A view of the Gandhara Research and Resource Centre near Taxila — Photos by the writer
A view of the Gandhara Research and Resource Centre near Taxila — Photos by the writer

TAXILA: Modern day Taxila was once the cradle of the Gandhara civilisation, famous as a centre of learning for sculpture and art, architecture, education, medicine and religion, and home to one of the oldest recognised universities in the world.

According to experts on Gandhara’s history, there were at one stage more than 10,000 students from Babylon, Greece, Syria and China learning languages, Vedas, philosophy, medicine, politics, warfare, accounts, commerce, documentation, music, dance and other performing arts, futurology, the occult, science and mathematics from monks, until the city was destroyed in the 5th century.

Students enrolled at Taxila university, now known Julian monastery, at the age of 16 and were taught in different faculties according to their intellectual ability, interests and capability. They were even taught archery, hunting and elephant lore, along with law, medicine and military science.

Panini, the great Sanskirt grammarian and author of a famous book on Sanskrit grammar used to teach here, while Ashtadhyayi lived and taught at Taxila university.

Charaka, the physician considered the father of Indian medicine because of his contribution to the development of Ayurveda, was also an alumnus.

Reverend Buddhist Monk of Korea Dr Neung Her-Sinim
Reverend Buddhist Monk of Korea Dr Neung Her-Sinim

The most influential teacher from the university was Acharya Chanakya, also known as Kautilya, the legendary political philosopher, thinker and royal adviser.

Now, the Gandhara Research and Resource Centre has been established in a lush valley between the two ancient sites of Sirkap and Julian in a bid to revive Taxila’s history as a Buddhist centre of learning.

Dr Neung Her-Sinim, the reverend Buddhist monk of Korea, has joined as the first scholar in residence at the centre. Dr Sinim has examined and treated a number of people using his certified knowledge of alternative medicine as part of the centre’s clinical services.

The centre has been established, near the ancient Julian University, to rekindle the area’s ancient reservoirs of spiritual energy through research, meditation and healing.

“The place I am serving as scholar in residence was once an embodiment of the ancient Buddhist region,” Dr Sinim told Dawn. He said: “I have arranged many prayer and meditation sessions, as well as healing the ailing community with traditional Chinese medicine.”

Gandhara Art and Culture Association General Secretary Dr Park Kyo Soon, who supervises the centre, said as an expert in traditional Chinese medicine including acupuncture, tai chi and herbal products, Dr Sinim will contribute to the centre’s research programme in alternative medicine, hold meditation sessions and run a clinical practice that will particularly benefit the local population of Taxila.

Dr Neung Her-Sinim treats a patient and also organises a meditation session. — Photos by the writer
Dr Neung Her-Sinim treats a patient and also organises a meditation session. — Photos by the writer

She said the reverend monk had undertaken a spiritual journey of Gandhara sites including Takht Bhai, Swat and Bhamala in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to spread the message of peace.

He found this area to be the best possible spiritual location in the region because it was the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road from Afghanistan to China and Buddhism flourished across the world from this route, she said.

“There are more than 50 archaeological sites scattered in a 30 kilometre radius around Taxila valley. The place where I strive to revive this ancient centre of Gandhara research and resource is the centre point of these ancient places,” scholar Ayaz Kiyani, the organiser of the centre, said.

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2019