Sam StevensGraduate profile

Isara Treesahakiat

BSc—Computer Science (Shinawatra University, 2007)
DipGrad—Religious Studies (2008)
PGDipArts—Religious Studies (2009)
MA—Religious Studies (2011)

When Isara Treesahakiat (Jay) was studying towards her first degree in Thailand (a BSc in Computer Science), she began attending Buddhist teachings at the local Buddhist temple. Jay is Buddhist, but she did not know very much about Buddhist teachings or practices as she had studied at Christian schools until then. The abbot at the temple taught meditation techniques and Buddhist teachings and Jay attended regularly. She explains, "I realised how good the Buddhist teachings were, and that they could be adapted for my daily living. For example, meditation is very useful, I am much more focussed when I am meditating regularly."

At the temple Jay met Venerable Sudhammo, who was working for the 60th Dhammachai Education Foundation (DEF). "I was inspired by the vision of Most Venerable Dhammajayo, the founder and abbot of the DEF, to spread world peace through Buddhist teachings, and through inner peace."

Jay was one of the first two students to come to the University of Otago under the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the DEF in 2007. She completed a Graduate Diploma (DipGrad) endorsed in Religious Studies in 2008, and in 2009, a Post Graduate Diploma in Arts (PGDipArts) with credit. In 2011 Jay was awarded her Masters with distinction.

Jay says of her time in the Department of Theology and Religion, "In my first year I was lonely, but soon I felt at home. The staff in the department of Theology and Religion are very supportive and helpful. Also, I went to the Buddhist temple every week and continued to learn and practice meditation and the teachings."

For her Masters degree, Jay studied the religious practices of an early-20th century Buddhist monk from Northern Thailand, Khruba Sriwichai, who played a significant role in resisting the government's reforms for Buddhist practices. Jay's thesis provides a unique perspective. It shows how important Khruba Sriwichai's religious practice and teachings were for the development of his charisma, and thus for his influence in the region.

After completion of her thesis, Jay spent three months at the University of Oslo, in preparation for her PhD. She learned Tibetan and Chinese and studied manuscripts in those languages as well as in Sanskrit. For her PhD, Jay would like to continue her research on meditation techniques and Buddhist practices in Northern Thailand before the reformation. She will need to learn the languages of the region in order to conduct her research. "I am excited because as I read and understand the texts, and talk with people in the region, I will be learning more about the meditation techniques and teachings practiced by monks during that time and I can write about them. It is very important for practitioners of meditation as well as other Buddhists and historians of Thailand to know more about the religious practice of our famous monks so as to follow their example."

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University of Otago Religious Studies Programme