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What is the benefit of combining traditional Buddhist and academic studies?  

-Eveline Zwahlen from Switzerland

About ten years ago, when I was on a journey through Asia, I became aware of Buddhism. Especially Tibetan Buddhism, which I got to know more closely in Nepal, fascinated me. Back home, I wanted to learn more about Buddhist philosophy and followed the instructions of a Tibetan teacher for several years. The more I learned about Buddhist philosophy, the greater my wish was to change my life and devote more time to the Dharma. So, I finally decided to leave my professional career and start with the Bachelor of Arts in Buddhist Studies and Himalayan Language at the Rangjung Yeshe Institute in August 2020. 

In my first year, I enrolled in traditional Buddhist studies and Tibetan language, as well as in the course “Buddhist Traditions: History and Culture.” In the latter, I was introduced to an academic view of Buddhism that I had not been very interested in until that point. Since many traditional teachings of great masters are available to us, I honestly had not seen many benefits in studying Buddhism academically. So, with a certain skepticism, I entered that course. When about halfway through the semester, the question came up of whether or not the Mahayana scriptures could be considered the word of the Buddha, I was pretty shocked. I had not heard such a question in any of the traditional teachings I had followed so far. If the Mahayana texts were not to be the word of the Buddha, whose then? And how would this affect my view of Mahayana Buddhism, which I have followed very closely over the past years? These and many other questions arose in the course of the first year of study. Looking back, I can say that this new approach to Buddhism was a source of great enrichment for me. It inspired me to examine more deeply what I had learned so far, to take up personal doubts and work with them, and to address unanswered questions about the contents of the Buddhist scriptures, which seemed contradictory to me. 

Throughout that first year, I was able to clarify and rearrange many of these points because we covered them in class, discussed them, and wrote articles about them. It was mainly through writing articles that I learned (and am still learning) to structure my thoughts well, look at an issue from different angles, consider different opinions – even opposing ones – and finally find my point of view. I have come to appreciate the academic study of Buddhist topics because it has broadened my understanding and made me aware of the valuable work being done in academia to promote a correct understanding of Buddhist scriptures. To sum up, I can genuinely say that I find this combination of traditional and academic studies very enriching and am very grateful to have the opportunity to be part of an institution that provides and encourages this type of study!  

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