With 1.63 lakh manuscripts being documented, Tibetan/Bhoti ranked fourth after Sanskrit, Odia and Hindi. It’s time to promote the essence of Nalanda tradition
The news of the declaration of the ruins of the ancient Nalanda Buddhist University as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)) is the most welcome step. Unlike the Taj Mahal and 35 sites already declared by UNESCO for their excellence in architectural, cultural and natural value, recognising Nalanda Monastic University is acknowledging greatest centre of Buddhist learning in Bharat’s glorious past and thereby reestablishing Bharat’s global position as the Jagat Guru. The world body has done their job and it is for Bharat now to work towards achieving that goal by promoting the essence of Nalanda University, and its relevance in today’s world.
The most influential and important Mahayana Buddhist masters often referred to as the ‘Seventeen great Pandits of Nalanda Monastery’ have laid down very profound treatises and philosophy. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama not only calls himself as a follower of the lineage of these masters but also wrote an exquisite poem in praise of them. His Holiness the Dalai Lama explained: “I always describe Tibetan Buddhism as pure Buddhism from the Nalanda tradition. I myself studied the Nalanda tradition of Buddhism written by Nalanda masters.” Nagarjuna’s concept of Madhyamika (the Middle Way) was very much part of the Nalanda curriculum and it is relevant even today. The Tibetans have, without a doubt, one of the most impressive translation histories of any people in the world. Starting in the 8th century and continuing for some 900 years, they translated the entire Indian Buddhist canon, a body of work consisting of more than 4,500 texts and some 73 million words. Not only was the translation enterprise vast, but the texts themselves were exceptionally difficult and required immense skill and knowledge.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is not only the spiritual head of the Tibetan Buddhism which he promotes as a Nalanda tradition, but he is also the living proponent of the Nalanda Tradition of Buddhism which is spreading like a wildfire globally. It is time, Indian Government officially, recognises His Holiness Dalai Lama, who personally has nothing to gain by such recognition but Bharat’s global image will be greatly enhanced.
The second step should be including the language that has, for several centuries, zealously translated and preserved almost all the teachings of Nalanda masters intact, in the 8th schedule of the Constitution of India, a long pending popular demand by the people of Himalayan region of India spearheaded by Himalayan Buddhist Cultural Association, for the last 40 years. Bhoti/Tibetan is the mother tongue of more than three million people living in seven states strategically located at Himalayans regions from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. The choice of the term ‘Bhoti’ over ‘Tibetan’ is a conscious strategy adopted by the leaders of the movement belonging to diverse tribes to affirm their status as a part and parcel of the Indian identity. Inclusion of Bhoti language in the 8th schedule of the Constitution not only means emotional integration of the people in these far flung areas guarding the borders of the nation but also helping to promote a language which contributes in making the teachings of Nalanda tradition relevant today.
The news, released by National Mission for Manuscripts stating ‘Tibetan scripts have outnumbered all other languages barring three – Sanskrit, Odia and Hindi,’ added further justification to that demand. According to Prof Mohammad Shafi Zahid, one of the co-coordinators of the mission, “ Nearly 41 lakh ancient manuscripts written on palm leaves, bark, metal, cloth and even paper (at least 75 years old) have been documented as of March 2016, Sanskrit ranks first with 11.66 lakh manuscripts followed by Odia (2.13 lakh) and Hindi (1.99 lakh). Tibetan, with 1.63 lakh manuscripts being documented, is in the fourth place. This is good news for the Tibetans as well as people of Himalayan region who feel proud in using Bhoti as their mother script since they too follow Nalanda tradition of Buddhism.
Many such languages already included in the 8th schedule of the Constitution such as Santhali, Bodo, Dogri and Kashmiri even do not have a separate script while Tibetan language has a rich literature in all important fields such as medicine, architecture, arts, astronomy, astrology, music, dance, drama, philosophy, tantric, yoga, meditation and metaphysics, thus fulfilling all the criteria for recognition in 8th schedule of Indian Constitution. The collection of Buddha’s teachings “Tripitaka” that comprises of 108 volumes and Tantras is also available in the Bhoti language and all the volumes starts from the word ‘Gyakar Keydhu’ meaning in the language of India. How many languages in the eighth schedule have such a rich literary work that has the potential to establish India as the Jagat Guru?
(The writer is a retired senior Civil servant of the Government of Sikkim)