In 1991, a 30-year-old Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche arrived in the United Kingdom to pursue further studies at the encouragement of Tulku Pema Wangyal Rinpoche. He was setting out to study psychology and religion at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) University of London and to learn more about Western teaching styles and methods. Rinpoche was also offered a scholarship by the University of Oxford, but wanted to go to London to experience a major Western city—its art, culture, literature, and of course, its movies. Having heard that Nelson Mandela graduated from the University of London, he also felt it must be a good place to study.
On September 5, 2023, more than 30 years after his time as a student there, Rinpoche was awarded the distinction of Honorary Fellow at SOAS in recognition of his substantial contribution as a Buddhist spiritual teacher, writer, and filmmaker, and for his support to the school. Following the graduation ceremony, during which Rinpoche addressed the gathering, he met with graduate students at the university. The conversation ranged from Khyentse Foundation’s support for the preservation of an important group of Gandhari manuscripts to students’ individual areas of study to Rinpoche’s love of filmmaking. Two ordained sangha members pursuing graduate studies at SOAS—Dobdon Maksarov and Ngawang Jungney—also received the annual Khyentse Foundation Award for Excellence in Buddhist Studies directly from Rinpoche following the ceremony.
Rinpoche has always said his time in London was more about movies and museums than it was about study and classes. His former SOAS classmate Susan Sim (now a dedicated dharma practitioner and a Khyentse Foundation sponsor) describes Rinpoche as having been “affable, opinionated, a fashion star.” Susan says that at the time, she never suspected Rinpoche was a high lama, and that at Chinese New Year he “chilled with us just like a regular student.” Read Susan’s memories of that time.
Khyentse Foundation currently supports two outreach programs at the SOAS Centre of Buddhist Studies. Buddhism InsideOut aims to engage the wider public interest in Buddhist ideals, doctrines, and practices through events such as talks, workshops, film screenings, exhibitions, and book launches. The Buddhist Forum provides a platform for academics to present their latest research, and consists of a public lecture followed by a seminar on the topic aimed at graduate students.