Promoting world peace through Buddhism

The United Nations International Vesak Day celebrations and Buddhist Congress conducted annually for the 16th occasion was held at the Tam Chuc International Convention centre in the Hanam Province of Vietnam with the participation of delegates from 112 countries. The event held from May 12 to 14, attracted Maha Sangha Nayaka Theras, Buddhist leaders, scholars and researchers of Buddhist Philosophy, university lecturers, including 1,700 international delegates and 7,000 Vietnamese delegates.

A resolution was moved at the 54th General Assembly of the United Nations on December 15, 1999 to recognise Vesak day as UN observance day globally by the then Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar. It was unanimously approved by the United Nations General Assembly. This made way for Buddhists around the world to get together and celebrate the Vesak Day annually as an international event.

In the year 2000 the United Nations International Vesak Day was celebrated for the first time at the UN headquarters in New York with the participation of Buddhist leaders from 34 countries around the world. The event was then celebrated annually by countries individually until the year 2004. In the same year a committee was established represented by Buddhist countries around the globe to make arrangements to celebrate the UN International Vesak Day and organise the World Buddhist Congress each year, led by Professor Brahmapundit of Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University, Mahanayake of Maha Sangha Sabbha in Thailand. He was appointed the first President of the organising committee which celebrated the event in Bangkok with the participation of 15 countries. The United Nations International Vesak Day celebrations and Buddhist Congress which started with 15 countries in 2004 was celebrated in 2019 with the participation of over 7,000 delegates from 112 countries. So far the event has been celebrated in Thailand on 12 occasions and in Vietnam in years 2008, 2014 and 2019.

In the year 2017 Sri Lanka celebrated the event with the participation of over 1,000 delegates from around the world. This is considered recognition by the world Buddhist fraternity on Sri Lanka as the country which preserved Theravada Buddhism for the last 2300 years.

The theme of the 16th UN International Vesak Day celebrations and Buddhist Congress was “Buddhist approach to Global leadership and shared responsibilities for sustainable societies”.

Deviation from Emperor Asoka’s autocratic rule to the path of Dhamma which later advocated by him leading to the concept of winning the hearts of people to establish sustainable development and achieve matured peace other than conquering countries and affecting destruction, was the main topic for discussion during the congress.

It was also discussed on the application of teachings of the Buddha to practical social lives of people, societies, races and countries as a sub theme, in order to direct people and society on to a proper path shown by the Buddhist Philosophy. Sustainable family, society, environment, peace, improvement of human qualities shown in the teachings was emphasised by the University teachers, Buddhist philosophers and scholars alike while their experiences and findings through research were discussed in depth.

The evolution of Buddhist Philosophy

It is 26 centuries since the Buddhist Philosophy was introduced to the world. For more than 2563 years the teachings of the Buddha has been preserved and practiced not only as a Philosophy but also as a way of life. During the time Prince Siddhartha was born Philosophers and people alike all over the world were in search of truth and spirituality. Lansu and Confucius of China, Paramensis, Empadoclees of Greece, Kasarathustra of Iran, Mahaweera and the Buddha lived in this same period. This particular era is considered as one of the most important periods of mankind as a few teachers came forward to instil new principals, attitudes and thinking in the society.

Vesak Full Moon day is connected to the Birth, Attainment to Enlightenment and Passing away of the Buddha. According to Theravada Buddhism the Buddha passed away in 544BC. There have been many important aspects of the life of the Buddha. The son of the ruler of Kapilawasthu Prince Siddhartha who lived in the lap of luxury married Yasodara who gave birth to son Rahula. His contemplative nature and boundless compassion did not allow him to enjoy the material pleasures in life. Siddhartha had a great impact from the clergy who went in search of the truth of life. He found out that the happiness experienced in the material world is temporary. Therefore he decided to go in search of happiness through religious and spiritual life.

For full six years he spent in the jungle enduring hardships as it was the belief in the ancient days that no deliverance could be gained unless one leads a life of strict asceticism. He strenuously practiced all forms of severe austerities. He understood that the extreme path is not the way forward. Moving on he took to the middle path avoiding the two extremes self indulgence and self mortification. While he was deeply absorbed in meditation solely relying on his efforts and wisdom he purified himself eradicated all defilements realising things as they truly are attained enlightenment at the age of 35.

After attaining Buddhahood he introduced him as ‘Thathagatha’ meaning the one who found truth. After deciding to preach what he learned the Buddha said “listen monks, I attained nirvana the eternal bliss, I shall advise you, preach you Dhamma”. From then onwards for 45 long years the Buddha travelled to different places meeting people from all walks of life, rich or poor preached them the Dhamma and the importance of living a simple lives and equality among all humans.

Although delegates from Buddhist and non Buddhist countries got together under the auspices of the United Nations through the World Buddhist Congress in order to spread the message of the Buddha to all corners of the world, after Emporer Asoka’s effort to promote Buddhism to the world, on May 24 to June 2, 1950 the first World Buddhist Congress was held in front of Sri Dalada Maligawa led by Professor Gunapala Malalasekara is recognised as an event which unified the Buddhist world. Countries divided by different sects such as Theravada, Mahayana, Heenayana and Thanthrayana were brought together under the basic Philosophy taught by the Buddha. What Gunapala Malalasekara did decades ago was carried forward by the UN. We all as Buddhists must regret that although Sri Lanka preserved the Theravada Buddhism it has not been able to be recognised as the Buddhist centre for the world. Buddhist majority live in Thailand Myanmar, Japan, China, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Cambodia while Buddhism is becoming increasingly popular in Europe, America and several other regions of the world.

The fact that there are many Buddhist and non Buddhist countries making special requests to host the UN Vesak Day celebrations and the Buddhist Congress which initially commenced with 15 countries and the increased participation for the event annually emphasise the interest shown globally. Although the developed countries achieved high development through the new liberal economic policies, the technological revolution, information technology et al by improving the per capita income of the people show backwardness in social and HR development. Disturbed equilibrium in the family and society and in most of the developed countries such as Europe and the Americas, people tend to suffer from mental disorders, stress, isolation etc. These symptoms can be addressed by following Buddhist teachings. There is a tendency among busy people in the world to reach towards Buddhism in order to face these challenges. This was proved by researchers who represented Europe at the World Buddhist Congress. Universities in the USA, France and UK have started researching and practicing the teachings of the Buddha with special emphasis on meditation.

Buddhist Philosophy and social background

Although it is 2600 years since the Buddha preached his philosophy to the world its content is proved to be relevant to the present world and is expected to serve the world in future too. Buddha’s teachings recognised personal and social life. Meditation is the way to gain happiness, peace and tranquillity according to his teachings. The Buddha is not a god but a human being, not a saviour but a teacher. His life centred on helping people on their life problems and to teach them the path to eternal bliss. He used a system based on truth and wisdom gained through experience and getting deep in to once stream of thought through meditation.

Buddhist leadership

For the last 2523 years we have been exploring and experiencing the philosophy based on truth, compassion and wisdom preached by the Buddha. The divisions, conflicts and fighting, destruction, natural disasters faced by mankind during the period of the Buddha are still to be seen in the world at large. We experience these phenomena even to date. Solutions to the problems we face today can be found in Buddhist Philosophy based on renunciation, truth and reconciliation. There are still border disputes, racial disharmony and other problems faced by the people in the world. Human genocide, religious wars are increasing. The most dangerous situation faced today is religious extremism. It is based on single god extremism preached by faith based religions. Destroying the basic ethics, destruction and mass murder has become the order of the day. Most religions are based on love and respect towards other human beings.

True social ethics can be experienced in Buddhist Philosophy. During his time the Buddha practised ethics such as respecting other religions and allowing other religious leaders to express their views freely and not obstructing to preach once own religion.

The need for a truthful matured global leadership adopting the path shown by the Buddha leading to social justice, sustainable peace, sustainable family, preventive health, social ethics and social values has become the need of the day.

What the Buddha preached on conflict resolution was a point of discussion at the World Buddhist Congress making it the theme for not only the Buddhist countries but also non Buddhist countries alike. The importance of Buddhist philosophy in the peaceful coexistence of the human race was emphasised and the dedication of all countries in the world to that effect was highlighted during the sessions. 

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