Lumbini Buddhist University: Embracing Challenges and Aspiring for Hope

Acharya Dayanidhi

The first World Buddhist Summit took place from 14-16th of Mangsir, 2055 in Lumbini, Nepal. The conference witnessed participants from across the world that included national and international Buddhist scholars, and concluded with a significant issuance of Lumbini Declaration. Notably, the seventh point of the declaration proposed the establishment of an international Buddhist university in Lumbini. To execute this proposal, a committee was formed under Dr. Tulsi Ram Vaidya which prepared a concept paper in 2058 and handed over to  Lumbini Development Trust.

Meanwhile, Lumbini Development Trust, along with education enthusiasts, professors, journalists, entrepreneurs, political parties, and people’s representatives, collectively strived for the establishment of Lumbini University. On 14th of Mangsir 2061, the campaign achieved legal recognition with the issuance of an ordinance to establish the university. The second World Buddhist Summit, held from Mangsir 15 to 17 in 2061, also endorsed the endeavor of establishing Lumbini Buddha University. Following the enactment of law on Kartik 20, 2063 BS, Lumbini Buddhist University was formally established. Most recently, Prof. Dr. Subarna Lal Bajracharya has been appointed as the 5th Vice – Chancellor of Lumbini Buddhist University.

The university has been offering Ph.D. program in Buddhist studies since 2067 and Master’s Degree programs under various discipline since 2069. Likewise, the central campus in Lumbini has been running postgraduate programs in applied Buddhism since the academic year 2070/71. Currently, the university has two constituent campuses and eight colleges are in university’s affiliation. Similarly, the university has recently embarked on its new academic and administrative building extended in 92 acre that features academic programs related to Development Studies and Applied Sciences.

At the forefront of Lumbini Buddhist University, there is the mission is to contribute for global peace. Buddhist education serves as the means for this purpose. The acceptance and adherence to Buddha’s teachings are reckoned as guiding principles in the university which are signified through the Buddhist teachings of peace, brotherhood, friendship and harmony for the sake of world peace. The university has also highlighted in its statutes, the very desire to operate higher educational aiming at the study, teaching and research related to Buddhist philosophy, literature and culture. While amendments in the statutes incorporated the term ‘other subjects’ in the university that welcomed different academic programs from beyond the Buddhist Studies and making a march towards an interdisciplinary approach.

Since 2074 Service Regulations, educational services of the university have been systematically classified into ‘Buddhist Studies Group’ and ‘Other Educational Groups.’ In this context, the term ‘other subjects’ conveys the interpretation of subjects extending beyond the scope of Buddhism. But, does merely imply subjects related to Buddhism or should it be comprehended as subjects beyond Buddhism? At some point, this question may also potentially acquire significance. The subjects like Buddhist History, Art, Tradition, Tantra, Architecture, and others are not explicitly included in the statutes. These disciplines represent vast reservoirs of knowledge in their own right. Additionally, subjects like Comparative Philosophy, Buddhism and Neuroscience, as well as Buddhism and Conflict Management, are at the forefront of high-level academic advancements. Furthermore, other disciplines from the Eastern philosophies can also find their place within the academic domain of Lumbini Buddhist University. Hence, it would not seem unnatural to interpret the term ‘other subjects’ in the statutes as indicating modernized Buddhist disciplines. Currently, various non-Buddhist studies programs are also in operation, aiming to address local needs. Those programs also introduce students to Buddha and his teachings to some extent. Hence, asserting injustice against the institution would be an unjust allegation.

The expectations of the global community from Lumbini Buddhist University appear both natural and foreseeable. It is essential to introduce the experts of Buddhist scriptures and the practitioners of Buddhist ethics to the global Buddhist community. Moreover, the individuals who preserve Buddhist art and culture, safeguarding the heritage of the Buddhist tradition, are invaluable assets to the nation. The act indicates the significance of these human resources in cultural preservation and production.

It may also be relevant to recall the sincere effort made by Prof. Dr. Nareshman Vajracharya who had been appointed as the third vice-chancellor of the university. Following the comprehensive study of educational programs in over fifty Buddhist institutions to gain a concrete understanding, discussions were held with various stakeholders, including individuals engaged in Buddhist studies, Buddhist spiritual leaders, disciples, organizations, scholars, educators, and local participants. Those discussions played a crucial role in shaping the university’s Academic Master Plan as a key component of the university’s Strategic Plan. On 27th of Jestha, 2072, the sixth senate of university also approved the above mentioned Master Plan. Furthermore, various educational degrees proposed were proposed for different levels which got approved during the seventh senate of the university on 2ndAshadha, 2073. As an important part of the master plan, the university undertook the task of categorizing the subjects that could be taught into three sections: ‘Core Buddhist Subjects,’ ‘Modern Buddhist Subjects,’ and ‘General Subjects. Possibly, this was the best option for representing the essence of the act. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of implementing the said plan may have been compromised after the conclusion of  Vice-Chancellor’s term. The main hindrance to this may not have been the fault of any official. Rather, it could be attributed to the numerical scarcity of a sufficient pool of knowledgeable manpower.

For the past eight years, the university has made significant strides in physical infrastructure development. This was a necessary undertaking, and therefore, it is commendable. However, it is essential to consider the construction of new structures in accordance with Buddhist architecture. Even in the buildings that have already been constructed, integrating Buddhist art can further enhance the identity and strength of Lumbini Buddhist University. Furthermore, identifying its long-term programs and becoming a center of attraction for national and international students is an early but crucial challenge for the university.

The university itself faces the ongoing challenges of developing a distinctive teaching methodology and evaluation system for its courses. Meeting the rising demand for non-Buddhist subjects also brings forth an additional challenge – that of upholding the prominence of Buddhism in recruiting human resources.

The establishment of Lumbini Buddhist University at the birthplace of Lord Buddha is a matter of great pride and honor for the university. Lumbini is a shared center of faith for over 5 billion people in the world. When the institution possesses the capacity to immerse itself in that vast realm, the university’s multifaceted opportunities are naturally unveiled. The university, despite having an extremely small permanent staff, has not degraded. However, at times, a limited number of influential individuals, often referred to as a “syndicate,” can potentially manipulate the institution. Yet an honest and capable leadership can be rectifying such situations swiftly.

In recent years, the seeds of religious and ethnic rivalry have been discernibly sown within Nepali society. The teachings of Buddha constitute a philosophy that transcends any particular religion or ethnicity. Buddhism can play a unifying role in bringing societies together harmoniously. The significance of the university could have been substantiated through its contribution to the resurgence of Buddhism in Nepali society, in conjunction with the global proliferation of Buddhist studies.

Universities are supposed to serve as the premier educational institution for the exposition, development, and testing philosophical doctrines and theories. In this context, Lumbini Buddhist University bears the ethical responsibility to undertake comprehensive research on the relevance of Buddhism for the present and future course of Nepali society. This is indeed a tremendous opportunity for the institution.

For any organization, a 19-year interval is by no means a short period. It is a collective responsibility of all the stakeholders to ensure that the university, with its inherent national identity, advances thoughtfully without compromising its sensitivity. The determination to not to let the institution fail is commendable. In order to safeguard the institution from failure, it seems, the formulation of a meticulously designed plan and its precise  execution is the urgent need. Cognizant of these circumstances, but the belated engagement of capable talents in shouldering the responsibilities has become a significant concern for Lumbini Buddhist University.

(Acharya Dayanidhi is an Assistant Professor at Lumbini Buddhist University)