Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What was the role of the gatekeepers at the university?

Nalanda university was a very prestigious and popular seat of education of its times and scholars from far away places came here to study and gain knowledge. Though the reputation of its teachers and students is well established, it is not clear what was the procedure for entering such an institution and how did they ensured the quality and commitment of their students.

It is generally believed that the gatekeepers of the Nalanda Mahasanghrama posed questions to new students before allowing them to pursue studies in the Mahasanghrama. Xuanzang provides reference about the Gatekeeper as the Examiner/ Interviewer is given in “Travels” accounts but the version “Life” doesn’t mention the process of admission in the Mahasanghrama at all.
Hwui Lun and It-Sing the other visitors to the Nalanda Sangharama also don’t describe the entrance procedure in any detail and role of the Janitor.

Here are excerpts from the translations of the “Travels”, by Beal and Thomas

“Travels” S. Beal book IX, P-171
The keeper of the gate posses some hard questions; many are unable to answer, and retire.

“Travels” T. Watters vol. II, P-165
Of those from abroad who wished to enter the schools of discussion the majority, beaten by the difficulties of the problems, withdrew; and those who were deeply versed in old and modern learning were admitted , only two or three out of ten succeeding.

As we can see Beal has clearly defined the role of the gatekeeper in the admission of students in the university but Thomas watters has not and the explanation is forthcoming…

At the centre of the discussion is the interpretation is the word “mên-che” that is used in the original passage of A, B and D edition of the original Text.
“mên-che” indeed means Janitor but the interpretation of the word in the context of the sentence is different. Watters further say that Julien has severed the word (“mên-che”) from the preceding word and this has resulted in its wrong interpretation. Thomas watters interpret the word as it is accepted among the native scholars. (Inferred from, Thomas watters, “Travels”, Vol II- P-168)

S. Beal translation of the “Buddhist records of the western world” is partly translated from the Chinese and partly from the Julien’s work.

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