Since 2006, the English language program at Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö Institute in Chauntra, India, has offered English classes to the monks at the monastery. Graduates of the Institute carry a wealth of dharma knowledge, and being able to speak English gives them the opportunity to bring benefit to a broader population through teaching and translation. The program also helps monks function in practical matters when they travel in India and abroad. In March 2012, the khenpos of the Dzongsar Institute shedra decided to expand the program as part of a series of curriculum changes to bring the monastery fully into the 21st century. The program is funded by Khyentse Foundation.
The Institute’s English program has doubled in size in the past year, growing from 27 participants in 2011 to 59 to date. Monks have two hours of English instruction each day, plus time in the computer lab. Twice a week, they enjoy an English movie night. The teachers are a mix of local Tibetans, Indians, and westerners from around the world. Currently the teachers are Laurence Shephard (Canada), Cassell Gross (United States), Barbara Stewart (United States), and Tenzin Rinzin (Tibet). Technical support in the computer lab is provided by Karma Jinpa (United States) and Tenzin Samchok (Tibet). Suzie Erbacher (Australia) is the director of the program. Volunteer positions are occasionally available for qualified and experienced English as a second language teachers who are able to commit to teaching for at least 6 months. For more information, see the Siddhartha’s Intent site.
Sangay Gaylek, a monk from Bhutan, says, “The classes are great, I never feel bored. I like the mix of English and dharma. Dharma alone makes me feel sleepy, but mixed with the English study, I feel good. I like to learn to talk in English, and to translate using English. Wherever I go, whatever I do, if I can speak English I’ll never have any problems. If you don’t know Hindi or Nepali, most people know English. We need to have this knowledge, this experience of other ways of living.”
KF is also funding a Study Abroad Program to bring the language out of the monastery classroom and into real life. The program places senior monks with sangha overseas in English-speaking countries. In 2012, two monks are scheduled to travel to Australia after studying English intensively for three months.
Last fall, the more advanced English-speaking monks teamed up for two hours, three afternoons a week, with western students in Deer Park’s Tibetan language program to practice translation from English to Tibetan and vice versa. Both sets of students found the cross-cultural exchange very beneficial.
Recently the khenpos have begun to practice English conversation at their dining table, and their confidence is growing that the language has a place in the monastery and is useful to learn. Abbot Khenpo Jamyang Lösel allocates one hour every day of his busy schedule to his English class, leaving people lined up outside waiting to see him—he won’t be disturbed during class time. Khenpo says, “As Buddhist teachers, we need to learn English to help the dharma flourish in the world. If we can’t speak the language of foreigners, we can’t communicate the dharma.”
Khyentse Foundation also supports secular education for monks at Chökyi Gyatso Institute in Dewathang, Bhutan. Experienced English language instructors who are interested in volunteering should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.