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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Mind over matter

August 11, 2010

Claude Arpi
The Daily Pioneer  (India)
August 9, 2010

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition draws its root
texts from the Nalanda masters and describes
itself as a ‘science of the mind’. It is
ironical, therefore, that an initiative to revive
the Great Vihara of northern India should plan
not to include its greatest champion -- the Dalai Lama

It is perplexing to discover that an Indian Nobel
Laureate does not possess the insight to grasp
what has been the hallmark of the Indian mind for
millennia. I am speaking of Mr Amartya Sen, the
chairman of the Mentor Group who is trying to
revive the ancient Nalanda University. Mr Sen
recently made a statement showing he is out of
tune with the spirit of the ancient Indian
viharas. This is rather worrying for the project.
One can always argue that he is just a modern
economist and can’t be expected to understand the
subtleties of the ancient Indian mind.

The facts: When asked about the omission of the
Dalai Lama’s name from the international project,
Mr Sen stated that "religious studies could be
imparted without involvement of religious
leaders." This is a flabbergasting statement.
Does it mean that ‘religious studies’ should be
disconnected from the practitioners?

It reminded me of the 1960s in Europe when the
first Buddhist lamas were engaged as lecturers in
universities, they were told not to interpret
Buddhism as an ‘insider’, but remain an
‘outsider’. It is probably what Mr Sen means when
he spoke about the Dalai Lama: "Being religiously
active may not be the same as (being) an
appropriate person for religious studies."

These declarations from a supposedly eminent
intellectual proves that Mr Sen has no knowledge
of what once made Nalanda University the greatest
knowledge center of the entire world. Does he
know why the great viharas of Northern India
attracted scholars and students from the Koreas,
Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia or Greece,
at least till the day it was looted by Bakhtiyar
Khalji’s Muslim troops in 1193?

Simply because the teachers, the gurus, the
pandits taught what they had practised and
experienced. It is during the 8th century that
Trisong Detsen, the great Tibetan King invited
Shantarakshita, the Abbot of Nalanda to introduce
the Dharma to the Land of Snows and ordain the
first monks. Since then, the lamas of Tibet have
faithfully followed the masters of Nalanda.

During a recent encounter, the Dalai Lama
explained: "I always describe Tibetan Buddhism as
pure Buddhism from the Nalanda tradition. Nalanda
had great masters such as Nagarjuna or Arya
Asanga. During the 8th century, the Tibetan
Emperor invited Shantarakshita. He was a famous,
well-known scholar and master of Nalanda. He went
to Tibet and spent the rest of his life there. He
introduced Buddhism in Tibet. I myself studied
the Nalanda tradition of Buddhism; first I
learned by heart and memorised what we call the
root texts. All these root texts have been
written by Nalanda masters. The Tibetan Buddhist
tradition is the Nalanda tradition which combines
the Sanskrit and the Pali traditions as well
Buddhist Tantrayana. Masters like Nagarjuna,
Aryadeva and Chandrakirti wrote tantric treatises in Sanskrit."

After the Muslim invasions, the monasteries of
Tibet became the last repositories of the ancient
wisdom which had been virtually destroyed in India, its land of origin.

Mr Sen does not seem to understand that the
Nalanda tradition is not a ‘religion’, but a
‘science of the mind’. The Dalai Lama recounted
the story of Mr Raja Ramanna, the nuclear
physicist, who told him that he was surprised to
find the concept of quantum physics and
relativity in a text of Nagarjuna. The Dalai Lama
continued: “The West discovered these concepts at
the end of the 19th century or beginning of the
20th century, when some Indian sages like
Nagarjuna knew it nearly 2,000 years ago.”
Nagarjuna’s concept of madhyamaka (the Middle
Path) was very much a part of the Nalanda curriculum.

The Dalai Lama likes to speak about his contacts
with Western scientists. They started 27 years
ago: "We have had some serious discussions. We
have been meeting annually; the interest is from
both sides. In Buddhism, there is a lot of
explanation about the mind, many categories of
mind. Therefore, Buddhism should be considered as a ‘science of mind’."

The Tibetan leader clearly differentiates between
this ‘science of mind’ originating from Nalanda,
Buddhist philosophy (like Buddhist relativity of
things, he explains) and Buddhist religion. He
said: “When I contact modern scientists, I don’t
put them in contact with Buddhist religion, but
with Buddhist science and to some extent to
Buddhist philosophy." And he adds: "It is
important to understand that when we say
‘Buddhist science’, we mean science of the mind;
it is something universal; it is not a religion.
Buddhist religion is not universal, it is only
for Buddhists.” The Nalanda project should be
based on the ‘science of the mind’, not on Buddhist religion.

Unfortunately one has the feeling that Mr Sen
would like to recreate a new Shantiniketan, an
academic institution without its original spirit.
How to lay the foundations of Nalanda
International University without the spirit of Nalanda?

Some analysts tell me, "You are wrong, it is not
a question of religion or science, but of
politics. Mr Sen has to take care of Chinese
susceptibilities. China wants to participate and
does not want to hear about the Dalai Lama.” This
is terribly ironic. Mr Sen is probably unaware of
it, but the Chinese fought hard to impose their
own system of Buddhism in Tibet, but finally it
is the Nalanda path which prevailed.

The decision was taken after a long debate, the
famous Samye debate which was held in Samye
(Central Tibet) between the Chinese and Nalanda
schools of Buddhism. Shantarakshita before dying
had predicted that a dispute would arise between
the two schools of Buddhism that had started
spreading in Tibet. The first one — the Chinese
school, influenced by Taoism -- was of the
opinion that enlightenment was an instantaneous
revelation or realisation. This system of thought
had spread throughout China.The second school,
taught by the Indian pandits of Nalanda, known as
the ‘gradual school’ — asserted that
enlightenment was a gradual process, not an
‘instant one’, but requiring long study, practice
and analysis. The Samye debate took two years
(792-794 CE) to reach its conclusion. Hoshang, a
Chinese monk, representing the ‘instant school’
was defeated by Kamalashila who defended the
Indian view. At the end of the debate, the King
issued a proclamation naming the Indian Path
(from Nalanda) as the orthodox faith for Tibet.

Today, the Marxist rulers in Tibet seem to have
forgotten these details; they want to participate
in rebuilding the Great Vihara. Fine, but it is
nonetheless strange that the main living
proponent of the Nalanda tradition is kept out of
the project. I am sure that the Dalai Lama does
not mind, but it would certainly have been a
blessing for the project to have him as a mentor
(or Chancellor), like Shantarakshita had done for Tibet.

It is clear that it is the spirit of appeasement
and not the spirit of Nalanda which will prevail
in South Block today. Very sad.
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