Welcome to Desideri House
Desideri House serves as the headquarters of the Boston College Nepal Program. Since 2004 Boston College, through its Office of International Programs, has had a fruitful partnership with the Kathmandu University Centre for Buddhist Studies at Rangjung Yeshe Institute.
Boston College Nepal Program
Desideri House serves as the headquarters of the Boston College Nepal Program. Since 2004 Boston College, through its Office of International Programs, has had a fruitful partnership with the Kathmandu University Centre for Buddhist Studies at Rangjung Yeshe Institute; a partnership from which undergraduates and graduate students, visiting BC faculty members and BC alumni in the Nepal Fulbright Program have benefitted.
KU-CBS is located at Ka-Nying Shedrub-Ling, the “White Monastery”, a renowned monastic university in Boudha. While the primary beneficiaries of the affiliation between these universities have been undergraduates who come to Nepal for a semester, the BC Nepal Program is broadening opportunities for graduate students in Comparative Theology, for students at the BC School of Theology & Ministry, and others who would benefit from a significant experience of immersion learning.
Learn more about BC in Nepal at:
Kathmandu University Centre for Buddhist Studies at Rangjung Yeshe Institute
Desideri House has close ties to the Kathmandu University Centre for Buddhist Studies at Rangjung Yeshe Institute, one of the leading centers in South Asia for the study of Buddhism and related languages. The innovative curriculum at KU-CBS merges traditional Buddhist learning with modern academic disciplines. Students pursue the study of Buddhist texts and philosophy under the tutelage of classically-trained khenpos, or monastic scholars, who are themselves
students of one of the most learned and beloved Tibetan lamas, Venerable Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, abbot of the White Monastery and founder of KU-CBS. A highly-trained international faculty teaches a range of courses in Buddhist Studies from a critical, scholarly perspective. At the same time students can gain a solid mastery of languages: Tibetan, both colloquial and classical, Sanskrit and Nepali.
The Desideri House director, Gregory Sharkey. SJ, coordinates the Boston College Nepal Program, which is affiliated to KU-CBS, and teaches courses in Nepalese Buddhism at the centre. Visiting scholars and students, while resident at Desideri House, typically take advantage of learning opportunities at KU-CBS.
Learn more about Rangjung Yeshe Institute and the Centre for Buddhist Studies at: www.ryi.org
Jesuits in Buddhist Studies and Dialogue
Desideri House promotes networking among Jesuits engaged in interreligious work – serving as host for the August 2013 conference of Jesuits in Buddhist studies and dialogue. The working group of Jesuits in interreligious dialogue with Buddhism falls under the patronage and guidance of the Asia-Pacific region of the Society of Jesus; but it welcomes Jesuits from South Asia and around the world to participate. The most recent Jesuit general congregations, the society’s highest authority, unambiguously identified interreligious dialogue as an integral element of all
Jesuit work. Desideri House’s location in the heart of a vibrant Buddhist community, close to so many Buddhist institutions of learning, and its network of friends and colleagues in the Buddhist and Hindu communities, allows unparalleled opportunities for dialogue about religious experience and the exploration of the philosophical heritage and religious values of other faiths.
Read more about Asian Jesuits in interreligious dialogue at:
In addition to its service to Boston College faculty, students and alumni, Desideri House is a resource to other institutions and programs which seek to promote intercultural learning and interfaith understanding. Nepal has been the venue for two very successful immersion programs for the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, California. Another such program for Jesuit students and their lay colleagues is planned for January 2014. In addition to these group programs, individual graduate Divinity students have made Desideri House a base for intense study of Buddhism and the sacred languages of Asia.
Several of Nepal’s international studies programs, such as the Pitzer College Nepal Program, make use of the facilities and learning opportunities that Desideri House offers. Pilgrimage of Hope, an initiative of the Australian Anglican Benedictines, brings secondary school students for service-learning programs that include volunteer service with the nearby Missionaries of Charity. The Australian Jesuits’ Cardoner Project, which offers a similar opportunity for university-aged alumni, uses Desideri House as a program base.
Proximity to two of Asia’s most sacred pilgrimage sites - the great Shiva temple of Pashupatinath and the Boudha Stupa, with its surrounding Buddhist monasteries – fosters meaningful interaction with both Hindu and Buddhist faithful.
Interfaith Learning in Kathmandu
Ippolito Desideri, SJ, Pioneer in Interreligious Discovery
Father Ippolito Desideri, SJ, in whose honor our center is named, was born in Pistoia, a Tuscan town northwest of Florence, in December of 1684. Educated by Jesuits in their Pistoia school, he journeyed to Rome in 1700 to join the Society of Jesus. He took his first vows two years later and was ordained a priest in 1712.
Though Jesuits had attempted an earlier mission to Tibet under the direction of Fr. Antonio de Andrade (d. 1634), responsibility for the mission was transferred to the Capuchin Franciscan community in 1703. When the Capuchins abandoned the effort in 1711, the Jesuits took the opportunity to make their own renewed attempt. Desideri, whose desire to be a missionary was inspired by such distinguished forebears as Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci, was judged to have an ideal combination of skills and strengths for the new work in Tibet.
Desideri departed for India, from Lisbon, in 1713. Three and a half years after receiving his assignment in Rome, in the company of Manuel Freyre, SJ, he entered Tibet via Baltistan and Ladakh, reaching Lhasa in March 1716. Along the way Desideri became the first European to see and describe Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash, or Kang Rinpoche. Having learned Portuguese on the sea voyage to India, he taught himself Persian and basic Tibetan on the journey to Lhasa; on his way back to Europe he would learn Urdu and Tamil. Freyre returned to India, via Kathmandu, a few weeks after arrival in Lhasa.
Desideri’s learning, intellectual acuity and pleasing personal manner earned him the respect and friendship of Tibetans he encountered on his arrival, including the Mongol ruler, Lhazang Khan, who encouraged him to improve his knowledge of Tibetan language and study Buddhist philosophy. Desideri’s writings show that, though he remained true to his Christian base, he took to the study of Buddhist thought with respect and seriousness of purpose. In 1938, the distinguished Italian Tibetologist wrote that Desideri “was the first to show Tibet to the West, not in terms of its ethnographical features or geographical boundaries, but rather in its profound and intimate spiritual reality.”
Desideri Lived at Ramoche and Sera Monasteries in order to learn the language and philosophy better. When the Dzongar Mongols invaded Lhasa in 1717, Desideri lost his erstwhile patron, Lhazang Khan. He left the capital, but continued his studies in outlying areas, where he studied with Nyingma lamas, returning to Lhasa occasionally. Unfortunately for Desideri and the Jesuit mission to Lhasa, the Capuchin Fathers, backed by the Roman authorities who supervised the missions, almost immediately re-asserted their exclusive control of the Tibet Mission and demanded that Desideri leave. Reluctantly, the Jesuit superior general accepted the verdict of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith and sent instructions for Desideri to return to India. The Capuchins carried the letter to him.
While the Jesuits and Capuchins were in conflict over this issue at the community level, Desideri maintained good personal relations with the Capuchins who had returned to Tibet, especially Fr Orazio della Penna, OFM.Cap, the only Capuchin to have made serious efforts to understand the people and their language. He helped the Capuchins with language study and cultural adjustment, and was guest in their houses when in southern Tibet, and on his way back to India. All the while he composed thoughtful and compelling arguments to persuade the authorities to allow him to remain. In the end, he was unable to change the verdict, and obediently complied.
Traveling from Tingri to Nyalam, he crossed the Tung-la pass, making what might be the world’s first notes about the experience of high altitude sickness. Reluctant to leave Tibet, he stayed at Nyalam for over 6 months, before finally returning to India via Nepal.
He continued to work in India, at Agra, Delhi and Pondicherry for a number of years before returning to Rome. There he discovered that the political climate was very unfavorable to a restoration of the Jesuit mission to Tibet. His copious notes from his long journeys formed the basis of a multi-volume ‘Relazione’, or account of his work. Unfortunately, the Roman verdict that had gone against him also forbade him to publish this account. Desideri died in Rome in 1733. His manuscript lay dormant in the Jesuit historical archives in Rome until brought to public attention in the 1880s. In recent decades this account has been the basis of most scholarship about Desideri, supplemented by copies of other texts he produced in Italian and Tibetan.
Excellent further reading on Desideri and his journey to Tibet can be found in:
Trent Pomplun. Jesuit on the Roof of the World: Ippolito Desideri's Mission to Tibet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
Michael Sweet (trans.) & Leonard Zwilling (ed.). Mission to Tibet: The Extraordinary Eighteenth-Century Account of Father Ippolito Desideri S. J. (Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2010).