Balancing Spirituality and Academic Study

BD Dipananda

It has now been 13 years since I balanced the duality of a monastic and a academic life and I have several key observations  to share.

Values of Celibacy As a Monk

First, my on-going celibacy is the most dramatic hall mark of difference in my life amongst the secular laity.

I have come to realize also that it is linked to the tradition to serve the community without reservation.

It is also to expand my spirituality to its utmost limit and fully present the demonstration of the values of the Buddha’s teaching.

Monastic life has a distinctive appeal for me and answers to my inner longings since childhood. As a result, in the beginning of monastic life, choosing to study in college was not an easy decision. I have to weigh up what my master would say, and how the Buddhist community would judge me if I go to college.

This is a key issue which I turned over again and again in my mind because I still remember that many of my country’s senior monks and lay people do not yet encourage young monks to go for further studies in college or university, rather they prefer monks to reside in a monastery under the strict rule of the monastic rites.

Monastic Life Fulfilled by Studies 

I had not been a rigid follower of monastic rules in the temple. I feel that my studies is also a kind of spiritual practice because I can surround myself with academic work that focuses the mind without distractions.

It has the added advantages of acquiring diverse knowledge beyond the field of Buddhism, most if all issues related to humanism.

Currently, my life as a monk and as a student are two sides of the same coin or two aspects of my spiritual journey.  In both, I am focused. There is concentration and absorption.

For the furtherance in in the field of Buddhism, five years ago I came to the University of Hong Kong and successfully completed an MPhil degree and am now in my PhD programme.

Concurrently, the first priority of my daily life is to meditate when I get up in the morning and before I go to bed at night. My attention to cultivate a calmer, more expanded consciousness is portrayed while walking, reading, writing and sleeping to make my life restful and yet uplifted.

Challenges as a Postgraduate Student 

Nevertheless, being a Ph.D. research student in the Centre of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), I face challenges including completing university requirements, keeping good relationship with university staff, and most of all producing an outstanding thesis.

I find in my campus life an overwhelming peace.  It offers a vital font for my step away from the spiritual perimeters and I get involved with scholars’ community activities on and off campus.

It is an opportunity for self-examination, and how to create one’s own identity as an academic. With such a variety of life experiences, I utilize them to nurture my own spiritual life while on campus.

In HKU, all students are active hard workers, attending regular university classes as well as other campus extra curricular activities.  I would venture to suggest this school provides an effective source of nutrients for students’ spiritual journey too.

In Conclusion

I can still feel that my celibacy life is a genuine expression in the practice of the values of Buddhism. It is crucial in helping to cultivate emotional intensity, personal values, and bodily expressions.

My academic study has helped me to grow in all these Buddhist values in a virtuous manner.

Being engaged in a monastic life and studying on campus has become a deeply rewarding personal time.  My dual efforts have paid off rich dividends!

It is my hope and wish that in the combination of monastic and student life veill culminate in giving me strength, vitality, and confidence. It is well worth the effort in fitting in the depth and intensity of a spiritual life with the curiosity and discovery of intellectual discoveries in academia.

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