Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

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Tenma
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Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by Tenma »

Out of curiosity, what does academia look like in regards to Buddhist Studies? What does the path towards it look like? Would one focus entirely on certain aspects of a certain lineage or what? I've heard that this is a very difficult path (followed by questioning of one's faith in this), so I wanted to hear in regards to how the path goes. For those who pursue this, why did you choose Buddhist Studies exactly?
What are some obstacles you might have if one were to pursue this?
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kusulu
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by kusulu »

I have interacted with professors Donald Lopez at Georgetown University, and Oliver Frieberger at University of Texas Austin. I'd contact those colleges with the question.
SilenceMonkey
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by SilenceMonkey »

Yeah, I would find some scholars in the field you're interested in and contact them directly. A number of buddhist studies scholars are practitioners themselves and might have some insight about how to navigate the ideological terrain of academia, among other things.

When I was looking into buddhist studies, I talked with a number of western scholars who came to a conference in Taiwan. I spoke with the ones I liked and felt like I could connect with. Many were very happy to share about their experiences in academia, they were very generous people.
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Queequeg
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

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Tenma wrote: Sat Feb 06, 2021 4:00 pm Out of curiosity, what does academia look like in regards to Buddhist Studies? What does the path towards it look like? Would one focus entirely on certain aspects of a certain lineage or what? I've heard that this is a very difficult path (followed by questioning of one's faith in this), so I wanted to hear in regards to how the path goes. For those who pursue this, why did you choose Buddhist Studies exactly?
What are some obstacles you might have if one were to pursue this?
Buddhist Studies are in the field of religion, a social science. Its an interesting field insofar as it is naturally interdisciplinary - history, literature, philosophy, psychology, art, etc. Its not a spiritual path, and you should check that part of yourself at the door.

For Buddhist studies, the most critical thing is going to be language mastery - at least two languages relevant to the area you study. For East Asian Buddhism, that would probably be Chinese and Japanese, maybe some Sanskrit depending on area of focus. For Tibetan studies, Tibetan, Sanskrit, and probably would help to have Chinese and/or Japanese as well for access to the scholarly work in those languages. You don't want to be one of those scholars who rely on translations for research. And translating and getting translations published is an easy way to fulfill the tenure requirements down the road. Language requirements is what deterred me.

Its a really hard field to be good at. There aren't a lot of jobs. And fewer every year.

That said, if you are serious, ask yourself what general field you are interested in, identify scholars you are impressed with, and reach out to them. IIRC you're a student now? Are you taking any courses in Religion? Talk to the professors there. They have to talk to you because that is their job. Cold contacting people you have no connection with may not be particularly fruitful. Always better if you can get an introduction.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Upaya Chapter

純一実相。実相外。更無別法。法性寂然名止。寂而常渉照名観。
There is only reality; there is nothing separate from reality. The naturally tranquil nature of dharmas is shamatha. The abiding luminosity of tranquility is vipashyana.

-From Guanding's Introduction to Zhiyi's Great Shamatha and Vipashyana
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kusulu
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by kusulu »

Another approach is find out which texts the universities are using for introductions to Buddhist studies. If the academic approach is or isn't for you, you can tell by the texts. Also videos of the lectures. Here is a sample of those:





Note that if you go o the Channel Profile of Harvard Divinity School, and click on "videos" you can browse thumbnails of all the videos. Which is also here: https://www.youtube.com/user/HarvardDivinity/videos

Same goes for Bob Thurman podcast. ---> https://www.youtube.com/c/TibetHouseUS/videos

Also there are free courses online. EdX - https://www.edx.org/search?q=buddhism
https://www.edx.org/course/methods-and- ... nd-preserv

or just go to YouTube and search for known scholars by name:
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_ ... nald+lopez

or topic:




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Queequeg
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by Queequeg »

I didn't watch all of those videos, but I don't think those give you a good idea of the field of Buddhist Studies. Take Religion courses in college. And not the intro 100 level courses. If you want to get a taste, take 300 and 400 level courses, especially theory heavy ones.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Upaya Chapter

純一実相。実相外。更無別法。法性寂然名止。寂而常渉照名観。
There is only reality; there is nothing separate from reality. The naturally tranquil nature of dharmas is shamatha. The abiding luminosity of tranquility is vipashyana.

-From Guanding's Introduction to Zhiyi's Great Shamatha and Vipashyana
Malcolm
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by Malcolm »

Tenma wrote: Sat Feb 06, 2021 4:00 pm Out of curiosity, what does academia look like in regards to Buddhist Studies? What does the path towards it look like? Would one focus entirely on certain aspects of a certain lineage or what? I've heard that this is a very difficult path (followed by questioning of one's faith in this), so I wanted to hear in regards to how the path goes. For those who pursue this, why did you choose Buddhist Studies exactly?
What are some obstacles you might have if one were to pursue this?
If you are serious, you have to learn French and German; Pali or Sanskrit; Chinese and Japanese; Tibetan; Thai, Burmese, or Cambodian, Vietnamese, etc.

So, if focusing on East Asian traditions,in addition to the European languages, one will need Sanskrit, Chinese, and Japanese; if focusing on Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, then Sanskrit and Tibetan, Chinese useful; if focusing South-east Asian Buddhism, then Pali, Sanskrit, and a regional vernacular such as Thai or Burmese.

Not really for the faint of heart.
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that name does not exist."
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tingdzin
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by tingdzin »

Queequeg wrote: Mon Feb 08, 2021 5:28 pm If you want to get a taste, take 300 and 400 level courses, especially theory heavy ones.
I would say that unless one wants to be a career academic, theory-heavy courses are not important. Academic theories about things, including Buddhism, tend to change a lot according to fashionable trends in the larger world, and may not be at all helpful in actually understanding Buddhism. Certainly a lot of academic viewpoints about Buddhism that were dominant 20 or 30 years ago are laughable today. For example,there was not so long ago one very influential scholar of Burmese Buddhism, who saw it completely in terms of Freudian categories. Ronald Davidson and others have commented on the situation in which you could have scholars writing long learned articles interpreting Buddhism who know more about Western intellectual trends than Buddhist source materials. The "translation" of the Therigatha remarked on in a different thread is an extreme example of this.

On the other hand, attending a few theory- heavy courses might be a good introduction to the sort of vaporing you would have to put up with if you were a grad student or professional academic.


As other posters have remarked, an academic career in Buddhist Studies is , from a practical standpoint, a very iffy proposition, especially these days. It is a much harder path to negotiate than it was a generation ago. Unless one has independent means, one could well go deeply into debt only to end up with a degree which, if one lacks connections and/or an ability to self-promote, results in permanent unemployment or semi-employment. Also, unless one already has a strong background as a practitioner one might well get distracted away from Buddhism as a lived experience instead of an object of intellectualization.
Last edited by tingdzin on Mon Feb 08, 2021 6:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Queequeg
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by Queequeg »

tingdzin wrote: Mon Feb 08, 2021 6:15 pm
Queequeg wrote: Mon Feb 08, 2021 5:28 pm If you want to get a taste, take 300 and 400 level courses, especially theory heavy ones.
I would say that unless one wants to be a career academic, theory-heavy courses are not important.
True. I think that was the gist of OP's question, though. If you want to know about Buddhism in the Academy, get down to it. Those courses are sure to smack any naive notions about Buddhist Studies off of someone's head.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Upaya Chapter

純一実相。実相外。更無別法。法性寂然名止。寂而常渉照名観。
There is only reality; there is nothing separate from reality. The naturally tranquil nature of dharmas is shamatha. The abiding luminosity of tranquility is vipashyana.

-From Guanding's Introduction to Zhiyi's Great Shamatha and Vipashyana
tingdzin
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by tingdzin »

Queequeg wrote: Mon Feb 08, 2021 6:20 pm Those courses are sure to smack any naive notions about Buddhist Studies off of someone's head.
:D
Tenma
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by Tenma »

Queequeg wrote: Mon Feb 08, 2021 6:20 pm
tingdzin wrote: Mon Feb 08, 2021 6:15 pm
Queequeg wrote: Mon Feb 08, 2021 5:28 pm If you want to get a taste, take 300 and 400 level courses, especially theory heavy ones.
I would say that unless one wants to be a career academic, theory-heavy courses areWe not important.
True. I think that was the gist of OP's question, though. If you want to know about Buddhism in the Academy, get down to it. Those courses are sure to smack any naive notions about Buddhist Studies off of someone's head.
Welp, I'm not surprised at all.

However, how is one supposed to study the tantras if they're restricted?
Malcolm wrote: Mon Feb 08, 2021 5:41 pm
If you are serious, you have to learn French and German; Pali or Sanskrit; Chinese and Japanese; Tibetan; Thai, Burmese, or Cambodian, Vietnamese, etc.

So, if focusing on East Asian traditions,in addition to the European languages, one will need Sanskrit, Chinese, and Japanese; if focusing on Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, then Sanskrit and Tibetan, Chinese useful; if focusing South-east Asian Buddhism, then Pali, Sanskrit, and a regional vernacular such as Thai or Burmese.

Not really for the faint of heart.
I've already gotten that message! Still, if I may ask, how does one deal with translation errors from the past? I've been reading stuff from this chap called Eisel Mazard and while I must say that he is quite an egoist, what would you make of his academic arguments regarding that (I have no idea how he learned Pali, so I cannot analyze his claims; still, it appears he's one of those "Theravada is the most aligned" people with the "Protestant mindset" of sticking only with that)?

Also, how would you recommend starting to learn those languages at a young age (college hasn't come...yet...for this lad that I am)?
Last edited by Ayu on Mon Feb 08, 2021 8:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Fixed quote. If it is not yet correct, please report it again and point me to the error.
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Queequeg
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by Queequeg »

I don't think you really study tantras, at least not as a path, in academic settings. For that, find a Buddhist teacher and learn from them.
Tenma wrote: Mon Feb 08, 2021 7:54 pm how does one deal with translation errors from the past?
If you learn the languages, then you read the original for yourself, and if you need to do a translation, (for others' benefit) you can.
Also, how would you recommend starting to learn those languages at a young age (college hasn't come...yet...for this lad that I am)?
Depending on what you want to learn - there are plenty of online and in person (maybe not so much these days) language courses and there are plenty of language tutors who would be happy to work with you. Just google.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Upaya Chapter

純一実相。実相外。更無別法。法性寂然名止。寂而常渉照名観。
There is only reality; there is nothing separate from reality. The naturally tranquil nature of dharmas is shamatha. The abiding luminosity of tranquility is vipashyana.

-From Guanding's Introduction to Zhiyi's Great Shamatha and Vipashyana
SilenceMonkey
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by SilenceMonkey »

Tenma wrote: Mon Feb 08, 2021 7:54 pm
However, how is one supposed to study the tantras if they're restricted?
They study them in an academic way. I met some researchers who believe that the restriction on tantra is just superstition, so it's perfectly fine to study them. I get the sense that's the kind of thinking in buddhist academia... although a number of tibetan scholars are also practitioners and will get the proper empowerments and transmissions before doing their research.

I believe HH Dalai Lama also says it's okay to study tantras academically, perhaps as a skillful means to promote buddhism globally.
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kusulu
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by kusulu »

Malcolm wrote: Mon Feb 08, 2021 5:41 pm
Tenma wrote: Sat Feb 06, 2021 4:00 pm Out of curiosity, what does academia look like in regards to Buddhist Studies? What does the path towards it look like? Would one focus entirely on certain aspects of a certain lineage or what? I've heard that this is a very difficult path (followed by questioning of one's faith in this), so I wanted to hear in regards to how the path goes. For those who pursue this, why did you choose Buddhist Studies exactly?
What are some obstacles you might have if one were to pursue this?
If you are serious, you have to learn French and German; Pali or Sanskrit; Chinese and Japanese; Tibetan; Thai, Burmese, or Cambodian, Vietnamese, etc.

So, if focusing on East Asian traditions,in addition to the European languages, one will need Sanskrit, Chinese, and Japanese; if focusing on Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, then Sanskrit and Tibetan, Chinese useful; if focusing South-east Asian Buddhism, then Pali, Sanskrit, and a regional vernacular such as Thai or Burmese.

Not really for the faint of heart.
On the other hand, I was just reading the bibliography of Zen and Buddhist literature that the American photographer Minor White uses in his essays on photography. In the Fine Arts world, it's not uncommon to tie into other arts and humanities in letters. Artists often function as independent academics, it's viable to study any subject without meeting PhD requirements. Academia isn't the place to look for a pot of gold actually. There's that lengthy period of a decade of more working up to 100 hours a week while flat broke. You gotta have an angle.
SilenceMonkey
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by SilenceMonkey »

Tenma wrote: Mon Feb 08, 2021 7:54 pm Also, how would you recommend starting to learn those languages at a young age (college hasn't come...yet...for this lad that I am)?
Sanskrit, Tibetan and Pali are pretty specialized languages and you would learn them in grad school. Your Masters is said to be when you get your languages done in academia.

In college, take up either japanese or chinese. Not at the same time, it will confuse the shit out of you. Some people who want to learn them go to summer camps or summer classes. Maybe there will be a chinese or japanese cultural center near you.

If you really want to learn, best is cultural immersion. You could take a gap year (or two) before college to either china, taiwan or japan. There are lots of scholarships out there for language schools in these countries. If you learn in university, it's also good... but there's no immersion and you'll be distracted with your other courses.

If you learn on your own (much harder), make sure to find language buddies or tutors. In the beginning it is especially important to get good habits of pronunciation. If not, you'll end up sounding ridiculous for the rest of your life when speaking the language... but some people don't care. There are lots of resources out there online for chinese and japanese (also french and german), just do a search for "resources for learning chinese" or something.
There are almost no good resources for learning tibetan on your own, but you can have a tutor skype with you from Dharamsala or something for $5/hr.

If you want to learn Tibetan, going to Dharamsala (LRZTP, Sarah College, Esukhia) is the cheapest and maybe best route IMO. Kathmandu (RYI) is also very good.

Many scholars just learn the classical language, so they're able to read the ancient script but unable to pronounce the words and unable to communicate with chinese, japanese, tibetan people. It's kind of sad. Better to learn the spoken language first. It will also give you more insight into the classical. You can count on around 2 years of diligent study in each language before you'll be able to really get into the Dharma.
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by PeterC »

If you're going down the route of learning classical Chinese or Japanese - be aware that fluency in the modern languages is not even close to qualifying you to work with classical texts, there's a whole body of knowledge and research methodology you will need in addition (i.e. relating choice of vocabulary and terms in translation based on the circumstances and era of the translation, etc.). However it's essential that you start by learning the modern languages, otherwise you can't engage with the research being done by scholars in those countries, and you will end up working in a little bubble ignorant of some of the best scholarship in that field. There are way too many "buddhologists" in western universities who work on these texts but are disconnected from Asian research communities. For example - not long ago there were a couple of people publishing papers about how they thought the heart sutra was a later chinese composition. There were quite a few papers published refuting this idea in Japan and Taiwan, which those authors never read.
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Re: Questions Regarding Buddhist Academia

Post by tobes »

This is all a bit 20th century - the idea that Buddhism and Buddhist scholarship is all 'in the text.'

Buddhist Studies as a formal discipline still functions like this, but Buddhist scholarship per se is turning up all over the place now - from anthropology to architecture. AABS - the Australasian Association for Buddhist Studies has pushed pretty hard to get beyond philology over the last two decades.

The big issue is that our academic institutions, which were dying a slow, agonizing death, are now basically dead. Anything cultural/historical/philosophical/religious looks increasingly like a relic from a more golden time, Buddhism included. We have to think of other ways to fund....
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