Back from India: Students reflect on life-changing semester


Gage Brown in Bodh Gaya Photo credit: Provided by Gage Brown

Photo provided by Gage Brown

Abstain from killing living beings. Abstain from sexual misconduct. Abstain from false speech or lying. Abstain from theft. Abstain from intoxicants.

These are Buddhism’s five precepts, followed by serious practitioners and regarded as ways to build good character. The approximately 30 American students on Carleton College’s semester-long Buddhist studies program in Bodh Gaya, India were required to adhere to these precepts for the entire time they were abroad.

No romantic relationships were allowed on the program. Since students lived in a monastery with Buddhist monks and nuns who had taken vows, no loud music or public dancing was permitted. Due to the precept forbidding killing, a vegetarian diet was strongly encouraged. And perhaps the hardest rule to follow? Students were told to leave their phones behind in America.

Trinity juniors Gage Brown and Malcolm Fox participated in Carleton’s Buddhist studies program last semester. But while they knew that Bodh Gaya would be unlike anywhere they had previously been, neither could have predicted the level to which their range of experiences, from enlightening to alarming, would impact their worldviews long-term.