Buddhist Practice in Academia

By Catherine Dalton

Catherine Dalton, Doctoral Candidate, Group in Buddhist Studies, University of California at Berkeley

Catherine Dalton, Doctoral Candidate, Group in Buddhist Studies, University of California at Berkeley

When I decided to pursue a PhD in Buddhist Studies, I was drawn to the program at UC Berkeley for several reasons. The primary draw, though, was the holder of the Khyentse Chair in Buddhist Studies, Jacob Dalton (no relation), who is now my advisor. I met Professor Dalton at the 2009 “Translating the Words of the Buddha” conference, spearheaded by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche in Bir, India, which was the birthplace of 84000.

I was impressed by Professor Dalton’s scholarship, and I was especially pleased that he was also open about being a Buddhist practitioner. For me, as a practitioner as well as an academic student of Buddhism, it was important to have a PhD advisor with whom I could be honest about that fact.

It was my teacher, Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, who first encouraged me to pursue a PhD in Buddhist Studies. During my time at Berkeley, I have appreciated Rinpoche’s encouragement of my studies, and also the encouragement of my professors at Berkeley—not just Professor Dalton—of my continued engagement with Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche’s endeavors to make traditional Buddhist learning available to an international audience through the Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Nepal. I have also been pleasantly surprised that the advice I have received from Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche about presenting certain Buddhist ideas and practices in the public sphere of academia in my doctoral dissertation has been very much in accord with the advice I’ve received from Professor Dalton.

Five students who have a number of years of traditional training in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy from the Rangjung Yeshe Institute or the Sangye Yeshe Institute (its monastic counterpart) in Nepal are currently researching Buddhist topics in MA and PhD programs at UC Berkeley. Certainly none of us would be pursuing these studies at Berkeley if it had not been for the establishment of the Khyentse Chair in Buddhist Studies there.