In a small, suburban area of Medford, Mass. is a repurposed house containing a bright and colorful space for Buddhists and people curious about Buddhism to learn and worship. The Kurukulla Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies (KKC) is a center for people to gather and learn more about the religion. Last Sunday, Andrew Housiaux, Instructor and Chair in Philosophy and Religious Studies, took his Religion-530 Global Buddhisms: Past, Present, and Future class on a trip to the KKC.
“At the Tibetan center, the students watched people chant for about 20 minutes before hearing a lecture from a Tibetan monk about a medieval Indian text, ‘The Way of the Bodhisattva,’ that we had studied in class,” wrote Housiaux in an email to The Phillipian.
Housiaux made a distinction between the kind of Buddhism that former guest speaker Alison Cohen taught the class about earlier in the term, and the kind that the class discovered at the KKC.
“The field trip to KKC was an opportunity for us to learn about Buddhism practiced in a different way and in a different setting. While our guest speaker talked about a more spare meditation hall that she practices in, the Tibetan center was filled with light, colors, Buddha statues, and pictures. Alison’s practice emphasized a lot of silent mindfulness practice,” said Housiaux.
According to Claire Jungmann ’18, the trip allowed her to look past the textbook and see real Buddhism being practiced, which assisted her in achieving a deeper knowledge of what she had previously only understood as a concept.
“[I noticed] how people practice in everyday life. [The monk’s] talk was about anger and how to deal with anger in everyday life, because in the reading it says that a monk will never get angry. But they do get angry, and they have strategies to relieve their anger. We got to see a real-life monk living the way we were learning about,” said Jungmann.
The students’ interaction with the monk, Geshe Tenley, was the most impactful part of the trip for Lesley Tilghman ’19. Tilghman noted how encouraging he was.
Tilghman said, “He referred to all of us as kids, which doesn’t happen often. He had a really heavy accent, so he was just saying, ‘Study, kids!’ and he repeated that a lot. He referred to us as young people, and [how] if we stayed on the right path, we were capable of blooming into very beautiful flowers, which is a good look.”
Tilghman observed similarities between the Buddhism practiced at the KKC and other monotheistic religions. Tilghman also described how being able to compare and contrast these philosophies with a first-person perspective was helpful for her.
“We didn’t really understand [Tibetan Buddhism] until that point, [or] the similarities that it can have with other monotheistic religions. I’ve described it as a service because aspects of it did feel very Catholic. Not even just Catholic, but like you are going to church on Sunday. It was more discussion based than a preach or sermon, but it was still helpful,” said Tilghman.
According to Housiaux, the trip shows students that Buddhism is an ever-changing, dynamic religion, emphasizing the flexible and easily modified nature of the philosophy.
Housiaux said, “We have been exploring the idea all term that Buddhism is a dynamic religion. It changes over time and takes on different forms in different historical eras and geographic contexts.”
Jungmann noted that the religion, though still true to its traditional Tibetan roots, was studied at the KKC from a Western perspective.
“It was Mahayana Tibetan Buddhism, and it was for Westerners. It was cool to see people in Massachusetts studying Buddhism in the ways that they do in Tibet,” said Jungmann.
According to Housiaux, the trip assisted the class in connecting their classroom knowledge to the actual practice of Buddhism.
“These diverse experiences helped us to reflect on the various ways in which people who practice Buddhism make meaning in their lives. This way of approaching Religious Studies (and, in this case, Buddhism) is indebted to the work of Professor Diane Moore of Harvard Divinity School, who was a longtime faculty member at Phillips Academy,” wrote Housiaux.
Jungmann explained that the trip was actually different than initially planned, as the class was supposed to go to a Tibetan monastery. However, this visit was canceled as the monks were on a three month silent retreat. The class will be taking more trips related to Buddhism in the spring, including one to Museum of Fine Arts in Boson to see Buddhist art.