The New Deer Park

Rinpoche invited Raji Ramanan to join the Board of Directors of the new Deer Park Institute as Treasurer. Raji was a well-known writer who lived in Delhi. This is Raji’s eloquent description of the then new institute.

Rinpoche invited Raji Ramanan to join the Board of Directors of the new Deer Park Institute as Treasurer. Raji was a well-known writer who lived in Delhi. This is Raji’s eloquent description of the then new institute.

Centuries ago a realised one walked into the small suburb of Nalanda on the outskirts of Rajagriha. He was the Buddha, the realised one. The mango grove welcomed him, spreading its branches, the cuckoo bird with its sweet melody sang the praise of thatagata. As years rolled by and the teachings of the Buddha resonated in every part of the little place, kings, scholars, and students visited the place to tune themselves to the teachings and understand the Buddha dharma. A great tradition in the form of a university called Nalanda was born. The little mango grove was now a centre for learning. Monks were on the study of supreme reason and were searching out the deepest principles of intelligence. There were sangharama; a garden of priests finding delight in silent contemplation. Scholars, bhikkhus, and students from far off countries flocked to the place for instruction. The halls of this glorious institution witnessed great teachings and debates.

Centuries later a Buddhist teacher from the land of snows looked at the beautiful image of the Buddha with eyes that spoke of his vision. Tucked away in the Dhauladhar mountain ranges in a small place called Bir, he had envisioned the Deer Park Institute. This was what he wanted to do; bring back the spirit of ancient Nalanda with the freshness of contemporary expression. This would be a place, he thought, where scholars , bhikkhus, and lay people would commit themselves to the study of dharma. Now does this teacher mean only the Buddhadharma? No. His canvas of learning is as vast as the sky; or is the sky itself his canvas? His dream is to paint this most beautiful picture of coming together of the study of classical language, culture, history, arts, logic, science, and the dharma of all denominations which when merged would be a magnificent rainbow of all colours. It was neither a distant dream nor an unreal one!

Nalanda was a centre of learning, one of its kind in the entire world where dwar Pandits (gate professors) guarded entry to the institution’s numerous discourses. Scholar monks and renowned acharyas put the aspiring students to difficult tests to assess whether they were ready to receive instructions. Personality, behaviour, and intellect of the candidates were under scrutiny. With the pinnacle of the building kissing the skies and the surrounding beauty that eclipsed the splendour of the moon, poetry and reasoning went hand in hand in Nalanda. Libraries had beautiful names like Ratnasagar (sea of gems), Ratnodadhi (ocean of gems), and Ratnaranjaka (delighter of gems). Learning of Sanskrit grammar, Vedas, arts, science, logic, and Buddhadharma were done both at the knowledge and the practical levels. Discussion and debates were encouraged to facilitate education. The student looked up to the master with reverence and respect, and the teacher treated the student with deep affection.

Today, centuries later, a simple Buddhist teacher was standing with a twinkle in his meditative eyes and a gentle smile on his compassionate face under the vast expanse of the sky, surrounded by students, dharma practitioners, lay people, and scholars. In front of him was the magnificent statue of thatagata. The sweet melody of the Manjusri and Saraswati mantras chanted augured well for an auspicious beginning, a beginning that promised a future of enormous scholarship. The door to the Deer Park Institute had indeed been opened, inviting people across the globe to learning. The sky above, resplendent with the sun’s rays, appeared to bestow its blessings on the congregation. The atmosphere was filled with feelings of expectation, affection, and a deep reverence, for what the teacher reflected was love and compassion. His confidence and enthusiasm spoke volumes. How could it be otherwise, for the teacher is no ordinary one, he is a rinpoche, a bodhisattva, one who has come back to earth to remove the sufferings of other sentient beings.

The teachings from 31 March to 4 April, 2006, took one back lifetimes. While listening to The Sutra of the Recollection of the Noble Three Jewels, one marvelled at the continuity of these teachings. Has anything changed at all? Has not the student community gathered here transcended the barrier of nations, language, and belief systems with a single motivation, to learn under the guidance of this acharya, as they perhaps did in Nalanda? People spoke different languages and opined different ideas, and yet the teacher listened to one and all with the rapt attention of a student.

The spirit of Nalanda is pulsating again under the loving kindness of this teacher, whose vision is to offer a space where dialogue would be possible, where debates would be held with love and compassion, and where intellect and heart would go together, where this unique tradition would be accessible without any trappings under the able professorship of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.

The sangharama seal of the institute, depicting the wheel of dharma with two gazelles, is a gentle reminder that great traditions would always take back the people to the path of dharma. The journey of the Deer park Institute, a vision of Ven. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, has indeed begun!