Looking West

It’s back to school time for my friends in college in Western countries. I hope, by this time next year, to be one of them. It is a big step for me to mention this online. I have felt longings to further my studies in the West many times during my shedra career. When I started shedra in 2003, many of my high-school gang had finished their bachelor’s degrees and several were already in grad school. Even though I have no regrets about choosing to study in the monastery, I did feel, in some ways, as though I was lagging behind. I didn’t mind so much that they were getting married and having babies, after all I already ordained – which is like being married to the spiritual path. My babies would be the skills I would learn and the insights I would gain.

Nonetheless, every few years I wondered where I would be, had I chosen to go to university first. I would look at college websites and cruise around the interwebs, and imagine being at a university… Which is weird, right? I was in a college program, attending multiple classes every day, using every ounce of my energy to learn the Dharma and its history. I guess we all wonder about the road less traveled.

After I made it to seventh year (and already had two monastery granted degrees), it was easy to hang in for the last three years. They were the best years, I think, not just because of the amazing topics we got to study, but because I believed I would actually finish. It was the home stretch.

Then I graduated. To be honest, if, at that point I could have signed up for nine more years, I’d have done it. I didn’t feel as knowledgable as I had hoped, nor as mature as I thought should be, to be a lopon. Nonetheless, I was pleased and surprised to have finished the program. It was good to achieve such a long term goal.

I’m glad that I got snapped up by Rigpa Shedra East in January of 2013, it was a huge and unexpected blessing. Suddenly I was translating for a group of Western students in Nepal and it was the perfect place for me at that time. I found myself at a unique half-way point between monastery life and Western secularism. We were in Pharping, at the Palyul Retreat Centre, with one of the greatest luminaries of the Palyul Lineage, Khen Rinpoche Namdrol. At the same time, it was all in English, with Westerners.

It was perfect. Perfect, but not easy. I had a lot to learn, not just about translation, but also about functioning in a coed environment, with laypeople and monastics working together. I’m grateful for the role Rigpa has played in my life these last three years, helping me discover the meeting place between where I come from, the secular West, and where I have spent my entire adulthood, Tibetan Buddhist monastic culture.

So, for the last three years I’ve been teaching and translating for Rigpa in the winters. Last summer, I taught here at the nuns’ shedra, and this fall I will be doing the same. Can I imagine staying here forever, teaching shedra classes in Tibetan, and living with nuns? Yes. It is endlessly fulfilling to learn and teach and watch my students grow while still receiving the milk of spiritual blessings from my own teachers. And yet… I look to the West.

There is so much more to learn, insights to be gained that, as a native English speaker, I can access more easily than my shedra classmates. It is also in the West that I believe I can do the most good. After all, every year we have plenty of new nun lopons graduating, and I am pretty sure 99% of them speak Tibetan better than I do! In the West, I can participate in the development of Western Buddhism. There is so much to translate and write about, and so much to do in terms of our Dharma community and culture.

So, looking West, I am in the process of applying to universities. I hope, based on my Masters degree from the shedra here, to get into a Masters program abroad. It is early yet, to send in the applications, but there is so much to do in preparation. I have to write the GRE, which means I need to relearn mathematics after a seventeen year departure. Its’ a fun challenge. One thing shedra has taught me is how to buckle down and study hard.

That’s it for now. I just wanted to put it out there, that I am applying to grad school in 2016. All prayers are gratefully welcome. Is there a mantra for algebra?


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