Corey Jackson received a Khyentse Foundation Award for Excellence in Buddhist Studies at Sydney University for his work in Sanskrit and Psychology in 2014.
Why it is worth understanding both the modern academic and traditional Buddhist points of view.
Buddhism’s arrival in the west is sometimes seen as a bit radical and surprising. A culture heavily under the dominion of a science dominated, materialistic world view seems like an unlikely place for ancient, far away ideas of renunciation to take root. Nonetheless, this is exactly what Buddhism has been doing for centuries, spreading from a culture as unique as the ancient Gangetic plain and settling in a variety of foreign lands. People in very different cultures have seen advantages in accepting it, and in doing so flavoured it with their culture and ideas, so perhaps its apparent relevance to modernity should not be that surprising.
The spread of Buddhist philosophy to a variety of different contexts throughout Asia and beyond has been well documented by western academia. In fact, we are in the unique position to be able to examine this current adaptation of Buddhism into modernity with a relatively complete picture of how it has arrived at this point in time. As in the past, in this dissemination of Buddhism to western modernity, the two main features of its new cultural context are that of its language and prevailing world view. My interest in both these aspects of the modern Buddhist context is the primary reason I am working toward a major in both Sanskrit and Psychology at the University of Sydney.
Early in my original career as a jazz pianist in Toronto, it occurred to me that improving my concentration could improve my performance and give me an advantage over my peers. Interested in developing sustained, directed attention I did a little research and decided to train in Zen Buddhist practice. It certainly did improve my ability to concentrate, but to my surprise, it also improved many other aspects of life as well, particularly the competitive and challenging music program at university.
I also studied Buddhist philosophy in Tibetan and began translating oral teachings and personal interviews for western students.
There are many exiled Tibetans living in Toronto and it was only a matter of time before I learned a little of their tradition, and soon left for India to see the Himalayas and learn more. This trip turned into three years in Dharamsala, during which time I learned to speak, read and write the Tibetan language and made friends with both Tibetans and the local Indian people. I also studied Buddhist philosophy in Tibetan and began translating oral teachings and personal interviews for western students.
This led to a position as interpreter for Geshe Tashi Tsering who was teaching an in-depth five year study program at Chenrezig Institute in Queensland. Just after a year of my arrival, the Dalai Lama installed Geshe Tashi Tsering as abbot of Gyume Tantric College, requiring him to move to India, effectively making my position redundant. After such intensive study and translating, I returned to Dharmsala with a far better understanding of the difficulties of accurately translating content from Tibetan to English. At first I worked at Thosamling institute, teaching the second year of the Tibetan Language program which concentrated on philosophical terminology. The discussions in these classes further highlighted the difficulties in translating well defined, relatively standardized terminology into English, which is still without much agreement or cohesion amongst translators.
During this time I also worked for a non-profit non-government organisation (NGO) in Sidhpur called Shide Ling. This organisation was set up with western finance to help rehabilitate and teach occupational skills women (former nuns in particular) who had been political prisoners in Tibet. My role in this was to teach English classes which were opened up to all Tibetans in the village. My access to westerners trying to learn Tibetan and Tibetans trying to learn English meant I could also arrange and supervise different conversation classes for both sides.
I hope to play a small role in achieving mutual understanding of both the contemplative and scientific communities.
Returning to Australia, with a plan to study Sanskrit, I trained as a teacher in the ‘Cultivating Emotional Balance’ (CEB) training. This program was developed by the renowned Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace and a pioneer in emotional research, Paul Ekman as a result of the ‘Mind and Life’ conference in 2000 which examined ‘destructive emotions.’ During this training, watching scientists consider the plausibility of Buddhist concepts of the mind and behaviour inspired me to study both psychology and Sanskrit. I teach the course regularly, throughout Australia, often with psychologists in the group and very much enjoy the exchanges with them. I feel that my knowledge of Sanskrit and Tibetan languages helps identify discrepancies between some genuine Buddhist practices and concepts and psychology’s usage of them.
It is my hope that with a background in Buddhist philosophy, languages, psychology and western scholarship of Buddhism I will have a good grasp of the context into which Buddhism is being placed. Most importantly, I would hope to play a small role in achieving mutual understanding of both the contemplative and scientific communities.