Frequently Asked Questions
Will it be the right level for me?
This course is not an introduction to Buddhism. While you can go into it with no knowledge of Buddhism at all due to the logical approach used by Geshe Tashi, the concepts he introduces go quite deep. Some prior knowledge of Buddhist thought is very helpful.
If you do have an interest in Buddhism, however, and a basic idea of things such as karma and samsara and enlightenment, you will find it quite manageable. Even if you have been studying Buddhism for many years, the course can still greatly benefit you. It is truly the foundation – the corner stones – of Buddhism, and to have it laid out as neatly and logically as Geshe Tashi has done is invaluable to both the relative newcomer and the long-term student of Buddhism.
Is it relevant to my life?
Geshe Tashi studied for about twenty years in a Tibetan monastery in India and he freely admits his ideas are saturated with that study. He has, however, been in the West since the 1990s, studying not only Western philosophy and how Westerners think, but also other Buddhist traditions. His respect for scholars like Ajahn Sumedho and Walpola Rahula is reflected in the course books, and Theravadin students have found the course content compatible with their background. Non-Buddhist students have also found the course of great benefit to their lives. There is an emphasis throughout the course on applying what you study to your daily life, rather than merely on academic achievement.
Although Geshe Tashi uses material from other Buddhist traditions, it is important to know that this course introduces Buddhist thought from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, and from amongst the Tibetan schools, from a Gelug point of view. However, as mentioned above, students from different backgrounds continue to enrich and be enriched by the course.
Do I have enough computer knowledge to do the course?
The course requires elementary computer skills. You will be using a web interface that requires you to log into a student’s area. There will be a forum, a chat room and the various materials for the course – such as audio files, prayer book documents and video files. You need to be able to use the download capabilities of your browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari etc) to access the materials. If you choose to do the course with the “download audio” option, then your computer skills become important as your audio source will be the web site. The forum will require that you to login and post your comments on the page itself rather than using email. We will try to resolve any difficulties you may have.
How much time will I need each week?
It really depends on how much you want to put into it and how much time you have. You receive a timetable at the beginning of each module, broken into two-week ‘chunks’ with say ten pages reading and three or four audio tracks covering that topic. There is also supplementary reading from other books and a recommended 20 minutes meditation a day.
On top of that is the time spent with your tutor group discussing questions with other students. In an active group quite lively debate can go on as you chew over the points you are studying. At the end of the month there is a very short “essaylette” to write. This is the routine for the first three months of each module. During the fourth month there is no group contact. This fourth month is for revision, the long essay (1,500 words) and the two-hour exam.
How long does all this take? Some students spend four to six hours a week on the course, excluding the meditation. It is a commitment, but it’s the very interactive element of the course which makes it so special. Here’s a summary of the activities in a module
Is it very academic or is there more to it?
Heart and mind are both involved in everything to do with Buddhism. The method side of developing compassion is an emotional, intuitive experience developed through meditation but with a strong logical backing. The wisdom side which understands the reality of things, on the other hand, is very logical but powered by the compassion we develop when we start to see the reality of our universal situation.
The course uses both these sides of Buddhist teaching. Geshe Tashi comes from the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, possibly the most scholastic tradition, but he continually emphasises that book knowledge means nothing, unless it directly affects our daily life. Throughout the reading and the discussion groups, what someone brings to the course through their own life experiences is as valuable as the traditional texts studied.
Can I choose to do only one or two modules?
No. We ask you to commit to the whole course. This is partly because the six modules form a whole, and partly because the consistency of the tutor group is an important element in the course, and to have the groups constantly changing would be disruptive.
What if I find I haven’t enough time, or circumstances change?
Different people have different circumstances and different motivations. It’s unrealistic to think that everyone will be 100% committed all the time. The criterion we use to determine whether someone has completed a module is that they have done the long essay and exam, but between doing no more than that, and doing that plus being active every week in the discussion group, is a wide spectrum. It is simply the old adage that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.
It also happens that people’s circumstances change – they go on retreat, have babies, take up work in Mozambique where there are no Internet cafés, get a promoted at work. If one of these things happens, you may have to negotiate with your tutor to leave the exam for a couple of months or even delay a module. That is certainly a possibility. What we want is for you to get the most from the course.
Is there any way of getting the course cheaper or for free?
We try to have some reduced-fee bursaries and nearly-free Sangha places per intake, but this depends very much on whether we can afford it. We keep the course as cheap as possible so the balance between costs and income is a very delicate one. If you feel that the only way you can do the course is with a reduced-fee bursary, write to us and explain your circumstances.