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My First Year at RYI

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It’s been just slightly over a year since I first came to Nepal, and the question which comes to mind is the one which I was asked most when I was back in Singapore last December: 'What have you learnt?' I'm not sure what my friends were expecting - some kind of Buddhist halo around my head perhaps? šŸ˜Š They must have been disappointed, I think. Academically, it has been a tremendously enlivening (at times even tear-your-hair-out challenging) year at the Rangjung Yeshe Institute - from Prof Julia Stenzel, I learnt about the broad outlines of Buddhism's 2600 year-history (further back, if you count the past Buddhas!), and took a deep dive into Shantideva's 8th-century Buddhist classic, the Bodhicaryāvatāra ('The Way of the Bodhisattva') taught in the traditional Tibetan Buddhist style in which a lopon or khenpo (the Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of a university professor) reads and expounds on the text verse by verse, with the help of Lopon Drubgyud Sherab and I…

The Nepal Experience

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Living in Boudha, the Tibetan neighborhood of Kathmandu, and studying at RYI, a very international community, one can sometimes become a little disconnected from the greater context of this unique country of Nepal. Kathmandu is a big city that attracts people from everywhere who want and need to make a fortune, people live in big houses in small expensive apartments, just like in all the big cities around the world. And of course there is nothing wrong with that, but sometimes I feel like I am living in some kind of parallel society, a bubble of RYI students from around the world, including Nepal, and some loose contacts to the shop keepers, restaurant owners, monks and beggars with whom I’ve been sharing the neighborhood for the last couple of years. That’s why I like to spend at least my reading weeks (a one week holiday that we get once every semester) in the countryside. Be it trekking in one of the many valleys in the region, or be it just hanging out in one of the little towns i…

The sacred valley of Helambu: an adventurous pilgrimage in the reading week of 2017 fall semester.

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(Photo credit: Tree:Emily Polar) 
In the middle of each semester at RYI there is a week long break called ``reading week.´´ Although some do use this time to focus on studying and reading, which is wonderful,it is also known amongst certain students as the retreat or trekking week. Not knowing whether I wanted to trekk or stay in retreat during this break, I ended up joining some friends who had plans of doing a pilgrimage to Helambu, also known as Yolmo. Which proved to be a great decision! It is surprising how such an amazing place lies within a few hours from Boudhanath, and how easy it can be to get there! It only takes one (crazy and cozy) Nepali bus from a nearby bus station, which took us around 5 hours leaving early morning to get to Timbu ( a small village within Nepal, not the Bhutanese Capital!). After arriving, we tried to make our way to Nakote but it was getting dark, and luckily we found a small family community that was celebrating one of the many Nepali festivals with lot…

No, I don’t live in Tibet.

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For my family back in the west, in their minds “living in Nepal and studying Buddhism” is defined as “studying this crazy ancient philosophy, under the guidance of elderly monks (who would never in their life eat meat) and practice kungfu – in Tibet”. A girl at work gently reminded me how Buddhists- especially the monks- do not eat meat. As great as it sounds, in reality as all of us who study at RYI know, this is really just not the case. Somehow for them ‘Nepaul’ is a country very much off their mental radar. I am frequently asked by distant family members who have heard rumours of ‘someone in their family’ who lives in Nepal. “What’s it like living in Tibet?” they say. And once I finally convince them I actually live in Nepal, they ask where it is. It’s like when we hear names of countries such as Mali or Angola, we know they are in Africa, however many of us do not know exactly where. Once I explain it’s a tiny country, smaller than the UK, tucked nicely between India and China/Tib…

Why Am I here?

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Once, in the middle of a conversation, someone asked me: “Why are you here at RYI?” For a few seconds, many things came to my mind, but my answer was pretty straightforward: “I am here because I want to study the Dharma”.  Later on, I thought that this was an interesting question; a question I have asked myself several times throughout the academic year in different ways. Usually, at the beginning of the semester, when everything is smooth and relaxed, the question arises as a joyful expression: “Why have not I come here earlier?” However, with the stress for the assignments and the exams, the question turns into a more comic expression. Sometimes with a certain rebellious mood: “What the heck am I doing here?” Or some other times even with a deep existential inquiry: “What is the real meaning of all these studies?” Luckily, all these questions vanish when the exams are over and I am enjoying my holidays…   Nonetheless, I want to answer again this question to myself, in brief but from a…

First Summer Program at RYI

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After three years of intense study at Rangjung Yeshe’s BA program, I leaped into the Translation Training Program (TTP) – a twelve-month intensive course that trains for the capacity to orally interpret basic Buddhist teachings from Tibetan to English. The TTP adventure begins with the Summer Program – a highly concentrated curriculum that condenses a one-year syllabus into eight weeks. As such, I somehow did not choose to do the summer program; I just had to do it as the beginning of the TTP. Among the many courses available (Classical Tibetan, Sanskrit, Pali, and others) I enrolled in Advanced Colloquial Tibetan. Now, retrospectively, I feel very grateful for having had an incentive to step into the summer program experience; it was undoubtedly a great source of learning and it significantly improved my capacity to both understand and speak Tibetan. The intensity of the program is definitely challenging but if you can flow with it, it feels like an assembly of helping hand that exp…

Be healthy

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It has been about eight years since I started studying at the RYI. If I were commencing my studies in Nepal now I believe this is a simple piece of advice I would benefit from listening: Be healthy.
It is very important to keep ourselves healthy while studying the Dharma, in both body and mind. If we are willing to take studies seriously, it can be very to neglect this fact. As many times I did it, I thought that if I had warned a friend not to fall on the same hole I would have written something meaningful here.
The ways are particular. Go for walks. See the temples, the mountains. Don’t waste much of your limited days in Nepal there too. But make sure you are healthy. This is important. You have probably heard that we need the two wings of method and wisdom to fly, haven't you? But before flying we must stand. And to stand we need these two forms of health: of body and mind. These are our two legs that give us the first jump in the air. Without those, we'd better forget about …