A Conversation with Professor Georgios T. Halkias
Prof. Georgios Halkias hails from Rhodes, one of the many (nearly 6,000…) Grecian islands dotting the Aegean Sea. He is now happily one of the new teaching staff at the Centre of Buddhist Studies. Prof. Halkias received his Master in Comparative Philosophy from the University of Hawaii. Then he had the good fortune to live for a few years in different Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in India teaching the monks English and being able to study with them and meet different teachers. This extensive experience instilled “a life -long interest in Tibetan Buddhism, later formalised by doing my doctorate at the University of Oxford.” The Professor is an expert on Tibetan Pure Land orientations which are doctrinally similar to Chinese and Japanese Pure Land in their basic Mahayana assumptions and goal of being reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land. However, Tibetan Tantric forms and practices are not found in Chinese or Japanese Pure Land traditions.
When asked what brought him to teach at the Centre, Prof. Halkias responded in one word “Karma”. It was not planned but three intertwining “Buddhist causative conditions” finally led him to his current position. First, while attending a conference in Hong Kong he heard of the international reputation of the Centre and was delighted to have paid a visit. He was pleased to see the Centre was making a “unique contribution to the study of all major Buddhist traditions.” Second, was the personal touch of meeting and conversing with Ven. Hin Hung, the Centre’s current Director. Finally, it was his time spent here as a Visiting Professor of Tibetan Buddhism in 2012, thereby allowing both parties to know each other more clearly, prompting Prof. Halkias to apply for a full time position in 2013. “This is a good match from my side and the Centre.”
The graduate courses he teaches are Readings in Buddhist Tibetan Texts and Tibetan Buddhism, History and Doctrine. I would like to highlight the undergraduate course, Buddhism Through Film, which hopefully the Centre can offer as an elective for MBS students. This course discusses how Buddhism is portrayed through one particular visual medium. “We are living in a digital era, moving ahead with the times . . . develop critical skills to evaluate the visual image as it bombards you with stimuli . . . students learn how to filter the information.”
Films are chosen according to objective: for documentaries, students are asked to assess objectivity of the filmed “reality”; feature films are chosen so that students acquire a basic understanding of Buddhist doctrine and they are challenged to assess the facts as depicted in the visual field.
Prof. Halkias is pleased with the diversity of the student body with regard to ethnicity, age distribution, professional backgrounds and that practitioners of all the Buddhist traditions can be found among students and fellow teachers. He is very satisfied to see that students are highly motivated and committed by a genuine desire simply to learn about Buddhism, not out of “compulsion” or “need”. “Everyone is memorable in one way or another.”
Prof. Halkias believes the Centre has great potential as can be seen in the increasing number of new applicants every year and that the curriculum focuses historically and philologically on all the major Buddhist traditions and the ways they are related to each other. This expansion requires the Centre to hire more teaching faculty because ultimately the Centre’s future success relies on the academic quality of the lecturers, diversity of curriculum and student satisfaction. The Centre is also unique in other ways because it has to rely on itself to find financial funding to sustain the programme’s sustainability. Assistance from the Centre’s support staff has been wonderful, they are helpful, graceful and knowledgeable.
As for his own future, Prof. Halkias simply says with a warm, disarming smile: “Who knows?” He is contented to see things continue as they are with the Centre. He would like to do more research for his second book on the relation between Hellenism and Buddhism and continue his work on a Tibetan grammar for his students which he hopes to turn into a book.
Prof. Halkias is at peace in the present moment: “It’s a very good place to be. The highlight of teaching at the Centre is the students’ interest, motivation, and maturity. That cannot be matched anywhere else.”