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Inauguration of International Conference on Relevance of Buddhism in 21st Century

Rajgir, Bihar, India, 17 March 2017 – His Holiness the Dalai Lama departed Dharamsala yesterday morning as rain clouds gathered overhead. On arriving at Gaya Airport, he was received by representatives of the Bihar State Government. After a brisk lunch, he drove to Rajgir, where he stopped his car at the foot of the hills leading to Vulture’s Peak. This is where Buddha Shakyamuni turned the Wheel of Dharma for the second time with his explanation of the Perfection of Wisdom. His Holiness remained a few minutes in silent reflection facing in the direction of the sacred site.

This morning it was a short drive to the Nalanda International Convention Centre, which has been constructed in the shape of a stupa. More than 1300 Indian and foreign delegates were gathered looking forward to His Holiness’s participation in the inauguration of an International Conference on the Relevance of Buddhism in the 21st Century.

In his opening address, Shri N.K. Sinha, Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, welcomed everyone present. Shri M.L. Srivastava, Vice Chancellor, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, who is co-host of the conference, introduced his University, which was established in 1951, as a place of learning with a focus particularly on advanced Buddhist studies. His Holiness released a newly printed edition of the Pali Tripitaka in Devanagari script published by the Ministry of Culture. In his remarks, Minister of Culture and Tourism, Shri Mahesh Sharma, welcomed the Buddhist leaders, monks and scholars from more than 30 countries who had gathered for this three-day conference to discuss a more socially engaged Buddhism for our time.

In his keynote address, His Holiness the Dalai Lama began by introducing his primary commitment in relation to humankind,

“I am just one of the 7 billion human beings alive today, who all want happiness and do not want suffering. We are all the same, emotionally, mentally and physically. Some scientists have found evidence to show that basic human nature is compassionate. This is a really hopeful sign and it makes sense. We are social animals. We were all born from a mother. If we don't receive affection when we are small we won’t survive. This has nothing to do with religion--- it’s a biological fact. Since scientific research shows that constant fear, anger and hatred undermine our immune system, whether we are religious or not, it is in our interest to be more compassionate.”

On the matter of religious harmony, His Holiness said,

“All religious traditions teach us about love, compassion, forgiveness, contentment and self-discipline. They all carry a similar message of love. Therefore, all these traditions should be able to live side-by-side and work together. These days we are seeing a distressing number of conflicts based on differences of religious faith. It is unthinkable that such differences should lead to violence. It’s like medicine becoming poison.”

His Holiness praised the example of interreligious harmony that India has set over more than 1000 years.

“India is the only country where all the world’s major religious traditions live together. Now Indians need to be more active in promoting religious harmony, especially in those places where conflict is going on in the name of religion. The time has come to share your longstanding traditional values of religious harmony and secularism.

“It is explained that the Buddhas can neither remove suffering by hand nor can they wash away its sources. What they can do is to point us in the direction of reality. The Buddha showed how we can tackle our destructive emotions, not through prayer, but through analysis and meditation. Special insight or vipassana meditation is very effective in this regard. Ancient Indian tradition is rich in understanding how to discipline the mind and tackle destructive emotions. From this point of view ancient Indian psychology is of great relevance today and we can study it, not necessarily as a part of religious practice, but from an academic point of view.”

After having lunch with other Buddhist leaders and members of the Sangha in a nearby tent, His Holiness took part in a meeting of senior elders of the Sangha. He and another Sri Lankan monk stressed that there are essentially no differences in the Vinaya rules observed by the Buddhist monastic communities of the Pali and Sanskrit traditions. Several participants at the meeting, including His Holiness, stressed the need for Buddhists from different countries following the Pali and Sanskrit traditions to meet more often to share their experience and understanding.

“There should be more interaction among our Buddhist brothers and sisters. One aim of this meeting could be to establish further regular meetings between brothers and sisters belonging to the Pali and Sanskrit traditions.”

His Holiness observed that a special feature of Buddhism is that it takes a scientific approach.

“No other religious tradition states so clearly that simple faith is not enough. The Buddha encouraged his followers to examine and investigate what they are told. This is why Einstein suggested that Buddhism can augment modern science. Indeed, many scientists today are showing genuine interest in Buddhism in general, and particularly in what Madhyamaka philosophy and the Buddhist science of mind have to say.

“Over the last 1000 years we Tibetans have kept the Nalanda tradition alive. Now the time has come for us to share this knowledge with our Buddhist brothers and sisters, with non-Buddhists and even those who have no particular religious faith. “

In the afternoon plenary session, His Holiness sat among the audience listening to an array of eminent speakers. Ven. Bhante Buddharakkhita, Founder and President of the Uganda Buddhist Centre, spoke on Conflict and Peace Building. Louie Psihoyos, Executive Director of the Oceanic Preservation Society, talked about Environment and Nature Conservation. Ven. Dhammananda, Founding Abbess of the Songhdhammakalyani in Thailand addressed the role of Women in Buddhism. Dr Alexander Berzin, scholar and translator, discussed the Promotion of Buddhist Studies and Preservation of the Nalanda Tradition. Prof. Sisir Roy, Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, spoke about Buddhism and the Sciences. Prof. Ngawang Samten, Vice Chancellor of Central University of Tibetan Studies Sarnath, explained Secular Ethics.

The audience also witnessed two live debate presentations. The first, conducted by a group of Tibetan Geshes, dealt with the nature of the mind. The second, performed by a group of Geshemas, scholarly nuns, analysed the Four Noble Truths.