Rangjung Yeshe is Without Walls
I have spent most of my adult life in an American university, first as an undergraduate student, then as a graduate student, then a post-doctoral fellow, and finally, a professor. Last year, fulfilling a heart-felt wish, I became a full-time student at Rangjung Yeshe Institute. Despite being a degree-granting institution, a part of Kathmandu University, RYI has revealed itself, in my experience, to be almost entirely unlike any university I have ever been involved with before. If I say, “almost,” this is because, of course, at RYI, many of the activities and structures appear to be just like those of other institutions of higher education: there are classes and classrooms, homework, tests, papers, grades, rules and regulations, administrative procedures, and so forth. So what accounts for the vast difference that I experience here? Certainly, the setting and the combination of traditional monastic education and Western-style academic instruction, but most of all the motivation with which we are urged to undertake our studies—to be of benefit to all others—and the method of working with the material that is constantly pressed upon us by our monastic professors: listening, reflection, and meditation.
I understand this three-part method to map out a process of deep internalization. The teachings come into us from outside and as we contemplate and meditate, there is the possibility that we can come to understand what we are taught in more and more profound ways, until our minds and behavior are utterly transformed. This path from conceptual to embodied knowledge is one that is little emphasized in the American universities I was involved with—there, the process of becoming an “expert” seems to be almost entirely a conceptual one. Here, being encouraged to reflect on the Buddhist philosophy we are taught, I have discovered that all parts of my daily experience can become part of that process of reflection.
There is nothing that I encounter that is not also a way for me to reflect on the Buddhist material: my moods—good and bad, my successes and challenges, my routines and my procrastination, my relationships—near and far, my bodily aches and pains, even my work for the “Western” classes. I can contemplate everything through the lens of Buddhist philosophy in ways that often not only clarify that material for me, but that also help me understand my own habits and reactions, so that I make real changes in my life.
In yesterday’s Saturday talk, Rinpoche explained that ultimately, in the best case, there would be no difference between the apparently two sides of being a scholar-practitioner. Without even approaching the profound aspect of this teaching, I can understand this instruction simply to mean that I do not have to make a sharp division between study and the rest of my life. This blending of the two is profoundly inspiring and relaxing—I can make my understanding of “study”much more integrated and spacious, and compartmentalize my life less and less. Whether or not we are Buddhists, I believe that the approach encouraged here at Rangjung Yeshe—to contemplate deeply and internalize the material we learn for the benefit of all—could be the basis for the profound transformation of the world we all share. In this way, Rangjung Yeshe is truly without walls and boundaries, and every moment, every interaction, becomes a chance to learn together and create a more peaceful, joyful world. One million blog posts could never express the sense of gratitude I have for being a student here.