Sydney Jay, is a consultant and executive coach. She has worked in the field of business psychology for more than 20 years, serving multinational companies and large public sector and nonprofit organizations in their leadership development programs. She holds a Master’s degree in social work and a PhD in social psychology from the University of California at Berkeley.
Sydney has been a student of Rinpoche’s since 1998 and is the co-director of Khyentse Foundation’s Leadership Training Program for khenpos and tulkus and the research director of KF’s Academic Development Committee. When Rinpoche first shared his vision for KF’s activities, Sydney was delighted that supporting Buddhist studies in universities was among his top priorities.
“I was just coming out of my PhD program at Berkeley and the entire domain of academic activities was deeply embedded in my thinking. I jumped at the chance to serve Rinpoche in a context where I felt I might have something unique to offer,” she says. “Rinpoche has said that it is a top priority to support the academic study of Buddhism because universities and professors have so much credibility in the Western world. This really touched me because I know firsthand how hard professors work at increasing knowledge in their fields.”
As a member of the Academic Development Committee, Sydney continues to be inspired by the people she interviews and the stories they have to tell. She finds particularly interesting the work that KF is pursuing in countries that were part of the Soviet bloc, where spiritual practice was forbidden and the study of Buddhism and other religions did not exist for many decades. “KF has identified two of these countries, Hungary and Mongolia, and due diligence processes are in place for determining the level of support that KF will give,” she reports. “Funding faculty positions at the major universities in both countries will help ignite renewed interest in Buddhist practice and study.”
Sydney strongly believes that establishing and supporting Buddhist Studies programs is crucial not only for academia but for practitioners as well. To those who say that university scholarship is too far removed from actual dharma practice and therefore should not be a funding priority, Sydney argues that this is simply not the case. “Many professors are engaged practitioners, and this commitment is a driving force in what they choose to study,” she says, adding that many westerners’ first encounter with dharma occurs in the classroom.
“From a big-picture perspective, by supporting Rinpoche’s academic initiatives, donors can play a major role in exposing young adults to Buddhism within the powerful learning context of their university education. Additionally, universities expect faculty to engage in on-going research. Buddhist studies faculty are engaged in translating and analyzing primary Buddhist texts and commentaries, thus contributing to the increasing body of knowledge we have about the origins of Buddhist philosophy and practice. Without university support of the faculty through position salaries and research awards, little of this could be accomplished.”