One of the most interesting elements of studying at RYI is how adaptable this place is as a university. Over the past three years of studying here I’ve witnessed the school continue to grow as a university, offering more services and classes to students, and adapt to different challenges and disasters. This year, I witnessed the entirety of RYI’s students and faculty adapt like never before after the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world causing countries to close their borders and declare quarantines. The administration of RYI took immediate precautions to the spread of COVID-19 by shutting down the school and canceling class meetings. In lieu of class meetings, students and professors switched to an online format. This is not an easy transition to make, but the folks at RYI made it look seamless. Classes continued and everyone did their part to remain devoted to finishing the semester. On top of that, RYI reached out to its student body to ask whether or not we would like to take summer classes. This was absolutely the best way to respond to the global disaster and reflects the spirit of devotion to the study of Buddhism at RYI. I’m completely proud to be a part of such an adaptable place.
My personal experience during the COVID-19 lockdown in Nepal probably differs from most students who were taking classes when the pandemic hit. I was conducting fieldwork for my MA thesis in Langtang (a valley in Rasuwa, Nepal about 145km from Kathmandu) when word of quarantine and lockdown began to be heard. After an incredible experience researching the significance of Buddhist sacred natural sites and their significance for environmentalism, my research came to a close in earl April. For a number of reasons (including depleted funds and the closure of ATMs and other means of acquiring cash), and despite the issuance of nationwide lockdown (called “bandha” in Nepali), I and my gracious hosts decided the best action was for me to return to Boudhanath by foot. Normally this is a difficult journey by foot, and this was NOT a normal circumstance because drivers refused to transport a foreigner during these times of fear and uncertainty. Nevertheless, in this case I was appropriately prepared with decent camping equipment, food, and good trekking boots. Amazing what the body can achieve with good boots! With a little help from Lama Tenzin and his wife, a saddhu I met on the way to Gosainkunda, a young man who recently graduated from medical school in Patan, the US embassy, the Nepali Army and Police, and all the kind souls who offered me refuge on the path, I made it back to Kathmandu. During this journey I saw the best (and maybe a little bit of the worst) that Nepal has to offer. None of it would have been possible without the skills that I learned at RYI and the kindness and light-heartedness of Nepali people even in the face of global disaster.
As my time at RYI also comes to a close, I am incredibly grateful to this school and this country. Thank you, Mother Nepal. And many thanks to Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, who, by simply being and providing words of inspiration, helped me more than I could have expected. While the quarantines and lockdowns continue across the globe, at least I know I will have plenty of time to process this research experience and finish writing this thesis.
- Andy Hallahan, MA student