Shan State Buddhist University: A Concept Paper
by Venerable Prof. Dr. Dhammasami
Dhammacariya, MA, MPhil (Kelaniya), DPhil (Oxford)
Buddhist Sangha (monks) was 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, the first to have been established in the English speaking world and the third in the West. Nalanda was followed by four other big universities: Wickramashila University, Somapura Univer-sity (now in Bangladesh and a world heritage site), Odantapuri University and Jaggadala University. Those Buddhist universities had a close intellectual connection and working relationship with each other; they reached their peak under the Pala Dynasty (8th – 12th CE). These universities were responsible for spreading Buddhism in Indonesia, China and Tibet. 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, a much better ration than one at top universities in the world today which count one teacher to eight students. But largely due to external circumstances those universities disappeared in India.
Beyond India, only within 150 years that Buddhist monks and nuns in various countries began setting up universities, and most of the current Buddhist universities have been inspired mainly by the celebrations of 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.
Today, Buddhist colleges and universities can be found in Laos (since 1953), Myanmar (since 1954), Sri Lanka (since 1958), Cambodia (since 1959), Thailand (since late 1950s, though Mahamakut Buddhist University and Mahachulalongkorn University were set up in 1887 and 1890 respectively, it was not until 1950s that they attempted to run them as a proper university.), Korea (since 1953), Japan (since 1949), India (Tibetan universities since 1967 and Nava Nalanda Maha Vihara since 1956). There have been some setbacks in the 1960s.
However, a new generation of Buddhist universities came into existence in many countries since 1980, and many of them emphasize the teaching in the English medium. They are: in Sri Lanka Buddhist and Pali University (1985), Sangha College of Vientiane (1986), University of the West in California, USA (Taiwanese: 1991); in Myanmar, State Pariyatti Sasana University (Yangon & Mandalay:1986), Buddhist University (Mandalay: 1994), International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University (Yangon: 1999), Sitagu International Buddhist Academy (Sagaing: 1999), Zanabazar Buddhist University (Mongolia: re-est. 1990s), Buddhist College in Konchangone (2000s); in Cambodia, Sihamuni Raja Buddhist University (2006); in Korea, Jong-ang Buddhist Sangha University (1989/ 1996), Wonkwang University (2000/1), Guemkang University (Chungnam: 2003); in Taiwan, Xiang Guang Buddhist College in Taiwan (for nuns:1980), Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies (Taiwan:1985), Hua Fan University (1990), Nan Hua University (Taiwan: 1999), Dharma Drum Sangha University (2002), Fo Guang University (2000); in Singapore ,Buddhist and Pali College of Singapore (1994), Buddhist College of Singapore (2005); in Malaysia, International Buddhist College (main campus in Hatyai, Thailand: 2000); in Indonesia, Nalanda Buddhist College (Jakarta: 1977), Smaratungga Buddhist College (East Java: 1986), Kertarajasa College (Malang: 2000), Jinarakkhita College (2000), Bodhi Dharma Buddhist College (Medan: 2000), Maha Prajna Buddhist College (Jakarta: 2000), Siriwijaya Buddhist College (2000) and Syailendra Buddhist College (2000); in Hungary, The Dharma Gate Buddhist College (A Tan Kapuja Buddhista Foiskola, Budapest: 1991); France, a virtual Buddhist learning institution called European Buddhist University (1995); in Austria, a virtual Buddhist college (2006); in England, Dharmapala College (Birmingham: 2000); in Russia, Buddhist university of Republic of Buryatia (2005); in Japan, The International College of Postgraduate Buddhist Studies (2002). There are more than fifty Buddhist universities in Japan today. There are also around fifty Buddhist colleges in China and more than two dozen in Vietnam with the main ones as Vietnam Buddhist University of Hanoi and Vietnam Buddhist University of Ho Chi Minh City.
Shan State Buddhist University (SSBU) & Its Origin
SSBU is a working name (ITBMU Rector Sayadaw Dr. Nandamalabhivamsa is considering naming SSBU after a great disciple of the Buddha.) for the first Buddhist University to be established in the history of Shan State and will be led by myself who have been working interna-tionally as a Buddhist scholar-monk since 1987. Inspired by the progress of Buddhist universities at home and abroad, I have been dreaming about setting up a Buddhist university for those interested in the in-depth study of Theravada Buddhist teaching and its application to daily life from both Shan State and other parts of the Union of Myanmar as well as overseas. Not only that a Buddhist university has been a trend for the study of Buddhism at the higher education level, a Buddhist university is the place where the best and brightest students can be trained properly for the future of Buddhism itself and that of mankind.
Having seen and witnessed Buddhist universities and Buddhist studies worldwide, I want SSBU to combine the best what Myanmar Buddhist studies and some top western universities can offer. In Myanmar, the textual study at the Thamane-kyaw and Dhammacariya levels is a treasure of wisdom. At Oxford and Cambridge, a tutorial system is the norm; this requires students to write essay for every topic in each subject he studies. Harvard University stresses a comprehension exercise at the graduate level where students are given work to digest and summarize on a weekly basis. At all those top western universities, students have to learn how to use library, search for information on their own, produce a weekly essay after which they meet the teacher for discussion.
A good philological approach at a university level requires a sound knowledge of the Pali and English language as well as of the Pali Tipitaka. And SSBU will ensure that the highest possible standard is maintained both by the teachers and students, individually and collectively.
In summary, three components from the top western universities stand out: (1) the low student-teacher ratio i.e one teacher to four or five students, (2) the absolute integration of library in the teaching system i.e students who do not use library cannot write an essay, not to mention pass exams and (3) a good library which is updated all the time. This system is what SSBU aims at adopting in order to serve Buddhasasana through a Buddhist university.
In addition, some meditation facilities should also be part of SSBU. Today, in the West, scientists are using Buddhist mindfulness meditation to advance neurology and clinical psychology. As a Buddhist university, we should have some contribution in those developments.
Towards that ends, the first period of two years will be devoted to:
- Construction essential buildings
- Intensive training scholar-monks who have studied both in Myanmar and abroad so that they can grasp the system of SSBU and put it into practice at the highest possible level. I am prepared to lead this with necessary assistants from experienced scholars at home and abroad.
- And, building a good library, which means designing a good library, preferably in Gothic style: airy, spacious, high ceiling, big windows, and thick walls with insulation and environmentally friendly.
A master plan for the construction of the whole SSBU is not yet finalized; it is clear, however, that a library which includes some lecture rooms, an office space and a store room is the top priority. No library no university is possible.
Here a library is also about collection of relevant books, in printed and virtual form. It is also about interaction of wisdom between generations as much as of various peoples with different insights, which means the practical use of the library by serious students and researchers. Over the years, Oxford University has collected over ten thousand books related to aspects of Buddhism. A Sri Lankan Buddhist university at Anuradhapura has over thirty thousand books in three languages: Pali, Sinhala and English. It will be an enormous task to collect essential books from worldwide. The famous Motila B. Publisher in New Delhi has around four hundred books on Buddhism. Wisdom Books in the USA also specializes in Books on Buddhism and hundreds on their catalogue. SSBU must subscribe important publishers so that it can keep up with the latest secondary sources of books. (Sadly often this is not the case with most of Buddhist universities.)
This is but the beginning for SSBU and one thing is worth bearing in mind: the Most Venerable Rector Sayadaw Dr. Nandamalabhivamsa advises me on 9 October at ITBMU, Yangon that quality must take priority over quantity at any Buddhist university; it is a gradual step. Therefore, in order to achieve that, a firm foundation in academic, financial, university networking and administrative matters must be established.
The Most Venerable Rector Sayadaw Dr. Nandamala-bhivamsa has been the constant encouragement and leader in SSBU. While in Sri Lanka together, he often encouraged me to set up a Buddhist university in Shan State. He has been doing so each time I teach at ITBMU. Now that SSBU is happening, the Most Venerable Rector Sayadaw has very kindly agreed to serve on the Academic Committee once SSBU is up and running. He has also made a generous contribution of one hundred lakhs (Ks) to SSBU, becoming the first donor. Constant advice and blessing will be sought from the Rector Sayadaw and other leading Sayadaws.
As someone who has initiated this SSBU project and is committed to its success, I wish to invite everyone, from all nationalities and regions, to take this rare opportunity to participate in this historic project of SSBU to make it a success. One can contribute in many ways: financially, academically, administratively or otherwise.
No contribution is small in this type of important project.
Shan State Government is taking an active role in constructing SSBU. The Chief Minister has formed a committee with the state minister for religious affairs as its chairman. The Shan State Government is supported and guided when necessary on this matter by Vice President (1) of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Dr. Sai Mauk Kham, who is from Lashio, northern Shan State.
A successful SSBU will add to the glory of not just Buddhism in the Union of Myanmar but also the whole Buddhist world and indeed beyond.
Venerable Prof. Dr. Dhammasami
Founder of SSBU:
Born in Laikha/ Lecha, Shan State, the Union of Myanmar, the Venerable Prof. Dr. Dhammasami, now known as Oxford Sayadaw, is professor at International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon (since 2006) and Fellow (since 2009) and Board member (from 2004) at the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, Oxford University, Britain where he received his PhD in 2004. Since 2007 he has helped bring together many Buddhist universities as well as secular universities with Buddhist studies to form two association: International Association of Theravada Buddhist University (IATBU) (www.atbu.org) and International Association of Buddhist Universities (www.iabu.org); from its inception, he has been the Secretary General of both.
He has also served Secretary General of the International Council for the United Nations Day of Vesak (ICUNDV) from 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and is still on the Executive Council. The UNDV originates from the UN Assembly’s 1999 December’s resolution to recognize the Buddha’s Birthday as international holiday; it first met at the UN HQs in New York and then at the UN Regional Office/ Conference Centre for Asia and Pacific in Bangkok. Since 2013, this ICUNV, renamed as ICDV, has now been an official observer in the UN’s economic and social policies planning body. Venerable Sayadaw Dr. Dhammasami is also a visiting professor at Buddhist universities in Hungary, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia; and a member of the Governing Council at the Somaiya Centre for Buddhist Studies, University of Mumbai, India.
The Government of Myanmar has awarded two religious titles, Maha-saddhammajotika-dhaja (2009) and Aggamaha-saddhammajotika-dhaja (2012), for his work in promoting Buddhist universities worldwide and meditation teaching in Europe and Asia. Mahachulalongkron University of Thailand also confers on him an honorary PhD (2011) for his service to the Buddhist world and Buddhist higher education.