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Buddhism and the 21 st Century International Conference – Sharing by Venerable Wei Wu

By Hong Yew Chye

Venerable Wei Wu was invited to attend the “Buddhism and the 21 st Century” International Conference held in commemoration of the 2550 th anniversary of the Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha at Bodhgaya on February 4 to 6, 2007. Venerable Wei Wu shared the following from his experiences at Bodhgaya:

H.H. Dalai Lama and Shri G. K. Gandhi

Speeches made by H.H. Dalai Lama and Shri G.K. Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, drew excellent response from the conference participants. H.H. Dalai Lama shared his thoughts on Buddhism and the 21 st Century.

In response to the various global and social problems raised by the Indian officials and scholars, the Dalai Lama's advice was that all social problems could only be resolved with the participation and cooperation of all sectors of society . Politicians, educationists, economists, scientists and religionists must work hand in hand and play their respective roles. Relying on the strength of Buddhists themselves would not be enough.

He reiterated that the problems in the 21 st century could only be resolved with relevant solutions in the context of the present time. He emphasized that as a Buddhist one must go back to the basic cultivation of morality (sila), concentration (samadhi) and wisdom( prajna). We need to hold fast to the traditional teachings of morality and concentration. As for the application of wisdom, one must emulate the skilful means of the past masters who varied the methods in accordance with the intellectual levels of the students.

People living in the 21 st century should rightly interpret Buddhism in the context of the present time. Likewise methods used two thousand years ago may not be appropriate or acceptable to the people of to-day. One should not indulge in rites and rituals without understanding their implication and significance so as to avoid being superstitious.

H.H. Dalai Lam stressed that the Sangha members of to-day should be well educated to face the challenges of modern society so as to be an efficient Dharma propagator. Vihar , the conference venue, being one of the poorest states possesses many Buddhist holy sites such as the Vulture Peak and the Nalanda University. Nalanda University in particular had produced many outstanding Buddhist masters and scholars and brought immense contributions to Indian Buddhism. While the restoration of the physical structure of the university is important we must not lose sight of inculcating the spirit of Nalanda University in its golden era. In this aspect, Tibetan Buddhism would be able to contribute as well.

Venerable Wei Wu added that one should also remember the immeasurable contributions made by the renowned Chinese pilgrim and translator, Xuan Zuan, who translated many Buddhist sutras brought back from India and which are now extant only in Chinese. Besides the translation of sutra, Xuan Zuan's account of his travels in India provided very useful information on the background of Buddhism from the historical and geographical perspective. Venerable Wei Wu stressed that we should adopt the spirit of Nalanda University by harmonizing both the academic study and the practice of the Dharma in our daily life.

Shri Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, spoke on numerous problems facing India today. He commented that Buddha had tried to free women from many social injustices during the Buddha's time. Today Indian women are still being discriminated, ill treated and used as victims of immoral earnings. The same sad stories are still happening in many parts of the world.

Shri G. K. Gandhi lamented the irony of the Indian government's nuclear testing on Wesak Day, the holiest day in the Buddhist calender. He prayed that India will not use the deadly weapon.

He further recalled his reaction when he first read the life story of the Buddha. He was disappointed that, the would be Buddha, Prince Sidhharta, could possibly leave behind his wife and new born baby to seek his own salvation; until he realized that the Prince's motive was to find the path that would deliver all sentient beings from suffering. Shri Gandhi suggested the politicians should emulate the spirit of the Buddha .

Venerable Wei Wu commented that from his personal observation and Shri G. K. Gandhi's narration, Venerable Wei Wu found India to be a country with a very wide disparity in the distribution of wealth. Though the caste system was officially abolished and the Indian Constitution guarantee equality to all class of people, in actual practice, the legacy of the caste system which stratifies the people into various classes still exists as evidenced by the adverstisements in newspapers which are classified in accordance to the caste of the person concerned. The influence of the caste system can still be found Sri Lanka,a Buddhist country.

Social stratification is a common phenomenal in any developing society. In ancient china, the social classification ranked in the order of importance from the scholars, the farmers, the craftsmen down to the traders. Conversely, the situation has changed with the traders or the business class topping the hierarchy. Though laws had been legislated to protect the lower and poorer class of Indian society, the exploitation and discrimination of the lower class and poor will persist.

Venerable Wei Wu commented that it was said that if one could just put into practice one percent of the Buddha's teaching, India will have a more just and equitable society.