regretted and which I would  like to recommend to you because they have benefited me a lot.

              The first is my decision to start with Sanskrit. If you are thinking about doing so, too, please ignore  all  ominous voices whispering what  a  horribly  difficult language Sanskrit is. It is not! In fact,  it  is  just  about singing. Kashinath  and  Paul  in  combination  offer  a  unique  way of studying  this  beautiful  poetic  language  at  RYI.  The reason  why  I  think  that  Sanskrit  is  not  a difficult language is that there is not really much to understand in terms of linguistics. At the end of the day it is all about singing – and taking one’s time to do so. Of course, Sanskrit is a complex language with many flexions of all kinds of nouns, with conjugations of verbs and with plenty of Sandhi rules  to  paste  the sounds  together  ­  which  means  that there  is  a  lot  to  memorize.  But whenever you feel overwhelmed by all these different forms and paradigms, just start singing your slokas, flexions and conjugations and try to get the swing of it!  
Where else, if not here, will you get the chance to recite the Bodhicharyāvatāra in its original language, guided by the mesmerizing voice of Kashinath Mahodayaha (who by the way is an internationally acknowledged expert)?!  He will teach you how to do the music while Paul breaks the grammar down in  an  easy, clear  and straightforward way.  

              The second decision I made after having completed the basic first two years of both Classical and Colloquial Tibetan was to build up on this foundation by diving into the “cold water” of the untranslated Dwags po Thar rGyan (Jewel Ornament of Liberation) philosophy class – only to  find  out  that  it’s  rather  like  luke­warm  water  to swim  in  with  the  life  belt  of  an  English translation. What helped  me  at  first  was  to  go  through  the Tibetan original  together  with  the translation as far as possible in advance during the holidays ­ which did not take as much time as you might think and which kept me going during the break. Having equipped the Tibetan original with my notes accordingly ­ for which I got scolded by a Lama because I had used red colour, so be  careful! ­ I found out soon  that I understand  most  of  Lopon­la’s  equally  as fast  as brilliant speech without the translation  hidden under my bench. And if I don’t, there is no reason to get desperate; he is always happy when students ask questions. Having to do without a translator is moreover an excellent training for my poor listening comprehension and concentration …

              Generally, I really enjoy the Tibetan way of “jumping like a tiger, creeping like a turtle and digesting like a lion” in terms of discussing a philosophical work. For me this is a question of respect for the precious teachings that we receive here. In Western philosophical classes the focus
is usually on the Tiger’s jumps, which means to devour as much material as possible within a short time. Speaking for myself, I have to admit that, although I like short cuts, I am rather the turtle or lion type of student when it comes to the “juicy stuff”; I am a slow eater and digester. If you also prefer that, you will enjoy the way of studying which I recommend for these philosophical classes:

Do a little bit of review and/or preview every day by reading the sections of the day in Tibetan aloud, and do it repeatedly. Once again, this all comes down to singing and the more you sing, the more you get the swing. Stick to the original language unless you absolutely need to look into the
translation to get the meaning right. The more often you read the text in Tibetan, the better you keep it in mind, the more fluent your reading gets and the better you comprehend. If you are ready to invest this time, you will literally sing your way into the exams free from stress, since you will become firm regarding the idioms and spelling of the Dharma language and get a feeling for its “groove”.  If you know the text well,  you will be able to give correct  answers without  any problems, so don’t be afraid that you can’t do philosophy exams in Tibetan. Apart from that, isn’t it
joyful to be able to recite a sūtra quote by heart, just as the monks and nuns do?

              This all sounds like a lot of time to invest but in fact, the Dwags po Thar rGyan class barely  takes me much more time than the basic language courses of the first year did. On the other hand, it is a language course of a special kind that integrates both philosophical thinking and plenty of useful  Dharma  terminology.  So  if  you  are  thinking  about doing  it,  don’t  hesitate!  You  can certainly make it!

              At last, you might wonder what the photo below has to do with Gampopa’s Dwags po Thar rGyan. It has  a lot to  do with it, since it shows  an  essential  aspect of our studies which I haven’t mentioned, yet: the relevance for our daily lives. Here we are putting Gampopa’s advice into practice with regards to the paramita of generosity by giving material things to sentient beings within the field of destitution. You can look this up in chapter twelve of the Dwags po Thar rGyan – in Tibetan, if you like ;­)

~Judith from Germany

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *