By Jacob Dalton
Professor Jacob Dalton teaches Buddhist Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. His appointment was made possible through the establishment of the Khyentse Chair in Tibetan Buddhist Studies in 2006.
With each passing year, the Buddhist Studies program here at Berkeley has been growing. In September, Mark Blum will join our faculty as the Shinjo Ito Professor in Japanese Buddhism. Blum is already a senior professor at SUNY Albany with particular expertise in the history of Pure Land Buddhism. His arrival will significantly expand our offerings in the area of Japanese Buddhism.
Our current student cohort continues to grow. In recent years we have enjoyed great success in luring top young scholars to our program. At present we have 10 Ph.D. students, with another starting in August. These developments have led to some felicitous connections between our own training program and the 84000 initiative to translate the Kangyur; several of our students are now translating sutras or tantras for the project.
Thanks to the combined interests of our faculty, increasing numbers of students are coming to work on tantric Buddhism in particular. In March we hosted a 10-day workshop on Hevajra ritual practice, led by Professor Harunaga Isaacson of the University of Hamburg. The workshop culminated in a weekend of intensive readings at Ranjung Yeshe Gomde, a Buddhist center in Northern California that is affiliated with Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Kathmandu. The event was a great success, and we are building on the excitement it generated by organizing a major international conference for March 2014 on tantric ritual development. In April 2014, we will host a second conference on Buddhism and neuroscience, thanks to the combined efforts of Professor Robert Sharf and next year’s Numata Visiting Professor, Evan Thompson. So it will be an action-packed spring.
On the Tibetan side, our program has benefited greatly from the presence of Dr. Jann Ronis, who has been our Shinjo Ito Postdoctoral Fellow for the past 2 years and who plans to stay on to teach for an additional year (2013-14). Ronis is an expert on Katok and Buddhism in the region of Kham, and he accompanied me on a research trip to eastern Tibet this summer.
For the past 2 years, our Tibetan language program has been staffed by Dr. Gareth Sparham, who specializes in the literature of the Prajñāpāramitā (“Perfection of Wisdom”). Our Tibet-related activities for this academic year were capped by our annual Khyentse Lecture, which was delivered in early March by Professor Per Sorensen of Leipzig University. Sorensen spoke to a large crowd on the construction of the Dalai Lama lineage, and his talk was followed by a large and lively reception.
Finally, on a personal note, I am pleased to report that I received tenure last autumn (2012) and was officially appointed to the Khyentse Chair. This is thanks in large part to the publication of my first monograph, The Taming of the Demons (Yale University Press, 2011), which has been well received and was recently awarded both the Cohn Prize in South Asian Studies and the inaugural E. Gene Smith Book Prize in Inner Asian Studies. The latter in particular means a lot to me, because Gene was a close mentor who guided me through much of my career.
All this has also been thanks, of course, to the generosity of Rinpoche and the Khyentse Foundation, without which there would be no Tibetan Buddhist Studies at UC Berkeley in the first place. Through its gifts to Berkeley and other academic institutions, the Khyentse Foundation has already changed the shape of Buddhist Studies around the world. Still, many major universities are lacking in the area of Buddhist Studies, and many promising young scholars are not able to find teaching positions. We are all looking forward to seeing what the Foundation plans to do next.