a group of students sits on the floor of a Buddhist temple with a "nunk" wearing a red cloak
May 26, 2023


A meditation on how learning to embrace fun has become central to authentic discovery in the Workshop
by Nick ’23
A student post from The Workshop 12*

I never thought that the Harvard Divinity School would care about what I do in high school.

I guess I was wrong. On March 28, I—with the other students of the “Listening to the Buddhists in our Backyard” (L2BB) project and our co-instructors Chenxing Han, Dr. Tham Tran, and Mr. Andy Housiaux—sat down first at lunch with a group of HDS’ Buddhism enthusiasts (students, researchers, practitioners) and then with Dr. Diana Eck, Ms. Elinor Pierce, and a group of graduate students from Harvard’s Pluralism Project.

After briefing our hosts on what we’ve done so far in the Workshop, they are curious to know why my project-mates and I have chosen to dedicate our time to Buddhism.

I think about the question. “To have fun,” I say, unsure of how serious I am. “Inequality, Public Health, and Kerouac all sounded like 'work,' and I guess I’d rather spend my last term of high school visiting temples and eating all sorts of really good home-cooked food from Southeast Asia.” The room laughs, and after I share a few more reflections, we move to someone else.

“Fun” is definitely one of the many things that these past four weeks have been. Our group seriously enjoys all the time we spend getting to know community members and the wondrous diversity of Buddhism at every temple we visit. We laugh and tease each other when we discover the photo that Chenxing has taken of the five of us all simultaneously asleep in the back of Mr. Housiaux’s rented Suburban—which we’ve lovingly dubbed the “Mahayana,” a literal “Great Vehicle.” And after learning from Chenxing about the “nunk”—a gender-neutral combination of “nun” and “monk” used by some monastics today—we’ve named our group chat accordingly.

The difference between “work” and “fun,” or perhaps “play,” is that the latter two comfortably dwell in imperfection and exploration—that, I think, is what the Workshop is about. There is no “right” way to “do” Buddhism, or most other things, for that matter, as the Buddhists in our “backyard” have taught me and L2BB. Rather, as Chenxing told us during a meeting today, a lot of the work we do will be “bottomless,” that is, how much we learn is dependent on how great our curiosity is and how hard we’re willing to work to get there. I hope, in part at least, that a quantity of genuine enjoyment will correlate as well.

...a lot of the work we do will be 'bottomless,' that is, how much we learn is dependent on how great our curiosity is and how hard we’re willing to work to get there

This afternoon, we held a seminar on how the philosophy of games can offer a perspective into how we approach the reimagination of learning. Part of our discussion involved the phenomenon of motivationally inverted states—for work to be meaningful, we need to learn how to choose goals based on what type of work they could inspire and not the expected, other way around.

What I discovered is that for the inversion to happen, our goals have to become disposable. Not necessarily meaningless—but that once they are reached, it is the preservation of and reflection upon the processes that built up to them that really matter. As the workshop transitions into student-led projects—and a partner and I are especially excited to begin our work on multimedia Buddhist translation—I can only hope that the work stays fun.

The "Listening to the Buddhists in Our Backyard" group includes Evelyn ’23, Jasmine ’23, Pierre ’23, Isadora ’23, and Nick ’23.



Each spring term, the Workshop welcomes approximately 20 seniors to this interdisciplinary, project-based course. With an eye toward reimagining what school can be, the Workshop is the senior’s only academic commitment for the entire term. Instead of splitting their time and attention into units of distinct courses and fields of study, they work closely with peers, faculty, and community and global partners on a series of linked, interdisciplinary projects that revolve around a single theme. Within the theme Experiments in Education, students explore areas of personal interest.

During the first few weeks of the term, students are working on one of four faculty-led projects. We feature blog posts by students during this time.

  • Inequality Visualized (led by Ellen Greenberg, instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science)
  • Listening to the Buddhists in Our Backyard (led by Andy Housiaux, instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies; director of the Tang Institute)
  • With Liberty and Health for All: “Humanities for Public Health” (led by Corrie Martin, instructor in English)
  • (Re)creating Kerouac: From Jean-Louis to Jack (led by Gene Hughes, instructor in French)


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