Buddhist Classwork and Retreats

Fudo Myoo As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been taking a graduate class at the Institute of Buddhist Studies. This is a class on Esoteric Buddhism run by Dr. Richard Payne. Dr. Payne is well known in certain circles because he did his PhD dissertation on Shingon rituals, specifically the goma rite (the fire ritual) but covering the four basic rituals in general. Given my interest in both Japanese Buddhism and mikkyo as well as the fact that IBS is only a couple of miles away, it seemed like a good class to take.

I’ve been learning a bit. Most of the work so far has been related to reading. I was fortunate to already own all of the textbooks for the course but one, though I’d only read one of them before this (sitting down to read a 550 page book on Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and its development is never light reading so I have a large stack of similar things waiting to be read). I’ve actually been surprised by how many new details or flows of development of Buddhist thought that I’ve been picking up this time around that I either hadn’t read before or hadn’t really put together into the right context. In that, I think that this is class has been good.

I have to right a roughly 25 page paper for the course and the topic is completely open ended (loosely inspired by our reading, which covers the development of esoteric Buddhism in India and Tibet and then developments in Japan and elsewhere). I’m feeling a bit stumped trying to figure out what to write about but I’m hoping something will come to me.

As a side effect of being enrolled for this course, I’m actually an official student of IBS, which means that I have library privileges at the Graduate Theological Union library and, I believe, at UC Berkeley. I went down to the library this last weekend and picked up a few obscure books (like an out of print book on Shugendo that I’ve seen around for $400) to read.

In addition to this class, I’ve been beta testing an online course for a program of classes in Buddhism being run by my teacher. The details aren’t public yet because things aren’t entirely done, as a whole, but I and others are working through coursework to test the system (and to do the courses) as students. This involves reading and regular written assignments along with some online discussion.

Needless to say, between the IBS course and this work, I’ve been doing a lot of Buddhist reading recently and a little bit of writing. This is keeping me busy after my day work doing QA on Firefox.

I am trying to decide what to do about a retreat this year. Right now, there are no retreats going on that I am being asked to attend and I haven’t found any, otherwise, that I would like to go on. What I’d really like to find is a seven or ten day meditation oriented retreat in order to work on my practice a bit more. My choices seem to, largely, be to either do a sesshin with a bunch of Zen people that I don’t know or to find a Vajrayana retreat with one of the Tibetan groups around here. The only ones that I really know locally are the people at Orgyen Dorje Den. They are a local Nyingma group and if they were having a meditation retreat, I’d probably go but I know of nothing scheduled. This is something to think about for later in the year. If anyone has suggestions, I’d love to know. Bay Area (or California) is best because travel time will cut into retreat time but I’m pretty open. My preference would be for the West Coast since I’ve found that three hour timezone shifts are deadly when doing a retreat schedule.