NALANDA – The Great Monastic University

Deeds of the Buddha’s Life:

  1. Turning the Wheel of Dharma

Motivation & Salutations

Generate the motivation of bodhicitta. As much as possible generate a strong thought of impermanence-death, which allows your mind to become Dharma. Then generate compassion and strong bodhicitta toward sentient beings.

Then think of those you have a karmic responsibility towards, those close to you, those recently deceased, and bring them all along with you on pilgrimage!



Refuge & Bodhicitta

I go for refuge until I am enlightened
To the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Supreme Assembly.
By the merits I create through listening to the Dharma, May I become a buddha to benefit all sentient beings. (3x)

Seven Limb Prayer

Reverently I prostrate with my body, speech, and mind;
I present clouds of every type of offering, actual and imagined;
I declare all my negative actions accumulated since beginningless time, and rejoice in the merit of all holy and ordinary beings.
Please, remain until the end of cyclic existence, and turn the wheel of Dharma for living beings.
I dedicate my own and other’s merits to the great enlightenment.

Mandala Offering

This ground, anointed with perfume, strewn with flowers,
Adorned with Mount Meru, four continents, the sun and the moon:
I imagine this as a buddha-field and offer it.
May all living beings enjoy this pure land!


Slideshow of the Area

Location Map

Notes on Nalanda from Jeremy Russell (opens in new window).

Random Notes

(excerpts from an article by Dr. Daya Hewapathirane Sri Lankan blog, 14 March 2011.)

World’s first university – In the 5th century CE, or more than 1500 years ago, the world’s first and the most illustrious International Buddhist University developed at Nalanda, near Rajagaha, then Capital of the Magadha Kingdom of Greater India. Nalanda is about 72 km off Patna, the present capital of the State of Bihar. It was one of the greatest Centres of Learning in ancient India.

This period is called the Classical or Golden Age of India and was marked by extensive inventions and discoveries in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophy. The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent architectures, sculptures and paintings primarily inspired by Buddhism. Wall murals flourished during this age the most famous being those of the Ajanta caves where the exquisite murals depict the life of Buddha.

As the first ever residential university in the world Nalanda had developed as an exceptionally impressive university park complex which included colossal buildings, lecture halls, meditation halls, libraries, monasteries, hostels, chetiyas, temples, lakes and parks.

According to the Chinese pilgrim Hieuen Tsiang, Nalanda University was an architectural masterpiece. It was marked by a lofty brick wall and a single gate and had eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with many meditation halls and classrooms. The university grounds were marked by lakes and parks.

The Chinese scholar-pilgrim named It-Sing (I-Tsing), who visited Nalanda a few years after Hieuen-Tsiang, mentions eight halls and 300 big rooms used for teaching and meetings and a grand library. There were ponds with lotuses, well devised footpaths, extensive pleasant lawns, mango groves and lovely flower beds. There were innumerable shrines embellished with a wealth of sculptural art. With endowments from successive monarchs, the Nalanda University became a site of imposing buildings.

There were eight colleges built by different patrons including the one by the king of Srivijaya of Sumatra, who had diplomatic relations with the king of Pala dynasty of Bihar and Bengal.

Professors and students – It is recorded that in the 7th century, there were 10,000 students and 1500 professors in this university (some sources indicate 2000 professors). The alumni of Nalanda were highly respected both inside and outside of India. It gathered together some of the best scholars of the country.

Scholar saints were the greatest attraction of Nalanda. Nalanda became world famous on account of its many brilliant professors and high standard of education. In addition, strict discipline was maintained. Among the many outstanding scholars, thinkers and Chancellors of Nalanda were   Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dinnaga, Dharmakirthi, Shantharakshita, Dharmapala, Shilabhadra, Santhideva and Padmasabhava. It is important to note that, Aryadeva, the favourite disciple of Nagarjuna, hailed from Sri Lanka.

The brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu were successive Abbots of Nalanda. Tibetan sources indicate by name several other great Buddhists associated with Nalanda  such as Rahulabhadra, Aka, the Mahasiddha Saraha, Buddhapalita, Bhaviviveka of 5th-6th c. CE., Prasangika Madhyamika of Candrakirti of 7th c.CE, Candrakirti,  Candragomin, Santarakshita of the 8th.c.CE a brilliant Abbot from Nalanda who helped Guru Padmasambhava bring Buddhism to Tibet.

According to Tibetan sources, Nagarjuna was the first Principal of Nalanda University. According to Tibetan sources, Mañjuśrīmitra was a respected Yogachara scholar of Nalanda whose works dealing with Vajrayana Buddhism had great impact on Tibetan Buddhism.

Associated with Nalanda were several thousands of monks who were men of the highest ability and talent. Some of them were from different countries. The international character of Nalanda was quite prominent even during the time of Hieuen Tsiang’s association with Nalanda in the seventh century. Students from far and near flocked to learn at the feet of the great scholars of Nalanda. According to Hieuen Tsiang, Nalanda University had students from all over the Buddhist world.  There were students from Sri Lanka, Tibet, Nepal, China, Mongolia, Turkistan, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Central Asia, Vietnam, Sumatra, Java, Persia, Greece and Turkey.

Wide-ranging curriculum – While one school of Buddhism or the other dominated at different periods, the all-inclusive and wide ranging outlook of Nalanda was maintained in keeping with the spirit of the Buddhist tradition. Nalanda’s curricula covered a wide range of subjects including all branches of Buddhism, other Indian philosophical systems, Chikitsavidya or Medicine, Astronomy, Geography, Mathematics, Hetuvidya or Logic, Sabdavidya or Grammer and other arts and science subjects of the day. As the university was run by the Sangha, Buddhist Studies assumed importance and pride of place at Nalanda.

The subjects taught at Nalanda University covered every field of learning. According to records the curriculum of Nalanda University at the time of Mañjuśrīmitra who was a respected Yogachara scholar and practitioner at Nalanda, included virtually the entire range of world knowledge then available.

Courses were drawn from every field of learning, Buddhist and Hindu, sacred and secular, foreign and native. Students studied science, astronomy, medicine, and logic as diligently as they applied themselves to metaphysics, philosophy, Samkhya, Yoga-shastra, the Veda, and the scriptures of Buddhism.

They studied foreign philosophy likewise. The scholars and Chancellors of Nalanda played a significant role in the propagation of the Buddha Dhamma outside India, in Nepal, Tibet, Central Asia, China and Southeast Asia. Among the prominent ones were Atisa Dipankara, Shantharakshita, Kamalashila, and Padmasambhava.

Being basically a post-graduate institution, only advanced students were admitted to Nalanda. Those seeking admission were required to satisfy the test prescribed by the ‘Dwar Pandit’ or the “the gatekeeper” of the Board of Admission.

Hieuen-Tsiang records that “the entrance examination was severe and only about two or three out of every ten applicants succeeded in passing it.” Students could specialize in any subject but Buddhist philosophy was compulsory with a strong emphasis on Mahayana philosophy. About 100 discourses took place each day. There were about 30 students under each lecturer. Teaching was mainly through discussions with active participation of professors and students.

Great literary works – Scholars have yet to study and discover the depth and magnitude of this vast store of knowledge. Nalanda’s monastery library contained the main collection of Mahayana texts in the ancient world.

The main library of Nalanda was known as Dharma Gunj which meant ‘Mountain of Truth’ or Dharmagañja or ‘Treasury of Truth’, and was the most renowned repository of Buddhist knowledge in the world at the time. Its collection comprised hundreds of thousands of volumes and manuscripts. This main library had three main buildings each with nine storeys – Ratnasagara (Sea of Jewels), Ratnodadhi (Ocean of Jewels), and Ratnarañjaka (Delighter of Jewels). Inscriptional evidence (Yasovarmadeva) reveals that these were tall nine storey high buildings.

Decline and destruction by muslims – The real blow to Nalanda came with the arrival of the ruthless Muslim invaders who were intolerant of other religions and cultures. They took delight in destroying Indian cultural edifices and guardians of India’s indigenous religions and cultures.

The destruction of Nālandā is in one of the greatest acts of cultural vandalism by Muslim invaders of India. The final dissolution of this once outstanding international university was evident in the 13th century when the world lost an unparalleled and inimitable institution of the ancient world that promoted globally, the path of virtue, compassion and wisdom.

In the year 1193, these invaders led by Mohammad Bakhtiar Khilji, attacked and burnt down and demolished this great Centre of Learning that existed for some 700 years. They destroyed its magnificent buildings and massacred its inmates, who at the time were mostly Buddhist monks.

Mirjah-i-Siraj the famous Persian Muslim historian in his chronicle Tabaquat-I-Nasiri has left a detailed horrid account of Khilji’s vandalism and violence. He reports that the gigantic library complex of Nalanda containing a total of over 9 million invaluable treasures of books, mostly manuscripts were set on fire and the burning continued for over six months.

Homage to the 17 Pandits of Nalanda – Over the course of its existence, from ca. 435 to 1202 c.e., the Buddhist University of Nālandā was home to some of the greatest luminaries of first millennium India. Built on the ruins of a seven hundred year old retreat center that had been destroyed by fire in 325 c.e., Nālandā traced its roots to the great Buddhist scholar-yogi Nāgārjuna, founder of the Madhyamaka School of philosophy, and his intellectual successors, continuing his legacy with the first abbot of Nālandā, the Mādhyamika scholar-yogi, Candrakīrti.

Of the hundreds of known scholars to have walked the grounds of Nālandā over the centuries, the subsequent Tibetan tradition has singled out seventeen scholars (“paṇḍitas”) of particular note. Exalting these individuals as “supreme sources of amazing and eloquent explanations, exceedingly fine scholars who are the ornaments of the world,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama composed a poem in praise of them, for it is no exaggeration to say that through their lives and writings they came to shape the very meaning of Buddhist philosophy and religious practice, both in India and Tibet.

Sutra to Read

A Prayer to Kindle the Three Kinds of Faith:

Homage to the 17 Nalanda Panditas

by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Perfectly arisen through the compassionate wish to benefit beings, and more exalted even than the gods, you have reached the supreme level of protection, abandonment and realization, and guide beings to liberation through teachings on dependent origination—Mighty Shakyamuni, sun among teachers, in devotion I pay homage to you!

You brilliantly clarified the meaning of reality itself, the ultimate intent of the Mother Prajnaparamita, with profound modes of logical reasoning based on dependent origination, founder of the Middle Way tradition of the supreme vehicle, prophesied by the Buddha himself— Noble master Nagarjuna, to you I pray!

You were the foremost of his spiritual heirs, supremely learned and accomplished, a master of all the infinite schools of philosophy inside and outside your own tradition, and the glorious crowning jewel of all who follow Nagarjuna’s approach—Bodhisattva Aryadeva, to you I pray!

You clarified the wisdom intent of the Aryas, the ultimate meaning of dependent origination, as well as the profound and crucial point concerning merely nominal and imputed existence, and reached the level of supreme accomplishment—Noble Buddhapalita, at your feet I pray!

Great pandita, who founded the comprehensive system in which extremes, such as the arising of true entities, are refuted, and valid logic and commonly perceived outer objects are accepted—Acharya Bhavaviveka, to you I pray!

You developed and elaborated upon the complete path of sutra and mantra, skilfully teaching the profound and vast, the Middle Way tradition of appearance and emptiness, in which the two extremes are dispelled through dependent origination and the mere fact of conditionality—Glorious Chandrakirti, to you I pray!

You skilfully revealed to the assembly of fortunate disciples the most wondrous and amazing path of great compassion, in so many ways and with reasoning both profound and vast—Bodhisattva Shantideva, to you I pray!

Founder of the tradition which skilfully combines Madhyamika and Pramana, teaching the Middle Way path of twofold emptiness according to the capacity of disciples, and introducing the Buddha’s teachings to the Land of Snows—Great Khenpo Shantarakshita, to you I pray!

You brilliantly set out the stages of meditation according to both sutra and mantra, combining the view of the Middle Way beyond extremes with the unity of shamatha and vipashyana, and clearly revealed the unmistaken teachings of the Buddha in the Land of Snows—Noble Kamalashila, to you I pray!

Guided and cared for by Maitreya, you worked brilliantly to further all the Mahayana teachings, and skilfully set out the approach of vast conduct, founder of the tradition of Mind Only, prophesied by the Buddha—Noble master Asanga, to you I pray!

You upheld the tradition of the seven treatises of Abhidharma and twofold emptiness, and clarified the philosophies of Vaibhashika, Sautrantika and Vijnanavada, most excellent of scholars, renowned as a second all-knowing Buddha—Acharya Vasubandhu, to you I pray!

Master logician who granted the eyes of intelligent reasoning, by revealing hundreds of ways to arrive at valid cognition, illuminating the Buddha’s teachings with incontrovertible logic—Noble Dignaga, at your feet I pray!

You understood entirely all areas of logic, both inside and outside your own tradition, and, through the path of reasoning, brought a definitive knowledge of the profound and vast approaches of Sautrantika and Mind Only, skilfully conveying the marvellous approaches offered by the Dharma—Glorious Dharmakirti, at your feet I pray!

You set alight the Lamp which illuminates the text of the Ornament of Realization, and the meaning of transcendent wisdom passed down by Asanga and his brother, in accordance with the Madhyamika tradition beyond all extremes of existing and not existing—Arya Vimuktisena, at your feet I pray!

As prophesied by the Buddha, you explained the Mother Prajnaparamita, and, according to the instructions received from the protector Maitreya, clarified the three ‘Mothers’, the supreme scriptures of transcendent wisdom—Acharya Haribhadra, to you I pray!

You brilliantly summarized the meaning of the vast Vinaya collection, according to the tradition of the Sarvastivadins, and explained the Pratimoksha superbly and without mistake— supremely disciplined and learned Gunaprabha, at your feet I pray!

You gained the precious treasure-like qualities of the threefold training, and brilliantly explained the meaning of the extensive scriptures, in order to preserve the flawless teachings of monastic discipline—Supreme holder of the Vinaya, Shakyaprabha, at your feet I pray!

You imparted all the profound and vast teachings given by the Buddha, by explaining the paths for beings of the three levels of spiritual capacity, and caused the Buddha’s teachings to flourish within the Land of Snows—Kind and precious Lord Atisha, to you I pray!

Through these prayers of mine, made with a mind of vivid and unshakeable faith, to these most brilliant of scholars, who, like ornaments, enhanced and beautified the world, and were the supreme sources for so many wondrous and excellent teachings, may my mind be blessed so that it is matured and brought to liberation!

May I be blessed so that I plant the foundation for the path to freedom: May I understand the fundamental nature of reality and the meaning of the two truths, gain certainty about the four truths and how samsara is perpetuated or discontinued, and, through valid cognition, develop stable and lasting faith in the Three Jewels.

May I be blessed so that I come to master uncontrived bodhichitta, together with its roots: a mind of renunciation seeking the goal of perfect liberation, in which all forms of suffering and their causes are thoroughly pacified, and a compassionate wish to protect all beings, as limitless as space itself.

May I be blessed so that I arrive easily at a definitive understanding of all the profound points of the paths of the transcendent perfection vehicle and the vajrayana, through studying, reflecting and meditating upon the meaning of the great pioneering masters’ classic works.

In life after life, may I always find the perfect situation and take up the threefold training, may I work for the good of the teachings, just like the great pioneering masters of old, and, through teaching as well as through practice, may I maintain and enhance the transmission and understanding of the Dharma.

In every community may there be more and more great scholars and practitioners, who avoid entirely all unethical and mistaken forms of livelihood, and devote their time to study and reflection, teaching and meditation, so that the whole world is enhanced and made beautiful to behold!

Through the power of this, may I swiftly traverse all the paths and stages of the complete approach combining sutra and mantra, to reach the level of an omniscient buddha spontaneously benefitting myself and others, and may I continue to fulfil the wishes of beings for as long as space exists!

Postscript: All the marvellous explanations of the profound and vast teachings excellently revealed by Lord Buddha which were composed by these scholars from the noble land of India can open the eyes of intelligence in anyone who has discerning awareness. That these teachings are still being studied, reflected and meditated upon today, and have not diminished after almost 2550 years, is due to the kindness of these great scholars. I therefore composed this prayer to remember their kindness and, with unwavering faith, aspire to follow in their footsteps.

At this time, when the whole world has witnessed tremendous advancement in the fields of science and technology, but we are also greatly distracted by the hustle and bustle of our hectic lives, it is crucially important for all of us who follow the Buddha to develop faith based upon an understanding of the Buddha’s Dharma teachings. Therefore we should investigate them, by analyzing and inquiring with an unbiased and inquisitive mind. If we are to develop this faith that is supported by understanding, the outstanding works of the profound and vast traditions composed by the masters universally renowned as the ‘Six Ornaments and Two Supreme Ones’, as well as others such as Buddhapalita and Arya Vimuktisena are indispensable. With this in mind, I commissioned the painting of a thangka depicting seventeen of the most learned and accomplished masters of Nalanda, adding nine other masters from the profound and the vast lineages to the traditional thangka arrangement for the Six Ornaments and Two Supreme Ones. Together with this, I felt inspired to compose a prayer such as this, out of heartfelt devotion to these great learned masters, and several of my sincere Dharma friends also encouraged me. So it was that I, the buddhist monk Tenzin Gyatso, who has gained confident and uncontrived faith in the excellent works of these learned masters and who belongs amongst the lowest of those to have studied their masterful compositions, wrote this ‘Prayer to Kindle the Three Kinds of Faith, Addressed to the Seventeen Great Panditas of Glorious Nalanda.’

It was completed at Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh in India, on the first day of the eleventh month of the Iron Snake year in the seventeenth calendrical cycle (15th December 2001), 2545 years after the Buddha according to the Theravadin system.

May it be virtuous!

Dedication Prayers

Dedicate that you too may complete the Twelve Deeds of a buddha. Dedicate for your friends and family and those you have responsibility for, that you may lead them all to enlightenment. Make any other specific dedications for the end of war, the halt of climate change, the eradication of all pandemics and disease, and the success of all your spiritual endeavours.


Due to the merits of these virtuous actions
May I quickly attain the state of a Guru-Buddha
And lead all living beings, without exception,
Into that enlightened state

Bodhicitta Verse

May the supreme jewel bodhicitta
Not yet born, arise and grow
May that born have no decline
But increase forever more

Long Life Prayer for HH Dalai Lama

The wish-granting wish-fulfilling jewel,
Source of every single benefit and happiness in this world,
To the incomparably kind Tenzin Gyatso, I beseech:
May all your holy wishes be spontaneously fulfilled.

Long Life Prayer for Lama Zopa Rinpoche

You who uphold the Subduer’s moral way, who serve as the bountiful bearer-of-all,
Sustaining, preserving, and spreading Manjunath’s
victorious doctrine;
Who masterfully accomplish magnificent prayers honouring the Three Jewels:
Savior of myself and others, your disciples, please, please live long!

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