Doctoral work begins...

This week I had my first class in my doctoral program, which managed to actually come before my doctoral orientation. As part of the doctoral program at GTU, we are allowed to take classes at UC, Berkeley (aka “Cal”). These can be graduate seminars but people also take advantage of undergraduate classes, such as foreign language work.

I managed to get into a seminar focusing on Tibetan texts (officially) that is meeting in conjunction with one focusing on Sanskrit texts. Of course, I read neither language but the class is focusing on the Sarva-tathagata-tattva-samgraha (STTS). The STTS is a foundational text in the tantric tradition. One of the professors quotes another scholar (Davidson?) who called it the “Declaration of Independence” for tantric Buddhism. It is one of the earliest clearly tantric texts and, along with the Mahavairocana tantra, it is one of the few core tantras in the tradition of practice that went from China to Japan. It is a core text in both Shingon and Tendai Buddhism in Japan to this day. Most of the class is focusing on reading portions of it in Tibetan and Sanskrit but we will be reading a lot of secondary material around it, which will be useful to me. Additionally, a Newar priest from Nepal will be coming to town in November to create a Vajradhatu mandala and do a day event with us from the text. This is the mandala that the text describes in great detail. So, this class is quite an opportunity for me. It started on Cal’s schedule, which is two weeks in advance of my other classwork so I had to go to my first doctoral class ever with a professor who wasn’t even from my own program or school, which was a little uncomfortable (though he has been very friendly and helpful). It is a good break for me to get a chance to work with an expert in this text and in Tantra as there are not that many professors with expertise in the subject.

This last Friday was the first day of the official orientation at GTU. There are thirty eight incoming doctoral students (we’ll see how many of us are there in a year or two). Out of the group, there was a small group from the local Islamic college in formation, including its head, two people in the Jewish program run jointing with Cal, two of us doing Buddhist studies, and the rest were from various Christian denominations doing different sorts of work. I spoke to the other Buddhist Studies person briefly and she’s doing work focusing on Kwan Yin. We were briefed all day in sessions on the doctoral program, the plan for the next couple of years, the various affiliated bodies, and then given advice by a panel of professors. We have another full day of it tomorrow and then most of a day on Tuesday. We all received our official student ID and I managed to get my current semester sticker, my library card, and to check out books from the library on the first day. This also allowed me to go to Cal today and check out a bunch of Shingon and Tendai ritual manuals from the East Asia library (along with a few books relevant to my Cal class).

After orientation, we wait until the next week for our classes, which is when I will begin my Japanese language coursework. Honestly, the language work is more intimidating to me than any of the other academic work. We’ll see how it goes with that.

My new daily schedule has me splitting time between classes on certain days (as graduate classes tend to meet once or twice a week only) and my work at Mozilla. As I’ve mentioned to some people, I’m going down to 60% time at my job but Mozilla has been overwhelmingly supportive and helpful by keeping me on in a part-time capacity. I’m not sure that it would be possible for me to do this program at all without that being the case.