By Greg Forgues
Greg has been a student of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche since 1999. While living in Vietnam working as a manager for European investment projects, he began learning meditation in Burma and has since practiced under the guidance of Rinpoche. Greg is an instructor for Rinpoche’s Dharmadas training program. He has also been translating sutras for the 84000 project for the past 2 years. The father of two teenagers, Greg currently lives in Austria, where he is completing his PhD dissertation at the University of Vienna. He specializes in Sanskrit and Tibetan philosophical traditions and has been lecturing on Buddhism and academic methods for the past three years.
In July of 2013, the International Association for Tibetan Studies (IATS) held its largest ever conference in the capital city of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar — the first time this seminar has taken place in Asia. For the past 6 years the IATS has been presided over by Charles Ramble from Paris, who at the end of the seminar handed over the presidency to Tsering Shakya.
This week-long seminar consisted of nearly 100 panels, with more than 600 scholars presenting on topics ranging from Tibetan climate change to Dzogchen philosophy. The IATS is seen as a chance for scholars of Tibet to present their research to colleagues and to map the direction the field is taking.
As the main social event for this discipline, it is also a chance to rub shoulders with our favorite scholars. I myself had the rare opportunity to meet with eminent scholars of Tibetan history, language, culture, and religion, including Leonard Van der Kuijp from Harvard, Vesna Wallace and José Cabezón from Santa Barbara, Matthew Kapstein from Chicago, and Dorji Wangchuk from Hamburg, to name just a few.
Although I am currently writing my dissertation on Mipham’s interpretation of the Two Truths of Buddhist “philosophy” at the University of Vienna, I decided to present at the IATS my master’s degree research on ritual practices of Gesar. Interestingly, I later found out that Mongolians consider Genghis Khan to have been an incarnation of Gesar. Warrior gods play an important role in Mongolian Buddhist and shamanic iconography and ritual, so it was no surprise that the ultimate hero of Mongolian history is associated with the Buddhist king Gesar.
The University of Vienna had a prominent presence at the conference, particularly in the art history panels spearheaded by Deborah Klimburg-Salter, as well as the Buddhist Studies panel on Mahāmudrā, convened by Klaus-Dieter Mathes. The University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences have strong reputations in Europe for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies of both Sanskrit and Tibetan traditions.
This year, Khyentse Foundation is funding the development of a translator’s program at the University of Vienna that will support the training of students in translating dharma texts while using academic methods and resources.
The IATS seminar also provided an opportunity to explore possible collaborations between large institutions to develop new programs and tools for research, including the development of digital libraries and language training courses. I was able to meet with Jeff Wallman and Michael Sheehy from the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC), who are working tirelessly for the conservation of Buddhist textual material in the digital world.
Mongolia is now attempting to reintroduce and reinvigorate Buddhism in a place where religion has been systematically suppressed for generations. The University of Mongolia is genuinely interested in developing their Buddhist Studies program. The university is also working with Mongolia’s national library, which houses numerous dharma texts, many of which have not yet been cataloged or digitized. Hosting the IATS seminar this year has contributed to the causes and conditions necessary to develop academic institutions in Mongolia. Furthermore, this event has helped build bridges between scholars from various cultures and academic traditions in order to promote the study of Tibetan culture as well as to preserve the dharma.
In addition to attending the IATS conference, Greg met with Dean M. Bayarsaikhan of the National University of Mongolia and Orna Tsultem, a visiting professor at NUM sponsored by KF, to explore possible KF support for developing an interdisciplinary Buddhist Studies and research center at NUM.