Sheng-Yen Lu Foundation and True Buddha Foundation co-sponsored the 2010 Lotus Scholarship, a special project, to support Buddhist Studies. We are featuring each scholarship recipient here and in True Buddha News. Christopher Paul Bell is pursuing a doctorate in Tibetan religions at the University of Virginia, concentrating on Tibetan ritual, divinity, historiography, and protector deities. His dissertation on the Tibetan Buddhist protector deity named Pehar has taken Christopher all over China where he visited many Tibetan monasteries and temples. After acquiring his Ph.D, Christopher plans to become a Buddhist Studies professor.
1. Question: What inspired your decision to study Buddhism?
Christopher’s answer: It was really my undergraduate Buddhism professor, Dr. Cuevas, at Florida State University. His courses were fascinating and engaging, and when we started talking he thought I had a knack for Buddhism. I thought it was interesting and joined the graduate program under his guidance soon after. That was almost a decade ago and my interest has not waned yet.
2. Question: Describe your greatest accomplishment so far while in pursuit of your degree in Buddhist Studies.
Christopher’s answer: For the moment, I would say it’s my Master’s Thesis, which concerns a Tibetan Buddhist protector deity named Tsiu Marpo. It combined Tibetan translations, fieldwork and interviews, as well as mythological and ritual analysis. These approaches have now all become important elements of my approach to religious history, so it was an incredibly valuable learning experience.
3. Question: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Christopher’s answer: I’m not really sure; but a good book, a good view, and good company come pretty close.
4. Question: In your next life, who or what would you like to be?
Christopher’s answer: When I was in Lhasa a couple years ago doing my research on Tsiu Marpo, I was interviewing a monk about this deity. He told me that Tsiu Marpo was very good to study and worship, because it will ensure rebirth as a human. In Buddhism a human rebirth is the best of all possible rebirths, so I’d consider myself lucky if I came back as a human.
5. Question: What impacts have the study of Buddhism had on your life?
Christopher’s answer: Quite a lot, I would say. Studying Buddhism has allowed me to live in a number of fascinating places, such as Virginia, Lhasa, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and eventually India and Italy. It is by studying Buddhism that I came to meet the love of my life. More philosophically, Buddhism has contributed to my understanding of the world and its peoples. Overall, studying Buddhism has really made me who I am today.
6. Question: How has the Lotus Scholarship helped your study of Buddhism?
Christopher’s answer: The Lotus Scholarship has provided me with a very generous and essential award that has allowed me to continue my research in Lhasa—an indispensable location in terms of my dissertation research. I am grateful to the Sheng-Yen Lu Foundation for making possible this opportunity and for aiding me in my studies. I only hope that the fruits of my explorations will merit their support.