Worcester State students recently learned about Buddhism from masters of the ancient philosophy—four visiting scholars from the Namdroling Monastery in the settlement of Bylakuppe in South India. The two-week visit was a part of a cultural exchange that began in May 2017 when Assistant Professor Cleve Wiese, Ph.D., and 10 Worcester State students visited the refugee settlement in Bylakuppe. The group stayed at the Namdroling Monastery, home to a major Buddhist university.
“As a reciprocal aspect of that cultural exchange, my counterparts at the monastic university and I really wanted to bring some scholars from Namdroling to WSU, as well,” says Wiese. “Through a crowdfunding campaign, a couple of generous non-profit grants, and support from the Worcester State Honors program, we were finally able to make it happen this semester.”
The visiting scholars included two nuns, Thiley Chachung and Karma Yangu, who are both originally from Nepal; and two monks, Pema Wangdak and Cheki Dorje, both originally from Bhutan. All four of them have the title of “lopon” or master, indicating completion of the traditional nine-year philosophical curriculum at the monastic college.
During their visit at the end of February, members of the group:
- Gave two lectures at WSU, one on the relationship between academic study and meditation in the Buddhist tradition, and one on the unique style of debate practiced in the monastic schools;
- Gave a lecture at Assumption College providing a general introduction to Buddhism, in an event sponsored by the Student Interfaith Alliance;
- Participated in a panel discussion at WSU, which also featured four WSU faculty from the theater, philosophy, and psychology departments;
- Taught or participated in 13 different classes in a variety of departments at both WSU and Assumption, including theater, English, psychology, women’s studies, philosophy, and education courses;
- Attended and presented during an all-day field-trip/debate workshop to the Edward M. Kennedy Center for the Senate, which was organized by Mark Wagner, Ph.D, and sponsored by the President’s Office and the Binienda Center;
- Had a productive meeting with Executive Director of the Library Matt Bejune, to discuss differences and similarities in the organization and functioning of libraries in India and America;
- Presented an Honors Program’s Coffee Hour session;
- Gave interviews on “The Beat” television program, produced by the WSU’s Center for Community Media;
- Taught three basic meditation classes.
Wiese says the scholars also presented during several class sessions of a special English course that he is teaching this semester “focused on using Tibetan philosophical debate to develop skills of creative thinking and critical writing.”
The group also visited the Buddhist Digital Resource Center, the largest digital library of Buddhist—mainly Tibetan—texts, and Wisdom Publications, a major publisher of Buddhist books, both in Cambridge. They also participated in a class at Harvard Divinity School taught by the widely respected Buddhist studies scholar Dr. Janet Gyatso.
In addition, they toured the Worcester Art Museum and took a trip to Western Massachusetts to celebrate Losar (the Tibetan New Year) at some Buddhist centers there.