Peter Skilling: Peter Skilling is the founder of the Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation, dedicated to the preservation, study, and publication of the Buddhist literature of Southeast Asia. He is an advisor to Khyentse Foundation.
At the heart of all Buddhist traditions lie compassion and awareness. These core ideas are expressed in different languages, texts, and practices. The Theravada tradition, with its rich collection of texts in Pali and in the local languages of South and Southeast Asia, is an integral part of the universal Buddhist heritage. It is of inestimable value for all humankind.
Like all premodern knowledge systems, Theravada is going through a critical period as society changes rapidly in this age of globalization. The traditional study of Pali language and texts, dependent on a dedicated body of monks, has weakened considerably; fewer and fewer monks have a thorough and profound knowledge. Old texts and practices are disappearing as education becomes standardized and beliefs become rationalized. I doubt whether internet-based knowledge can replace time-honoured methods of training under a qualified mentor with the personal attention and role models that this offers.
On the other hand, the Sangha has not adequately adapted to or integrated the so-called modern or western system of education and research. It has not sufficiently understood its values, or, more importantly, crafted new solutions to the multiple questions of education and social change. I hope that new generations of educators, monastic and lay leaders, and realized masters are addressing this problem with wisdom and care.
Exchange and dialogue are always important; a significant recent initiative is the global network of the Association of Theravāda Buddhist Universities (ATBU) with its goal to “unite the people, knowledge and skills of every Higher Education Institution with a specific mission to educate students to understand and practise the Buddha’s Dhamma as presented in the Pāḷi Canon.”
Venerable Aggacitta Bhikkhu: We asked one of Deer Park’s favorite visitors about his path and what KF can do to support the tradition.
I think the monasteries in Nepal could use support. People think that Nepal is just Vajrayana, but there are many Theravadins there. I stayed in a monastery in Nepal funded by Malaysians. If that money ran out, what would they do? Also, there are 19 monasteries in Assam and some in Bangladesh. More than 95% of Bangladeshis are Muslim, but there is a minority population of Theravada Buddhists there. Thailand is developing well and the communities are very supportive. But Laos, Cambodia, Burma—those poor countries could use help. Also we could be sending monks to the countryside to teach the rural communities. It would take some research to find out what is needed.
Peter Gyallay-Pap, PhD: Peter Gyallay-Pap is founder and executive director of the Khmer-Buddhist Educational Assistance Project (KEAP). For more about Peter, the history and evolution of KEAP’s work in Cambodia, and KEAP’s role in helping to restore the Buddhist culture and institutions after the Khmer Rouge period, read the interview conducted by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University. Also read KEAP’s 2010 newsletter.
Theravada Buddhism has for centuries been and continues in our time to be an integral part of the web of life of the mainland Southeast Asian societies. In contrast to the Mahayana tradition, at least in East Asia, the Theravada is a thoroughly monastically based tradition. The wat (temple-monastery), with its monks, nuns, and lay elders, is both the physical and symbolic center of peoples’ lives in these countries, and not merely in rural areas. It goes without saying that the quality of the Sangha to an important extent determines whether the societies there are able hold together (that is, living lives of meaning) or fall apart (such as succumbing to the defilements of greed and envy, brute power, and consumer capitalism). Apart from the Khyentse Foundation, I know of no foundation or donor organization, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, which recognizes this vital social reality in that part of the world and is doing something about it.
Venerable Dr. Khammai Dhammasami: Venerable Dr. Khammai Dhammasami is a Theravada Buddhist monk-scholar who is involved in teaching and research in Buddhist Studies at the University of Oxford, where he received his doctorate in Buddhist Studies. Among his many other credentials, he teaches Pali and meditation at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is also founder and executive secretary of the Association of Theravada Buddhist Universities (ATBU).
Westernization and globalization mean that those who are conversed in English are given a higher profile, even among the Theravada sangha, thus demoralizing in some way young Pali scholar-monks who come to think that studying Pali is out of date! While a recent effort by the Association of Theravada Buddhist Universities to give a higher profile to traditional Pali scholars by instituting international Pali-speaking academic conferences is a worthy effort in itself, that is by no means enough.
We must work to inform Theravada educators and students that studying English is not a pure route to learning secular subjects as it used to be; now studying English and Pali together can help students master the Tipitaka and access a wide range of interpretations from well-established teachers. Indeed this is what many of the ATBU members with an English medium education try to achieve. To ensure that their aim is realizable, we need to strengthen the ATBU as an international forum that is comfortable with studying both English and Pali. English is more than a language; it in fact symbolizes the western system of education, while Pali retains the traditional resources of Theravada Buddhist education. It is no longer necessary that the conflict between the two languages exists in our day.