Buddha's message more relevant today: Khurshid

Last Updated: Wed, Dec 19, 2012 18:03 hrs

Yangon, Dec 15 (IBNS) External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Saturday said Lord Buddha's messages are more relevant in today's violence-hit times than any other time in history.

In his address at the inauguration ceremony of the International Conference on Buddhist Cultural Heritage in Yangon, Khurshid said: "As the world is threatened by violence and terrorism and conflicts and hatred, the Buddha´s message of peace, equality, unity, harmony and tolerance is more relevant today than at any other time in history."

"Buddhist philosophy of feeling for other´s sufferings as our own holds the key to develop a sense of compassion, kindness and brotherhood leading to individual inner peace and peaceful co-existence," he said.

Full text of Khurshid´s address:

Dr. Ashin Nyanissara, Sitago Sayadaw,
His Excellency, Vice President Dr Sai Mauk Kham,
Thura U Myint Maung, Minister of Religious Affairs,
His Excellency U Myint Swe, Chief Minister of Yangon Region
Ambassador of India, Dr. Seshadri,
Venerable Monks,
Ladies ,Gentlemen & Friends,

I consider it a great honour and privilege to be here this morning at the inaugural function of the International Conference on Buddhist Cultural Heritage. As the international community watches Myanmar with renewed interest, it is only apt that this important meeting of scholars - designed to provide us with a better understanding of the depth and global spread of Buddhist influences - is being organized in this golden land- "Suvarnabhumi".

While describing the Buddha, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister had written "Seated on the lotus flower, calm and impassive, above passion and desire, beyond the storm and strife of this world, so far away he seems, out of reach, unattainable. Yet again we look and behind those still, unmoving features there is a passion and an emotion, strange and more powerful than the passions and emotions we have known. His eyes are closed, but some power of the spirit looks out of them and a vital energy fills the frame. The ages roll by and Buddha seems not so far away after all; his voice whispers in our ears and tells us not to run away from the struggle but, calm-eyed, to face it, and to see in life ever greater opportunities for growth and advancement."

Ladies ,Gentlemen & Friends,

Buddhism is a thriving religion. In 1879, Sir Edwin Arnold, the noted poet and journalist, wrote in his 'The Light of Asia', "a generation ago little or nothing was known in Europe of this great faith of Asia, which had nevertheless existed during twenty-four centuries and at this day surpasses, in the number of its followers and the area of its prevalence, any other form of creed. Four hundred and seventy millions of our race live and die in the tenets of Gautama; and the spiritual dominions of this ancient teacher extend, at the present time, from Nepal and Ceylon, over the whole eastern peninsula to China Japan, Tibet, Central Asia, Siberia and even Swedish Lapland. Forests of flowers are daily laid upon his stainless shines, and countless millions of lips daily repeat the formula, I take refuge in Buddha".

The people of Myanmar, influenced by profound Buddhist philosophy, have over a long period, created beautiful art, built splendid pagodas and monasteries, crafted elegant sculptures, drawn magnificent mural paintings and developed classic literature and poetry. Two Mon merchants obtaining from Lord Buddha some hair relics and on their return enshrining them in a temple which later became Shwedagon Pagoda is a well known folklore. I am told that Myanmar has other famous pilgrimage sites such as the Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay, the scenic Kyaiktiyo Golden Rock Pagoda and of course, the over 2000 temples in just 16 sqare miles in the ancient city of Bagan, which I hope to visit tomorrow. India, as the birthplace of Buddhism, has its fair share - the Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya, the revered stupa at Sarnath/Varanasi and the Buddha attaining Mahaparinirvana at Kushinagara -being some of them where millions of pilgrims from all over the world, including an ever increasing number from Myanmar, come to pay respect.

Ladies ,Gentlemen & Friends,

To highlight this glorious common heritage, the President of Myanmar and Prime Minister of India decided in favour of organising this conference when President U Thein Sein undertook a State visit to India in October 2011. I am very glad that their directions have been realised today with the cooperation of many partners,including the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Myanmar, and the Sitagu International Buddhist Academy of Myanmar. I am also happy to see that the conference is beingattended by several renowned Buddhist scholars and venerable monks from Myanmar, from India and from various other countriesto share their knowledge and perspectives on the chosen theme of Buddhist Cultural Heritage.

India and Myanmar are bound by geography. But these bonds are reinforced, deepened and strengthened by our historical, cultural and spiritual ties, which are enduring. The shared traditions of Buddhism and the 'Sangha' formed the bedrock of our early contacts, as poets, philosophers and princes traversed our two countries. These contacts led the way to the movement of people and trade, creating a continuum of complex exchanges, strengthened in our struggle to create independent nations in the modern times.

Ladies ,Gentlemen & Friends,

Both our countries have achieved manifold accomplishments in the past six decades, but I believe we have far to go in living up to the expectations of our peoples and the dreams of the founding fathers of our nations. Today,Myanmar is poised at a fascinating point in its history, when it is reinventing itself and its relationship with the global community. The government has set itself an ambitious agenda of achieving good governance, rule of law, securing fundamental rights of citizens, reducing income disparity, economic reform and environmental conservation and political dialogue. We in India, stand ready to assist, in whatever way desired by the government and the people of Myanmar, in this transition, to what I would believe would create a democratic polity and lead to economic prosperity and well being of the people of Myanmar.

The high level exchanges between the two countries in the past two years, including the visit of our Prime Minister in May, have imparted a momentum to our relations.Our initiatives in the fields of connectivity, border area development, information technology, agriculture and capacity building, are a demonstration of our resolve to create a bright future, which can be shared by both the nations. The Kaladan Project, connecting the Rakhine and Chin States in Myanmar with the North Eastern part of India has potential to substantially increase the trade between these parts of our countries. TheImphal-Mandalay Bus Serviceand the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highwayis expected to enable the communities across the borders to meet and create deeper economic and social bonds. So would the Border Haats that our two sides have agreed to set up along the India-Myanmar border.

Ladies ,Gentlemen & Friends,

I also have great pleasure in informing you that, encouraged by the support of the EAS Member States,the ancient Buddhist Nalanda University is being revived in the Indian state of Bihar. We have appointed Nobel Laureate Prof. Amartya Sen as the Chancellor of this prestigious University.The School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religions will be one of the seven schools proposed to be set up as part of the University. Nalanda University will keep alive the spirit of ancient Nalanda in a modern setting and it would be our contribution towards the preservation and growth of Buddhist heritage.

Lord Buddha´s teachings have had universal reach and timeless appeal. Not only has Buddhism spread far and wide from India to Central, South East and East Asia, it is now practiced by more than 500 million people across the world. Growing acceptance and influence of Buddhism around the world can also be gauged from the words of a renowned British historian, Arnold Toynbee, who in 'Turning the Wheels' wrote, "The coming of Buddhism to the West may well prove to be the most important event of the twentieth century."

As the world is threatened by violence and terrorism and conflicts and hatred, the Buddha´s message of peace, equality, unity, harmony and tolerance is more relevant today than at any other time in history. Buddhist philosophy of feeling for other´s sufferings as our own holds the key to develop a sense of compassion, kindness and brotherhood leading to individual inner peace and peaceful co-existence. It is interesting that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru conveyed the following to an International Buddhist Conference in Sanchi in November 1952:

Ladies ,Gentlemen & Friends,

"The message that Buddha gave 2,500 years ago shed its light not only on India or Asia but the whole world. The question that inevitably suggests itself is how far can the great message of the Buddha apply to the present day work? Perhaps, it may, perhaps it may not; but I do know that if we follow the principles enunciated by Buddha, we will win peace and tranquility for the world."

This year marks the 2600th year of the Buddha´s enlightenment. India takes pride in being the cradle of Buddhism, the land where Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. This conference, through its intensive discussions, can provide a platform to not only explore but to also strengthen the deep and rich cultural bonds that the common link of Buddhism can provide among all the countries represented in this conference, in fashioning a better world.

I am happy that coinciding with this important conference, we will also be able to unveil and consecrate the Sarnath style Buddha statue gifted by the people and Government of India to the friendly people and Government of Myanmar. We are deeply appreciative of the importance accorded by Myanmar to this initiative by having the statue installed at the premises of the most holy Shwedagon Pagoda. Indeed we also deeply value the cooperation that we currently have in being able to offer our assistance in the restoration of the world renowned Ananda Temple at Bagan by experts from the Archaeological Survey of India.

Ladies ,Gentlemen & Friends, In conclusion, let me once again thank all the collaborators for putting together this important conference and to all the scholars for accepting the invitation to discuss and to dwell on the sacred and fascinating heritage of Buddhism and its culture across nations and regions. The Conference on Buddhist heritage, I believe, would provide an opportunity, to celebrate and ponder upon the unity in diversity that Buddhism and Buddhist culture has acquired since ancient times. I wish the conference every success.

I would like to thank the Hon'ble Vice President of Myanmar for making it convenient to attend this ceremony today.

I would end with some lines from the 'Light of Asia' on the nature of dhamma preached by Lord Buddha and of great relevance in these difficult times:

"Such is the Law which moves to righteousness,
Which none at last can turn aside or stay;
The heart of it is Love, the end of it,
Is Peace and Consummation sweet. Obey!"

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