Enriching the experience of Indian Buddhist Studies scholars in the city of “good merit”

DSC_4828The city of Pune was originally called “Punya-nagari,” which means the city (nagari) of good merit (punya). Pune has a rich history of education, social change, and spirituality. It is situated in the Indian state of Maharashtra, which is home to approximately 70 percent of the total Buddhist population of India. Khyentse Foundation’s partnership with Pune University has evolved over the last nine years from the aspiration of several of Rinpoche’s students, helping to fulfill Rinpoche’s vision of bringing Buddhism back to India.

In 2008, members of the World Centre for Creative Learning Foundation (WCCL), an arts-based therapy educational nonprofit based in Pune, India, met Rinpoche in Bhutan. That meeting inspired the WCCL team, all of whom are Indian citizens, to begin a journey of rediscovering the path of the Buddha. They were saddened by the realization that Buddha’s profound wisdom and teachings are  vanishing from the minds of most Indians, replaced by an education system that values the philosophies of Jung, Freud, Marx, and other western minds. The students were  deeply touched to see how Tibetan Buddhist teachers have faithfully preserved the Nalanda Tradition. This was especially true since in India, many great philosophies and traditions have died because the masters and teachers have all but disappeared. The students perceived a momentous opportunity for Indians to learn Buddhism from living lineage masters, and they felt that it would be a waste if Indians ignored this precious chance.

In 2010, the students created a project called “Study of Mind,” with a vision to make available to many the living tradition of Buddhism in India. The students made the aspiration to help establish Rinpoche’s living lineage of Buddhist teachings in the city of good merit, Pune.

The students expressed their aspirations to Rinpoche in Mumbai and he encouraged them and accepted their invitation to teach in Pune and to meet with the faculty of the Department of Pali at Savitribai Phule Pune University. In those initial meetings, ideas arose for collaborative courses and for a Khyentse Foundation Visiting Professorship program. Rinpoche actively encouraged and offered the financial support of Khyentse Foundation to sponsor both of these initiatives. The Khyentse Foundation Visiting Professor program at Pune University was established, and the first visiting professor was hosted in 2015. KF’s partnership with Pune University has since blossomed, and the department is now flourishing, offering courses and lecture series over the past two years, and also hosting retreats and sponsoring creative productions of Buddhist songs, dances, and art. Khyentse Foundation’s vibrant partnership with Pune University is fertile ground for an ever-unfolding “Buddhist renaissance” in India, for the benefit of Indians and non-Indians alike.

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Written with Zubin Balsara, founding member of WCCL, where he currently serves as program director. He wrote a book, Songs, Science and Spirit, and is a drummer and enthusiastic music educator. He also serves as administration manager for Khyentse Foundation’s India Program Committee.