A Critique of Buddhist Education in Bangladesh

Speech by 


The Buddhist education in Bangladesh has been facing challenges than prospects since early right up to the present time, although Buddhist education from mediaval period of Bangladesh had been expanded to the beyond of its region. On the other hand, modern Buddhist countries in Asia are now comparatively gained advancement in Buddhist education. The Buddhists in Bangladesh have lost the true history of Buddhism in the modern Buddhist perspective. This is a central issue in which a critique of Buddhist education in Bangladesh is essential. Therefore, this article aims to provide how Buddhism in Bangladesh contributed to the world culture of Buddhism, ancient Buddhist education in Bangladesh, mediaval Buddhist education in Bangladesh, a critique of modern Buddhist education in Bangladesh.


In modern Bangladesh, an overall Buddhist education system is not good.[1] Till today, no one has done any critical assessment on the modern Buddhist education in Bangladesh. Although, there are Sanskrit and Pali (Buddhist education) departments in the Universities of Dhaka and Chittagong and other fragment of Pali education centres which are very deplorable condition because of a number of factors can be taken into consideration to explore in this article. However, the article discusses the lack of original Buddhist history and cultural understanding among the Buddhist countries in Asia particularly the South Asia and the Southeast Asia from which modern Bangladesh is greatly affected. In the global stage, the Buddhist education and Buddhism in modern Bangladesh is a like a dream or it is just a mental imaginative manifestation for the world communities; because of the world communities know that Bangladesh is an Islamic State. Now, only 2 percents roughly two million of Buddhists comprise of the total population of Bangladesh. Therefore, the Buddhist population figure is so small, it can be easily ignored by the world that any Buddhist existence in Bangladesh, for example, Buddhists, Buddhism and Buddhist education.

So, in order to understand any present condition of the Buddhists in Bangladesh, we need to know at least some historical background of the Buddhists in Bangladesh. Because, the historical facts are the most important documents to tell the reasonable and real truth to the world Buddhist communities to survive from any dilemma and catestrophy like situation existing in the Buddhists of Bangladesh at the present time. Modern Buddhist world both Theravada and Mahayana try to explain that Buddhism in their countries originated from period of the sixth century BCE from India, that is they want to claim that Buddhism in their countries directly preached by the Buddha, which many Buddhists and non-Buddhists do not see historical connection of their claim. In this way they might have intention to ignore the real Buddhist historical place from where Buddhism really spread in the world. That real Buddhist historical place in which from time to time the entire rulers had been ruled which historians and scholars left the records of writings. The main Buddhist historical places, some of which are found in different countries particularly, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. In the subsequent periods, through the archaeological findings, most of the historians are agreed that Buddhism in Bangladesh was the main center of Buddhism from where Buddhism contributed to world civilization. Therefore, reasonably we can say that Buddhism was once a glorious place of Buddhism and subsequently Sri Lanka, Myanmar and all Asian countries imported Buddhism and its cultures.

Buddhism in Bangladesh Contributed to World Culture of Buddhism

“Samatata” [2] was the ancient Buddhist historical place where Buddhism ruled by many dynastice. It was the place that mediaval period attracted to the many pilgrims or travellers from different countries, because after the Buddha’s passing away, the place “Samatata” was well flourished of Buddhism. This is presently located in the district of Comilla in Bangladesh. Samatata, at the present time is covered the entire Comilla region of the south east of Bangladesh. Historians and scholars have recorded about the Buddhism in Samatata during the mediaval periods had been very flourishing states. They have well documented to explaind Buddhism in Samatata. According to the account given in the 6th century AD, some antiquities discovered in the north-west of the town of Comilla professing Saivism to Buddhist congregation of monks belonging to Mahayana School for a Buddhist monastery dedicated to Avalokiteswara.[3] Therefore, the present region of Comilla which belonged to the old kingdom of Samatata seems to have been a great strong hold of the Mahayana school of Buddhism. [4] Therefore, it is to say that Mahayana Buddhism must have been imported from Bangladesh.

However, we can assume that this present place of Comilla was once had the prosperous land of Buddhism during Buddha’s time and after the Buddha’s passing away, for example, at the time of King Asoka patronized Buddhism. Therefore, before the Christian Era, Buddhism in the present Comilla region had been preached by the Buddha and his disciples the original teaching of Buddhism[5] and later the Theravada Buddhism had also been taught, developed and propagated in the 3rd century BCE, by king Asoka.[6] Therefore, it is worthy to say that Sri Lanka definitely had imported Theravada Buddhism from Bangladesh. It is evidenced that when King Asoka had been developed Buddhism in Bangladesh sent his son Mahinda Thera to Sri Lanka to teach Buddhism there. Hiuen T-Sang’s account of Buddhism in Samatata, The Buddhist Khadga Dynasty of Samatata: “from the discovery of a bronze votive stupa along with two copper plates of the Khadgas at Asrafpur, 30 miles north-east of Dhaka came to be known about the Khadga dynasty rulling over Samatata in the period between 630-700 A. D.”[7] Seng-chi’s another Chinese traveller is also found account of Buddhism in Samatata, and another powerful but last dynasty called the Palas ruled at the Samatata approximately 400 years.

For example, firstly, the earliest reference of the Buddha’s time, we can assume that the Buddha also came to this place of “Samatata”; secondly, king Asoka was also said by early historians and Buddhist scholars that he also ruled and propagated Buddhism in Bangladesh; thirdly, after the Asoka patronization of Buddhism in Bangladesh, Kanishka and his successors were also ruled Buddhism in Bangladesh. In this connection, it is important to provide sufficient historical facts that the historians and scholars have been contributed of their valuable writings which from time to time have been utilized their writings through the academic purposes till today.

Hiuen T-sang, the famous Chinese pilgrim and traveller who visited the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent in the 7th century AD, describes “Samatata” that Buddhism was in a flourishing condition. According to him there were more than 30 Buddhist monasteries and above 2000 Brethren, all of them belonging to the Sthavira School. And the country of Samatata had more than 30 Buddhist monasteries and above 2000 Brethren, all adherents of the Sthavira School. Near the capital was an “Asoka Tope” where the Buddha had the people from far and near, and the country of Samatata had vestiges of a place for sitting and doing exercise for the four Buddhas. In a monastery near the spot was a dark-blue Jade image of the Buddha, eight feet high, showing all the distinctive characteristics and exercising marvelous power. Besides the Buddhist monasteries the Chinese Pilgrim found 100 Deva Temples and numerous Digambara Nirgranthas. From his account it appears that at the time of his visit three principal of religions: Brahmanism, Buddhism and Jainism lived side by side in perfect amity and friedship in the kingdom of Samatata.[8] Definitely, when Chinese travellers went back to China, they did not return with emty-handed materials of Buddhist resources.

The History of Buddhism in Comilla[9] from the ancient period to the 7th century A. D., it was divided as the local or regional names, such as: Gauda, Baṅga, Bengal, Pundra, Summa Tamralipti, Samatat and Hariakel etc. Comilla was under Samatata. From the 7th century to the middle of the 8th century A. D., it was under the Buddhist kings, called Deva Baṅgsha Dynasty. In the 9th century A. D., it was governed by the Kings of Harikela and from the 10th century to the 11th century A. D., it was ruled by king Chandrabaṅgsha. Based on the Pāli texts’ records, one of the foremost disciples of the Buddha named ‘Vaṅgisa’ [10] hailed from this part. The scholars and the historians are presumed based on the Pāli texts and the history that the Buddha came to preach the Dhamma in Bengal. In the Avadānaśataka [11] mentioned that the Buddha went to Pundravardhana to join at the invitation of Sumagda, daughter of Millionaire Anathapindinka. [12] Asserted by Nalininath Das: the Buddha not only visited Pundravardhana, but also visited Samatata for seven days and Kornasubarna for seven days.” [13]

Many historians believed that Buddhism did not propagate under Emperor Asoka or his mission in ancient Bengal, because the Nagārjunas inscriptions of Asoka was mentioned the name of Vaṅga where many Ceylonese monks had been propagated Buddhism in this part; and further, there was no evidence that whether Buddhism was propagated in Comilla under Emperor Asoka or Ceylonese monk. Such notions, however, the Buddhist historians of Bangladesh cannot accept. Therefore, according to the historians of Bangladesh, the teachings of the Buddha were well propagated during the Asoka’s missions. The historians in Bangladesh have well accepted that the Northern part of Bangladesh included the Kingdom of Asoka. The Northern part of present Bangladesh is known as Puṇḍravardhana which included the territory of the empire of King Asoka.[14] Some historical veterans like; A. K. M. Shamsul Alam[15], V. A. Smith [16], R. S. Tripathi[17], Radhagovinda Basak[18], Kulke and Rothermund[19], and R. K. Mookerji [20] cherished the view that the Northern part of Bangladesh included in the Asokan Empire. In 1931, a piece of stone inscription of Asoka at Mahāsthāngarh in the district of Bogra of Bangladesh revealed through ancient archaeological evidence which is written in ancient ‘Brahmī’ scripts, read by Bhandarkar.[21] Niharranjan Roy [22] admits that the stone inscription is as old as the 2nd century B. C., while Rakhaldas Bandopadhyay [23] , an eminent historian of Bengal also admits that that stone inscription is an embodiment of Maurya era and further added that Bangladesh was once a part and a parcel of Maurya Kingdom. Abul Kalam Zakaria[24] has expressed his opinion citing example regarding this stone inscription that in Bangladesh at least in the Northern part called Puṇḍravardhana, the sovereignty of Asoka was established undoubtedly. B. M. Barua having examined the inscription said that the word ‘Saṃvaggīyā’ means ‘Chavaggīya’, a group of six men who were the rebel group of monks. He also holds that this community was settled in Puṇḍranagara as early as the Mauryan period. Sukomal Chaudhuri [25] says that if this interpretation is correct, then Buddhism was preached in Bengal long before 3rd century A. D., because the ‘Chavaggīyānam’ was the name of a distinct sect popular in the early period of Buddhism.

Regarding the interpretation of ‘Saṃvaggīyas’ Bhandarkar[26] it is found that the word may be equivalent to the Sanskrit ‘Saṃvargīyānām’, which, however, yields no good sense. It may stand for ‘vargīyanām’ of the class-fellows or the clansmen with ‘sam’ prefixed to it. However, this prefix ‘sam’ remains meaningless and inappropriate. He also holds that ‘vaṃgīya’ certainly could be the name of a tribe from the ‘Vaṅga’ region. Those tribes being confederated would subsequently be referred to as ‘Saṃvaṃgīyā’. However, this theory is based on a parallel case with the Vajji country. Therefore, some scholars considered the Mahāsthāngarh inscriptions as a record of load granted by some authority to a group of local tribes rather than Asokan inscription.[27] Besides, this inscription was not mentioned in the works of other scholars, as a result, the scholars are of the opinions that Emperor Asoka did not leave any inscription in any part of Bengal and therefore, they suggest that Asoka’s empire did not include Eastern Bengal. [28]

Ancient Buddhist Education in Bangladesh

The educational tradition dating back to the Vedic age and followed in this subcontinent upto the twentieth century is based on an individual teacher. The ancient term ‘gurugriha’ (the teacher’s house) refers to the fact that the religious orders and organization devised their own educational system. In such a way, the tradition of Buddhist education is also prevalent in the monastery. This system is known as ‘antevāsika’, meaning literally, ‘a pupil under a teacher’. The antevāsika receives training in the doctrine (dhamma) and discipline (vinaya) under the supervision of the teacher. The relation between the antevāsika and ācariya (teacher) is like that of the son and the father. The term saddhivihārika (coresident) is also found in the Buddhist monastic life. He may be a novice (samaṇera) or a fully ordained Buddhist monk (bhikkhu). He receives preaching in the dhamma and vinaya. In case, he does not behave properly, if he commits wrong, if he fails to acquire religious discourses, he is liable to be expelled from the respective teacher. [29]

The modern Buddhist educational system that we have today in all parts of the world is not the system found in early Buddhism. The common understanding of the word ‘education’, in early Buddhism ‘sikkhā’ was the common in the monastic and the society. However, before Buddhism in ancient India, there was a very famous education centre was found in the Takkasilā. Takkasilā was the capital city of Gandhāra. The most ancient education center in the pre- Buddhist time was found in the name of Takkasilā. It was not really a Buddhist education center at that time. There were many people from Khattiya clan had been studied to that famous education center which is only available in the Jātaka literature, [30] but there has not been made or found to any canonical reference of Buddhism. However, coming to the point of early Buddhist education system at the Buddha’s time, it was organized quite differently to provide the Buddhist teachings by the monastic community.

We do not have sufficient information about the Buddhist education that has come down from the Buddha’s time prior to the medieaval time. But in the medieaval time, it is well documented that a number of Buddhist education centers were established in the Buddhist monasteries. [31] This medieaval times would be considered as the historical Buddhist educational system was emerged in ancient Bangladesh. However, mostly of those Buddhist education centers could not last so long under the huge wave of anti-Buddhist rules. According to the Buddhist historical documents of Bangladesh, those Buddhist education centers were declined in the 12th century AD.

Medival Buddhist Education in Bangladesh

Institutionalized Buddhist education began in ancient Bangladesh in the monasteries during the mediaval period. From the accounts of the many Chinese travelers visited ancient Bangladesh in the mediaval periods which had been recorded the institutionalized Buddhist studies were held in the monasteries. [32] S. K. Pathak gives a fine account regarding the Buddhist studies in the (vihāra) monastery in his article “A Century of Buddhist Studies in India (1891-1990) [33]:

Among the Buddhists who profess the teachings of the Buddha as their personal faith or family religion in India and abroad, especially those of Japan, Mongolia, China, Tibet, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Myanmar (Burma), Thailand including Southeast Asia follow the tradition of studying the scripture. They also composed various works uninterruptedly though their writings have been confined in the languages of their own. According to the tradition, Gotama, the Buddha initiated the schooling of the recluses in the sangha. Later on, the monasteries became the institutes of the human learning in which the ancient Indian education had been universalized.

The Indian educational endeavours developed in monasteries like Nālandā, Takkasilā, Vickramasīlā, Odantapurī, Somapurī, Jagaddalā, and Vallabhī in the past. Several scholars from abroad used to visit then those Buddhist educational centres in quest of learning, and, vis-à-vis scholars from those monastic institutions also went to other Buddhist educational seats abroad. In fact, the concept of a ‘university’ as a corporate educational institute for cohesion, coordination and dissemination of human knowledge in a universal model with an objective of material and spiritual advancement began in the Buddhist monasteries of India.

Faculty-wise Buddhist studies in those monasteries with monastic discipline laid emphasis on five major sciences clamignes (pañca-mahāvidyā), namely (1) language, (2) logic, (3) spiritual learning, (4) crafts and industrial training and (5) healing therapeutics and astrology. Each faculty had supplementary subjects like mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, iconometry, icon-making, botany and pharmacology referring to medicine in the broad periphery of the Tantra, an applied spiritual science innovated in India.

Since the nineteenth century the monastic tradition which was received in Chittagong and Chittagong Hills of Bengal nurtured the Ceylonese monastic system of Buddhist education in three culumns, namely, Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka. Nalanda Vidhabhavan, Lankarama Pali Tol, Nandan Kanan Bauddha Vihara and others deserve mention.

All those mentioned early Buddhist monastic education centres were very famous in the mediaval period.[34] But, according to the early historical documents, the Buddhist education at that time was also very glorious at the Pundravardana, Mahasthanghar and Mainamati of Samatata. The roles of those institutionalized Buddhist education centres were the results of the subsequent development of Buddhist institutionalized education spread to the different countries in Asia. However, much progress could not be done at that time, but retained in the dynamic of further advancement in the academic system of study.

The academic Buddhist education brightly appeared in the nineteenth century AD through the discovery of various antiquities by the western archaeologists and anthropologists and put them into writing, thereafter, those writings have been used in the most authoritative academic purposes. The Buddhist antiquities as having seen important by the western intellectuals drew attention toward the protection of the Buddhist resources. Buddhism in Bangladesh had been facing a critical period of devastation at the beginning of the thirteenth century to the nineteenth century AD, by the anti-Buddhist powerful rulers periodically till today. This was the main reason that Buddhism lost all the basic supportive elements of original Buddhist original texts, documentations, heritage, system of Buddhist education and the way to practice it.

In that period almost the British people had been arrived in the Indian subcontinent. Seeing the pathetic conditions of the Buddhists, the British people had to control the situation by giving all religions must have been practiced their own religion without interfering to other religions. Therefore, the roles of the British people toward the protection of Buddhism in Bangladesh have been appeared praiseworthy.

Bangladesh had been produced a number of resources of Buddhist scholars in the early phase of the time. For example, B. M. Barua was one of the erudite Buddhist scholars educated and nourished by famous scholar Rhys Davids.

A critique of Modern Buddhist Education in Bangladesh

From foregoing explanations, we can understand that the Buddhist education in Bangladesh in the mediaval times had been good condition till the existence of the Pala dynastice 12th century AD. Following the decline of all Buddhist dynastics in Bangladesh, beginning of the 13th century AD to 19th century AD, the condition of Buddhism and the Buddhist education in Bangladesh had been undergone in the catastrophic of the Buddhist survival against of the anti-Buddhist rulers. Bangladesh was once the original homeland of Buddhism and Buddhist education, and after many centuries, it had the reformation and the revival of Buddhism and its education when there was Buddhist Association began to form. For example, “The Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha (The Bengal Buddhist Association) certainly played important role to revive Buddhist education in Bangladesh. That time, the religious intercourses had been held among all the nations in Asia. It was the biggest ever revival of Buddhism and Buddhist education which any anti- Buddhist rulers could not be able to dominate as day by day the modern technological instruments helped to disseminate Buddhism and to mobilize all the Buddhists with the collaboration of western counter parts and till today we can see the development of Buddhism and its education around the world. But, if you look at the Buddhism, its history and its education in Bangladesh, we cannot find the development accordingly to other Buddhist countries. Observes by Jitendralal Barua, “Since Bangladesh became independent country, there has not been written any true gradual history of Buddhism and the Buddhists in Bangladesh.” [35] As of not having a true gradual history of Buddhism and the Buddhists in Bangladesh, they could not stand on their own feet. It is the failure of all the scholars of Buddhism and history. As a result, the real history of Buddhism in Bangladesh has been lost and instead an artificial or fake history has been replaced for Buddhism and the Buddhist in Bangladesh.

At the present time, we are in so much so in dispute about the religion, nationality, language and education. However, if we just ignore the present conflicting matters and try to concentrate on the past historical period then our Buddhist cultural education and socio-religious civilization will be discernable. In Asia, all civilizations have been derived from Sanskrit and Pali languages. All were educated by these two languages. Sanskrit and Pali language and education, therefore, one and the same. Sanskrit language has widely been used in the Mahayana Buddhist education all around the globe today, while Pali language has been taken as authoritative in the Theravada Buddhist education today. More widely, the totality of the eastern language and education had been derived from the Sanskrit and Pali languages. Now, Buddhism and its education are very much found developed in different Buddhist countries such as, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand. These countries are now recognized and represented as the mainland of Buddhism where the Buddha’s teaching, institutionalized Buddhist education and Buddhist practices are very strong at the moment because of they have been integrated and helped to each other almost all the historical periods till today. On the other hand, the poor Buddhist countries have been seriously facing challenges than prospects to come.

An evaluation of Buddhist education at the present time in Bangladesh would seem less progress than mediaval times and the Buddhist education in the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries had regained from it had already fractured by the anti- Buddhists rulers in Bangladesh. Since that time, even though Buddhism and the Buddhist education in Bangladesh would able to regain through the help of the neibouring countries, but it could not get a fullpledged support because all the original resources of Buddhism in Bangladesh had been destroyed by the anti-Buddhist rulers. The learned persons of Buddhism in Bangladesh would seem lack integrated effort especially in Buddhist education. At the moment we have the Sanskrit and Pali department for Buddhist studies in the university of Dhaka and Chittagong and there are a number of Pali Tols found in the various monasteries also.


It is possible to disappear the real history of any group, society and religion and to replace an artificial or fake history for them by others in order to get more advantage for what the other countries really did not have the true history for example religion or anything. The revolution of the Buddha’s teaching had on the basis of virtual ethics, meaning to proclaim or reveal the actual truth. In this connection, whether, the real Buddhism originated outside of India or Bangladesh, such as in Sri Lanka and other Southeast Asia and so on, has been a big debate among the Buddhists in the world. Therefore, it is important to write again a true history of Buddhism to those Buddhist countries, otherwise, there will not be developed and integration and cooperation in the true sense. A true history is so important to any group of people, society and religion. This true history must be revealed by the help of the records or writing by historians and if not found the records, scientific investigation must be involved.

In the modern aspects of Buddhism and its history, particularly the Buddhists in Bangladesh have lost the true history of Buddhism. As a result, if we go to any place, we get and face discriminatory attitudes because now we are very much in backing in terms of Buddhism and Buddhist education. The present scenario of Buddhism and Buddhist education in Bangladesh is very pathetic condition, although we have Sanskrit and Buddhist department in the universities and other institutions. Therefore, we need integrated working environment from all communities by forgetting any discrimination and unhealthy attitudes towards the Buddhists of poor countries. Recently, the People’s Republic Government of Bangladesh probably has understood the real Buddhist problems and pathetic conditions in Bangladesh. Most importantly, first of all, we must have good intention to bring the Buddhist education for the betterment of all people in the country and abroad. Our interest must go first before any integrated effort need to be achieved from other countries to improve Buddhist institutions into better educational centres in Bangladesh.

Now the good thing for the Buddhists in Bangladesh is that last year 9 December 2015, there was a seminer held in Thailand on Bangladesh and Thailand on the “Buddha Maitri”, organized by the Embassy of Bangladesh, Bangkok, Thailand. That event, though small, but it was very significant because such event on Buddhism was never held since Bangladesh and Thailand established diplomatic connection. Therefore, if the People’s Republic Government of Bangladesh has the conviction to stabilize its aims by the protection and the development of Buddhism and the Buddhist education in Bangladesh. The high quality standard of Buddhist education should be maintained in relation to other culturally and educationally more advanced Buddhist countries. Without establishing international Buddhist education in Bangladesh, the Buddhist culture and recourses would likely face drastic challenges in the future.



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