The Himalayan region from Tawang, Sikkim, Lahaul-Spiti, Kinauur, Uttrakhand to Ladakh, are a rich repository of the cultural heritage of Buddhist traditions.
For thousands of years, it flourished in these harsh geographical conditions. However, the vibrant living Nalanda Buddhist heritage is in the current times undergoing a rapid transformation in its polity, culture and socio-economic changes leading to strategic challenges in the Himalayan region.
Buddhism with cross cultural relations which is one of the powerful factors of social mobilisation and social stability in the Himalayan region will continue to play a key role in further consolidation of this strategic area of the country.
To reflect on the foundations; to retell Buddhism’s expansive history and to trace its source, a one-day national conference on Nalanda Buddhism – Re-tracing the source in the Footsteps of the Acharyas: From Nalanda to Himalayas and beyond is being held at Chintan Bhawan, Gangtok, Sikkim, on December 5.
The programme is being organised by Indian Himalayan Council of Nalanda Buddhist Traditions in collaboration with Ecclesiastical Department, Government of Sikkim.
The Chief Guest is Meenakshi Lekhi, Minister of State for Culture and External Affairs.
The Guest of Honour is Sonam Lama, Minister, Ecclesiastical and Rural Developments, Sikkim.
Today, while Buddhism is expanding globally and witnessing important resurgence in some traditional areas, this is not the case throughout much of the Himalayan region where its vibrant presence is under threat.
Broadly, threats can be divided into two categories, external and internal like decline in numbers of monastic and monks, etc.
Some of the aspects of life and cultural sustenance of Himalayan Buddhist communities are – Reforms to traditional models of monastic education, creating opportunities for re-connect and social engagement between monastic and lay communities, the lack of accountability of the monastics to the society, developing new models of teaching Buddhism to lay communities and redefining the role of monastics in the 21st century.
The great centres of Buddhist learning in ancient times like the Vikramshila University, Odantapuri University, Nalanda University from where the teachings spread far and wide as well as these centres of learning played a vital role in promoting the patronage of arts and academics during the 5th and 6th century CE, a period that has since been described as the “Golden Age of India” by scholars.
Nalanda was a renowned mahavihara (Buddhist monastic university) in ancient Magadha (modern-day Bihar), India. Considered by historians to be the world’s first residential university and among the greatest centres of learning in the ancient world, it was located near the city of Rajagriha (now Rajgir) and about 90 km (56 mi) southeast of Pataliputra (now Patna).
Teaching from 427 until 1197 CE, Nalanda played a vital role for some 750 years, its faculty included some of the most revered scholars of Mahayana Buddhism.
Nalanda mahavihara taught six major Buddhist schools and philosophies as well as subjects such as grammar, medicine, logic and mathematics.
The university was also a major source of the 657 Sanskrit texts carried by pilgrim Xuanzang and the 400 Sanskrit texts carried by Yijing to China in the 7th century, which influenced East Asian Buddhism.
Many of the texts composed at Nalanda played an important role in the development of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism.
It was attacked and destroyed by the troops of Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji, partly restored thereafter, and continued to exist till about 1400 CE.
Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tibetan Buddhist tradition is regarded to be a continuation of the Nalanda tradition.
The Dalai Lama states: Tibetan Buddhism is not an invention of the Tibetans. Rather, it is quite clear that it derives from the pure lineage of the tradition of the Nalanda Monastery. The master Nagarjuna hailed from this institution, as did many other important philosophers and logicians.
The Dalai Lama refers to himself as a follower of the lineage of the seventeen Nalanda masters.
A vast amount of what came to comprise Tibetan Buddhism, both its Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, stems from the teachers at Nalanda.