History of Buddhist Education: Convocation Address by Professor Prasert Na Nagara, the First Chairman of IBC Council

Venerable Wei Wu, Chairman of the Council of the International Buddhist College, Venerable Professor KL Dhammajoti, Rector of the International Buddhist College, honorable members of the Sangha, Deans, Professors and members of both academic and administrative staff, distinguished guests, graduates, students of IBC, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure and a privilege for me to have been invited to deliver the Convocation Address in this memorable occasion of the Third Convocation of the International Buddhist College of Thailand.

As the first chairman of the council of International Buddhist College, I am really delighted and impressed to know that the International Buddhist College is gaining much popularity gradually but rapidly among the Buddhist world within the short period of time after its conception, so as to open its branch campus in Nakhon Ratchasima. I wish to emphasize here that the vision and the great aspiration of IBC is to become the renown and excellent center for Buddhist education.

I think that it is our prime duty and responsibility to make the vision, or the ideal of our IBC, a reality through which we can make a great contribution to the whole world for building up a better world where beings can live happily, harmoniously, and safely in a global society. We are all committed to do our best for the wellbeing of mankind following the path of the Buddha.

For this purpose, the most valuable contribution that we can make to the world is to spread as far as possible the teachings of the Buddha, which shows the path leading to the light from the darkness, to the wisdom from ignorance.

Once, the Buddha said that he always respects the torch-bearer of the people (Ukk─üdh─üro manuss─ünam niccam apacito may─ü). As Buddhists, we are fortunate enough to be inspired by this precious treasure of the Dhamma. So we have to take every possible step to make it shine so that the whole world gets the benefit of the Dhamma.

As we all know the most affective and effective way to convey the message of the Buddha to the world is the method of education. According to the canonical reference, "it is the miracle of instruction" (anus─üsani p─ütih─üriya), which the Buddha adopted to propagate his teachings. The Buddha is known as the great teacher for both gods and men (Satth─ü devamanuss─ünam), as his method of education was so effective, that the people almost all over India became his followers within the forty-five years of his teaching career.

As Buddhists, we have the honour to claim that the longest, unbroken history of education is maintained by Buddhists. Education of the Dhamma, started by the Buddha for over two and a half millennium ago, has been successfully carried out by his disciples until today; inspiring millions of people, especially in the eastern part of the world, in their religious, cultural, social, political, economical, and intellectual activities. IBC motto says "bahūnam vata atthāya" as Buddhist education aims at benefiting as many as people as possible. Buddhism is not something esoteric and mystic. It has nothing to hide as the Buddha says "the more one elaborates it, the more it shines" (vivatova virocati).

Upanishadic teachers prior to and during the time of the Buddha, shared their teachings only with their beloved sons and preferred pupils in privacy. That is why Upanishads are known by that name. On the contrary, the Buddha immediately after his enlightenment, figured out the way to share his spiritual experience with the world. Ariyapariyesana sutta, which reveals the noble quest of the Buddha, tells us how he thought to impart his doctrine to the world for the welfare of many. There, the Buddha adopted a very powerful method of education known as gradual method (pariy─üya desan─ü), as he understood the different inclinations of the people. The teaching method introduced by the Buddha to the field of education is still highly utilized in the system of modern education.

The Buddha first started his teaching career wandering from house to house, village to village and street to street. Then he founded his centers of educations in the monasteries such as Veluvan─ür─üma in R─üjagaha, Jetavan─ür─üma, and Pubb─ür─üma in Savatthi. It was the starting point of monastic education in the history of education. While the Buddha was the master in all these monastic institutions, his great disciples such as S─üriputta, Moggall─üna, Anuruddha, Mah─ü Kacc─üna and so on immensely contributed to bring forth his teaching in many different ways with their unsurpassed knowledge of the Dhamma. It is evident from the canonical references that most of the analytical discourses of the canon such as Samm─üditthi, Saccavibhanga and Dh─ütuvibhanga were delivered by the great disciples of the Buddha. Sometimes, when the Buddha left half through his lessons, for some reason, one of his disciples came forward to complete the remaining part of the lesson. The Madhupindika sutta of Majjhima nik─üya is a collaborated lesson of the Buddha and the Venerable Maha Kacc─üna.

There were many disciples of the Buddha who developed different skills in the fields of Dhamma due to the monastic education during the time of the Buddha. We can find canonical references to such competent monks, such as Dhamma-dhar─üs, Vinaya-dhar─üs, M─ütik─ü-dhar─üs, Dhamma-kathik─üs, Vicita-bh─ünak─üs, and so on. These monks, who were competent in the different fields of the Dhamma, continued to preserve and propagate the teaching of the Buddha by way of monastic education, even after the passing away of the Buddha.

Teaching of the Dhamma became a traditional heritage of the monks. Teacher-pupil lineage of the monks has contributed much for the development of Buddhist literature in different directions. Thanks to their efforts, today we are fortunate enough to possess a wide range of Buddhist literature comprising the canon, pre-commentarial literature, commentaries, sub-commentaries, manuals etc. The history of Buddhism records a wide variety of Buddhist schools, which presented different interpretations of the teachings of the Buddha during the time in between the passing away of the Buddha and the third Buddhist Council. These Buddhist schools of the interpretation of Buddhist thought no doubt emerged from the different Buddhist educational institutes headed by the Buddhist scholars who held different views on Buddhism.

When Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in the third century BC., the system of Buddhist education began to flourish on a solid ground. The Mah─üvih─üra in Anur─üdhapura was a center for Theravada Buddhist education after the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It is a well-known fact that the Pali commentaries brought to Sri Lanka by Venerable Mahinda were elaborated and translated into Sinhalese language in the Mah─üvih─üra, the education center of Buddhism.

The great commentator Venerable Buddhaghosa, who went to Sri Lanka in the 5th Century AD, was reported to have studied Theriya tradition in Mah─üvih─üra. Beside Mah─üvih─üra, Abhayagiri and Jetavana were other centers of Buddhist education in ancient Sri Lanka, which conducted their own ways of Buddhist learning. Sri Lanka is still maintaining its unbroken tradition of Buddhist education. The system of pirivena education, which confined itself to Buddhist education in Srilanka, has immensely contributed not only to the development of Buddhism, Buddhist culture and Buddhist values of the people, but also to gain much fame and honour to the country.

While Buddhist education was gaining its culmination in Sri Lanka on the one hand, Buddhist scholarship of India was able to build up a golden era of Buddhist education in India on the other. History of Buddhist education records its utmost development in India during the 4th to the 12th centuries AD. When the western world was unaware of the concept of university, Indian Buddhist scholarship gave rise to six monastic universities during that period. They were known as N─üland─ü, Wikramasil─ü, Odantapuri, Somapura, Jagaddal─ü, and Wallabhi. Among these six universities, N─üland─ü received much more popularity among both local and foreign students. It was a light house of wisdom and learning, the first of its kind in the world. According to Hieun Tsang, a Chinese brilliant scholar monk, who studied at N─üland─ü, when he entered the university, there were 10,000 resident students who came from all parts of India and different foreign countries such as Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, Java, Sumatra and Sri Lanka. There were 1510 teachers and about 1500 workers. 100 lectures were delivered daily. Before it was set to fire by Muslim invaders, it was a leading university for several centuries in India.

All the six universities maintained high standards in education, administration and discipline. The course of studies of these universities included Buddhist studies pertaining to all three Buddhist traditions, comparative religion, the six systems of Hindu Philosophy and various other secular subjects such as politics, economics, law, agriculture, astrology, science, logic, medicine, fine-arts and literature.

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, that is to say as the Buddha pointed out "sukhakāmā hi sattā dukkha patikkūlā". All living beings like happiness and they dislike unhappiness.

Citation for Honored speaker, Professor Dr. Prasert Na Nagara

Presented by Prof. Dr. Kapila Abhayawansa, Dean of Faculty of Religious Studies

Venerable Rector,
It is an honor and a privilege for me to have this opportunity to introduce Professor Dr. Prasert Na Nagara who has been invited by the council of International Buddhist College to deliver the convocation address in this pleasant evening, today.

Professor Prasert is an eminent and rare scholar who has been specialized in several academic disciplines such as agricultural engineering, archeology, history, liberal arts, Music, Thai language and industrial education for which he was honored by different universities such as Chulalongkorn, Silpakorn, Kasetsart, Chiang Mai, and Thammasat as well as King Makut institute of technology awarding him Honorary degrees for his valuable contribution to the relevant fields.

Professor Prasert received his primary education from Narirat School in Phrae and Phiriyalai in Phrae and secondary education from Yuppharat Witthalayai School in Chiangmai and Suan Kulap Witthalayai in Bangkok. In recognition of his brilliant performance at the level of secondary education he was awarded a government scholarship in 1938 to study at the University of Philippines where he received his first graduation on agricultural engineering. In 1943, he was able to achieve LL. B degree from Thammasat University. He had the rare privilege of being awarded the second government scholarship in 1957 to study Statistics at the Cornell University in New York, USA where he obtained his degrees of Master of Statistic (M.S) in 1953 and Doctor of Philosophy in 1957.

Professor Prasert secured the honor of being served in different capacities in various universities and institutions in Thailand. He served as a secretary-general, a Vice Rector and professor in Kasetsart University; as an adjunct professor in History, Sukhothai inscriptions, Northern Thai at Chulalongkorn University, Kasetsart University and Sri Na Kharin Wirot University. During his long academic service, he served as the Acting secretary-general of National Education Council; as the Acting Head of National Economic and Social Development Board and the Acting Deputy Secretary-general for Social Sciences in National Research Council. In his capacity as the permanent Secretary to the ministry of University Affairs, he was able to contribute much for the development of university education in Thailand.

In recognition of his enormous service to the country of his birth, Professor Prasert was decorated with various titles such as The Knight Cordon (Special Class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant, The Grand Knight Condor (Special Class) of the Most Notable Order of The Crown of Thailand, The Knight Grand Condor (Second Class Higher Grade of the Most Industrious Order of Chula Chom Klao, The Knight Grand Condor, The Knight (Third Class) Of the Most Admirable Order of Direk-gunabhorn and the medal of the Dushidi Mala.
Professor Prasert's eminent achievements in different fields have been highly recognized. The following awards have been conferred on him as the recognition of his admirable service: Phi Kappa Phi, Sigma Chi, Gold record award for writing words of songs, Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Philippines, Best researcher award of the National Research Council, Kittimedhi in Liberal Arts from Sukhothai Open University, Gold Phra Kiaw for promotion of the Thai language, Best Award for Culture Supporter of Thai heritage, ASEAN Award for Literary Arts, Top Thai Government Student, Notable Person for Social Development in History and Literature, Notable Person for the Thai language from Ministry of Culture, Surintharacha Award for Senior Translator and Interpreter and the Narathip Award from Writer's Association.

In concluding this citation, I am pleased to mention here that Professor Dr. Prasert has a very good cordial relation with our International Buddhist College from its very inception and he has contributed immensely for the bringing up of IBC. We gratefully remind his great service that he has done in the capacity of the first council chairman of IBC.

Venerable Rector, It is with much pleasure that I now invite Professor Dr. Prasert Na Nagara to deliver the convocation address at this third convocation of the International Buddhist College.