China Efforts to Reviving Buddha Nalanda University


The Times of India ran a news item, on Nov 16th, about China giving a cheque of $ 1 million in the efforts to revive the Nalanda University. This marked the first donation for the ambitious project to rebuild a university in place of the one that was destroyed several centuries ago. Founded in the fifth century, Nalanda was a renowned centre of learning when Europe was still in its dark ages, drawing scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey. Over 2000 professors instructed around 10,000 students in religious studies, medicine, mathematics, astronomy and politics. It was burnt to the ground by Bakhtiyar Khilji''''''''s troops invading the nation in the 12th century.

Dubbing it as the “Icon of Asian Renaissance”, the Economic Times mentions that its revival would come as India and China lay claim to being the economic superpowers of the future. The revival is taking place under an international initiative by the East Asia Summit, a bloc of which India is a member, with the Ministry of External Affairs being actively involved in the ambitious project. Interestingly, in 2006 a New York Time’s article, referring to this Summit, wrote” It is a topic unlikely to receive much mention in the Western press”. Some more has changed in the economic strength of the countries in the East Asia block, since then.

Truly, the rebuilt Nalanda University can revive Asia region’s underlying cultural heritage, establish stronger peaceful links among peoples and cultures from the past, and take Asia’s soft power of influence and attraction to a new level. The West has claimed a long tradition of its ancient Greek and Roman roots. This project, can give Asia a springboard to develop a claim to an earlier tradition based on global tolerance and coexistence of different thought streams. While focusing on Buddhist studies the university emphasized a thorough understanding of the six earlier darshana schools of thought - the angles to view knowledge from.

In a speech to the Asia Society in September this year, Noble Peace Winning Amartya Sen who is heading the Nalanda University project spoke eloquently about the ethos of the original University. These, when cultivated in a revived University can uniquely differentiate it from any other global institution today — a) an institution devoted to religious reconciliation b) Health care system that considers affordability and c) Balancing economic prosperity with environmental consequences of growth. Will the project succeed in its aim to parallel the success of its previous incarnation? Let us look at the challenges in the next article on the subject.
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