Launch of Dalai Lama Chair for Nalanda Studies at Goa University
December 11, 2019
Goa, India – Yesterday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama flew from the wintry north to the sultry warmth of Goa. More than 100 Tibetans gathered outside the airport to welcome him. He was received at his hotel by Dr Anita Dudhane and Rajiv Mehrotra, Secretary of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility, who have both been involved in facilitating the establishment of the Dalai Lama Chair for Nalanda Studies at Goa University.
This morning, he met with Vice-Chancellor of Goa University, Varun Sahni, the Registrar YV Reddy, as well as Rajiv Mehrotra and Dr Anita Dudhane, to discuss the new chair at the University, funded by the Foundation for Universal Responsibility. They were joined by Dr Ajit Parulekar, Director of Goa Institute that is developing and implementing a secular ethics program.
His Holiness told them he regards the Dalai Lama Chair for Nalanda Studies at Goa University as contributing to his commitment to reviving interest in ancient Indian knowledge.
“The Nalanda Tradition was introduced to Tibet in the eighth century by Shantarakshita. And although the knowledge it preserves is contained in religious texts it is universally applicable. The world needs this knowledge today. In Tibet, we kept this understanding alive, but it is only now that our scholars are beginning to engage with their counterparts in modern universities.”
Rajiv Mehrotra clarified that the Dalai Lama Chair will be a visiting position, with visiting speakers coming to Goa University to shed light on aspects of the Nalanda Tradition. His Holiness remarked that whoever the visiting scholars are, it’s important that they adopt a strictly secular approach to be able to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. He paused, then expressed a qualm about whether the name Nalanda should be used at all, if it implies association with Buddhist scholarship rather than a broader ancient Indian wisdom.
“I have four commitments,” he told the gathering, “the first of which is that as a human being I am committed to promoting human values that contribute to human happiness. Look at the world today, where violence is rife, weapons proliferate and countries eagerly pursue arms sales. This is a wrong approach. There are other ways to make money. We seem to be following the pattern of the 20th century, which was an era of war. This is why India’s tradition of ‘ahimsa’, non-violence, non-harming, is so pertinent. The world needs ‘ahimsa’ and ‘karuna’—non-violence and compassion—not in terms of prayers or rituals, but as spurs to a different course of action.
“India also has a well-exercised notion of secularism, respecting others’ points of view and enabling even ideas with a religious source to be subject to academic study. What has to be made clear is that the basis for peace in the world is warm-heartedness within human beings.
“Scientists say that it is basic human nature to be compassionate because we are social animals; we depend on the community in which we live. However, our smart human brains can also be misused to destroy others.
“Children have little concern about their companions’ religion, nationality or race, so long as they smile and play together cheerfully. This is the kind of attitude we all need to adopt. In today’s world, hostile competitiveness leads to stigmatizing others in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’, which easily snowballs into violence. ‘Ahimsa’—non-violence—remains relevant, and along with it we need to remind ourselves of the oneness of humanity.”
His Holiness remarked that rather than quote what the Buddha may have said, he prefers to cite scientific findings, the result of experiment and investigation acceptable to anyone. He favours taking a secular approach and emulating the Nalanda masters’ example of using human intelligence to the full by employing rigorous reason and logic. He noted that while quantum physics asserts that nothing exists objectively and emphasizes the role of the observer, little has been done to investigate the observer. The Nalanda Tradition can fill this gap.
His Holiness was welcomed by the Vice-Chancellor and Registrar when he reached the Kala Academy Auditorium, and they escorted him to the stage. First of all, the Goa University Choir performed the ‘Big Ocean Cantata’ in his honour—a moving choral work to the accompaniment of stirring piano, violin and percussion. This was the world premiere of a piece composed in three movements to reflect His Holiness’s escape from Lhasa, his crossing the pass to freedom and his struggles for the cause of Tibet in exile. It was written by Santiago Lusardi Girelli, Visiting Research Professor of Western Music at Goa University. He also served as the conductor. The performance attracted warm applause.
Speaking from a lectern marked by the logo of Goa University and its motto, ‘Knowledge is Divine’, the Vice-Chancellor greeted his guests. He announced that yesterday, 10th December, Goa University signed a memorandum of understanding with the Foundation for Universal Responsibility establishing the Dalai Lama Chair for Nalanda Studies. He added that yesterday also marked the 30th anniversary of His Holiness’s being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the 60th anniversary of his successfully fulfilling his Geshé exams.
“Holders of the Dalai Lama Chair will focus on ancient Indian knowledge in combination with modern education,” he told the more than 1500 people in attendance—200 of them watching screens outside. “Why is the Nalanda Tradition important today? The Mahavihara was not only a place where students were taught, it was also a place that encouraged cooperative, competitive argument, stimulating fresh thinking and drawing out innovation. We hope to emulate this in our institute of learning.
“The Nalanda masters were all Indian. When the university fell in 12th century the world would have lost the knowledge it preserved if it had not already been passed to the monasteries of Tibet. Now, it can be transplanted back to universities in India.
“As a result of a memorandum of understanding we signed with Drepung Loseling Monastery last year, students have gone there to participate in meditation training. Soon, members of our faculty will go to Mundgod in connection with the SEE Learning program. Goa University looks forward to transplanting the Nalanda Tradition into the present day.”
Rajiv Mehrotra, on behalf of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility, acknowledged the new partnership with gratitude. He emphasized that it is taking place under a secular agenda and will involve a combination of method and wisdom.
His Holiness addressed his respected elder brothers and sisters and younger brothers and sisters, telling them, “I always begin this way, because I really believe all 7 billion human beings alive today are part of one human family. The way we’re born and the way we die is the same. And what is most precious in our relations with others is warm-heartedness. It yields the peace of mind and inner strength that are fundamental to a happy community.
“I try to share with other people that the ultimate source of happiness is within us; it’s not to be found in money and fame. I promote fundamental human values on the basis of scientific findings and common sense. Evidence that it is basic human nature to be compassionate is a source of hope. This is important, not in terms of the next life or liberation, but here and now.
“I’m also committed to encouraging inter-religious harmony, the preservation of Tibetan culture and the protection of the environment of Tibet. In addition, I’m dedicated to reviving ancient Indian knowledge in India. Integral to this is understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions. Most people are aware of sensory experience, but pay little attention to their mental experience. And yet powerful emotions like anger and compassion both involve mental experience.
“Applying our human intelligence, we can discover how to achieve peace of mind. We can recognise that this or that negative emotion, such as anger and hatred, destroy our peace of mind. Cultivating a calmly abiding mind enables us to focus the mind where we will. Developing insight into reality, we can learn to transform the mind.”
His Holiness discussed how crucial it is to study. He harked back to the challenge that certain Chinese meditators presented shortly after Shantarakshita had introduced the Nalanda Tradition to Tibet. They advocated non-conceptual meditation rather than study, but were defeated in debate by Shantarakshita’s disciple Kamalashila.
His Holiness encouraged members of Goa University to take full advantage of the scholars adept in what to study and how to study, who reside in the Tibetan monasteries in Karnataka. He looked forward to the revival of ancient Indian knowledge and its incorporation into modern education. If this can be done, India has the potential to set an example to the world.
Answering several questions from the audience, His Holiness cited the maturity shown by those European countries that formed the European Union as an example of why he is optimistic. They placed the common good ahead of local interests after centuries of destructive conflict.
Asked what makes him angry, His Holiness made it clear that anger serves no good purpose at all. Much better to cultivate warm-heartedness and compassion. Likewise, he dismissed violence in the name of religion as contradictory.
He clarified that what was essential about Nalanda was not the buildings that are now in ruins, but the knowledge arrived at there, of which Tibetans have been the custodians for more than a thousand years. He also praised the traditions of non-violence, compassion and secularism that are part of the ancient Indian heritage. At the same time, he suggested that in the most populous democratic country on earth, the caste system, a relic of feudalism, is out of date.
The Registrar, YV Reddy offered words of thanks to bring the occasion to an end and everyone stood while the choir sang the national anthem.