By Charmaine Oakley
Khyentse Foundation is supporting Buddhist studies in India by establishing a new KF Visiting Professorship at Pune University’s Department of Pali.
“At Pune, we wish to create a modern seat of learning by combining indigenous talent with modernscholastic methodology,” said Professor Mahesh Deokar, head of the Department of Pali, University of Pune. “KF’s proposed visiting professorship will facilitate the interaction of India’s budding scholars with the global stalwarts in the field of Buddhist Studies through special teaching programs and joint research.”
It’s an opportune time to bring foreign scholars to such fledgling programs. As dedicated faculty work to educate more students in ancient Indian languages and Buddhist thought, India’s government-run University Grants Commission is providing necessary internal support to “suit the present and future needs and aspirations of the country” by educating “social thinkers.” At Pune University, long after Buddha and Ashoka’s time, Buddhism is becoming a greater part of ever-transforming modern India. The KF Visiting Professorship will bring cross-cultural scholarship to enrich these important academic efforts.
Pune University’s Department of Pali, in the cultural capital of the Western Indian state of Maharashtra (Mumbai is its commercial capital), is growing rapidly in its mission to “promote the study of Pali and propagate the scientific and rational teachings of the Lord Buddha among the masses.” Many students in the Department of Pali are Dalit followers of the late Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a social reformer and politician who in 1956 led 400,000 of his followers to take refuge in the Three Jewels from the Burmese monk Mahasthavir Chandramani, the most senior Buddhist monk in India at the time.
The Department of Pali at Pune was established in April 2006 to mark the 2550th anniversary of Buddha’s Parinirvana. Professor Deokar, blind since childhood, leads his department with dedication to scholarship and social change. Its scholarly pursuits are well recognized; for example, Professor Deokar recently helped create a Pali-Sanskrit-Tibetan (with English definitions) dictionary. The department has more economically disadvantaged students than any other at the university and seeks to offer certificate programs that will allow students to take what they learn into the world as social workers, therapists, translators, and teachers. In addition, Professor Deokar hopes to initiate several Buddhist text translation projects from Pali into Indian vernacular.
The department offers both undergraduate and post- graduate programs, including MAs and PhDs, in Pali and Buddhist Studies, as well as diplomas in Applied Mahayana Buddhist Psychology and Ethics, and Socially Engaged Buddhism. Khenpo Choying Dorje of Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyo Lodrö Institute was sent by Rinpoche to teach in the department’s psychology and ethics curriculum. Pali and Sanskrit are currently offered, and the university hopes to soon offer programs to learn Tibetan and Chinese.
Khyentse Foundation and the university are now collaborating to finalize arrangements for KF’s visiting professorship, which will provide funding for a senior scholar to pursue collaborative research with the faculty and students, assist in current projects, and create specialized courses. “I am extremely happy and grateful to KF, especially to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, for offering this generous support as a true kalyanamitra (spiritual friend),” said Professor Deokar. “I am assured that this collaboration will be instrumental in creating a new batch of devoted scholars of high caliber.”
Professor Deokar said that the KF support will significantly strengthen his work to develop an advanced center of Buddhist teaching, learning, and research that will provide both scholastic and cultural enrichment for the university’s students and for India as a whole.