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I’ll keep this short and sweet. Recently I’ve been pondering the idea of becoming a professor of Eastern Religions, particularly Buddhism. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but something about Buddhism, it’s core teachings and practicality, the Buddha himself, and my interactions with avid practitioners (especially my advisor in college who is a Zen Buddhist herself and someone who I greatly admire) have shown me that this is what I want to do with my life. I do not want to be a monk, as my dream is also to be an educator who inspires people and one day have a family.

My question is:

  • Where do I go from here? One thing I have learned about Buddhism is the danger of over-intellectualization.
  • How do some of you find a balance between Buddhist practice (which aims to free us from our minds), and using your mind effectively (to learn about the teachings or follow your passion and calling in life)?
  • Also, for those of you that have PhD’s in this field, what is your advice?

    If you have any further questions you need feel free to ask and I greatly appreciate your help.

Edit: At the moment, I am a 21 year old rising college junior pursuing a major in religious studies. I meditate daily using the app 10% happier, but as I progress would like to learn more advanced Buddhist specific techniques. There is a sangha run by my professor every Tuesday that I hope to attend when I return to school in a week. I would say I have a decent grasp of a basic history and understanding of Buddhism and its teachings, yet find myself daunted by just how much there is to learn and a concern of mine is losing myself in the teachings/history which would be required of me if I pursued the career I hope to. Perhaps though, this in itself is a great opportunity to learn balance and the challenges mentioned are all the more reason to pursue. Thank you.

  • What college are you studying at and what tradition do you study or are you interested in? – Yeshe Tenley Aug 19 '18 at 16:21
  • Hi there, I go to Kenyon College and am most interested in Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, though am not entirely set on those. I am aware that there are countless schools within those branches, but at the moment have not focuses entirely on one school as my major focuses mostly on the religions as a whole. – ch_da_guru13 Aug 19 '18 at 16:24
  • Sorry your question is getting more questions than answers here. See also this (which may be a related topic): Are there any higher education opportunities in Buddhism? Also a question like this might (or might not) possibly be on-topic on the Academia.SE site (e.g. if you posted a question there aimed at Buddhist academics and/or academic Buddhologists). – ChrisW Aug 20 '18 at 10:22
  • @FriedrickNietzsche honestly, a little bit of both. I’m a male. Like I said, it will always be my aim to spread peace and joy no matter what career I enter. For me personally I think being a professor of Buddhist studies would bring the best out of me and allow me to best exercise my skills. Also, I found that the biggest inspiration for myself to pursue the dharma in my own life came from learning about it from an objective academic perspective in a classroom. My prof, who is a zen Buddhist, was adamant that she was teaching from an academic perspective independent of her own experience. – ch_da_guru13 Aug 20 '18 at 15:32
  • @FriedrickNietzsche simply reading the texts for class was enough to inspire me. I remember while reading about the 12 links of dependent arising being able to witness the activity unfolding in my mind. I feel that it is inevitable to read Buddhist texts and not feel somewhat inspired. Perhaps one might not pursue Buddhism, that’s totally fine, but if a class i taught is anything I’d hope it to be, the students would walk away with somewhat a shift in perspective. Again, I recognize the importance of teaching from an objective point of view in an academic setting and that is something I can do – ch_da_guru13 Aug 20 '18 at 15:35
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A few thoughts in answer-like form :)

  • You are only 21, but you might be dead tomorrow. Always keep in mind that we don't know the hour of our death so we should practice now. Young people generally don't think about death too much as it seems far away. As we get older contemplation of death comes more and more, but those young people wise enough to contemplate while young will have a great head start. Knowledge of our own death and how the hour is uncertain can be a great teacher and guide when planning what to do in the here and now.
  • That's not to say that planning for the future is wrong. Rather, don't be too rigid in your planning. Samsara has a way of interfering with our plans. What you can do is figure out what to do now with an eye towards the future, but don't let your gaze wander too far.
  • It sounds like you have a perfect human rebirth. Don't waste it! Take advantage of this rebirth and practice Dharma and learn Dharma while you can! Somewhat paradoxically to the above, remember that we practice Dharma not with an eye towards happiness in this life, but with an eye towards happiness in our future lives. If we practice thinking only to achieve happiness in this life we risk falling into worldly desire. Practicing for future lives will help prevent this and also decreases the self-cherishing attitude.
  • Buddhist Geshe's study in a monastery for 17+ years. I don't think there is any better place to learn Buddhism. Rare and precious are the western individuals who learn Buddhism at Sera Monastery for instance. Did you know you don't necessarily need to be a monk to study and learn at one of these places? I don't think you even have to be Buddhist necessarily...
  • Of the western places to learn Buddhism you might want to consider https://maitripa.org/ or https://www.iltk.org/en/ if your interest is in Tibetan Buddhism.

Probably the best piece of advice I could give is to go out and seek the advice of the other people who have done which you wish to do instead of asking here :) Go ask Robert Thurman or Alexander Berzin ;)

Hope this helps!

  • This is fantastic advice, thank you. I appreciate the insight into planning wisely for the future and unhealthily obsessing about it. Also, taking into consideration future lives is not something I thought of so thank you for that. In terms of death contemplation, I recently downloaded the app “we croak” which reminds us of death 5x a day, which I have heard they do in Bhutan daily and is one of the reasons for their happiness. I look to build on this practice. I will also look into these centers. I will be studying abroad in France in the spring, and look retreat at plum village. Thank you. – ch_da_guru13 Aug 20 '18 at 16:41
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Where do I go from here? One thing I have learned about Buddhism is the danger of over-intellectualization.

That's not true at all. There is a sutta where monks specializing in absorption meditation (jhana) disparaged monks specializing in the study and teaching of the Dhamma (Buddha's teachings), and vice versa.

Here's what Ven. Maha Cunda eventually advised them to do in AN 6.46:

“Thus, friends, you should train yourselves: ‘Being Dhamma-devotee monks, we will speak in praise of jhana monks.’ That’s how you should train yourselves. Why is that? Because these are amazing people, hard to find in the world, i.e., those who dwell touching the deathless element with the body.

“And thus, friends, you should train yourselves: ‘Being jhana monks, we will speak in praise of Dhamma-devotee monks.’ That’s how you should train yourselves. Why is that? Because these are amazing people, hard to find in the world, i.e., those who penetrate with discernment statements of deep meaning.”

So, while AN 5.73 warns those over-intellectualizing to also practise meditation, AN 6.46 reminds us that learning and understanding the Dharma is quite important too.

There is nothing wrong for those specializing in being Dhamma scholars, and for those specializing in jhana meditation, as long as there is balance and moderation.

However, you must remember that these two suttas are directed at monks, not lay people. Lay people are generally advised to practise the five precepts, practise virtue (Right Action, Right Speech, Right Livelihood) and learn the Dhamma (to have Right View).

Right View is the forerunner of the Noble Eightfold Path according to MN 117. So, if you help others learn the Dhamma in order to help them have the Right View (assuming that you already have Right View), then you are giving them the supreme gift, for Itivuttaka 100 says:

"There are these two kinds of gifts: a gift of material things & a gift of the Dhamma. Of the two, this is supreme: a gift of the Dhamma.

"There are these two kinds of sharing: sharing of material things & sharing of the Dhamma. Of the two, this is supreme: sharing of the Dhamma.

"There are these two kinds of assistance: assistance with material things & assistance with the Dhamma. Of the two, this is supreme: help with the Dhamma.

"There are these two kinds of mass-donations: a mass-donation of material things & a mass-donation of the Dhamma. Of the two, this is supreme: a mass-donation of the Dhamma."

How do some of you find a balance between Buddhist practice (which aims to free us from our minds), and using your mind effectively (to learn about the teachings or follow your passion and calling in life)?

As mentioned above, having the Right View is the forerunner of the Noble Eightfold Path. So, it makes a lot of sense to learn the teachings.

Basically, I'm trying to encourage your interest in having an academic career in Buddhist Studies, as a means to study the Buddha's teachings in-depth and convey its message, albeit in an academic form, to students, the scholarly community and people everywhere.

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    Thank you very much for your insight. Balance is key and I look to grow my practice with it now and carry it into the future. Have a great day! – ch_da_guru13 Aug 20 '18 at 16:38
  • @user13997 OK. Basically, I'm trying to encourage your interest in having an academic career in Buddhist Studies, as a means to study the Buddha's teachings in-depth and convey its message, albeit in an academic form, to students, the scholarly community and people everywhere. – ruben2020 Aug 20 '18 at 16:52
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    I am very thankful for you encouragement. I think it would be a beautiful opportunity to both deepen my own practice and spread this wonderful message to people from all backgrounds. My professor has had a profound impact on my life in this way and I admire her greatly for that. I’m at an age where I am discovering myself and trying to imagine what I want to do with my life, and I can say for certain that this path seems the most precious to me and provides a valuable opportunity to help others. Thank you again! – ch_da_guru13 Aug 20 '18 at 17:06
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May the deep insight of direct practice inform your steps and broaden your reach. 🙏

You were seeking more knowledge and perhaps had not realized that practice must go hand in hand with study. Study without practice is weakly informed and of little value.

Were you aware that my answer was actually suggesting that you would not find an intellectual answer? This is the danger described in https://suttacentral.net/an5.73/en/thanissaro

Another aspect of practice is that although sitting in peaceful meditation may feel good, it may also not be enough. For example, I studied Zen while in college and after I had meditated for over a decade, I thought I had attained a certain equanimity. But when I went rock climbing, I became irrationally terrified. This pitfall of relying solely on safe and peaceful sitting meditation tends to trap those of us who value thinking and learning. We think we are at peace, but are not. To deepen your practice, also consider the meaning behind MN4, Fear and Terror.. Master Hakuin struggled with this as well and wrestled with the story of Yantou's death shout.. With your practice firmly established, academics will be bright and full.

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    Hi again, thank you so much for your consideration on my post. This is exactly what I was looking for. I want to be a professor because I feel it is my calling, and specifically of Buddhist studies like my current professor because I find it fascinating and could see myself learning about it academically for the several years it would require for a PhD. That being said, my primary focus in life would be to find the tranquility and isolation as mentioned in the text you attached here. Before I were to enter graduate school, I plan on spending time in a monastery learning Buddhist meditation. – ch_da_guru13 Aug 20 '18 at 14:29
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    I’m continuing here due to character limit. After that I hope to continue meditative practice (which I have already begun on a basic level) no matter where I go in life, even if I don’t end up as a prof. My main concern was simply finding an appropriate balance between the two (leaning in the direction of independent practice) and your response helped to clarify that for me. I will return often to that sutta. – ch_da_guru13 Aug 20 '18 at 14:31
  • @user13997 thanks for explaining more about your situation. I have added another sutta reference pertinent to those of us who love to study. – OyaMist Aug 20 '18 at 16:17

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