Carleton Global Engagement Program: Buddhist Studies in Bodh Gaya, India

13 February 2023

A New Years Message from Faculty Director Dr. Arthur McKeown

Dr. Arthur McKeown and a monk
Dr. Arthur McKeown


Whether you celebrated Solar New Year’s Day on January 1st , Chinese New Year January 22nd, or are looking forward to the first day of the Tibetan New Year (losar) on February 22nd, I wanted to write and wish you all a very Happy New Year. We are exiting the Water Tiger year, and will be entering the Water Hare year. The hare is a symbol of longevity, peace, and prosperity, so this is a year for hope. Fingers crossed.

I would also like to give you an update on the program last fall in Bodh Gaya. First, we were all very grateful to have returned to Bodh Gaya after COVID. We were thrilled to be reunited with our vihar family, and to be present at the inauguration of the memorial for Sayadaw U Neyanenda at the one-year anniversary of his passing. It was inspiring to see and hear the chanting of representatives from many different Buddhist traditions as a testament to Sayadaw’s widespread influence.

Next, we had a great group of students.  Returning faculty included Punya Parajuli (Tibetan), Gaurav Agarwal (History/Hindi), Darcie Price-Wallace (Anthropology), Erica Ruiz Vargas (Manager), and Sonia Dhongade (Wellness Coordinator). New faculty were Meghana Arora (Hindi), Andrea Loseries (Philosophy), and Arjuna Jayawardena (TA). They were a fantastic team, working to make the program a success despite all of the distractions and complications that are inevitable when one is in India.  We were also fortunate to again have meditation instruction with U Hla Myint, Ekai Korematsu Osho, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, and Kabir Saxena. With such inspiring meditation teachers, it is always a pleasure to be in Bodh Gaya. You can see a video of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s visit here.

We also had one special returning faculty: Robert! He arrived with his grand-daughter, Amelie, and son-in-law. It was a pleasure to host them at the vihar, and to see how Robert was welcomed back by our staff and the rest of Bodh Gaya.

During the Independent Study Period some students went to the Himalayan region of India or Nepal to explore topics as diverse as Buddhist art and music, women’s wellness in Tibetan medicine, and the consciousness of a Bodhisattva. Others went to Thailand, where students studied animism and spirit possession. Yet another group of students visited Sikkim to look at Bhotia art, sacred landscapes, and eco-tourism. Although students opted not to go to Sri Lanka this year, we were grateful that the political situation allowed it to be an option. We hope that Myanmar will again be open to students in the near future. Everyone returned to Bodh Gaya for the final program week during which they could share their experiences before heading home.

As you will remember, Bodh Gaya attracts Buddhist pilgrims and teachers from all over the world.  When the students returned from their Independent Study Projects, the Tipitaka chanting of monastics from the Theravada countries of Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Laos, and Burma was in full swing, and we were lucky enough to join the main organizer, Wangmo Dixey, for lunch in the midst of celebrating ten days of chanting at the Mahabodhi Temple.

At the same time, the Tibetan Monlams were gearing up. The Sakya Monlam moved from Lumbini to Bodhgaya in 2019, and since then, we have been fortunate to meet the Sakya Gongma and Sakya Tridzin at the new Sakya Temple. 

Unfortunately, the students had departed before the arrival of the Dalai Lama, but some alums showed up, including Walker Benet, Alice Berg, and Kevin Poe from last year’s program, as well as Alyssa Barba, Jack deTar, and Kaleb Yaniger from 2010’s program. In addition, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche returned with 2000 monastic and lay, local and foreign, students to participate in the Dalai Lama’s teachings. You can see a short video about his pilgrimage here. Rinpoche provided meals, accommodation, and transportation for all who desired to visit Bodh Gaya. 

Well, that is about all the news that I have for you at present. If you or a friend are interested in applying for the Fall 2023 Buddhist Studies Program, the application deadline is March 15. Click here to learn more about the program!

With Best Wishes,

Arthur McKeown

Dr. Arthur McKeown is an Associate Professor of Asian Studies. He has been at Carleton since 2016.