During the six centuries of its storied existence, there was nothing else quite like Nalanda University. Probably the first-ever large educational establishment, the college – in what is now eastern India – even counted the Buddha among its visitors and alumni. At its height, it had 10,000 students, 2,000 staff and strove for both understanding and academic excellence. Today, this much-celebrated centre of Buddhist learning is in ruins.After a period during which the influence and importance of Buddhism in India declined, the university was sacked in 1193 by a Turkic general, apparently incensed that its library may not have contained a copy of the Koran. The fire is said to have burned and smouldered for several months.Now this famed establishment of philosophy, mathematics, language and even public health is poised to be revived. A beguiling and ambitious plan to establish an international university with the same overarching vision as Nalanda – and located alongside its physical ruins – has been spearheaded by a team of international experts and leaders, among them the Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen. This week, legislation that will enable the building of the university to proceed is to be placed before the Indian parliament."At its peak it offered an enormous number of subjects in the Buddhist tradition, in a similar way that Oxford [offered] in the Christian tradition – Sanskrit, medicine, public health and economics," Mr Sen said yesterday in Delhi."It was destroyed in a war. It was [at] just the same time that Oxford was being established. It has a fairly extraordinary history – Cambridge had not yet been born." He added, with confidence: "Building will start as soon as the bill passes."
I wish them good luck, and hope it will retain some Buddhist character.