Buddhists from as far afield as Lithuania and Uganda gathered in Bangkok last weekend on the occasion of Vesak Day - the annual celebration of the birth, enlightenment and passing of Buddha - and called for both monastics and lay Buddhists to use their faith as a basis for action in promoting social and economic development - writes Lance Woodruff.
At the end of a three-day conference convened to discuss "Buddhist Virtues on Socio-Economic Development", attendees from 85 nations announced their conclusions in the Bangkok Declaration. There is an urgent need "preserve sustainable social, economic and natural environments," the declaration stated.
Finding a way to balance scientific and material advances with cultural and spiritual gains is also crucial, the signatories concluded, voicing sympathy for victims of natural disasters that "place civilisation at risk" and calling for action on other threats to life on earth, from conflict to environmental problems.
The conference was hosted from 12-14 May 2011 by Thailand's Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University (MCU), with the assistance of the Supreme Sangha Council of Thailand - the group that advises the patriarch of all that nation's Buddhist monks - and the United Nations, which recognises the Visakha Puja Festival as an international event.
Professor Phra Dharmakosajarn, rector of MCU, said that the 1,700 attendees, which included about 1,000 Buddhist monks and nuns, gathered in Bangkok in part because many of Buddhism's historic sites in Nepal and India cannot accommodate such large numbers. As a result, the Buddhamonthon shrine and park on the outskirts of Bangkok is emerging as a new centre of world Buddhism.
The event's location is less important than its message, organisers implied. "Buddhism has no boundaries,” Professor Dharmakosajarn told a press conference at the gathering. “The social and economic problems of one nation are no longer limited to its boundaries but affect many nations.”
Nonetheless, the Bangkok Declaration suggests that Buddhists can draw inspiration from the some 4,000 development projects initiated or proposed by Thailand's 83-year-old monarch, King Bhumibol Adulvadej.
The Declaration said the assembly endorsed convening the Second International Association of Buddhist Universities (IABU) in Bangkok this December, on the occasion of King Bhumibol's 84th birthday.
The Declaration reaffirmed core Buddhist values, suggesting that humanity can draw on and apply "compassion, kindness, love, generosity, tolerance, understanding and trust", along with "mindful speech and reconciliation" to build harmony and peace in the world.
Buddhists can apply that in daily life by calling on corporate leaders to emphasise the production of essential goods and services rather than non-essential consumer goods: putting the Buddhist virtue of mindfulness in production and consumption into action.
On a practical level, the Declaration called on Buddhists worldwide to combat threats to life on earth, including pollution, acid rain, global warming and other environmental challenges.
The assembly pledged to work with governments, NGOs and the media on these challenges. It also urged national governments and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to preserve and protect existing Buddhist archaeological sites and excavate new ones.
The conference activities ranged from a progress report from the University of California at Berkeley's ongoing project to publish major texts from the Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana schools of Buddhism online in English for worldwide distribution, to a performance by a 180-member Chinese Buddhist orchestra and a chorus, including Buddhist monks, from Shenzhen.
Buddhists from around the world were able to follow the events on live television.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]