For many years, Navin Doshi, a Los Angeles based entrepreneur and writer on topics of Indian psychology and economics, had dreamt of a forum which promoted excellence of the mind and spirit just as the Olympics in Greece had promoted the excellence of physical capacity. In 2008, he teamed up with Debashish Banerji (author), an art historian and professor of Indian philosophy, to found Nalanda International, with this aim. Nalanda was an ancient Buddhist university founded in the 5th century in Bihar and lasted almost till the 13th c. It was marked by the liberal cultural traditions of the Indian Gupta period, and fielded research and original scholarship in all the branches of Buddhism and other Indian studies. It attracted scholars from Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China and influenced the varieties of Buddhism practiced in all these areas (China, Tibet, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) to this day as well as the Buddhist schools of Indonesia and Malaysia, and by extension, Korea and Japan.
In a contemporary and cosmopolitan revival of the spirit of this ancient center of higher learning, Nalanda International was founded with the aim of supporting a many-sided life of the mind and spirit seeking solutions to the problems of our time. Not neglecting the physical and social life, Indic knowledge, in its prime, had brought these dimensions into relationship with ethical ideals and spiritual experience, and Nalanda International sought to re-create and support such integral paradigms in contemporary times. Also, like Asiaâ€˜s mascot, the banyan, which spreads its branches and strikes roots across its ever expanding domain of unity-in-diversity, Nalanda International aimed at promoting organic growth and expansion of oneness worldwide, with the perception of the whole world as its home.
Traditions are always in the making. The entire cultural history of the South Asian civilization needs to be enlivened for engagement with the present so that its ideals and experiences are available for shaping the future. With this understanding, Nalanda International is not concerned with preservation but rather with furtherance or advancement of Indic traditions for the human potential it offers in our times.
In 2010, Nalanda was granted 501C3 status as a tax-exempt non-profit organization. As one of its founding activities, it established a website, www.nalandainternational.org and began archiving wisdom resources through it. This remains one of the primary projects of Nalanda International, starting with the ongoing consolidation of Indic wisdom literatures present on the web, but aiming to enlarge this through the creation of an extensive digital library of Indic consciousness studies.
The life of an organization is the people it attracts and serves and Nalanda aims at making itself relevant to a large population of South Asians and those interested in South Asia by engaging them through scholarship and information resources presented in cultural forms. The wisdom archive activity of the website has thus branched out in two directions â€“ the gathering of scholars who could enhance these resources through research and knowledge; and the extension of the textual base to include an online museum of Indian heritage.
Scholars of Indian studies are scattered all over the world. To help develop a core of such scholars who communicate with each other, forming a community engaged in researching problems of world unity and harmony is one of the directions of Nalandaâ€™s effort. It aims to do this through conferences, workshops and intensives, through publications of both articles and books, and through educational activities.
Since its inception, Nalanda has sponsored and organized two large conferences, a conference on the Indus-Sarswati Valley civilization held at the Loyola Marymont University in 2009, and an ambitious 10 day multi-venue festival and conference celebrating the 150th anniversary of Tagore in 2010. It also co-sponsored a World Peace Conference in Ahmedabad in January 2011 and is co-sponsoring a conference on Dharma Teaching at the Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles in September of this year.
The articles of Nalanda scholars are carried on the Nalanda website. Among these articles, of special mention are Navin Doshiâ€™s articles on economics and the world condition today, with helpful tips on negotiating our troubled times. Nalanda has also begun publishing books by its scholars. The eminent archeologist, Dr. S.R. Raoâ€™s book on the decipherment of the Indus Valley script, Navin Doshiâ€™s book on economics, and Debashish Banerjiâ€™s book on the yoga psychology of Sri Aurobindo are all in the pipeline and will be published later this year in both print and electronic forms.
Nalanda International also promotes research in specific areas of Indian studies, pertaining to the contribution of Indic knowledge to humanity. It does this through affiliations with existing institutions of higher education and through the sponsorship of individual research. At present, Nalanda International sponsors a number of research scholarships in Indian Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, a university in San Francisco founded by an Indian, Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri and aiming at paradigms which promote international harmony. Nalanda International is also planning affiliations with other universities, and considering the possibility of itself offering courses in Indian Studies.
Among its recent projects, Nalanda International has started a section titled Unification of Spiritual Paths in its website. The aim of this section is to promote research in cross-religious studies, aiming at expanding the consciousness of religious understanding towards an integral spiritual realization. In this section, it will present possibilities for further research, based on moments of interreligious dialog in the Indian historical archive. The questions for inquiry raised in this section include the lost years of Christ, the syncretic relations between Buddhism , Jainism and Hinduism in early Indian history, the religious practices of the Kushanas, Indian Sufism, the religious syntheses of Akbar and Dara Shikoh, Henri Le Saux (Abhishiktananda) and the founding of Shantivanam, etc. This section will be open to suggestions from readers and scholars.
The project to make the Indian spiritual and cultural heritage available on the web in the form of a virtual museum has advanced significantly and visitors to the Nalanda International website can experience audio-visual cultural resources and go on a virtual pilgrimage for Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam and Christianity. A growing number of visitors (2500-3000 every month) are availing themselves of these aspects on the website. Due to the organizationâ€™s being initiated in Los Angeles, a new section has been opened which deals with Indian resources in Los Angeles. Religious, Cultural, Educational and Commercial Indian and Asian resources are being listed in this section titled Indian Heritage in Los Angeles, so that visitors to Southern California may obtain information about local resources of their need and choice. These organizations will also be given the opportunity of advertising themselves through this section, providing a link to their own sites or listing their products and services.
In a time of division and individual short-sightedness, pushed by the global forces of self-enhancing greed and individualism, Nalanda International hopes to be a lighthouse of unification through engagements of knowledge. Writing to Navin Doshi, the founder-president of Nalanda International, the erstwhile President of India, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, wrote: â€œI am really moved by your last paragraph of the article on â€˜Gandhiâ€™s Spiritualityâ€™: â€™You may change the path to go around the obstacles, so long as the direction is toward the mountaintop, where all paths meet.â€™â€”Beautiful and enchanting.â€ This mountaintop may be at the vanishing point of transcendence but Nalanda International wishes to orient the gaze of research in its direction, following the dictum laid down by the modern Indian sage Sri Aurobindo, â€œThe knowledge that unites is the true knowledge.â€
All readers are encouraged to visit the Nalanda International website, www.nalandainternational.org for more information. If you are a scholar interested in the work of Nalanda International, or are a reader wishing to give feedback or ask questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org . Indian organizations in Southern California seeking to be linked or to advertise through the Indian Heritage section of the website, please email email@example.com or call the webmaster at 818-256-6997.
Debashish Banerji is the Executive Director of Nalanda International and Dean, Academic Affairs at the University of Philosophical Research. Los Angeles.