INTERNATIONAL BUDDHIST CONFERENCE – Ven. SUGANDHA (Dr. Anilman Shakya)
A four-day international conference on the “Preservation, Protection and Promotion of Buddhist Culture and Heritage” was held from 15–18 November at the Lumbini Sacred Garden, the birthplace of the Buddha, in Nepal. Jointly organized by the Theravada Buddhist Academy, affiliated to the Lumbini Buddhist University of Nepal, and the International Sitagu Buddhist Academy of Myanmar, the conference issued a 23-point declaration encompassing different topics ranging from Buddhist heritage and education to environmental conservation in Lumbini.
The forum was attended by more than 800 representative members of the sangha, cabinet ministers, diplomats, Buddhist scholars, archeologists, climatologists, and journalists from 32 countries. Inaugurating the conference on 15 November, Nepal’s president Dr. Ram Baran Yadav emphasized that Buddhism was not only a religion but also an important philosophy, and therefore everyone should internalize it.
Union Minister for Religious Affairs of Myanmar U Soe Win pointed out the necessity of promoting Buddhism, while the chancellor of the Sitagu International Buddhist Academy of Myanmar, Venerable Dr. Ashin Nyanissara, and the principal of the Theravada Buddhist Academy, Venerable Dr. Jnanapurnika Mahasthabir, spoke of the importance of the Buddhist religion and its connection with Lumbini.
Discussions were held on 86 working papers under five different themes: Lumbini’s Buddhist heritage; world Buddhist heritage; Buddhist culture; the Buddhist education system; and environmental conservation. The keynote speakers were: Prof. Robin Cunningham, Durham University, England; Prof. Asanga Tilakratne, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka; Dr. Rabindra Panth, director of the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Bihar, India; and Venerable Dr. Sugandha, deputy rector, Mahamakut Buddhist University, Bangkok, Thailand.
The concluding ceremony was held in the Myanmar Dhamma Hall in the Theravada monastic zone, where the “Lumbini Declaration” was announced. It was signed by U Soe Win and Venerable Dr. Ashin Nyanissara, along with 50 other representatives from different countries.
The conference placed an emphasis on the need for a joint effort by the global community for the promotion of archeological and spiritually significant world Buddhist heritage sites, the promotion and protection of Lumbini, and the spread of Buddhist education around the world. The issue of the rising level of pollution in Lumbini and the surrounding environment was raised, and calls were made for international organizations to work together for the sustainable development of Lumbini and the adjoining areas.
Bhikshu Nigrodha, secretary of the International Buddhist Conference Organising Committee, claimed the conference to have been a remarkable accomplishment. “It was able to highlight the historical and cultural importance of Lumbini,” he said. “But more than that, it was successful in pointing at the importance of Lumbini from the academic perspective.”
Alongside the conference, The Lumbini Development Trust organized a photo exhibition and slide-show presentation highlighting Lumbini in earlier times and comparing the progress made between the visit of UN Secretary General U Thant in April 1967 and events after the implementation of the Lumbini Master Plan in December 1972.
The participants in the conference also visited the monasteries of various countries represented in Lumbini’s monastic zone. Additionally, on the last day, the organizers arranged for international participants to take a cultural tour of the Lumbini heritage sites of Gotihawa, Tilaurakot, Kudan, Devdaha, and Ramgram.