Contribution of Libraries in Buddhist Education in Ancient India by Dr. V.T. Kamble

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Contribution of Libraries in Buddhist Education in Ancient India by Dr. V.T. Kamble

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Professor, Dept. of Library and
Information Science,
Director, Equal Opportunity Cell,
Gulbarga University, Kalaburagi,
585106, Karnataka, India.
drvtk123@gmail.com

Key words :
Buddhist Resource centers, Libraries, Nalanda, Taxila (Takshashila), Vikramshila, Vallabhi, Sannati, Nagavi, Odantpuri, Jagaddala, I-Tsing, Hieun Tsang, Buddhist Education

Abstract

After the compilation of the Buddhist canons in Pali and Sanskrit, the literary movement followed the spiritual one which co-operated each other as well as mutually dependent. The Ashokan age marked the development of the scripts and the edicts were a popular medium of spread of knowledge. Buddhism gaining its global applause, led to the invitation of international scholars from Eastern and Western Asia which made India a hub of knowledge.

I-Tsing, The Chinese traveler mentions about the six Buddhist universities with huge libraries and resources. Each of the seats of learning was specialized in one faculty. Hieun Tsang reports that the Nalanda University has three huge libraries, namely; Ratna-Sagara, Ratna-Nidhi and Ratna-Ranjana. These libraries housed about nine million books from different fields. I-Tsings records that the Vallabhi University too had a large library. King Guhasena’s inscription indicates that it was a seat of research of subject of schools of Buddhism, as well as the Brahaminism and other philosophies. The secular subjects also found place in the library those are Agriculture, Education, Political science, Economics and Law. Odantapuri, Somapura, Jagaddala and Vikramashila too had huge libraries for enrichment and enhancement of knowledge and wisdom.

The south extension of this knowledge network reaches to the Nagavi in a Kalaburagi district of Karnataka, India. The Ashokan major stone inscription at Sannati in the same district exhibits the close relation between the stupa and the seat of learning of Nagavi. The insight of Buddha’s teachings were expressed and reflected in the form of manuscripts and books and the Libraries have contributed to make them available to the coming generations.

Introduction

Learning in India, through the ages, has been always valued high. Ancient education was sought as the means of self-realization. The process of education used to continue till the end of one's life. The ancient people engaged themselves in widening the spheres of knowledge and considered education as means of self-improvement. Though the education was imparted for the development of one's personality, but its ultimate aim was to prepare an individual for a particular community in terms of performing his duties therein. Hence, in real sense, the education was given to the people to solve the problems of community in particular and society in general.

Buddhist Education in India

In the Vedic age instructions were imparted orally, without the medium of books, and are perhaps the reason that no libraries have so far been discovered in the archaeological excavations at Taxila though it was a famous seat of learning from 700 B.C. to 300 A.D. With the advent of Buddhism, teaching came to be practiced through written word and this in turn gave rise to libraries. Buddhist education aims at a personality transformation into a highest form of humanity through ethical, intellectual and spiritual perfection. These three faculties of perfection of human life undoubtedly lead a man through mundane happiness to supra mundane happiness, which is the highest achievement we all are equally looking for. Therefore, the Buddhist education is grounded on the primary psychological need of all living beings. The goal of Buddhist education is to attain wisdom. In Sanskrit, the language of ancient India, the Buddhist wisdom was called Anuttara-Samyak-Sambhodi meaning the perfect ultimate wisdom. The Buddha taught us that the main objective of our practice was to achieve this ultimate wisdom. The chief aim of Buddhist education is all round development of child’s personality. This includes his physical, mental, moral and intellectual development. The other aims of Buddhist Education are to make a free man, a wise, intelligent, moral, non-violent & secular man.

Buddhist Education was wide open and available to the people of all walks of life. The system of Buddhist education aimed at regaining our intrinsic nature. It also teaches absolute equality which stemmed from Buddha‘s recognition that all sentient beings possess this innate wisdom and nature. Buddha‘s teaching helps us to realize that innate, perfect, ultimate wisdom. With wisdom, we can then solve all our problems and turn suffering into happiness.

Libraries and Buddhist Education:

I-Tsing, The Chinese traveler mentions about the six Buddhist universities with huge libraries and resources. Each of the seats of learning was specialized in one faculty. Fa-Hien noticed such libraries at Jetavana monastery at Sravasti (U.P). The Nalanda University in Bihar (300-850 A.D.) had a huge library complex known as Dharmaganj. Jagaddal, Kanhery, Mithila, Odantapuri, Somapuri, Ujjain, Vallabh and Vikramsilla were the other seats of learning which had good collections of manuscripts in the libraries attached to them. All these libraries had highly contributed to development Buddhist education and were destroyed at one time or the other by fire or Muslim iconoclasts, often in ignorance. Below mentioned major Buddhist Universities which had excellent libraries with good collection of books to support education.

Nalanda University

In the 3rd century B.C. Buddhism received great impetus under India’s most celebrated ruler Ashoka. Buddhist monastic institutions at Nalanda became one of the important centers of higher learning. It was the age of the rise of Indian Sciences, mathematics and astronomy. The University of Nalanda owed its foundation to six generations of the Gupta Kings. It housed a population of several thousand of teachers and students and a good functional library. The University had a huge library with the collection of valuable manuscripts and served over 10,000 students from India and abroad. Nalanda University’s Library was the biggest in Asia.

Hieun Tsang and Traditional Tibetan sources report that the existence of a great library at Nalanda named Dharmaganja (Piety Mart) which comprised three large multi-storeyed buildings, the Ratnasagara (Ocean of Jewels), the Ratnodadhi (Sea of Jewels), and the Ratnaranjaka (Jewel-adorned). Ratnodadhi was nine storeys high and housed the most sacred manuscripts including the Prajnyaparamita Sutra and the Guhyasamaja. These libraries housed about nine million books from different fields. It is evident from the large numbers of texts that Yijing carried back with him after his 10-year residence at Nalanda, that the Mahavihara must have featured a well-equipped library. Nalanda was also the most global university of its time, attracting pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey.

Takshashila (Taxila) University

Takshashila University acquired an international reputation in the 6th century B.C. as a center of advanced studies. The university was founded in the city of Gandhara in northwest India. It is considered to be the first University in the world. It was a great center of learning with a number of famous teachers, each having school of his own. Total 68 subjects were taught at this university and the minimum entry age, ancient texts show, was 16. It had an enrolment of 500 students, including 101 princes and a few foreign students. The University had an excellent library.

The library collection included works on Hinduism, political science, literature, medicine, and philosophy. The city of Gandhara, including the University and the library, was destroyed during the invasion of Hunas, in the middle of the fifth century.


3.3 Vallabhi University

The University of Valabhi was an important centre of Buddhist learning and championed the cause of Hinayana Buddhism between 600 CE and 1200 CE. Valabhi was the capital of the Maitraka Empire during the period 480-775 CE. I-Tsings records that the Vallabhi University too had a large library. King Guhasena’s inscription indicates that it was a seat of research of subject of schools of Buddhism, as well as the Brahaminism and other philosophies.


The secular subjects also found place in the library those are Agriculture, Education, Political science, Economics and Law.


=3.4 Vikramashila University

Vikramashila University was established during 730 AD during the rule of King Dharmapala of the Pala dynasty. The King established the university as he wanted to see more scholars and believed that the quality of education was declining. It was one of the best universities in his times and attracted students from all over the world. It grew very famous during the 800 AD and gave a direct competition to Nalanda. One of the most famous Pandits calls Atisha was said to be a teacher in the university. The university specialized in teaching Tantra and Mantra and one of the most popular students from this university is said to be Atisa Dipankara who was well known for his Tantra practice. Vikramashila University had large library with good collection of books.


3.5 Jagaddala

King Ramapala (1077-1129) is said to be the founder of this University. Jagaddala University was the largest construction works undertaken by the Pala Kings. This was a centre for the study and dissemination of Tantric Buddhism. It followed the methods, practices, and traditions of Nalanda. Jagaddala University had a large library with good collection different types of books. According to Tibetan works many books were translated to the Tibetan language at Jagaddala.

The Buddhist teacher Sakya Sri Bhadra, seeing that Nalanda, Vickramsila, and Odantapuri were in ruins after the Muslim invasion, entered Jagaddala for his studies. It is said that his pupil Danaseela translated ten books to Tibetan Sakya Sri Bhadra was responsible for the propagation of Tatntric Buddhism in Tibet. He lived for seven years at Jagaddala. In 1027 the Muslim invaders sack and destroyed Jagaddala.


3.6 Odantapuri University

Odantapuri was considered the second oldest of India’s universities. This was situated in Maghada, about 6 miles away from Nalanda. Acharya Sri Ganga of Vickramasila had been a student here. Later he joined Odantapuri King Gopala (660-705) was the patron who helped to found this university. According to the Tibetan records there were about 12,000 students at Odantapuri. Our knowledge of this seat of learning is obscure, and we are not in a position to give more details. University also had a library with good number of books. Acharya Sri Ganga who used to be a student of Vikramshila University, later on he joined Odantapuri and regarded as one of the famous alumni of this university.

This too perished at the hands of the Muslim invaders. It is said they mistook the universities with their high walls for fortresses. They thought the Buddhist monks were "Shaven headed Brahmins" who were idolaters.

3.7 South India

The south extension of this knowledge network reaches to the Nagavi in a Kalaburagi district of Karnataka, India which was the south India’s major Buddhist education centre. In Sannati, Ashokan major stone inscription exhibits the close relations between the stupa and the seat of learning of Nagavi Karnataka, India.

Conclusions

In the ancient period Buddhist Monasteries and in the later period Buddhist Universities played major role in developing Buddhist Education. The main aim of Buddhist Education is to make a free man, an intelligent man, a wise, moral, talented, non-violent and secular man. Buddhist Education makes man judicious, humanist, logical and free from superstitions. Now a day, we recognize Library is heart of an Institution/University, because as it is gateways to knowledge, culture and it offers create opportunities for higher learning, support literacy and education, and help shape the new ideas and perspectives that are central to a creative and innovative society. In ancient period also Libraries have made an excellent contributed to Buddhist Education.

It is a matter of great pride that Buddhist Education crossed Indian Sub-continent and expanded up to Sri Lanka, China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodian, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia with the rise and development of Buddhism in those countries. In those countries Buddhist Education has made tremendous progress with the inclusion of modern subjects in the curriculums. Thus, the libraries has played a major role in protection and promotion of Buddhist thoughts and culture through the ages.

Bibliography

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  • Ananda, W P Gurge, (1971), The Contribution of Buddhism to Education. (A paper presented in International Seminar on Buddhism, Delhi
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  • Nalanda Library https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nalanda
  • Odantapuri History http://travelnewsindia.com/ancient-odantapuri-university-ruins/
  • The six Buddhist universities of ancient India https://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha240.htm

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