A word on living and learning in Nepal from SAC Research intern Mostafa Meleis

Mostafa Meleis is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, majoring in Religious Studies. He has previously conducted research to determine how neuroscience and psychology can benefit from cross-cultural exchanges. In early June Mostafa was awarded a partial grant from the South Asia Center (SAC) to join the SAC Summer Research Internship Program in Kathmandu, Nepal.  

Half way through his trip SAC Assistant Director, Amelia Carter, caught up with Mostafa to see how his experience was going. This is what he had to say about his time working with the Buddhist and Himalayan Studies organization Rangjung Yeshe Institute (RYI). 

Amelia: What have you been up to since you arrived?
Mostafa: I have been living with a Nepali family and that has been a great experience. I am learning more than I expected both about Buddhism and culture in Nepal. My usual schedule here consists of sitting in on a Buddhist philosophy class in the morning, having lunch at the university then going to a café in Boudha to do some reading and research. I’ve also been exploring outside of Boudha. I’ve been to Patan to see Durbar Square, Thamel for rock climbing, Kopan Monastery, and Swayambhu Temple.

Amelia: Can you tell me about some highlights so far?
Mostafa: My host brother is getting married this weekend. The opportunity to see all the preparations around the wedding has been quite a unique experience. Also, the Buddhist philosophy class I sit in on in the morning has given me the perspective of Buddhism from the inside. It is taught by a Lopon who has been studying philosophy for 9 years. Being able to learn Buddhist philosophy from the point of view of Buddhist monk has truly enriched my understanding of the teachings in Buddhism. The people I am meeting through the program all have amazing stories to tell about how they ended up here in Nepal this summer. I am learning so much not just from reading for research, but from fellow students. I really feel like I am making life long friends.

Amelia: What is your finalized research topic/project? Who are you working with?
Mostafa: Because of Buddhism’s concern with the mind, my finalized research topic is, "Healing the Mind: Applying Buddhist Philosophy of Mind to Medical Practice." I believe Buddhist philosophy’s distinction between pain and suffering can have valuable applications in how patients are treated and how disease is perceived. Seeing suffering as the mental state produced by disturbing emotions, healthcare providers may be better equipped to improve a patient’s physical and mental health. Buddhist concepts such as compassion and wisdom can have benefits for the provider and the patient. This distinction between pain and suffering has special application in palliative care where, according to Buddhists, the mental state of the patient at the time of death is of utmost importance. I am working with the Buddhist Studies professor here named Ishwor Shrestha. He has been a great point of contact to connect me with local monks and hospice workers. 

Amelia: What do you have planned for the rest of the trip?
Mostafa: For the rest of the trip I plan to keep exploring around Kathmandu and go on some hikes around the valley. I am also planning a trip to Pokhara before leaving Nepal. However, for the most part I am just taking it day by day.