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Long before universities emerged in Europe, International universities began to be nalanda_university-ruinsestablished in Buddhist kingdoms of North India. The first European University of Bologna was established in 1088 AD. It may have evolved from ancient Buddhist schools beginning with religious studies and expanding into other disciplines later.  Nalanda International University of Eastern India was the first university in the world and the first to achieve international recognition. It was one of the wonders of ancient India. Nalanda International University’s history dates to time of Buddha from 5th century BC.  According to Buddhist sources, Nagarjuna, the 2nd-3rd-century AD Buddhist philosopher, studied here. However, Extensive excavations carried out by  Archaeological Survey of India indicate that foundations of the monasteries belong to Gupta period dating to 5th century AD. It is possible that in earlier times, the university was housed in temporary structures or was relocated to the discovered remains. The university was supported by powerful rulers including the 7th-century ruler of Kanauj, Harsavardhan. This was the golden age of Indian civilization marked by high ethical standards, much before the present day moral decay had set in leading to a deterioration of South Asian civilization into corruption, decay, disorder and poverty. Presently the South Asian countries rate as some of the most corrupt in the world with levels of malnutrition that perhaps even exceed those of some sub Saharan African countries that function as near failed states. The Chinese pilgrim Hieun Tsang stayed at Nalanda University for some time. He has left a clear recorded account of subjects studied here and of general features of the community. Nalanda University continued to flourish as a center of learning in the Pala dynasty (8th-12th centuries). It became well known as a center of sculpture in stone and bronze. Nalanda University was finally sacked during Muslim raids [5] of Bihar (c. 1200) and never recovered until recent attempts

The Persian historian Minhaj-i-Siraj, in his chronicle the Tabaqat-I-Nasiri, reported that thousands of monks were burned alive and thousands beheaded as Khilji tried his best to uproot Buddhism. The burning of the library continued for several months and smoke from the burning manuscripts hung for days like a dark pall over the low hills.

If recent attempts to revive the university are to succeed in spirit and not just in name, the newly recreated Nalanda University must maintain continuity with some of the values and practices of the original university, albeit with modification to suit the times. This author in his book, Management and Creation of a Technical university, presently widely available at major international outlets as a revised edition – How to create excellent universities [2] – described this university and the need to revive it. The early Buddhists universities of India have long disappeared with decline of South Asian nations into third world status. The present day universities came to India with coming of Europeans who had preserved and developed the concept of a university as a center of higher learning. However, due to the general ethos as prevails in a  developing country the newly established universities could not come up to international standards. None rate in the top hundred universities of the world and there is fear that the newly created Nalanda University may meet a similar fate. That would be unfortunate. Utmost attention is required by International educators and leading International Buddhist organizations to ensure that this does not happen. Indeed some such thing has already begun to happen. There is neither a single Buddhist scholar nor one of ethics and humanism on the board. Nor is there any from the fine arts. There is an urgent need to rectify the situation speedily because defects at the foundation stage of a university have a way of lingering on in to its future. When Hieun Tsang entered the university, there were 10,000 residential students. They came from all parts of India and foreign lands. It was India’s leading University. Its chancellorship was reserved for India’s foremost Buddhist scholar. At the time of Hieun Tsang, Silabhadra Maha Thera held the post. At that time there were about 1500 teachers, and about 1,500 workers at Nalanda. There were local students as well as foreign ones from Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, Sumatra, Java, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Greece. Admission to Nalanda was by oral examination. Chinese monks coming to India for higher studies in Buddhism had to go to Java and brush up their Sanskrit first. Hieun Tsang reports that only about a quarter of Indian and foreign students approved to seek admission through a preliminary selection, managed to pass the entrance examination. Therefore, the standard required was high. Caste, creed and nationality were no barriers to admission in keeping with the Buddhist secular spirit. All students remained in residence and there were no external students at the university. Aside from Buddhist studies, one could study secular subjects like science, medicine, astrology, fine arts, literature etc. The discipline, an essential ingredient of quality education, was exemplary at the university. The core academic area of Nalanda University occupied 30 acres as indeed is a requirement even of  modern universities aiming at excellence, as discussed in the author’s book – How to create excellent Universities but the extended campus was much larger and encompassed neighboring villages, as it needs to be to house peripheral and residential facilities required by any good university. The heart of a good university is a library. There were three large libraries at Nalanda University. One of these was a high-rise building of nine levels even in these ancient times. The revivalNalanda-University 2 of Nalanda University has recently been questioned by Buddhist groups from South and North East Asia. There are no Buddhist scholars on the board of the university and there is much fear that this university would be disrespectful of much that is fine in human heritage rather than a center of excellence. If Nalanda University is to claim back its glory, it needs to be substantially ahead of its time, just like its predecessor, in vision, ethics and moral standards. It need not remain an exclusive center of Buddhist learning and it may introduce many modern subjects, as indeed the Nalanda university of lore also did but it must be remembered that excellence in fundamental human values are at the heart of excellence. It needs to become a center of global ethical studies and standards as it was from its very origin. It seems that this essential requirement has been over looked. In the proposed schools at the revived university there is not a single one of ethics and humanism that comprised the core values of Nalanda University for over a thousand years.

       In fact not to stress on human and spiritual areas as the university is currently doing is in contravention of the very act that established Nalanda University which states in its preamble “ An act to implement the decisions arrived at the second East Asia summit on the 15th January 2007,—— for the establishment of the Nalanda University in the State of Bihar as an international institution for pursuit of intellectual, philosophical, historical and spiritual studies”  It is difficult to see how a school of business rather than one of humanism is in keeping with this act

To disregard the past heritage of the university would imply that the new university is related to the old one in name only. In fact it is necessary to incorporate the ruins of the ancient university located some ten kilometers away as a part of the university campus albeit a disconnected one through appropriate intervention with the Government of India. It would also be appropriate to hold an initial initiation ceremony for all students at the old location. The original complex was built with red bricks and its ruins occupy an area of 14 hectares. (488 by 244 metres). This complex once incorporated in the university, as it must sooner or later can be developed as an extension center of a school of Archeology and History and can be extended to incorporate an auditorium to function as an initiation hall and perhaps also a convocation center. A rapid monorail transit system to connect the old and new campuses needs to be considered. This would require the intervention of the present Chief Minister of Bihar, Shri Nitish Kumar, who has deep roots in the area and who is regarded as one of the most progressive Chief Minister of India, where this university is located. The revived Nalanda University, in order to function as an International University, would be constructed on a 455-acre campus to initially accommodate 2,500 students and 500 teachers. Fortunately the design of the new university has been chosen through an International competition. Of the eight proposals submitted by preselected architectural firms, this summer the jury selected [1] the design drawn by Vastushilpa Consultants, a well known architectural firm based from Ahmedabad in India for its clarity of thought and ability to take forward the vision of Nalanda. However, in order to come up anywhere to the standards of the original university there will be a need in the not to distant future to expand residential facilities to at least twice as many students and teachers along with an equal number of workers. It is unclear if the architects have kept this factor in mind. The current Governing Board is actually an interim one. It was mandated to function till a regular Governing Board was constituted as per Section 7 of the Nalanda University Act, 2010 or one year until November 2011 which ever is earlier but those, who comprised this interim Governing Board, earlier called Nalanda Mentor Group now function as the Board. All though many of the members are distinguished educators of the modern world, none have even suggested that the new university needs a school of ethics and humanism or even one of fine arts for which the university was well known at one time and which marks the significance of beauty and higher human values. Rather it is schools such as business studies that have been proposed. It must be remembered that Nalanda University was not conceived as a competitor of Harvard or the Wharton School but rather as a leading light not just of higher education but higher human values as well. One of the most highly regarded personalities of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama resides in India and it would have been far more appropriate if he had been requested to become the Chancellor instead or a visitor of eminence. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the administrative ministry of the Nalanda University, appears not to have made any effort to constitute a regular Governing Board yet. Rather Section 41 of the Nalanda University Act, 2010 was invoked twice – in 2011 and 2012 – to prolong the lifespan of the interim Governing Board. Now that its third term is coming to an end in November, 2013. There is an attempt to amend the Nalanda University Act, 2010. The act does need revision but it should be revised in a manner so as to remove its shortcomings in the initially hastily put together proposal and not perpetuate them. A priority needs to be given to evolved human values rather than prevailing bureaucratic ones. Without a department of ethics at the new university its very purpose would be defeated. Not only is such a school necessary but courses in ethics and human values must be compulsory for all students of Nalanda University so that they may emerge as citizens who can alleviate the present distress in the modern world, even advanced parts of it, rather than perpetuate more of the same. Although Buddhist institutions were destroyed in India over the past millennium, outside India, its excellent traditions have been maintained in other countries such as Japan where several excellent Buddhist Universities exist [3]. It is essential that senior faculty of the best from amongst them should be requested to serve as members of the Board of Governors as well as visiting faculty and to that end a school of Japanese Buddhist studies is essential at the new university. Japanese scholars have expressed interest. In a talk by Susumu Nakanishi, the Director of the Nara Prefecture Complex of Manyo Culture, originally broadcast on NHK TV on December 14th, 2007 in his program “Shiten Ronten” such a desire was expressed and he focused strongly on the ethical possibilities. It is not clear why their involvement is not being sought. Without a Japanese involvement the university is unlikely to ever reach its full potential. At this moment, it is reported that the current setup has attracted an international commitment of about US$ 100 million, which is far from its targeted sum of US$ 1 billion. The ability to revive the university’s famous name and a lack of deep appreciation of human and  ethical values, the very basis of excellence of Nalanda University in the past, is perhaps to blame for this lack of support. With corrective steps and involvement of reputed International scholars as well as not just Buddhist organizations but even scholarly Christian ones from the oldest highly reputed universities of Europe, it can still become an unparalleled institution [4] in higher education and a leading light of human civilization in the current Millennium as it has been in earlier ones.

UPDATE, JULY 9, 2015

This author has been communicating these links to the concerned authorities ever since the government of Shri Narendra Modi came to power in India last year. The previous one was neither accessible nor open to suggestions from independent thinkers. He is delighted to learn that some of the issues and concerns addressed in this article are now being addressed. A tweet yesterday from the university is as follow:

New Nalanda campus in 3 years. School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy & Comparative Religions to become functional

japanese garden

References: 1. Ahmedabad architects to re-establish Nalanda University in Bihar, The Hindu, Chennai, May 17, 2013 2. How to create Excellent Universities by Dr. Ashok Malhotra, Ph. D. UBC Canada, ISBN 1479108561, 240 pages, 2012 3.  Online reference: A Guide to Japanese Buddhist Institutions, http://www.buddhanet.net/nippon/nippon_partIV.html 4. http://www.nalandauniv.edu.in/abt-overview.html 5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nalanda