[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Sunday, February 22, 2009

[Revival of Nalanda University]
I had a short but productive trip to Bihar, India. The night before leaving Singapore, I hosted members of the Nalanda Mentors Group to dinner at Wu Xueguang's house where Tan Swie Hian, one of our great artists, had painted a number of scenes from the ancient Buddhist university of Nalanda.

The Nalanda Mentors Group was formed by the Indian Government to advise it on the revival of Nalanda University. The Group is headed by Prof Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winner for Economics. I am a member in my individual capacity. Our meeting this time was at Bodh Gaya, the place where Buddha attained enlightenment beneath the famous bodhi tree. I was last there in 2002 for the dedication of the Mahabodhi Temple as a UNESCO world heritage site. But this time, I visited the temple at night when it was serene. There were some pilgrims warmly clad in small tents chanting and meditating throughout the cool night.

For centuries, Nalanda University was a centre of learning in Asia attracting students from China, Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. The most well-known students were the three great monks from China - Fa Xian, Xuan Zang and Yi Jing. Xuan Zang left behind an account rich in details. At its peak, Nalanda had 10,000 students who studied not only Buddhism but also philosophy, mathematics, medicine and astronomy. Xuan Zang's journey to India was of course mythologized in Xi You Ji, the Journey to the West. Nalanda was destroyed at the end of the 12th century by Turkish invaders at about the same time Oxford and Cambride were established.

The objective of reviving Nalanda as a secular university is to promote its universal spirit of learning and goodwill - man living in harmony with man, man living in harmony with nature, man living as part of nature. To achieve this objective, the Indian Govt will establish Nalanda as an international university in collaboration with other countries. It will help bring about a peaceful Asia in the 21st century.

The Bihar Government has already acquired a 500-acre site for the new university not far from the ruins. The ruins themselves are far from being fully excavated. It is a beautiful site flanked on the north side by the Rajgir Hills.

After visiting the sites of the new and old Nalanda, we drove to Patna, the capital of Bihar State - the Pataliputra of Ashoka, Chandragupta and Kautilya. The Chief Minister Nitish Kumar welcomed us warmly pledging his full support for this project. Both the Indian and Bihar State Governments have big plans to develop the Buddhist Holy Land as a major tourism destination. I believe millions will come every year bringing benefit to the local inhabitants who are still very poor. On behalf of the Buddhist community in Singapore, I thanked the Chief Minister for agreeing to allocate a 3-acre piece of land near the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya for the construction of a pilgrim house for Singaporean visitors. MP Yeo Guat Kwang and Ven Guang Sheng from Singapore Buddhist Federation who accompanied me on this trip were happy with the site.

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