Dr. Billings someday?


No, I don’t have a doctorate (yet). I met with Dr. Payne for lunch again today. As I’ve mentioned before, he’s the dean at the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. I took the class on esoteric Buddhism with him during this last Spring semester in an effort to both improve my knowledge of such things but also to get some exposure to him (to see what he was like and vice versa) as I have been considering working on a doctorate at GTU. As people may recall, I received my Master’s degree, focusing on Western Esotericism, this last December.

Dr. Payne is one of the few people in the United States who has been doing academic work on Japanese esoteric Buddhism. In his case, it has been Shingon, but my interests are in Tendai, which is similar in many ways and has had a lot of cross-pollination with Shingon over the last 1,000 years in Japan. He and I have met over lunch a few times in the last six months to talk about Buddhist academia, GTU, and the possibility of doing a doctorate. He’s been pretty supportive and friendly, I must say, and I’ve appreciated him taking the time to meet with me.

Today, I spoke to him about my plans to apply this Fall for the doctoral program at GTU, which would start in Fall, 2009 for me (the soonest I could get into it, actually). We discussed ideas around the work that I could do and I think I’ll be focusing on Tendai esoteric practices, taimitsu, if I get in. I asked him if he’d write a letter of recommendation for me, based on my work in his class and our chats, and he agreed after some brief discussion. This is a big deal since he is the dean of one of the member schools of GTU and, more importantly, he is the only one of the faculty there that could really supervise the doctoral work that I want to do. (Also, the fact is that I only have two potential letters of recommendation right now and I needed three to apply!) I don’t know how difficult it is to get into GTU, though I expect it isn’t as hard as some, like Stanford, but having the guy that you want to advise your doctoral work agree to write a letter of recommendation to the same program definitely improves my chances of getting in and I think supports the two of us working together. I genuinely like Dr. Payne as well. He’s got some character and at least one friend who knows both of us thinks that we’d work well together (though he might put me through the wringer academically in the process).

Dr. Payne suggested, in no uncertain terms, that I should spend the next year working on Japanese, specifically reading, for the work that we discussed. IBS has classes that focus on Japanese language through liturgy that would be the right sort of thing (since I really don’t need to know how to introduce myself verbally for a business meeting for my academic work). The main emphasis is that I need to be able to read specific kinds of Buddhist texts, especially ritual manuals. Fortunately, the classes were, the last time I looked, only a couple of days a week in the mornings so I should be able to work them into my work schedule.

All of this means that I will be applying to the doctoral program and, assuming I am accepted, going to GTU to begin work on my PhD in a bit over a year. I’ll probably be there at least five or six years (maybe longer) with the first two years being the intense coursework and the rest being much more focused on research for my dissertation.

At this point, unless I can figure out how to work part time on my work at Mozilla, I would probably have to quit working there while doing my PhD work. I’ve been advised that if there is any way I can keep my current job (regardless of what it is), that I would do well to do so because any aid I get for academic work will be tiny and any graduate student jobs pay very little in comparison to “real” jobs. We’ll see how that works out.