academic studies in Buddhism Uncategorized

The Importance of Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind While Learning Tibetan

Learning Tibetan at the Translation Training Program (TTP) this year taught me more than just how to translate. I learned some key lessons about my attitude and approach to learning that extend to many other realms, whether academic or personal. 

During this intensive program, I was reminded of one important principle – to cultivate a “beginner’s mind,” a mind that is fresh, open, and devoid of preconceived notions or (excessive) expectations. A mind that is comfortable with not knowing, not having the answers, and that is receptive to new information.  

As I pursued higher studies in the Tibetan language and philosophical teachings, cultivating a beginner’s mind meant letting go of any preconceived ideas about what the studied texts and materials were about, about my ability to understand, and instead, taking on all views with an open mind and easing into the process. 

This experience so far has been one of repeated learning and relearning. This is particularly so because: 

– learning a language and its features – especially Tibetan – is not a linear process; 

– the meaning or the interpretation of a text is not fixed but subject to multiple interpretations (which makes it challenging to find one “right” answer); 

– the many layers of study and practice are immense;  

– and translating classical Tibetan texts depends not only on the familiarity with the language but more fundamentally on the philosophical and cultural context of the subject. 

Time and time again, I have been reminded there are many things to learn and do, and there is no end to this process. This means that the mind has to remain open and flexible; that it’s important to acknowledge what is known, not known, and always remain curious about it.  

The importance of maintaining this kind of beginner’s mind cannot be overestimated, especially in studies like these that require and encourage multiple perspectives, critical thinking, and interpretation at every step. In this way, studying of the Tibetan language can truly become a practice.  

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