Summer School: Jasmijn in Kathmandu, Nepal


Last summer (2017) I joined a Summer School in Kathmandu, Nepal for eight weeks. Even before I started my Religious Studies course I knew I wanted to know more about Eastern religions. I find Buddhism and Hinduism fascinating with their beautiful stories and exotic world image. However, few opportunities to study these religions exist in the Netherlands. When I came across the Rangjung Yeshe Institute (RYI), my interest was immediately hooked. This is an institute linked to Kathmandu University, which centres entirely on (Tibetan) Buddhism.

There are various Tibetan Buddhism schools, known as shedras, where monks are educated in Buddhist theology. It takes nine years of study to earn the title 'löpon', and another eleven to become a 'khempo'. One important rimpoche (this means 'master’ and is a position comparable to a bishop in the Catholic church) wanted to open up the shedras to Western Buddhists and students with an interest in Tibetan Buddhist texts. This led to the founding of the RYI. The institute offers complete courses in the traditional manner, but made accessible for foreign students (for example by using a translator who translates the lessons from the Tibetan teachers into English).

Jasmijn2 (2)

The programme I followed consisted of two parts. First of all there were classes for about six weeks. I followed three subjects: Introduction to Buddhism by a Professor from Harvard University (USA), Buddhist Philosophy by a löpon and another which focused mainly on meditation. The final two weeks of the programme were spent on a meditation retreat in a centre at the Asura Cave. This is a spot close to the cave where Guru Rimpoche, the man who introduced Buddhism into Tibet, finally reached a state of enlightenment. A very special place indeed and the destination of many Buddhist pilgrims. What was best about this programme is that they approach Buddhism both from a scientific point of view and in an everyday practical way.

What was it like to study in Nepal? Really quite extraordinary actually! Apart from the academic programme I also learned a great deal by living in Kathmandu. The institute is located in an area where many Tibetan refugees live. So you’re not only learning about Buddhism, but surrounded by people who practise the rituals and customs daily. The institute’s primary concern is with foreign students, so communications are smooth (something which can at times be problematic with Asian universities). The programme was quite expensive, but you can apply for grant through StudentLife (up to 1000 euro) which helps greatly, and of course the day to day life is just a fraction of the cost in Nepal. As well as studying, we also went on a range of trips to various temples, monasteries and other religious places in the Kathmandu area. You can view a video report of one of these trips (organised by the institute) here.