Asian Buddhist Renaissance through Revival of Nalanda University
Posted on August 13th, 2013

Asian Buddhist Renaissance

 The above caption reflects a vision that is realizable with the renewal of the legacy of the Nalanda University. From the 9th to the 15th century countries like China, Tibet, Mongolia, Korea and Japan among others had forged an Asian Buddhist Renaissance drawing on a comprehensive and progressive Buddhist version of Indian science and technology that had been developed originally in Buddhist Universities like Nalanda, Vikramshila, Odantapuri, Somapura, Jagaddala, and Vallabhi.

With Asia re-emerging on the world stage a “project like this could help to give the much needed intellectual lift to the study and spread of Buddhist values in the region as a symbol of modernisation’ and “symbolise hopes and aspirations of South and East Asians that the civilisations of Asia will rise again based on knowledge and co-operation”.

For extra reading and reference

1)      Renewing the Nalanda Legacy: Science, Religion and Objectivity in Buddhism and the West
Joseph Loizzo in Religion East & West

                http://www.drbu.org/iwr/rew/2006/rew-article-8

2)      Nalanda Monastery and Buddhism: Their Roles in Promoting Scientific and Technological Capabilities in Asia

by Soraj Hongladarom

http://www.academia.edu/230834/Nalanda_Monastery_and_Buddhism_Their_Roles_in_Promoting_Scientific_and_Technological_Capabilities_in_Asia

3)     The six Buddhist universities of ancient India

By Amarasiri Weeraratne

http://www.island.lk/2003/05/15/featur05.html

India and Singapore join forces to revive ancient Buddhist University

Kalinga SENEVIRATNE from Singapore

Daily News December 04 2006

http://www.cjourney.info/english/religiousnews/122006/buddhistrevival.php

BUDDHIST REVIVAL: ‘Reviving Buddhist Cultural Links’ was the theme of a one day symposium held in Singapore recently to initiate an ambitious plan to revive India’s ancient Nalanda University as a leading international seat of learning which would revive the old intellectual and spiritual ties between South and East Asia.

The project is a joint venture between the Bihar State Government – where the city of Nalanda is located – and the Singapore government that is estimated to cost about $150 million.

Opening the symposium on Monday, Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo said that this symposium is not about the Buddhist religion as such, but “about Buddhist values and philosophy which have become an integral part of East Asian civilization”.

He added that as Asia re-emerges on the world stage, Asians could “look back to their own past and derive inspiration from it for the future”. Thus he noted, “we should develop Nalanda as an icon of the Asian renaissance attracting scholars and students from a much wider region as the ancient university once did”.

Evolution of an Enlightened Citizen

India’s President Dr Abdul Kalam delivering his keynote address via a live multimedia videocast from his office in New Delhi said that this project is a “model for evolving a happy, prosperous and peaceful society in our planet”, which he described as “Evolution of Enlightened Citizen”.
He argued that this process would have three components, such as education with a value system, religion transforming into spirituality and economic development for societal transformation.

“The mission of Unity of Minds is indeed gaining momentum from Bihar, the birthplace of ancient Nalanda” observed President Kalam, who is a Muslim.
The symposium was attended by over 200 Asian scholars, government officials and Buddhist monks and nuns from Singapore, India, Thailand, Japan, China and a number of other countries.

Expressed interest

N.K. Singh, Deputy Chairman of the Bihar Planning Board told the meeting that land for the project has already been allocated near the ancient Nalanda university site, and a bill to establish the university is expected to be passed by the Bihar State Assembly in the third week of December.

“The government of Bihar is going to put in its own resources .. but we also hope to supplement it through an international consortium” Singh said, adding that Japan and Singapore have already expressed interest in funding the project with the latter showing a desire to be the “principle catalyst” in conceptualising the project.

He expects Singapore to play a role in bringing together countries in the region to participating in the project and probably offering its expertise in the management of the university.

Responding to concerns raised by some Buddhists that this university may have a secular framework, Singh said the concept of the university would be very broad ranging and “represent what Nalanda was at the time”.

Nalanda was founded by Kumaragupta I of the Gupta dynasty during the golden age of classical Indian culture and it came into pre-eminence and a renowned centre of Buddhist scholarship from 5th to 12th century.

Nalanda was the biggest university in India at the time, and at the height of its glory, it accommodated over 10,000 students / monks and 2000 teachers from across the region.

The famous Chinese scholar Hsuan Tsang is believed to have spent many years there, lecturing and writing his 3000 stanza work on the ‘Treatise on the Harmony of Teaching’.

As a center of Buddhist theology and education, Nalanda university has been instrumental in the spectacular spread of Buddhism right across South East and East Asia during this period with scholars from countries like China, Indonesia and Korea studying there.

Largest archaeological complex

Nalanda was destroyed in the 12th century by the Turk Muslim invaders who burned down the library and the buildings, and killed many of the monks and scholars who could not flee.

The site was rediscovered by a British army engineer Alexander Cunningham in the 1860s, and today Nalanda is one of India’s largest archaeological complexes with stupas, temples, monasteries, hostels, meditation halls and libraries spread over 16 square kilometres.

Chinese Buddhist scholar Prof. Tan Chung speaking about China’s links with Buddhism and India described Nalanda university as “the oldest precursor of Oxford and Cambridge – symbols of fortress of learning, if not ivory towers of modern civilization”.

He said that, “China would not have been what it has been, without the beneficial cultural influence of India”.

He went on to argue that when the Han Dynasty was on the verge of collapse by the 6th century, it was the widespread of Buddhist influences which reunified China under the banner of Sui, whose rulers Emperor Wen and Emperor Yang both proclaimed themselves as disciples of the Buddha.

Prof. Chung argued that Nalanda has offered China a model where great centres of learning based on monasteries and temples could provide commoners’ life throbbing with spirituality and wisdom.

“China during pre-Buddhist days could not have such vitality, and learning was the monopoly of a handful of families.

The advent of Buddhism made a sea-change and China came alive as a popular land of spiritualism and wisdom. This development co-prospered with the introduction of the all-China Imperial Examinations and the civil service”.

In an emotional plea to the symposium, Dr Wang Dehua, of the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies said “let’s forget about the 1962 incident (India-China war). This project will symbolise the rebuilding of our old friendship and understanding. In the future we will be able to reach the dream of an Asian community with a project like this”.

Buddhist revival

It was pointed out by one of the Chinese scholars during discussions that after decades of repression under communist “ideological rule” both in China and Vietnam there is currently a great Buddhist revival with thousands of young people taking up robes and entering monastic life.

But, he warned that many of the restored Buddhist temples in China are becoming big tourist attractions and hence succumb to commercial activities.

Therefore he said that a project like this could help to give the much needed intellectual lift to the study and spread of Buddhist values in the region as a symbol of modernisation.

Japanese Prof. Ishii Yoneo talked about the “practical context” of Buddhism in Asia and pointed out, that for example in Thailand, Buddhism is a living religion where without a temple in their community their daily lives will not be functional.

Whereas in Japan, though many profess to be Buddhists, the religion has little to do with living and more to do with paying respects to their dead ancestors.

“Ordinary Japanese are seldom exposed to the fundamental teachings of the Buddha” he observed. But, thanks to the temple as the core of peoples’ daily life, in Thailand ” even children become knowledgeable of fundamentals of Buddhist doctrine, such as the principle of impermanence or anicca”.

Thus, professor Yoneo argued that reviving a great Buddhist intellectual tradition in the form of Nalanda university should give a much needed boost in instilling knowledge of the fundamentals of Buddhist thought in modern Asian youth.

Prof. Tavivat Pantarigvivat of Thailand’s Mahidol university, suggested that Nalanda should be established with a clear idea in the framework of a world religious university with a Buddhist focus, “to propagate compassion towards other religions” and she offered Thailand’s expertise in running such Buddhist universities in the development of the project.

Though Sri Lanka too professes some expertise in this area it is unfortunate that, no Sri Lankan Buddhist scholar nor government official was present at the symposium.

During the discussions a number of scholars made reference to Sri Lanka’s historic role in the spread of Buddhism in South East Asia.

Introductory notes on the history of Buddhist links across Asia provided to the symposium participants said: “At various times when there was deemed to be a need for a restoration of Buddhism, continental South East Asians kingdoms would despatch monks to Sri Lanka to be re-ordained into the purer tradition”.

Even at this late stage one hopes that Sri Lankans will begin to show an interest in the project and get involved in its planning, which will help to restore these historic linkages with Asia.

Singapore’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Balaji Sadasivan summed up well the concept of the project, when he observed that, with India emerging in the 21st century and becoming a knowledge based civilization, “reviving Nalanda symbolise hopes and aspirations of South and East Asians that the civilisations of Asia will rise again based on knowledge and co-operation”.

 

 

3 Responses to “Asian Buddhist Renaissance through Revival of Nalanda University”

  1. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    The Nalanda monastic University and library had nine million volumes in her library. It was common for Chinese priests to take cart loads of scripts from Nalanda to China and in that light I believe that among the many collections of ancient Pali scriptures in Sri Lanka’s numerous Buddhist Viharas are originals from that famous University.
    The Renaissance of Buddhism in the Sub continent began when the British realized that Buddhism is an Indian religion and not a Chinese, Greek or Egyptian faith as once it was thought. Ever since then the skeletal remains of the golden period of Buddhism in India was repaired and brought back to life. The Sanchi Stupa with her glorious gates was in complete ruin and was on the verge of being obliterated by neglect. The British painstakingly put that structure and her famous gates back together. Another example is the Mahabodhi Temple of Bodh Gaya which was taken over by the Hindus and run as a Hindu Temple. Again the Mahabhodi Temple was rescued from this fate and returned to the Buddhist world. Another example is the discovery of the Amaravati Stupa or the remnants of it.
    Other examples include the discovery of the Ajanta cave temples and their acres of frescoes. The rediscovery of Emperor Ashoka and his enigmatic pillars which carried his edicts to the furthest corners of his Empire.
    Still others include the discovery of the Gandharan School of art where for the first time a Buddha face was created. It was a harmonious meeting of Hellenistic and Indian styles to create some of the finest Buddha images. Then other schools of Buddhism came to light including the Mathura, Sanchi, etc schools of Buddhist art to the Sri Lankan chronicles of the Mahavamsa Culavamsa, Dipavamsa, the Rajagilya to the Bodhivamsa.
    It did not stop in the sub continent as Borobudur was rescued from the forest and even though Angor Vat is Hindu Temple it is now converted to a Buddhist temple.
    One of the greatest revivals of Buddhism was from Dr. Ambedkar who converted millions of Dalits to Buddhism in the early 20th century. Ironically the annexation of Tibet made the isolated branch of Vajrayana Buddhism a world wide movement. Now there is hardly a continent that does not have a chapter of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Buddhism. In addition the West Buddhism has been not only accepted but due to its nature become part of segments of Western cultures. Even Communist China is slowly allowing religion to be openly practiced. If Beijing was to ever allow the freedom of religion Buddhism would emerge as the dominant faith of that nation. In Mumbai a massive Stupa now stands gleaming with the coat of gold on it, and Sri Lanka’s massive Dagobas have yet to make a presence on the world for to date there is no television Document done on the Sri Lankan Buddhist civilization and her monuments.
    In Afghanistan where the Bamyan Buddhas once stood there lies a massive Buddhist city yet to be unearthed. Archeologists have stated that it is preferable that this city stays undiscovered given the current intolerance of the Muslims in Afghanistan for when the Bamyan Buddhas were destroyed so was the Buddhist relics housed in the museum in Kabul.
    A final note; due to the work done by the British and the Indologists after the British all the religious centers of Buddhism such as Lumbini, Sarnarth, Sanchi, Bodh Gaya, Kushinagar have been made into a “Buddhist” tourist route and the number of Buddhist pilgrims are increasing by the year.

  2. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    A final note. One of the greatest discoveries the British made were the Kapilavastu relics of the Buddha

  3. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    When Partition took place Pakistan inherited many important aspects of Hindu India including the ancient cities of Harrappa and Mohenjo Daro. She also inherited most of the works from the Gandharan school which flourished in what is now Pakistan. In addition Pakistan also inherited the university center and city of Taxila.
    Since Pakistan needs the harbors of Sri Lanka and supported Colombo during the civil war an agreement should be signed that if ever radicalism claims Pakistan then her Buddhist relics should be housed in Sri Lanka, including allowing Sri Lankan archeologists to work in Pakistan (and possibly Afghanistan) to uncover the hidden glories of ancient Buddhism.

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