(Pune, India, February 8, 2015) — Khyentse Foundation and Savitribai Phule Pune University in India jointly announced the establishment of a new professorship that will allow the university to offer a more comprehensive array of Buddhist teachings and traditions to the 300-plus students in its Department of Pali, Buddhist Literature, and Culture. The Khyentse Foundation Visiting Professorship program will fund experts in Buddhist studies to teach and conduct research for extended terms.
Rinpoche first met Professor Mahesh Deokar, head of the Pali Department, in 2011. Rinpoche was very impressed with his scholarship, sincerity, and enthusiasm and pledged KF support to strengthen Buddhist studies programs at Pune. The visiting professorship program is a result of Rinpoche’s aspiration to revive interest in Buddhism in India, the birthplace of the Buddha.
“It has taken us three years of working together to finalize the agreement between Pune University and KF-India,” said KF Executive Director Cangioli Che. “This is a very significant collaboration with a major Indian university and certainly marks the beginning of our effort to promote the academic study of Buddhism in India.”
The department was established in 2006 with just two professors. Eight teaching positions have been filled, and funding exists for an additional eight teachers from all over India. The department currently offers fifteen courses, ranging from certificate programs up to PhD programs. The majority of students come from the local Buddhist community of Maharashtra, and they want to learn about their roots and their identity. “But we also have students who are meditators who become interested in more formal study and practice,” said Professor Deokar. “And we have students who are in different professions such as counseling or healthcare, and even entrepreneurs who feel they can benefit from Buddha’s wisdom.” The program also attracts some international students, primarily from Buddhist countries such as Bhutan and Burma.
Because of Indian law, the university cannot hire foreign nationals as professors. “That limits our choices in terms of recruitment. But now with this KF fellowship we are able to invite international scholars who have expertise in different areas of Buddhism — Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana. They will remain for one year, teach the courses of their choice, and carry out research projects here to expose our students and faculty members to international scholarship.” During the exploratory period of this partnership, Professor Kenneth Zysk was invited from Denmark to teach on Buddhist medical traditions.
KF-India Director Dr. Badrinarayanan Srinivasan signed the agreement on behalf of KF-India, with Rinpoche as the witness signatory. Several KF team members were present for the ceremonial signing, including KF board member Raji Ramanan, KF India Advisor Prashant Varma, KF-Hong Kong representative Jun Xie, junior executive Pawo Choying Dorji, and communications director Noa Jones. “I think with so much collective ripening and blessings of Rinpoche’s aspirations, there is now much ripening of dharma in Western India,” said Prashant.
The announcement came at the end of a three-day teaching that Rinpoche gave illuminating Shantideva’s classic commentary on the Bodhicharyavatara, The Way of the Bodhisattva. It was a lively teaching with many animated debates among Indian attendees, much to Rinpoche’s delight. Rinpoche taught that although the Bodhicharyavatara is filled with instructions on how to be a good person, being Buddhist is ultimately not about being a moral and righteous or even compassionate human being, it’s about stopping the cycle of samsara by any means necessary. Compassion and good conduct are methods to that end, but not the only methods. On the last day, Rinpoche conducted three short meditation sessions and then gave Bodhisattva vows to all those who wanted. At the end of the three days, a group of Bhutanese students at the university offered Rinpoche a prayer.
On the third day, Professor Deokar announced the launch of an educational institute called the Desana Institute of Buddhist and Allied Studies, established to reach aspirants who cannot matriculate as degree students. “Rinpoche unveiled the logo of the institute and blessed us with his autograph,” said Professor Deokar. “All of us here at the department are happy because Ven. Rinpoche visited the department and even had lunch with all the staff.”