The Modern Monastic Classroom


My Buddhist Philosophy and Hermeneutics class meets for 90-minutes from Monday to Friday. That's an hour and a half of this one class every day! Although it's been the most time-intensive class I've ever taken, the style of our Khenpo's (monastic teacher) teaching has been one that I have come to appreciate the more I attend the class. Here I'll share with you what my class looks like and some take aways from the teachings that have helped me as a student.

I. What a modern monastic classroom looks like:

Class is taught by a Khenpo who is accompanied by an English translator
  • Chant Book

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  • When the Khenpo first enters the class, we proceed to bow to him with our hands folded as he engages in three prostrations. The Khenpo then takes his seat and we begin to recite the “Prayer of Manjushri” together in Tibetan using our chant book. The prayer is comprised of eight lines of praise directed towards the body, speech, and mind of Manjushri, a bodhisattva (“Buddha-to-be”) who represents supreme wisdom.

    Once the prayer is completed, the Khenpo begins his 90-minute dharma teaching from the text “The Way of the Bodhisattva,” a ten chapter literary work of Mahayana Buddhism that provides the basis for how one is to generate, maintain, and increase bodhichitta (mind of benefiting all sentient beings). The text is analyzed line-by-line by the Khenpo, who delivers the commentary in Tibetan. This is then followed by an English translation. This style of teaching means only half the class is understandable for the English-speakers in the room!

    As the class comes to an end, the Khenpo says we will continue where we left off at the next class. We all close our texts and open our chant books again to recite a closing praise (see directly below for a sample).

    II. Three Lessons I Have Learned from this Class:

    Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche surprises our class!

    1. Patience is critical in the learning process

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  • As I mentioned earlier, half of the class is taught in Tibetan, meaning only half of the class is directly relevant. In the first week, I found it easy to become fidgety and distracted while waiting for the English translation of the teachings. But having been in this class for a couple weeks now, these periods of waiting have been the new normal. Strangely (or I guess not), I have started to cultivate patience over time. Through meditation (practice of mindfulness) and reviewing my note, I have made the most of my time instead of letting it fall away with negative thoughts. In changing my attitude from being stubborn to mindful my surroundings, I have started to find joy in the teachings of my classes.

    2. Awareness of the big picture is important

    The Khenpo’s way of teaching the ten chapter text is done by a line-by-line analysis. It is a very meticulous treatment of study that often requires a week to go through just a few pages of the text. What I have come to realize in class is that we often get so deep into a chapter that I lose sight of the context of the current teaching in relation to everything else. I often find myself asking: what good does it do for me if I do not know why I am learning what I am learning now? This reminds me to review the past teachings and the teachings that are to come in order to become situated in the present moment of learning.

    3. To make your learning really count, you must apply it

    What I have appreciated the most about my studies at Boston College is that we always remind ourselves to be “men and women for others”—meaning that we should strive to be of service to all through the application of our learning. This motto is very similar to what Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, the founder of our school, stresses to us on a daily basis. When he made a surprise visit to our class this week, he offered this reminder to us:

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    In your life, I believe this [class] is the most precious opportunity. We can study many subjects, but all will lead to only success in this lifetime. The Bodhicaryavatara is one of the beautiful and touching teachings in Mahayana sutra, so I encourage you to study well and apply [yourself].

    — Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche

    What we learn must always be shared and applied because keeping knowledge to oneself does no one any good. It makes me so happy that this class makes salient the Six Paramitas in Buddhist philosophy of generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom. In learning about the basis of these six virtues is making me a better student and most importantly a better person.