Exploring Buddhism: Wisdom, Compassion & Experience
John Dunne, Julia Stenzl, Lara Braitstein, Karl Brunnhölzl | 5. Juli 2023 bis 30. Juli
This year’s Buddhist Studies summer course at Gomde Germany-Austria will allow students to experience Buddhist wisdom through study, reflection, meditation, and conversation. The course is designed to let students explore key points of Buddhist teachings in multiple ways. Contemplative, academic, and embodied learning will create an embodied experience, and a community spirit will foster enriching dialog for all. We will offer an immersion in a Buddhist worldview and invite you to explore its many facets amid beautiful Austria.
Kurssprache ist Englisch.
Study. Reflect. Meditate.
The combination of traditional Tibetan Buddhist doctrinal studies, guided by a Tibetan monk-scholar, in tandem with ‘Western’ academic studies, offers students an ample field of knowledge.
Through daily discussion with professors and classmates, in person as well as online, students will be able to further reflect on the material and incorporate it on a personal level.
Daily guided meditation as well as personal time for practice and contemplation will allow students to gain personal experience of the methods of Buddhist mind training.
GAIN KNOWLEDGE AND INSIGHT
In this unique program, students will engage in the traditional path of the Buddhist scholar-practitioner: using contemplative practices as a tool to integrate knowledge and inform self-development. Students will be exposed to both the traditional and western approaches to knowledge formation.
John Dunne (PhD 1999, Harvard University) serves on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he holds the Distinguished Chair in Contemplative Humanities at the Center for Healthy Minds. He is also distinguished professor in the Department of Asian Languages & Cultures, where he currently serves as department Chair.
John’s work focuses on Buddhist philosophy and contemplative practice, especially in dialog with Cognitive Science and Psychology.
His publications appear in venues across both the Humanities and the Sciences, including works on Buddhist philosophy, contemplative practices and their empirical examination and interpretation within scientific contexts.
John lives in Madison, Wisconsin (USA). His interests in Buddhist thought and practice emerge in multiple research areas, including work on meditation practices, educational approaches to enhancing student flourishing, and the therapeutic use of psychedelics. On a more personal level, he enjoys music, cycling, mixology, and training guide dogs for the visually impaired.
Julia Stenzel is director of studies at Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Nepal. She received her doctorate from McGill University in Canada. Previously, she studied and practiced the Dharma in Dhagpo Kundrol Ling, a Tibetan monastic hermitage in France under the guidance of the late Tibetan Buddhist master Lama Gendun Rinpoche. She also contributed to several translation projects.
Julia was born in the US and raised in Germany. She lives in Boudha, Nepal, enjoying her life in the vicinity of one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage places, the Boudha stupa.
Lara Braitstein (PhD 2005 McGill University) is Associate Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism at McGill University where she teaches courses on Tibetan, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna Buddhism, Buddhist Poetry, and Tibetan Life Writing. From 2013-18, she was Principal of the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (New Delhi) and has been a regular visiting professor at the Rangjung Yeshe Institute (Kathmandu).
She also teaches at the Bodhi Path Buddhist Centers. Lara lives in Montreal, Quebec (Canada) and her interests include literature, music, and running.
Dr. Karl Brunnhölzl worked for 20 years as a physician and, since the 1980s, received his training in Buddhist philosophy and meditation mainly at Marpa Institute For Translators in Kathmandu and Nitartha Institute. He also studied Tibetology, Buddhology, and Sanskrit at Hamburg University. Karl is a full-time author, translator, and teacher, having published more than twenty books on Buddhism in English and German.
Karl lives in Munich and his main interests are Yogācāra, the teachings on buddha nature, the mahāsiddha tradition with its songs of realization (dohās), Vajrayāna, and Mahāmudrā.
Monastic scholar of Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling monastery, Kathmandu, Nepal
and guest lectures by
Dr. Ana C. Lopes and Prof. James Gentry
The course is taught in four one-week modules, focusing on wisdom, compassion, experience, and expression. Each module includes traditional teachings taught by a Tibetan Buddhist scholar, academic interpretations, and time for reflection and discussion. Our time together will consist of many opportunities for creative expression in movement and art.
No prior knowledge of Buddhism or philosophy is required.
Week 1: Philosophy, Compassion, Meditation: Foundations of Buddhism (John Dunne)
Laying a foundation for the course overall, this week will focus on key aspects of Buddhist history, thought, and how we can understand their culmination in the ecstatic songs of the Buddhist practitioners who achieved profound realization (the mahāsiddhas).
Beginning with the fundamental question of how we can transform our lives–and why would even choose to do so–in this week we will explore Buddhist history, the central role of philosophy, and the contemplative practices such as mindfulness meditation that are said to culminate in a liberative awareness, free from suffering. Drawing on both traditional and academic sources, we will explore the Buddhist lifeworld through philosophy, meditation, and ethics.
Week 2: Loving Kindness & Compassion (Julia Stenzel)
This week introduces students to the important topic of loving kindness and compassion. We will explore these from Buddhist perspectives in dialogue with recent scientific findings in the field. Loving kindness and compassion are inherent qualities all beings possess. Buddhist traditions have developed methods to strengthen these and to apply them skillfully in daily lives by grounding them in the right view.
Through lectures, readings, reflection, discussion, contemplative exercises, and journaling, students will explore many facets of these meaningful topics. Theoretical analysis of compassion as a mind state, or skill, will alternate with learning about exemples of life stories, and application of Buddhist contemplative practices.
Week 3: Experience (Lara Braitstein)
This week will be an opportunity to explore how experiences of the path (for example, meditation and devotion) and result (for example, realization and the Great Seal) are described in Tibetan Buddhism. We will explore traditional sources that describe emotional, epistemic, and somatic experiences together through a combination of lectures and discussions.
The goal of Buddhism is described using words such as enlightenment, awakening, realization, and even more mysteriously with expressions like ‘The Great Seal’ (Mahāmudrā). Each of these is an attempt to name an experience. Many of us search for an understanding or direct glimpse of this experience through study. When we study Buddhism, we are then confronted with the inevitable gap that appears between what is accessible through the intellect and what must be experienced in order to be known. This isn’t a tension unique to our contemporary setting.
Week 4 “Notes of Boundless Freedom: The Songs of Realization of the Indian Mahasiddhas” (Karl Brunnhölzl)
During this course, we will explore Mahāmudrā through a number of life stories of male and female mahāsiddhas and the symbolisms in their songs, including singing a selection of these songs. The tradition of free-wandering Buddhist yogīs and yoginīs with profound realization (mahāsiddhas) flourished for many centuries in India. Coming from a wide range of backgrounds, an essential part of their approach was to sing songs of awakening, often in the form of profound, beautiful, and inspiring instructions.
Most of these songs were uttered spontaneously on the spot, and some of them betray quite unconventional if not outrageous thinking and conduct. They often use a rich symbolism with profound metaphors (often based on their profession or life situation), and their style sometimes sounds more like modern poetry or song lyrics than traditional Buddhist texts, creating a certain atmosphere or being evocative rather than systematic. Many of them employ a rhetoric of paradox, beating the dualistic mind with its own weapons and pointing to something beyond our usual black-and-white thinking. It is a scent of boundless freedom, openness, and bliss, paired with a deep caring for suffering beings, that wafts through these songs as expressions of supreme awakening. One of the main themes in these songs is Mahāmudrā (“the Great Seal”), which consists of direct pith instructions on the nature of the mind.
This course is for you, if you...
- understand a Buddhist perspective on philosophy and spirituality
explore how meditation can be a pathway to transformation
appreciate some foundational features of Buddhism that lay the groundwork for the following weeks.
would like to gain a deeper understanding of the qualities of loving kindness and compassion
would like to reflect on ways of increasing the well-being of individuals, communities, and society, in today’s world
are interested in exploring how language and experience point to each other in a Buddhist context
want to explore how Tibetan Buddhists use language to describe and provoke experiences along the path
are interested in how experiences and feelings – physical and emotional – are expressed in Tibetan Buddhist literature
would like to gain an understanding of the ways in which Buddhist teachings can be transmitted through the medium of poetry and songs
would like to explore the nature of your mind through words that lead beyond words
discover how the realizations and instructions of meditators from a 1000 years ago can still be relevant to today’s audiences
The course will be held at Rangjung Yeshe Gomde, an International Center for Buddhist Studies and Meditation situated in Scharnstein, Upper Austria in the Austrian pre-Alps. This large Center is situated on top of a hill surrounded by beautiful gardens, lush greenery, and vital woods, and was a former farmhouse that has been renovated into a beautiful seminar house. It offers a private natural pond for after-class refreshment. Gomde hosts an international group of people interested in spiritual development and personal growth, and attracts a lot of young people who come as volunteers from all over the world. Throughout the year, several workshops, seminars and retreats are offered at Gomde. A special highlight is the visit of Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, the Center’s abbot and founder, in the summer (early August) which usually follows the ‘legendary’ Gomde Summer Fest in late July (25-26 July 2020).
Classes will take place in the Center’s 200 m2 Meditation Hall, an ideal setting for focused studies and inspiring discussion. The Lhakang, as it is called, is very bright and airy and offers a unique contemplative atmosphere, as it is also used for daily meditation practice.
Students will also have access to a study room, equipped with a printer and fast internet, and a library, as well as the Center’s own Café Lounge.
Gomde Germany-Austria is located in the heart of Europe, about 3 hours drive from Munich, Germany, 2 hours drive from Vienna, Austria, and is a great starting point to explore Europe. The nearest airport is the local airport of Linz, Vienna; Salzburg and Munich International Airports can be accessed with public transportation.
The following items are required:
Application Essay (Please describe in no more than 500 words your background and your motivation for taking this course)
Proof of English language proficiency (min. Level B2)
7:30 - 8:15 Morning Meditation at the pond or in the meditation hall
8:15- 9:30 Breakfast
9:30 - 11:00 Dharma teaching
11:15 -12:30 Scholar class
Various contemplative activities
sometimes Q&A with the academic instructor
Movement: Yoga, Qui-Gung, walks and hikes
The daily schedule is subject to change and may be adapted.
Room and Board
There are several housing options and students can choose to either stay at the Center or arrange for their own housing off-site. Either way, students have the option to have all their meals at Gomde.
There are various, simple, low-cost guest houses and homestays in close distance to Gomde. Students who prefer more privacy and like to stay at a distance from their place of study can rent a room there. Breakfast, lunch and dinner can be served at Gomde.
Live like a Buddhist!
Those who would like to take this course as an opportunity to immerse themselves in the “Buddhist way of life” can choose to stay at the Center. This gives students the chance to participate in daily evening meditations and interact with the volunteers as well as take part in spontaneous group activities. This is the best way to gain first-hand experience of living in a Buddhist community.
Through being surrounded by people who attempt to apply Buddhist teachings in their daily lives, students can become aware of their meaning in the day-to-day context, test them in their personal interactions and thereby find deeper insight into the meaning of this philosophy and ethics for themselves.
Accommodation will be offered in simple, single rooms with or without attached bathroom, as well as comfortable 2-4 person dormitories.
In order to stay at Gomde, one will be kindly asked to help with household chores such as washing dishes or simple cleaning tasks, for about 30 to 45 minutes daily. This ensures the smooth running of the Center, which is fully run by volunteers. Contributing to a place of practice is considered a virtuous deed, a form of applied meditation. This engagement helps to deepen one’s understanding of and sense of being part of a like-minded community. It also makes it possible for Gomde to offer board and accommodation affordable for everyone. Should you not be able or want to contribute in this manner, there is no obligation.
Gomde wants to make the precious Dharma available to all who want to practice and learn it.
You can support us with a donation.
You can orientate yourself on the following value:
With a donation of 1600 Euro, you help to cover the fixed costs for board and lodging.
If you are under 26 and a student, or you have very limited means, a donation of 900 Euros would be appropriate.
We still offer this course to anyone, who wants to join, no matter the financial situation, although the costs have increased.
If you can give more, you help the center deal with the increased maintenance costs, by offering 2400 Euros.
If these suggestions do not match your budget, please let us know well in advance. We hope to find a suitable solution for everyone.
There are various, simple, low-cost guesthouses and homestays near Gomde. Students who prefer more privacy and like to live a bit further away from their place of study can rent a room there. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served at Gomde. However, you can also choose not to eat at Gomde.
The costs for off-site accommodation vary, between 40€ and 90+€ per day.
Please get in contact with Gomde in order to find the right place for you.
The Buddhist center Gomde invites those participants, who do not stay at Gomde to have their meals at the center, in exchange for a donation.
The suggested donation for the meals during all four weeks of the course and weekends is 15-20 Euro per day.