Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lama Taranatha and Nalanda

One single chronicle that has left a strong impression on our present information of Nalanda is “History of Buddhism in India” by Taranatha a 17th century Buddhist scholar and historian.

A detailed description of Sariputra association with Nalanda is given in

Chapter 13 – Extensive propagation of Mahayana, Page no 101

Nalaendra (Nalanda) the birth place of Sariputra was also the place where Sariputra, along with 80,000 arhants later attained Nirvana.

Taranatha also writes that the Brahman place fell into ruins except for the Chaitya of Sariputra and that later Ashoka built a large Buddha temple where the first 500 Acharya of Mahayana preached. The description further elaborates that two Acharya built 8 temples and placed there scriptures of Mahayana and king Ashoka was the first to raise monastery there.

Rahulabhadra and Nagarjuna were among the teachers who helped in promoting the Mahayana from Nalanda. In 15th chapter it went on to explain how Nagarjuna with help of Alchemy maintained and sustained the Monastery.

Further down in chapter 17, there is a mention of patronage of king Chandragupta of Gupta dynasty in 3rd century AD and 20th chapter there is a mention about a mysterious fire that started to burn the scriptures in the Dharmaganja particularly in Ratnasagar, Ratnodadhi and Ratnarandaka. The Ratnodadhi was a 9 storey structure and a miraculous stream of water erupted to extinguish the fire. The temples were restored to their original condition by king Buddhapaksa.

Chapter 22 is about Arya Asanga and his12 year association with Nalanda and after him his brother Vasubandhu becoming upadhyaya at Nalanda.

Chapter 24 is about acarya Chandrakirti at Nalanda and king sila.

The above references are contradictory to what we have concluded so far based on the various travelogues. But since we are open to possibilities and we have to try to come to consensus between all the available literatures, we try to extrapolate the following possibilities and deduce some conclusions.

1- Sariputra birthplace and Nalanda University are same site and all the events/association mentioned are true.

2- Both the places are same but the other facts about the Acharyas and infrastructure are convoluted.

3- There are two different places and the accounts mentioned by Taranatha relevant to another Monastery; and these Acharyas and events belonged there.

4- Both the sites are different and information about the Acharyas and infrastructure for any one of the place has no sufficient evidence to prove otherwise.

5- Another possibility is there are two or more places named Nalanda both are not associated with Sariputra. And in this 2nd Nalanda there is a monastery mentioned by lama Taranath.

6- Or in an extreme case the Nalanda of Pali text and Xuanzang travelogues are different and not associated with Sariputra birthplace and there being a monastery at Sariputra birth place by name of Nalanda.

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