Sat, 28 Jan 2023

Gangtok (Sikkim) [India], December 5 (ANI): To highlight the expansive history of Buddhism and trace its source, a one-day national conference on Nalanda Buddhism was held at Chintan Bhawan in Gangtok on Monday.

The theme of the conference was "Re-tracing the source in the footsteps of Acharyas: from Nalanda to Himalayas and beyond".

The programme was organised by the Indian Himalayan Council of Nalanda Buddhist Traditions (IHCNBT) in collaboration with the Ecclesiastical Department, Government of Sikkim.

It had two interactive sessions on topics - In the footsteps of 17 Nalanda Masters or Acharya and In the footsteps of Guru Padmasambhava - Himalayas.

Sikkim State Legislative Assembly Speaker Arun Kumar Upreti was the chief guest and Ecclesiastical and Rural Development Minister Sonam Lama was the guest of honour.

IHCNBT vice president Jangchup Choeden and general secretary Maling Gombu were among the others who were present at the conference.

The sessions were carried out by research scholars from the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh, professors from SIHNS Sheda, Nar Bahadur Bhandari Degree College from Sikkim devoted towards Buddhist studies. The session also had Jamyang Dorjee, Master Buddhist Calligrapher from Rabongla, South Sikkim.

In his address, state Assembly Speaker Arun Kumar Upreti stressed on the efforts of Sikkim in the propagation of Himalayan Buddhism taking Nalanda Buddhism as its core. He highlighted how Buddhism in the Himalayas has flourished despite harsh geographical conditions.

Similarly, Ecclesiastical Minister Sonam Lama in his address highlighted on the importance of Bhoti language.

He said, "As much as the propagation of Buddhism in the Himalayas, there is a need to acknowledge the Bhoti language or in Sikkim Bhutia language for its inclusion in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution. There are 332 years of history of the Bhutia language in Sikkim. We have placed this demand with the central leaders as well as written to Members of Parliament for deliberation in the Indian Parliament."The Minister further said Buddhists are in the minority in the country and there is a need to preserve the Nalanda Buddhist heritage. "It is our duty to preserve our culture, heritage and religion. Next time, we will organise this in a big way by inviting Buddhist intellectuals," added Sonam Lama.

He further said while Buddhism is expanding globally and witnessing an important resurgence in some traditional areas, this is not the case throughout much of the Himalayan region where its vibrant presence is under threat. Broadly, threats can be divided into two categories, External and Internal like the decline in the numbers of monastic and monks, etc, he noted.

Some of the aspects of life and cultural sustenance of Himalayan Buddhist communities are - Reforms to traditional models of monastic education, creating opportunities for re-connect and social engagement between monastic and lay communities, the lack of accountability of the monastics to the society, developing new models of teaching Buddhism to lay communities and redefining the role of monasticism in the 21st century, said Lama.

IHCNBT vice president Jangchup Choeden also raised concern for the Bhoti language. He congratulated Sikkim for its promotion of monastic learning by the creation of over 100 Monastic schools and institutes in Sikkim, claiming the State to be one of the best for monastic learning.

"Buddhism is going through a change just as any other religion in the modern era. Our focus has been to involve youth in Buddhist studies from Ladakh to Arunachal and even beyond the Himalayas for the growth of Buddhism. There is a huge following of Nalanda Buddhism in all over the Himalayan region of India. The main aim is to strengthen the networking and create a platform to work together for the common benefit of the Nalanda culture that is spread all over the Himalayan region of India," Choeden said.

Choeden also congratulated Sikkim for celebrating the centenary birth anniversary of late Chogyal (King) Palden Thondup Namgyal highlighting how he worked extensively for the promotion of Buddhism in Sikkim and the Bhutia language during the erstwhile Kingdom.

IHCNBT general secretary Maling Gombu said, "We focused on preserving and promoting the Buddhist teachings that emanated from the holy land of India. Buddhism went from India to the world. It is now important to re-tracing our roots because Buddhism has become famous the world over under different names. We are trying to emphasise on the roots - Nalanda Buddhism."The Himalayan region from Tawang, Sikkim, Lahoul-Spiti, Kinnaur and Uttarakhand to Ladakh is a rich repository of the cultural heritage of Buddhist traditions.

For thousands of years, it flourished in these harsh geographical conditions. However, the vibrant living Nalanda Buddhist heritage is in the current times undergoing a rapid transformation in its polity, culture and socio-economic changes leading to strategic challenges in the Himalayan region.

Buddhism with cross-cultural relations which is one of the powerful factors of social mobilization and social stability in the Himalayan region will continue to play a key role in further consolidation of this strategic area of the country, the scholars observed. (ANI)

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