A virtual Nalanda for our times?Posted: April 19, 2012
One of the things which has impressed me in recent years is how some Buddhist traditions have successfully engaged with the age of the internet to such a degree that many excellent opportunities for studying Buddhist view and practice online has become available. This obviously makes Buddhism so much more available for serious, systematic study than it used to be, but interestingly it also makes it easier for people to be much better prepared and informed about Buddhism before they commit themselves to any particular method of practice or to any particular lineage of transmission. Also, it can ensure that people are able to learn enough to be confident in studying and practising entirely by themselves if they wish, although I suspect the need to engage with sangha face-to-face from time to time will, for most people, always be necessary to some extent. Below, I offer just a small sample of those online opportunities that I have so far discovered, or that I have some small knowledge of.
The Buddhanet website has been going a long time, is very well managed, and has a vast range of materials on it. It has a range of online study materials, all free. See: http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/guide.htm
Rangjung Yeshe Institute, an international centre for Buddhist Studies, offers courses in Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan, Sanskrit and Nepali languages. The courses combine traditional Tibetan Buddhist teachings with a modern Buddhist Studies perspective. All classes are held in the unique setting of a Tibetan monastery in Boudhanath, Kathmandu, Nepal. Students can earn BA and MA degrees in Buddhist Studies and Himalayan Languages or study for shorter, intensive periods. For visiting students, study-abroad programs in Buddhist philosophy and language as well as a range of intensive summer programs in Buddhist philosophy and related languages are offered. It has an online learning programme, but there are fees for this. See: http://www.shedra.org/
The Triratna Community, formerly known as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, has a fantastic site full of excellent study materials, which are free and don’t require a prior commitment to the Triratna community, but which is a great preliminary for eventually making that commitment if one wanted to. Much of the material will be familiar to those who have studied already within the Tibetan tradition, but much will also be unfamiliar, as the study approach is very broad and encompasses materials from other Buddhist traditions. See: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/study/
The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition now has a very well organised set of online study programmes which appear to be excellent for those who are particularly keen to study and practice Buddhism within the Tibetan tradition descended from Je Tsongkhapa. Some of the study content is free but much of it is only accessible after choosing a level of membership of Friends of the FPMT where a financial contribution is expected, but the rates appear very reasonable for the amount and quality of study materials that become accessible. See: http://onlinelearning.fpmt.org/
For those who want to go the whole hog and do an in-depth academic study of Buddhism, the University of Wales, Newport, does a distance e-learning course that leads to an MA/PG Diploma/PG Certificate in Buddhist Studies. I have myself successfully completed tow years of this course when exactly the same course was offered previously at the University of Sunderland, and as a result I achieved the PG Diploma. I can certainly vouch for the excellent quality of the course, which certainly gives one a thorough overview of the whole of Buddhism as it is practised in various ways throughout the world, and it hives one a very solid grounding in basic Buddhist philosophy. The course is not free. It costs £1,200 the first year, £2,400 for two years, or if you did the whole 3 years would cost £3,200 for 3 years. This is incredibly reasonable for a proper university course! See: http://www.newport.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/courses/Pages/BuddhistStudies.aspx
Just do a Google search for online Buddhist study courses. You’ll be amazed at what you find! I’ve learnt enough now to realise that no one single Buddhist tradition or lineage can justifiably claim to contain within it all the richness and potential of what the Buddha taught. An openess to, and willingness to engage with, many Buddhist traditions appears to me to be so much more creative and rewarding than confining oneself to just studying within one tradition only. I would claim that knowing more about traditions other than one’s own practice tradition makes one, at the very least, more aware of the nature and context of one’s own tradition and more appreciative of what unique gifts different traditions bring to the Buddhist table. Indeed, the internet age may be instrumental in creating a golden age of Buddhist study and practice, in which a virtual Nalanda and Vikramashila arises as the Buddhist university of our time.