The interview: Malcolm from Scotland to study the Basic Program

This is the story of Malcolm who arrived this autumn at the Institute to study the Basic Program. We are presenting these testimonies to introduce to you and help you understand the world of study programs offered by the Institute and to tell you stories of those who chose to dedicate a part of their life to studying.

Malcolm, what did you do before you came to ILTK?
I was born in Scotland. The last 11 years before I came here I lived in Australia. I did research in the field of sociology of religion at a university. I was lucky because in the last years I felt more and more the urge to do something else and then I got the opportunity to do so. At first I was not sure what to do. I was thinking of volunteering in one of the FPMT Centers in Australia. But I could not get there with Banjo, my dog. So I was looking for other opportunities in this direction and found out about the Basic Program here in Pomaia. Another positive aspect was that I wanted to come back to Europe anyway.

What was your first serious contact with Buddhism?
In 2010 I was in Thailand at a temple where you can stay for a period of time. I was following the daily routine of the temple and there were dharma talks in the morning in English. After I returned from Thailand I discovered that there is a FPMT Center only a 1.5 hour drive away. In Australia that is very close! I went for an open day and some weekend courses. At the beginning I found Tibetan Buddhism fascinating but also a little bit weird. All the statues, deities, Thankas, Stupas etc. But for some reason I kept coming back again and again. What I really like about Tibetan Buddhism is the vast range of practices, teachings and rituals.

You said that your research was not so much about the content of a religion but more about the influence on society. Is it difficult for you to take off that scientific view and actually believe in the Buddhist teachings?
If you want to understand a religion and its effects on a society from a scientific point of view you have to understand what it is that makes people drawn toward it. And in order to understand this you yourself must be drawn to it as well. But if you go too far you become an insider and then you are not objective anymore, so you lose your scientific point of view. My research was mostly about Islam but for Buddhism I see no problem for me. I find the outsider and insider point of view actually quite complimentary. But I didn’t not come here to study Buddhism from a scientific point of view. I am here to develop my practice.

The new Basic Program has just started yet, but is there something that stands out to you in a positive or negative manner?
There is a really interesting range of people here. We have people with a lot of different backgrounds and reasons to come here. With different aspirations and qualities. And I think we can all learn a lot from each other. I certainly do! I learn from listening to Geshe-La, from reading the root text, from the review class but I also learn from discussing or just talking with other students.

Thank you Malcolm for this interview. We wish you a wonderful Basic Program.

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Interview by Bork Drewer. Editing by Manuela Ferro. Photos of Ester Maria Nuzzo