Nalanda is today universally recognised as the one of the greatest universities of the ancient world. Attracting students from across the Indian subcontinent, as well as from China,Central Asia, and Tibet, Nalanda University was the most important Buddhist centre of learning in ancient and medieval India. The subjects taught and studied at Nalanda included, in addition to the study of the great Buddhist themes of Sutra and Tantra, philosophy, ethics, psychology, logic and epistemology, cosmology, astronomy, and medicine. Founded in the early centuries of the first millennium, Nalanda flourished especially from the fifth to the twelfth century CE under the patronage of the Gupta and Pala dynasties. The institution thrived for over a thousand years, producing renowned thinkers like Dignaga, Dharmakirti, Chandrakirti, Shantideva, Shantarakshita and others.
In its heyday, around 30,000 monks and nuns, including roughly 2,000 teachers,were reputedly in residence, studying, debating, and engaging in the deepest spiritual cultivation.Great Nalanda masters like Shantarakshita, Kamalashila, Smriti Jnanakirti, and Atisha came to Tibet at the invitation of the Tibetan rulers to help teach and establish Buddhism across the land. Numerous Tibetan scholars and translators studied at Nalanda, as well as its sister monastic university at Vikramashila, and brought back India’s great wisdom contained in the Sanskrit classics. Following their return to Tibet, these Tibetan translators undertook large-scale translation of key Sanskrit Buddhist texts, often working collaboratively with an Indian Pandita. All these Tibetan translations, primarily of Sanskrit Buddhist texts, as well as Sanskrit works on grammar and linguistics, astronomy, medicine, niti shastras, and poetic kavya texts, translated over a period of several centuries, were later compiled into the twin collections known as Kangyur (translated words of the Buddha) and Tengyur (the commentaries on the teachings of the Buddha). The first collection contains over a 100 volumes while Tengyur comprises over 200 volumes, together containing over 4,000 individual Indian texts.The translated works are categorised under three headings: Science (for example the science of mind), philosophy and religion.
Why is Nalanda’s ancient wisdom relevant today? Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet has preserved the Nalanda tradition based on a large number of classical Indian Buddhist texts.The primary focus is based on reason and logic, not on faith.This highly developed system of logical presentation has enabled Tibetan Buddhist masters to communicate with modern scientists and scholars, addressing critical issues of modern life at the intersection of scientific and contemplative understanding.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama met Raja Ramanna, many years ago and heard from the celebrated nuclear physicist that he had read one of Nagarjuna’s works and was struck by how much it accorded with the modern view of quantum physics. As an Indian, he told His Holiness, how proud he felt that Nagarjuna had anticipated such modern developments with no instruments but his mind to help him. Ramanna suggested that Nagarjuna was the greatest scientific philosopher of all times. The west discovered these concepts at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. But Indian scholars like Nagarjuna taught and wrote about this nearly 2,000 years ago. For over 30 years, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has spent time exploring the convergence between science and spirituality, and how the effects of meditative practices can be corroborated by modern science. In recent years, scientific interest has grown in what ancient Indian thought, and Buddhist literature in particular,have to say about such phenomena as the mind and emotions. Buddhism is one of India’s ancient religions.Tibetan Buddhism has kept the Nalanda tradition alive and preserved it for over 1,300 years. More and more Indians are showing interest in these rich teachings.Therefore, India is the natural custodian of the Buddhist heritage.
Modern education is oriented towards materialistic values. So where inner values based on love, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness are concerned, we totally rely on religious faith. In ancient times it was fine, ethics was the province of religion but now out of seven billion human beings, more than one billion declare that they have no faith. Among those who claim to have faith are many who lack conviction. All major religions teach us forgiveness, tolerance and love, then why do people who follow religion create violence? We don’t take the real message of one’s own faith seriously. Education should include the value of compassion,irrespective of whether you are a nonbeliever or believer.The existing education system must include lessons about the importance of inner peace. HH the Dalai Lama’s commitment is to promote deeper human values, not through prayer or religious faith, but through education, awareness, scientific findings and common sense.We need to make people more aware of such inner values on the basis of scientific findings,common sense and common experience. His Holiness truly feels that India is the one country that can combine modern education and economic development with inner values and ancient wisdom – workings of the mind and emotions.Therefore, he suggests that ancient Indian wisdom based on reasoning and logic should become an academic subject in schools and universities.
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