Buddhist studies, Part 1 - Why Buddhist Studies?

Taking the decision to engage in Buddhist studies is a step with far-reaching consequences. If you happen to live in a Western country without a traditional Buddhist background, you should be prepared for the following question: 

“Buddhist studies – Wow! But what do you do with that once you are finished! Can you live from that”

You might want to have some good responses at hand, because you will be confronted with this question as soon as you inform your relatives and friends about your decision to engage in Buddhist studies. Here is my favorit suggestion:

“True. There is not much jobs out there for Buddhologists. Luckily, there isn’t that many of us either and so it is a fair match. “

The following answer is of course possible as well:

“There is no answer to this, because the question is already wrong. There is actually no end to Buddhist studies, because they go on and on.”

That is very true indeed. Buddhist studies are a life-long enterprise, but isn’t that great? Anyway, here’s another possible answer:

“Neither do Buddhist studies truly exist nor do jobs exist. It is only the childish which attach conceptual labels to meaningless phenomena and take them to be real. These worldly matters are of no concern for me anymore.”

That might be a sign that you studied too much Madhyamaka recently and had not enough time to digest it. While such an answer may be considered correct from the perspective of ultimate reality, the fact will certainly not pay your bill here and now. In case you are not envisioning a career as mendicant, you should think twice whether you really mean it.

It is actually a very strange situation. If you were to tell your relatives that you would study Christian religion, no-one would worry about you. Both, Christianity and Buddhism are major world-religion and have a large following. Why is it so different?
This question touches a sensitive issue. What does one do after one finally graduates after many, many years. The good news first: there is plenty of work for Buddhologists out there. Unfortunately, most of that work will not be paid very well. For example Buddhist Dharma circles have a high demand for qualified translators and interpreters. 

Believe it or not, many have the idea that translators and interpreters shouldn’t charge anything, because they are dealing with Buddhist teachings (Skt. Dharma). They should therefore consider themselves fortunate to accumulate a wealth of good karma. Well, most of them are in fact very happy with what they do. 

Still, a calculation of the translation project “84000 – Translating the Words of the Buddha” showed that an average translator works 12,5 hours on translating a single Tibetan page. You can then estimate that a good translation of about 100 Tibetan pages might take around 1250 working hours. This corresponds roughly to half a year full-time. Luckily, projects such as 84000.co start to value the work of translators. The positive effect of this is that translators can commit themselves full-time to their work which has a positive effect on the quality of translations, as can be seen from the results at the Reading Room of 84000.co.

There are also a few teaching and research positions at universities. In recent decades, positions are often limited to temporary contracts, but if one is flexible and has no problem with moving every now and then, prospect of regularly finding a new job are good. Those who have an interest in life-long learning will certainly not regret the decision. The field of Buddhist studies is so vast that there is always something new to discover.

A further point on the pro-side concerns the subject. Being such a vast field, there are plenty of research topics to chose from which may be of interest to you. Furthermore, Buddhist doctrine centers on methods that aim at developing a happy life in harmony with the world. If you are open to it, engagement with the Buddhist doctrine may contribute to your personal development.  

If you are a Buddhist, well, then the question actually shouldn’t come up at all. After all, the study of Buddhism is a major aspect of Buddhist practice. Wisdom is developed by listening to the Buddhist teachings, contemplating about them and further cultivating one’s understanding through meditation. Without study to begin with, that would be quite difficult. Classical texts compare the attempts to meditate without having proper studied initially to a one-armed individual trying to do rock-climbing. You may do it eventually, but it’s gonna be hard.

To sum it up: Buddhist studies might not make you rich and you will sometimes have some difficulties in finding a new job, but then you are able to spend your whole life with an interesting subject that is meaningful for yourself and others. How much better can it get?

So, why Buddhist studies? What do you think? Leave your comment!

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