By Jamyang Dorjee
ON THE WEB, 10 August 2016
The declaration of the ruins of the ancient Nalanda Buddhist University as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a most welcome step. Unlike the Taj Mahal and 35 other sites already declared by UNESCO for their excellence in architectural, cultural, and natural value, recognizing Nalanda Monastic University is acknowledging the greatest centre of Buddhist learning in India’s glorious past, and thereby re-establishing India’s global position as a Jagat Guru (guru to the world).
The world body has done their job, and it is for India now to work towards achieving that goal by promoting the essence of Nalanda University and its relevance in today’s world.
Importance of Nalanda
Nalanda Buddhist University flourished under the patronage of the Gupta Dynasty, and survived for six hundred years until it was ransacked and destroyed in 1203 by Turkish invaders. In 1204 the last throne-holder (abbot) of Nalanda, Shakyashribhadra, fled to Tibet.
The most influential and important Mahayana Buddhist masters, often referred to as the ‘Seventeen great Pandits of Nalanda Monastery’, have laid down very profound treatises and philosophy. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama not only calls himself a follower of the lineage of these masters, but also wrote an exquisite poem in praise of them. His Holiness the Dalai Lama explained: “I always describe Tibetan Buddhism as pure Buddhism from the Nalanda tradition. I myself studied the Nalanda tradition of Buddhism written by Nalanda masters.”
Nagarjuna’s concept of Madhyamika (the Middle Way) was very much part of the Nalanda curriculum, and it is relevant even today.
Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, also taught at Nalanda University.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is not only the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism, which he promotes as a Nalanda tradition, but he is also the living proponent of the Nalanda Tradition of Buddhism which is spreading like wildfire globally.
Indian government should recognise India’s treasures
It is time that the Indian Government officially recognizes His Holiness Dalai Lama by awarding him the Bharat Ratna. He has personally nothing to gain by such recognition, but India’s global image will be greatly enhanced.
The second step should be including in the 8th schedule of the constitution of India, the Bhoti language, that has for several centuries zealously translated and preserved almost all the teachings of Nalanda masters intact. This is a long-pending popular demand by the people of Himalayan region of India, spearheaded by Himalayan Buddhist Cultural Association, for the last 40 years.
The Bhoti language
The Tibetans have, without a doubt, one of the most impressive translation histories of any people in the world. Starting in the 8th century and continuing for some 900 years, they translated the entire Indian Buddhist canon, a body of work consisting of more than 4,500 texts and some 73 million words. Not only was the translation enterprise vast, but the texts themselves were exceptionally difficult and required immense skill and knowledge.
Bhoti is the mother tongue of more than three million people living in seven states in the Himalayan regions from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.
(The choice of the term ‘Bhoti’ over ‘Tibetan’ is a conscious strategy adopted by the leaders of the movement belonging to diverse tribes to affirm their status as a part and parcel of the Indian identity.)
Inclusion of the Bhoti language in the 8th schedule of the Constitution not only means emotional integration of the people in these far-flung areas which guard the borders of the nation, but also helps to promote a language which contributes in making the teachings of the Nalanda tradition relevant today.
The news, this week, released by National Mission for Manuscripts stating “Tibetan scripts have outnumbered all other languages barring three — Sanskrit, Odia and Hindi,” has added further justification to that demand. According to Prof Mohammad Shafi Zahid, one of the co-coordinators of the mission:
Nearly 41 lakh ancient manuscripts written on palm leaves, bark, metal, cloth, and even paper (at least 75 years old) have been documented as of March 2016, Sanskrit ranks first with 11.66 lakh manuscripts followed by Odia (2.13 lakh) and Hindi (1.99 lakh). Tibetan, with 1.63 lakh manuscripts being documented, is in the fourth place, while Tamil (1.08 lakh) ranks fifth. In fact, Malayalam (96,093), which occupies the sixth spot, Kannada (67,763), which ranks seventh, Telugu (16,691) and Bengali (15,412) together have only 1.95 lakh manuscripts, only 30,000-odd more than Tibetan.
This is good news for Tibetans, as well for as the people of the Himalayan region who pride themselves in using Tibetan/Bhoti as their mother script, since they too follow the Nalanda tradition of Buddhism.
Many such languages already included in the 8th schedule of the Constitution, such as Santhali, Bodo, Dogri, and Kashmiri, do not even have a separate script, while the Tibetan/Bhoti language has a rich literature in all-important fields such as medicine, architecture, arts, astronomy, astrology, music, dance, drama, philosophy, tantric, yoga, meditation, and metaphysics, thus fulfilling all the criteria for recognition in the 8th schedule of the Indian constitution.
The collection of Buddha’s teachings, the Tripitaka, comprised of 108 volumes and tantras, is also available in the Bhoti language, and the names of all the volumes start with the word ‘Gyakar Keydhu’ meaning ‘in the language of India.’ How many languages in the eighth schedule have such rich literary works that have the potential to establish India as the Jagat Guru?
About the author
Jamyang Dorjee Chakrishar is a former senior civil servant of the Government of Sikkim, and Regional coordinator of the Conservancy for Trans-Himalayan Arts and Culture (CTAC). He can be reached at [email protected]