The UNDV event taking place at the UN auditorium in Bangkok. Credit: Kalinga Seneviratne - Photo: 2024

Buddhists Keen to Build Global Partnerships But Cautious to Launch Peace Movement

A Lotus Communication Network Feature by Kalinga Seneviratne

BANGKOK | 24 May 2024 (IDN | LCN) — At this year’s United National Day of Vesak event in Bangkok on 19 and 20 May, over a thousand Buddhist delegates from across Asia, Europe and even South America and Africa, discussed the value of the Buddhist philosophy in building trusts and partnerships, but beyond talk, there was not much action initiated.

In December 1999, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution presented by Sri Lanka to adopt the United Nations Day of Vesak (UNDV) on the full moon day of May each year, to recognise the peaceful message of the Buddha.

This year Thailand hosted the global UNDV with the theme of “Building Trust and Solidarity”.

In his video message to the gathering, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “Last October, I had the privilege of travelling to the Buddha’s birthplace of Lumbini, Nepal. This deeply inspiring visit reaffirmed my conviction that the Buddha’s timeless teachings of peace, compassion and service to others are the pathway to a better, more understanding and harmonious world for all”.

Numerous Buddhist scholars, senior monks and practitioners echoed this message during the event.

Dr P. A. Kiriwandeniya, Chancellor of Wayamba University of Sri Lanka noted that our societal landscape is being “guided by considerations of extreme individuality and selfishness, fostering a culture marked by greed and malice”. He warned that science and technology will destroy the whole human race if the social and fundamental traits of the individual are not recognised.

“Buddha’s teachings show how to live for the well-being of the society” means to develop generosity, pleasant speech, and meaningful livelihoods that “create harmonious social creators by promoting equitable sharing of what one has”, he added.

Buddhist ways of life

Pointing out that it is only since the 1950s that Westerners have started to adopt Buddhist ways of life, Carlo Luyckx, Vice President of the European Buddhist Union from Belgium said that Buddhism offers them “the skilful methods of calming our minds and developing loving kindness and clarity (of the mind)”. Thus he argued that the Buddhist community has “a global responsibility in promoting peace and respecting freedom”.

Former Vietnamese ambassador to India and Nepal Pham Sanh Chau argued that Buddhism has significantly shaped the Vietnamese cultural identity today. He pointed out that the synthesis of Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism (incorporating Indian thought) has created an environment for building partnerships, adding that a hallmark of Vietnamese Buddhism is building partnerships through peaceful means.

“These do not contradict but complement and support each other,” noted Chau. “Confucianism organises society in an orderly manner; Daoism cares for the physical health of the individuals; Buddhism cares for the spiritual liberation of individuals”.

“With rising social and political tensions the path of Buddhist education (based on four truths) becomes increasingly more relevant and meaningful than ever before,” argues Madhusree Chowdhury, Buddhist educationist and cultural activist from Kolkatta, India. The four truths consist of suffering, reasons for suffering, how to eradicate it and the path to doing that.

“Buddha’s teachings could provide a path of sustainability, simplicity, moderation and reverence for all life. His emphasis on mindfulness helps us navigate information overload, reduce stress and cultivate focused attention in a scattered world,” she added.

All these ideas offer much-needed remedies to address the increasingly violent and warmongering nature of today’s geo-political battles. However, Buddhist organisations and meetings like the UNDV tend not to walk the talk.

Buddhists often talk in forums like these about the greatness of the philosophy to bring peace to the world. However, they are greatly reluctant to take a political stand to fight for peace in a world torn apart by militaristic agendas and such media narratives.

During the closing plenary, when LCN raised the issue of the “madness” going on in the South China Sea at the moment between China and the Philippines, and what can the Buddhists do to bring about a negotiated peace solution to it using the philosophical paths discussed during the forum – as 5 of the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations)member are Buddhist nations – there was silence from the stage. The Moderator said they could put it on the agenda of the next UNDV in Vietnam in May 2025.

“There is an urgent need for Buddhists in Asia to launch a civil society peace movement in Asia based on the principles and philosophies discussed in Bangkok,” one Malaysian delegate (who did not want to be named) told LCN. “There is a growing Buddhist community in Europe who could also join in. But, Asia, the home of Buddhism, need to build the networks first”.

Warmongers need to be confronted

“It needs to be led by lay Buddhists not monks, added the Malaysian Buddhist, “because Buddhists themselves often criticize the latter, for taking part in political activity”.

The monastic system that underpins the Buddhist tradition in Asia has been successful in building the intellectual capacity of the clergy to serve the Buddhist community’s spiritual needs and maintain cultural traditions. But, chanting and meditating in temples cannot stop the increasing tensions across Asia.

“The warmongers (mainly from outside the region) need to be confronted—not necessarily by demonstrating in the streets—but through influencing the regional media agenda in particular, and also the political agenda by lobbying the government to adopt the Buddhist principles of peaceful co-existence in their foreign policies,” a member of the large Vietnamese delegation told LCN, asking not to identify him.

Though mindfulness has become an international phenomenon or fad, its Buddhist influence has been diluted by ignoring the development of compassion aspects of the practice. “An Asian Buddhist peace movement needs to bring it into the global practice of mindfulness—otherwise mindfulness is only helping to build more selfish self-centred individuals,”  argues Harin, a Sri Lankan participant at the Bangkok meeting.

With Vietnam hosting the next UNDV, one hopes that such a peace movement could be launched there, as the location will be immensely symbolic for such a movement to be born. [IDN-InDepthNews]

 Photo: The UNDV event taking place at the UN auditorium in Bangkok. Credit: Kalinga Seneviratne

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