Friday, March 20, 2009

Forgotten Lotus

Distant dreams of a university

Written by Xue Jianyue 12/03/2009
Dedicated to Liew Shi Xiong

I opened my eyes slowly
Dusting off a layer of ash
Looking around fearfully
At the deserted compound

A deep relief calmed me
The riders are not back
The sounds of hooves
Are still quite far away

Wiping off cold sweat
I stood up in pain
Upon my aching feet
To continue my search

Further and further
I strained my eyes
Across the smoking cinder
Remains of my campus

Red from blood of the slain
Do not scare me anymore
Smoke from the cruel flames
Cannot cloud whatever I saw

Finally I spotted a treasure
With delight and excitement
I kneeled down upon stone
To pick up a charred scroll

With the utmost care
I examined the remains of it
Before folding it in two
And keeping it in my pouch

Together with all
I could salvage these days
Might seeds of knowledge
Take root again someday?

With mixture of bitterness
And sadness in my heart
A day will come, I hope
When my deeds bear fruit

Bidding farewell to the dead lotus
I decide to trek up north
To the mountains of ice
Where the riders never go

My junior from school wrote a very beautiful poem and dedicated it to me. Can anyone identify the story that is being told? Jianyue wrote this poem from the eyes of a survivor from Nalanda University, after the entire ancient institute was ravaged by Turkish invaders in 1193.

A few of us from SBM Youth have had the good fortune to be sponsored by Kong Meng San to go on a Buddhis pilgrimage back in 2007 and I must say it was a wonderful experience. It was almost as if I've been there before. The place gives off a very good vibe, especially when you know that you are stepping on the very grounds where famous Buddhist saints and scholars like Nagarjuna and Xuan Zang once lived. There were plenty of huge halls with decapitated Buddha statues and you could almost imagine the magnificience of it in its hay days. The entire area is huge but as of now, archaeologists have only managed to uncover 1/5 of the university, but 1/5 of it is already bigger than the entire size of NTU!

The good Venerable Guan Sheng, who sponsored our trip.

Nalanda was a giver of sacred knowledge, not just in Buddhist philosophy, but in math, science and languages. It was also truly an international university where students from across the Asian continent and even from ancient Greece studied there. The famous Tang Dynasty monk, Xuan Zhang spent decades in Nalanda, eventually even taking up the role of a lecturer there. Yet despite its age, Nalanda has its face of modernity. It has hostels and lecture halls and a proper drainage system. Imagine an university about 5 times the size of NTU and that's Nalanda for you. Sadly, many of its knowledge were lost, as libraries were burnt, scholar monks forced to bury the entire university under piles of mud, until they become hills and then these very scholar monks were buried alive.

Hostel rooms in Nalanda. Can you identify the beds?

With the recent initiative to rebuild Nalanda University, I look forward to a revival of its past glories and a strengthening of knowledge and wisdom in Asia, as India and China grow to become leaders of a new world. 'Nalan' as 'lotus' or 'wisdom', and 'da' as to give. May the new Nalanda University see daylight and take on the good role of a 'giver of knowledge'. May it also continue to be a good embodiment of Buddhist philosophy, where love, wisdom and compassion shall form its very foundations in a world that has gone mad.

Singaporeans at Nalanda.

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