Laudatio durch Prof. em. Dr. Eckhard Bangert (Bhikkhu
Your Holiness, Mr President, esteemed colleagues, ladies and
On the occasion of the conferment of honorary doctorates it is customary to highlight a) the scientific achievements and merits of the conferee and b) as to how the conferee has been instrumental in the advancement of knowledge, education, and science. Today I have the honour – due to a necessary time-limit, though, – of just adumbrating what H.H. the Dalai Lama has done and is still doing in the best interest of Tibetology and the fields related to it. In my sketch I will first deal with the second more general aspect as mentioned, then with the first.
As for the scientific achievements and merits relating to H.H. the Dalai Lama and his ushering in a tremendous advancement of knowledge, education and, in particular, of Indo-Tibetology, one essential precondition for these facts and developments should be mentioned which, again, was due to His Holiness, namely the drafting of a constitution for the people of Tibet. He made this momentous decision fifty years ago, soon after his departure from Tibet and arrival in India, thanks to his great perception of the changing circumstances of the modern world and also having certainly been keenly aware of the historical Buddha’s preference for democratic and republican principles as can be gleaned from the canonical juridical texts pertaining to monastic discipline. Thus, it was in October 1961 that H.H. announced an outline of the principles of the Constitution, warmly welcomed by the Tibetans in India and abroad, realizing that its purpose was to give them new hope and a new conception of how Tibet should be governed in accordance with democratic rule. Then, already in 1963, Bod kyi rtsa khrims, the Constitution of Tibet, saw the light of day. I am making this specific point, remembering the fact that the Faculty of Law of Philipp’s University can boast of a venerable tradition and also with a view to bringing home the vast fields of Indology and Tibetology including, inter alia, the exploration of an impressive corpus of juridical texts the major portion of which has as yet not been scrutinized by modern scholars.
Living in exile, ever since his arrival in India it has been His Holiness' primary concern to do everything for the preservation of the Tibetan language and culture, strongly supported by a Tibetan élite and also insightful Indian authorities. In the early sixties of the last century a considerable number of Tibetan scholars and students entered Indian universities and research institutes, others also such institutions abroad, mastering foreign languages and acquainting themselves with modern methods of teaching and learning. Also in the sixties the Council of Cultural and Religious Affairs of H.H. the Dalai Lama was set up at Dharamsala mainly for the purpose of providing education – both traditional and modern – together with the prerequisite study tools such as textbooks, manuals on the art of debate or doxographic compendia for advanced students.
A milestone in His Holiness' efforts to maintain and promote Tibetan culture was his founding the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in 1971. In the course of time the Library has been seeing multifarious activities such as, for instance, safeguarding Tibetan manuscripts and books brought from the Land of Snows or pieces of religious art, the publication of philosophical treatises, of their English translations, public lecture series, Tibetan language classes for foreigners, etc. Three achievements under the aegis of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives – from among many others – should be singled out:
a) An excellent Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Terminology (Dharamsala, 1986, revised editions 1993, 2003), a mine of information not only in regard to soteriology, but also psychology and chiefly 'critical philosophy';
b) the preservation of a unique manuscript collection of the Tibetan Kanjur, i.e. the Phug-brag Manuscript Kanjur, one of the Library’s most valuable treasures, which has been microfilmed at Dharamsala and a catalogue of which was brought out in 1992;
c) the publication of The Tibet Journal appearing since 1975, in the editorial of whose first issue it says: "…we are in the process of fulfilling a long-standing desire of H.H. the Dalai Lama for an international publication devoted exclusively to Tibet’s rich cultural heritage and civilisation… The purpose of The Tibet Journal … is to disseminate knowledge about and inculcate understanding and appreciation of Tibet’s unique culture and way of life – its religions, philosophy, economy, history, literature, arts, customs and superstitions…"
Surveying the contributions to the journal by Tibetan scholars as well as experts from all over the world, it becomes evident that things Tibetan are dealt with by representatives of the whole gamut of disciplines including, for example, archaeology, epigraphy, comparative religion, political science or ethnology.
Further educational centres, surely founded at the instance of His Holiness, can only be mentioned here in passing: several large-scale monastic establishments in South India which can, to some extent, be considered equivalents to grammar schools-cum-colleges and university faculties, and at approximately the same time when the The Tibet Journal was started, the Tibet House was opened as Cultural Centre of H.H. the Dalai Lama in New Delhi. The function of the Tibet House, on a smaller scale though, resembles that of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, but on account of its being situated in the Indian capital it has, for instance, successfully been serving as venue of international Tibetological and Buddhological conferences.
In 1962, on the northern outskirts of Benares, several Tibetan refugee monastic communities had established themselves in the vicinity of the Deer Park of Sarnath, regarded by all Buddhists as one of the four Holy Places where the Buddha gave his so-called First Sermon. H.H. encouraged the most brilliant from those communities to study Sanskrit and modern languages at Benares Sanskrit University, at that time reputed to be a very tough seat of learning. Soon the best of the Tibetan students distinguished themselves as excellent Sanskritists and thanks to their close cooperation with the most distinguished pundits and Sanskrit professors of Benares already in the mid seventies, with the strong support from Dharamsala and New Delhi, academic work, research and publication could commence at the newly founded Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies. Since its inception the Sarnath Central Institute has been hosting numerous national and international symposia whose proceedings are very valuable and also original contributions to Indological and Tibetological scientific literature. The Central Institute’s publications, to date, are galore including, e.g., special works on history, art history or ancient Indian psychology and Tibetan medicine. One scientific feat of the Central Institute’s Dictionary Unit, hailed by all scholars in the respective field as superseding everything compiled before and thus proving invaluable for ongoing and future research, should not go unnoticed, viz. the Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary in 16 volumes (Sarnath/Benares, 1993–2005). The Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies certainly bears comparison with other universities in Benares and elsewhere, providing facilities for no small number of alumni – including many Tibetan female students – , and also doctoral students and postdoctoral research scholars mainly from USA and Japan – also from Russia or Germany – have been receiving help both from Indian and Tibetan experts of the Central Institute.
As for highlighting the scientific achievements and merits of the conferee, it is impossible to do him justice, the time limit apart. I have to confine myself to referring to two facets of his extraordinary contributions: a) bearing on hermeneutics and b) on interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
a) Numerous expositions of soteriological-cum-philosophical texts given by His Holiness were published in India, and during his many visits abroad his lectures were translated and subsequently published in major Asian and Western languages. One example of such publications may be cited here bearing testimony to His Holiness' being an exegetical authority on an exceptionally difficult topic abounding with philosophical and doxographical subtleties: Dalaï-Lama. Tant que durera l’espace (As Long as Space will Last), Paris, 1996. This book is based on a week-long series of lectures given by His Holiness in Southern France in 1993 and is an exposition of the 9th chapter of Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra, composed in the 7th century C.E. at Nālandā, one of the great North Indian universities flourishing until the beginning of the 13th century when all those seats of learning were destroyed by foreign invaders. The 9th chapter of the Bodhicaryāvatāra enshrines 'critical philosophy' par excellence, submitting belief to the test of logic and requiring soteriology to be endorsed by philosophical insight through rigorous dialectical probing. In this connection an apt observation by an Indian professor of Sanskrit comes to mind who wrote that history has come full circle in that with the advent of H.H. the Dalai Lama an important part of the ancient Indian cultural heritage, for centuries wiped out in India but fortunately saved from loss and destruction in Tibet, has been and is being brought back to its country of origin. It goes without saying that books like the one just referred to attract a lot of interest with a number of Western professional philosophers and encyclopaedists.
b) A striking example of a documentation of His Holiness in interreligious and intercultural dialogue is Dalaï-Lama. Au-delà des dogmes (Dogmas Transcended), Paris, 1994. By answering the questions of French intellectuals and communicating with representatives of various religions, in this book H.H. expresses himself in a multifaceted way as Buddhist monk, as head of state in exile, as indefatigable defender of the Human Rights, advocate of tolerance and mutual respect among people belonging to different cultures and religions, and as a humanistic researcher discussing many issues of common and global concern with natural and political scientists.
With my touching on this kind of book, Dalaï-Lama. Au-delà des dogmes, the question might be raised as to how a multifaceted way of responding to queries be relevant to academia in general and Indo-Tibetology in particular. The answer is simple enough: Even though in ancient India or mediaeval Tibet modern-day science and technology were, of course, unknown – as elsewhere too – , right from the beginning the objectivity of scientific investigation, all the same, can definitely be seen as an established fact – also thanks to results of Indo-Tibetological research – in what is considered the core teaching in the tradition in which His Holiness was reared, viz. the systematic development of mindfulness bringing about this very objectivity. So also interreligious and intercultural dialogue is significantly related to academia, to the fields of comparative religion, phenomenology of religion, sociology, etc. In sum, it can be maintained that Dalaï-Lama. Au delà des dogmes is a truly outstanding contribution in which the rationality of global ethics or 'universal responsibility' towards viable sustainability in its broadest sense is insisted upon and for whose feasibility insight and science are the essential prerequisites.
In conclusion I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have made the conferment of this honorary doctorate possible, thereby luckily invalidating, as far as Philipp's University Marburg is concerned, a worrying statement by a well-known emeritus professor to the effect that European universities would be in the grip of industrial capitalism causing the rapid decline of the arts, and His Holiness, by having graciously consented to the present conferment has, once more, underlined his humanistic concern as become manifest in Au delà des dogmes.