Corey Jackson received a Khyentse Foundation Award for Excellence in Buddhist Studies at Sydney University for his work in Sanskrit and Psychology in 2014. Last month he had an opportunity to meet Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche during Rinpoche’s visit to Australia. Rinpoche said he was very happy that Corey was pursuing his academic degrees. “I’m so happy you are doing this. It’s so important. Academic Buddhist study is the insurance for Buddhist study and practice in the future.”

Watch a short video here:

Sydney Award Makes Rinpoche Happy from Khyentse Foundation on Vimeo.

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Chantal Gebbie, Khyentse Foundation country representative in Australia, asked Corey what receiving the award meant to him. “As a Buddhist practitioner, I am a little wary of some aspects of the academic study of Buddhism because people often have other agendas in academia, so I was not sure how involved I wanted to be in Buddhist “Studies” as opposed to studying Dharma. So the fact that Rinpoche, who, at least in my eyes, is an authentic Buddhist source and has a vision of how  the Dharma should spread in the West, is so actively involved in promoting the Buddhist studies ideal was quite inspiring. I felt a little vindicated in my decision and inspired to keep at it.”

Read more about Corey’s path from piano player to interpreter to scholar below.

KF is fostering working relationships with top institutions through a number of targeted grants, scholarships, and partnerships. KF Awards for Excellence are awarded to students at 10 universities, from the University of Pennsylvania to the University of Hong Kong to Sydney University. Nearly 50 awards have been given so far, and two new dissertation awards have just been announced. We are also supporting the next generation of translators through sponsorship programs in Asia and Europe.

First Person: Corey Jackson, 2013 recipient of the Khyentse Foundation Award for Excellence in Buddhist Studies at the University of Sydney

Buddhism’s arrival in the West is sometimes seen as a bit radical and surprising. A culture heavily under the dominion of a science-dominated, materialistic world view seems like an unlikely place for ancient, far-away ideas to take root. Nevertheless, this is exactly what Buddhism has been doing for centuries, spreading from a culture as unique as the ancient Gangetic Plain and settling in a variety of foreign lands. People in very different cultures have seen advantages in accepting it, and in doing so have flavoured it with their culture and ideas, so perhaps its relevance to modernity should not be that surprising.

The spread of Buddhist philosophy to a variety of different contexts throughout Asia and beyond has been well documented by western academia. In fact, we are in the unique position to be able to examine this current adaptation of Buddhism into modernity with a relatively complete picture of how it has arrived at this point in time. As in the past, in this dissemination of Buddhism to the modern West, the two main features of its new cultural context are that of its language and its prevailing world view. My interest in both these aspects of the modern Buddhist context is the primary reason I am working toward a major in both Sanskrit and Psychology at the University of Sydney.

Early in my original career as a jazz pianist in Toronto, it occurred to me that improving my concentration could improve my performance and give me an advantage over my peers. Interested in developing sustained, directed attention, I did a little research and decided to train in Zen Buddhist practice. It certainly did improve my ability to concentrate, but to my surprise, it also improved many other aspects of life as well, particularly the competitive and challenging music program at university.

Many exiled Tibetans live in Toronto, and it was only a matter of time before I learned a little about their tradition, and soon left for India to see the Himalayas and learn more. This trip turned into three years in Dharamsala, during which time I learned to speak, read, and write the Tibetan language and made friends with both Tibetans and the local Indian people. I also studied Buddhist philosophy in Tibetan and began translating oral teachings and personal interviews for western students.

This led to a position as interpreter for GesheTashiTsering, who was teaching an in-depth five-year study program at Chenrezig Institute in Queensland. About a year after my arrival, the Dalai Lama installed GesheTashiTsering as abbot of Gyume Tantric College, requiring him to move to India, effectively making my position redundant. After such intensive study and translating, I returned to Dharamsala with a far better understanding of the difficulties of accurately translating content from Tibetan to English. At first I worked at Thosamling institute, teaching the second year of the Tibetan Language program, which concentrated on philosophical terminology. The discussions in these classes further highlighted the difficulties in translating well-defined, relatively standardized terminology into English, which is still without much agreement or cohesion among translators.

During this time I also worked for Shide Ling, a nonprofit nongovernment organisation (NGO) in Sidhpur. This organisation was set up with western financing to help rehabilitate and teach occupational skills to women (nuns in particular) who had been political prisoners in Tibet. My role in this organisation was to teach English classes, which were opened up to all Tibetans in the village. My access to westerners trying to learn Tibetan and Tibetans trying to learn English meant that I could also arrange and supervise conversation classes for both groups.

Returning to Australia, with a plan to study Sanskrit, I trained as a teacher in the Cultivating Emotional Balance training. This program was developed by the renowned Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace, along with a pioneer in emotional research, Paul Ekman, as a result of the Mind and Life conference in 2000, which examined destructive emotions. During this training, watching scientists consider the plausibility of Buddhist concepts of the mind and behaviour inspired me to study both psychology and Sanskrit. I teach the course regularly throughout Australia, often with psychologists in the group, and I very much enjoy the exchanges with them. I feel that my knowledge of Sanskrit and Tibetan languages helps identify discrepancies between some genuine Buddhist practices and concepts and psychology’s usage of them.

It is my hope that with a background in Buddhist philosophy, languages, psychology, and western scholarship of Buddhism I will have a good grasp of the context into which Buddhism is being placed. Most importantly, I hope to play a small role in achieving mutual understanding of both the contemplative and scientific communities.