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Buddhadharma : Spring 2006
spring 2006| 64 |buddhadharma Since 1990, I have been referring to these indi- viduals as “scholar-practitioners.” Throughout much of Buddhism’s history, Buddhist scholarship and practice have been two very distinct vocations in a highly polarized tradi- tion. Not surprisingly, stories reflecting the study and practice dichotomy in Buddhism are abundant in both the primary and secondary literature on the subject. Walpola Rahula’s History of Buddhism in Ceylon provides a good summary of the issue. During the first century B.C.E., in response to a concern over the possible loss of the Tripitaka dur- ing a severe famine, a question arose: What is the basis of the Teaching (Sasana) – learning or prac- tice? A clear difference of opinion resulted in the development of two groups: the Dhammakathikas, who claimed that learning was the basis of the Sasana, and the Pamsukulikas, who argued for practice as the basis. The Dhammakathikas appar- ently won out. The two vocations described above came to be known as ganthadhura, or the “vocation of books,” and vipassanadhura, or the “vocation of meditation,” with the former regarded as the supe- rior training (because surely meditation would not be possible if the teachings were lost). Moreover, the vipassana-dhura monks began to live in the forest, where they could best pursue their vocation undisturbed, while the gantha-dhura monks began to dwell in villages and towns. As such, the gan- tha-dhura monks began to play a significant role in Buddhist education. It would probably not be going too far to refer to the gantha-dhura monks as “scholar-monks.” Why is this distinction so important? It is signifi- cant because the scholar-monks were responsible for the education of the laity and cultivated a Buddhist literacy among the ordinary practitioners of the tradition. While this was a normative prac- tice in the ancient Buddhist tradition, Buddhism in the Western world has not favored a monastic lifestyle. As such, the education of the laity has been left to teachers who are no longer trained as scholar-monks. In fact, while many of the leaders and authorized teachers in the various Western Buddhist groups have had formal monastic and scholarly training at some point, many – if not most – have abandoned the monastic and scholarly roBert thurman was ordained as a Buddhist monk by the Dalai Lama in 1964, but later renounced his vows. today he is a professor at Columbia university, where he holds the first endowed chair in Indo-tibetan studies in america. he has a Ph.D. in sanskrit and Indian studies from harvard university, and he is the author of numerous scholarly and popular books, including The Jewel Tree of Tibet and Infinite Life. In 1987, he cofounded tibet house u.s ., and, more recently, he helped found the menla mountain retreat Center in new York. my religious studies department head and blurted out, “I think you should know that I’m Buddhist!” Without even a moment’s hesitation, he responded, “Oh, now you’ve become Buddhish?” Despite his accompanying laugh, his remark wasn’t a joke, and the coming years verified my worst fear: he no longer took my academic scholarship seriously. Rodger Kamenetz’s wonderful book The Jew in the Lotus was still two decades away, and being identified as a Jewish convert to Buddhism wasn’t as romantic then as later being called a “Jubu.” It is now very common for university courses on Buddhism at North American universities to be taught by professors who, in addition to having sophisticated academic credentials in Buddhist studies, also happen to be practicing Buddhists. JeffreY hoPkIns began his Buddhist practice in 1963, liv- ing and training for five years with geshe Wangyal at the Lamaist Buddhist monastery of america (now called the tibetan Buddhist Learning Center) in new Jersey. he earned his Ph.D . in Buddhist stud- ies from the university of Wisconsin – madison and went on to teach tibetan Buddhist studies at the university of Virginia for more than three decades (he retired last year). he was the chief interpreter for the Dalai Lama from 1979 to 1989, and he is the translator-edi- tor or author of thirty- four books on tibetan Buddhism. Jan WILLIs met her root teacher, Lama thubten Yeshe, in 1969 at kopan monastery in nepal. she has a Ph.D. in Indic and Buddhist studies from Columbia university, and is a professor of religion and social sciences at Wesleyan university. she is the first african- american scholar of Indo-tibetan Buddhism and the author of Dreaming Me: An African American Woman’s Spiritual Journey. Photo:(toP)natashaJuDsonPhotos:(Center)JongBokYI;(rIght)marLIesBosCh