Buddhist Universities around the World
by Venerable Prof. Dr. Dhammasami
Dhammacariya, MA, MPhil (Kelaniya), DPhil (Oxford)
Buddhists were among those to have set up the earliest universities in the world. Nalanda University (5th – 12th centuries) came into existence seven hundred years before Oxford University. Then, followed four other big
universities: Wickramashila University, Somapura University (now in Bangladesh and a world heritage site) and Odantapuri University and Jaggadala University. They were connected and flourished under the Pala Dynasty (8th – 12th CE). Some had more than ten thousand students; the student-teacher ratio was one teacher to five students, or two thousand lecturers for ten thousand students at Nalanda, better than top universities in the world today which count one teacher to eight students. But those universities disappeared in India; and outside India only over a century ago that Buddhist monks and nuns started setting up universities.
Current Buddhist universities were mainly inspired by the 2500th Years of Buddhism “Buddha Jayanti” (1954-1956), which heralded a revival of Buddhism and Buddhist higher education throughout the Buddhist world, particularly in the Theravada nations. Despite endeavouring towards the same goal, the educationists involved were quite unknown to each other. Partly because of this and partly due to the instability, resulted directly or indirectly from the Cold War, there were some setbacks in the 1960s for higher Buddhist institutions. However, two decades later in the 1980s, for another wave of revival took place, with a twin-track philosophy: revivalism and internationalisation.
Below is a summary of the Buddha Jayanti inspired movement of Buddhist universities, extracted from an article by Venerable Prof. Dr. Dhammasami (2007: 25th Anniversary Commemorative Magazine of Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka):
- In Laos in 1953, the government upgraded a leading traditional monastic school (pariyatti dhamma school) to the Pali Institute;
- In 1954 the Government of Myanmar founded Buddhist University in Yangon.
- In Sri Lanka in 1958 the Government upgraded Vidyodaya Pirivena (est. 1873) to Vidyodaya University (now Sri Jayawardenepura University) and Vidyalankara Pirivena, est. 1875, as Vidyalankara University (now Kelaniya University).
- In Cambodia, in 1959, the Government set up “Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University”.
- In Thailand, Mahamakut Buddhist University, est. 1887, and Mahachula-longkorn University, est. 1890, made efforts in the late 1940s and early 50s, to modernise their curriculum in line with the education practices in Western universities.
- In Korea, in 1953, a monastic school of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism became Dongguk University.
- In Japan during this period, the Jōdō Sect of Buddhism upgraded its school, founded in 1868, as Bukkyō University in 1949. Dōhō University also became a university in 1950. In the same year, the Sōtō Zen sect, also upgraded a school, Aichi Gakuin, founded in 1876, to a junior college and three years later, in 1953, to a university. Komazawa University (Zen) took several steps to enhance its status between 1949 and 1957.
- The Tibetan: the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala and the Central University of Higher Tibetan Studies (CUHTS) at Sarnath are founded by Prime Minister Pandit Nehru and the Dalai Lama in 1967.
- A Tibetan scholar, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1939-87), a graduate of Oxford University, set up the first Buddhist-inspired university in Colorado, USA in 1974 and named it Naropa University.
- However, from the early 1960s, higher Theravada Buddhist education suffered some serious setbacks, due in most cases to political instability sweeping through parts of Asia. In Myanmar, Buddhist University was shut down in 1965. A few years later, Cambodia closed down Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University.
The new era of Theravada Buddhist universities in the 1980s:
- In Sri Lanka, in1985, a world-renown Buddhist scholar, Aggamahapandita Ven. Prof. Walpola Rahula (1907-1997) led the setting up of Buddhist and Pali University (BPU) of Sri Lanka to educate the monks in English and in a more critical way that a modern man can understand and accept.
- In Myanmar in 1986, Tipitakadhara Mingun Sayadaw Ven. Vicittasarabhivamsa (1911-1992) opened two new Sangha universities concurrently in Rangoon and Mandalay, in Burmese medium, for the purpose of “purification, perpetuation and propagation of the Buddhasasana”.
- In Cambodia, in the 1980s, Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University was restarted.
- In Laos, the Sangha College at Wat Ong Tue, Vientiane introduced a six-year Higher Diploma Programme in 1986.
- In Myanmar in 1994, the first private Buddhist university was set up by a Buddhist scholar, Prof. U Myint Swe, a graduate of University of London.
- In 1999, the Government of Myanmar set up International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University (ITBMU) to teach Buddhism in English. Almost at the same time, Sitagu International Buddhist Academy (SIBA) was launched, conducting courses, also only in English. A few years ago, Dr. Than Tun, a Buddhist scholar, set up a Buddhist college in his native, Konchangone, in English medium.
- In Cambodia, in 2006 Sihamuni Raja Buddhist University was set up, primarily for the Dhammayuttika-nikaya Sangha.
- In Thailand, both Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU) and Mahamakut Buddhist University expanded more branches. MCU alone has 35 branches both in Thailand and abroad.
- In Korea, the Jogye Order of Buddhism upgraded Jong-ang Buddhist School to a college in 1989; to a university in 1996, for monks and nuns. In Korea, since 2000, two more new Buddhist universities were established: Wonkwang University in 2000/1 and Guemkang University in Chungnam in 2003. (Buddhist universities count only 10% of that of their Christian counterpart.)
- In Taiwan, in 1980 Ven. Bhikkhuni Wu-yin of Luminary Temple founded Xiang Guang Buddhist College for Another university, also founded by a bhikkhuni, is Hua Fan University in 1990, with a mission to provide “education for self-improvement” or “the enlightened education”, “based on both Confucianism and Buddhism”. For the monks, Ven. Master Sheng Yen founded Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies in 1985 and the Dharma Drum Sangha University in 2002. Ven. Hsing Yun, Abbot of Fo Guang Shan Temple, founded Nan Hua University in 1999 and Fo Guang University in 2000.
- In Mongolia, two leading monasteries rekindled their university programmes in the late 1990s. One of them, Zanabazar Buddhist University, educates not just the Mongolians but also Russian Buddhists.
- In the USA in 1991, Master Hsing Yun of Fo Guang Shan Temple, Taiwan established a Buddhist university, called University of the West.
- In Singapore, in 1994, Buddhist and Pali College of Singapore was set up in the Mangala Vihara. In 2005, the biggest Mahayana temple, Por Kar See, established Buddhist College of Singapore.
- In Malaysia, Than Hsian Temple, Penang, set up International Buddhist College (IBC) as a multi-traditional Buddhist higher institution in 2000.
- In Indonesia, Buddhist colleges (Sekolah Tinggi Agama Buddha) were set up, since the 1980s. The oldest, Nalanda College, in Jakarta is now 37 years old, the next oldest, Smaratungga College, established in 1986, and the others: Kertarajasa College, Jinarakkhita College, Bodhi Dharma College, Maha Prajna College, Siriwijaya College and Syailendra College only came into being during the last 14 years.
- In Hungary, in 1991, “The Dharma Gate Buddhist College” (“A Tan Kapuja Buddhista Foiskola”) was set up, conducting degree programmes, in western/eastern philosophy, Theravada/ Mahayana/ Tibetan Buddhism /Pali/ Sanskrit. It was “to translate the Tipitaka into the Hungarian language”; since its inception it produces one scholarly book every six months.
- In Czech Republic, some degree programs of Naropa University from the USA were started.
- In Europe, in 1995, French Buddhists set up a virtual Buddhist learning institution called European Buddhist University to promote Buddhism in France and Europe. This concept of virtual learning inspired others elsewhere: World Fellowship of Buddhists met in Australia in 1998 and founded another virtual university, World Buddhist University, with its centre in Bangkok. In 2006 a virtual Buddhist college was lunched in Vienna, Austria for a two-year certificate course in Buddhism.
- Since 2000, England, Germany and Italy to set up Buddhist institutes of higher learning. In England, Dharmapala College was founded by the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO). In Germany, the Deutch Buddhist Union (DBU), an umbrella group of 56 Buddhist organisations, began a two-year course in Buddhist scriptures in 2004 to train teachers to teach Buddhism at government schools. The course, consisting of 16 modules, covers all Buddhist traditions and important topics in Buddhist philosophy and culture. In Italy, Shôbôzan Fudenji, a Soto Zen Temple, has begun Training courses in Buddhist Doctrine.
- In 2005, Russia set up its first Buddhist university, run by ethnic Buryat Russian lamas ordained in the Tibetan tradition, at the famous Ivolgin monastery, Republic of Buryatia, Russian Federation.
- In Japan, there are more than fifty Buddhist universities; much effort has gone into the internationalisation of their taught courses and research activities, linking up with other universities in the world and publishing their journals in English. In 2002, The International College of Postgraduate Buddhist Studies (ICPBS) was set up to host lectures in Buddhism by English; apart from that, it accepts only four postgraduate students per year.