Open minds and the collegial spirit are sine qua non for the flourishing of a University.
Posted on August 8th, 2013

R Chandrasoma

 “¢ In recent dispatches, many lamented the absence of Sri Lankan representation in the initiatives taken by an international group of scholars to to resurrect the famed Nalanda University at its original site in Bihar, India. At a time when Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka had become largely sacerdotal, formulary and hidebound, Indian religious scholarship reached great heights and profoundly insightful Buddhist thinkers such as Nagarjuna, Vasabahdhu, Dignaga and Dharmakirti led the way. Nalanda university (from about the Fifth century AD to 1197 AD) was the cradle and crucible that engendered innovative leaps in that metaphysical adventure that is the prerogative of the truly insightful and gifted. Logic, epistemology and the baffling conundrum of perception were the areas minutely investigated. It is not our intention to discourse learnedly on these high matters but to point out a feature that made all this possible – a feature that is notably lacking

in our country now and in the centuries past. To be truly innovative one must have an open mind – a mind ready to accept ideas that go counter to recived thinking if the arguments are indefeasible and the premises sound. Such a mind values received wisdom but is not enslaved by it. Truth is not something precious and inviolate that is transferred from an All-Knowing Guru to compliant pupils that revere his hallowed wisdom. It is a continuing discovery that is helped and fostered by wise teachers. When this is truly the case, minds are open and learning and wisdom flourish.

“¢ There is another factor of vital importance that fosters openness of mind “”…” the free association of scholars without hierarchies and orders of precedence which is summed up in the word “ƒ”¹…”collegiality’ “”…” the unforced association of open-minded scholars in the pursuit of the truth. Indeed, the word “ƒ”¹…”university’ originally referred to such an assembly. We must now ask a frank but deeply unsettling question “”…” do the Buddhist scholars in Sri Lanka (learned monks included) have open minds? Is the true spirit of collegial discovery a feature of our intellectual life? Here we refer to the past as well as the present “”…” the history of Buddhism in our ancient land and the current state of Buddhist study and practice. To both questions, the answer must be a resounding “ƒ”¹…”no’. We have defended positions wih ardour and loyaty while our minds remained closed to the dispassionate pursuit of the truth. Monkish scholarship adored received wisdom and

worshiped the letter while oblivious of the spirit. Secular scholarship followed this model and battened on minutiae while ignoring the looming threats to the archaisms that were being propagated in closed circles of closed minds. Thus the Buddhism currently taaught and practiced in Sri Lanka is based on a physics of nature that comes fom ancient fictions. The natural history of life presupposed in our religion is palpably false “”…” there are no “ƒ”¹…”Devas’ or “ƒ”¹…”Pretheyas’ within natural hierarchies known to science. Nor is the Universe a doubly infinite extension in Time with cyclic repetitions.

“¢ Why are these issues not discussed? If “”…” as some befuddled Buddhists say “”…” “ƒ”¹…”Western Science’ is false, this must be frankly argued from a position that is based on public and verifiable knowledge and not on argumentum ad ignorantiam that is popular with defenders of hocus-pocus. Humility is a great intellectual virtue and it is this that is sadly missing in oriental scholarship.

“¢ Given these lamentable failures in the groundwork of our approach to the truth, is it a surprise that no Buddhist scholar from Sri Lanka has been invited to participate in a venture that seeks to recapture the past glory of Nalanda “”…” a brief period in which the free mind and the collegial spirit conspired to produce greatness of mind and spirit? Our record “”…” in the past as well as in the turbulent present “”…” is not distinguished for the free play of those mental processes that yield true insight. We recite with ardour the words of those we worship. Setting these words within a larger framework of human knowledge is not a skill we can boast of “”…” hence our exclusion from the New University.

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