Nalanda Traditions Available to Western Students
Nalanda traditions are now being taught to Western students. However, this field of Buddhist study is not without its challenges. Today, we’re going to share information about innovations in the traditional methods which are meant to offer Western students education that they are able to process effectively. Reflecting on the differences between traditional Asian cultures and the West is important and meaningful.
A New Master’s Program is Available
An FPMT Master’s Program known as Dharma Studies in the West is now being taught.
Since Buddha’s time, twenty-five hundred years ago, the traditional teachings of Buddhism have been shared with students via a lineage which is uninterrupted. This teaching reached Tibet and it was popular there for twelve hundred years. Lately, as Buddhism became more interesting to people in the West, more and more Western students want to gain deeper understanding of this faith and its traditions from the distant past.
The new master’s program is one of the most ambitious examples of learning programs which are designed to help Western students understand the principles of Buddhism. This program is centered on teaching ordained students from the West and lay students. It shows them the value of the great texts, as well as how to practice traditions which are Tibetan Buddhist. The program requires 6 to 7 years of study, as well as an additional “retreat” year for meditation.
The curriculum for this master’s program is a lot like the Geshe programs which are delivered within the bigger Gelug Tibetan monasteries. However, the new program has a shorter time frame. To contrast, a Geshe program usually takes a decade and a half (or even two decades) to complete! As you can see, a lot of condensing of material needed to be done in order to teach students in just six to seven years. However, most students who take the new master’s program have a lot of knowledge already.
The biggest issue with creating this study program was how to transmit the traditional teachings of Buddhism, while adding Western context. Studies needed to be relevant to Western culture.
What Is Nalanda Tradition?
This Buddhist tradition is about balancing reasoning and faith. It’s focused on emphasizing the direct link between the greatest scholars of an ancient Indian Buddhist university (Nalanda University) with the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. This ancient school was a place where so many great minds of Buddhism learned and practiced. The tradition is about devotion and faith, as well as intensive critical inquiry.
Changes to traditional teaching methods for Nalanda Tradition were needed in order to create the Dharma Studies in the West master’s program.
With traditional teaching, such as teaching to Tibetans, the emphasis is on developing academic understanding which leads to spiritual development. Mostly, monks study in this manner, which involves years of debate, study and memorizing.
The new Dharma Studies in the West program features instruction about a trio of the five great texts, in addition to tantra “grounds and paths” and the Tantra, Guhyasamaja. As well, study of mind and awareness. reviews of key topics and study of philosophical tenets are in the curriculum. Students take examinations regularly and they get tested on all subjects at the close of the program. If they pass, they get completion certificates. Then, they embark on one-year phases of retreat.
This program isn’t about creating Western geshes. It’s about giving students comprehensive educations.
Western Students – A Different Approach
Western students have been raised in a different culture. They tend to reject dogmatic thinking and religious authorities which have absolutist mindsets. Therefore, the new program is innovative, as it takes Western culture into account and offers learning that is based on the Western tendency to question everything.
Some people may view the new learning program as an erosion and dilution of Tibetan Buddhist traditions. Others – including our Nalanda Buddhist Group in CT – realize that the new degree program is evolution at its finest.