Speech by Prof. Dr Le Mahn That, 27 May 2007
Prof. Dr Le Mahn That Acting Rector, Vietnam Buddhist University Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
We are here, talking about the Buddhist education, especially at the higher level – that means, at the Buddhist universities. We hear some of our panelists talking about whether Buddhist education would train people for jobs or train people for ending suffering. So, I feel like I am living good in real life, and we think that in the case of Vietnam, Buddhist education has a long tradition.
Actually, in the first millennium, the Buddhist temples were our own schools. Some of our kings, Vietnamese kings, graduated from the Buddhist temple education – and they did a good job, at leading the nation, the setting up of the Vietnamese nation.
And then in 1069, they set up the first Vietnamese university – they consider that higher learning in Vietnam began at that time. Now, if you come to Hanoi, you will see what they call the Temple of Literature. That temple, they revere Confucius, as an educator. But that temple was built by a Vietnamese Buddhist king. He was at the same time founder of Vietnamese Zen School in Vietnam. So that means from the Buddhist education – now the Buddhist education secularized formerly in the temple. Most of them study in order to have knowledge to lead the nation, to work for the nation, to lead – what ever they learned, they learned it from the temple.
But then, in 1069, the government secularized, they set up a new university, under the guidance of the government. So we see that Buddhist educators, and they call themselves ‘Buddhists’ – even at that time, they studied Confucius - that means the Confucian literature and books. Of course, at that time, they studied the Tipitaka, also. They had examinations for these things. So we see that the Buddhist education in the case of Vietnam – they have two tasks: one task is the nation-building task; and the second is for protecting or for spreading Buddhism – something like that [propagation?].
We have the Sangha University. They train Buddhist monks. In Vietnam, we train Buddhist monks and nuns for educating people about Buddhism and the other is the ordinary Buddhist university for training young people not only for a job, as Dr. Yifa said, but for also knowing about what Buddhism is.
So, within that, this first circular here – we set up the aim of our Buddhist education is to further Buddhist scholarship and that scholarship is first of all, to let young people understand and practice Buddhism; and the second thing is to make contributions, to the meeting of challenges to humanity. That means, trying to meet the challenges of their own nation, first.
So in Vietnam, when, after the 1963 Buddhist movement moved against the government at that time – they set up a full university, we have Van Hanh University. Within, ten years, to 1975, we have 10,000 students, we have five faculties. Besides the Faculty of Buddhist Studies, now we have the Faculties of: Humanities; of Letters; of Science; of Social Science; of Education; of Engineering.
After 1975, of course, the Communist Nation or government, took over the education – and they let us just have the Buddhist Studies Program. They let us have or carry out our translation of the Pali Tipitaka into Vietnamese – and now we have the Pali Tipitaka translated into the Vietnamese language, already.
I went on to study the Buddhist history of Vietnam – the history of Buddhism in Vietnam – and taught people about Sanskrit and Tibetan. Then in 1984, they allowed us to take in students, but only monks and nuns. This year, after almost 25 years – we again, begin to have a full university. So that means the Buddhist education in Vietnam, we have a special case – and here we submit this to the delegation for our meeting here to deliver.
We should think about: what kind of Buddhist university should we have? Of course, when we make the association here, we would like to discuss and would like to have the contribution from all of the members of the Buddhist University circles.