Buddhism May Act As A "Harmonious Bridge"
07-24-2018    China Daily
<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on"><SPAN lang=EN-US>China</SPAN></st1:place></st1:country-region><SPAN lang=EN-US> Daily, August 26, 2006</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Beijing, China -- China took the initiative to host the World Buddhist Forum in Hangzhou from April 13-16, the first major international Buddhist conference in China's history, under the theme, "In Search of Peace and Harmony." </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Not only was the venue of <st1:City w:st="on">Hangzhou</st1:City> aptly chosen, given the city's deep involvement in the spread of Buddhism across Asia over the past millennium, but a special prayer ceremony was held on 15 April at Putuoshan, one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>. </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>On the last day of the Forum, 108 Buddhist masters hosted a grand ritual to pray for world peace, and a concluding Putuoshan Declaration was issued, underscoring that peace is humanity's eternal hope and harmony is a desirable state. In fact, the Declaration stated, "Everyone is responsible for world harmony, which begins in the mind." </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>This theme was also reflected in the official remarks made at the conference by host <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region>, which is advocating a harmonious coexistence of mankind and nature, a natural extension of President Hu Jintao's "harmonious world" concept, as expounded at the United Nations during the UN Summit in 2005. It was stressed by a senior official at the start of the Forum that "<st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>'s peaceful development cannot proceed without a harmonious international environment." </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Of significance at the <st1:City w:st="on">Hangzhou</st1:City> conference and the Putuoshan ritual were important Buddhist masters from the peninsular ASEAN countries of <st1:country-region w:st="on">Thailand</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Myanmar</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Viet Nam</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Cambodia</st1:country-region> and <st1:country-region w:st="on">Laos</st1:country-region>, as well as from insular ASEAN's <st1:country-region w:st="on">Malaysia</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Indonesia</st1:country-region> and <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Singapore</st1:place></st1:country-region>. ASEAN was thus well represented at the forum, as this region constitutes the bulk of the world's Buddhists, along with <st1:country-region w:st="on">Japan</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">South Korea</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Sri Lanka</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Bhutan</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">India</st1:country-region> and <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Mongolia</st1:place></st1:country-region>. Monks and nuns also came from Europe and the <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">United States</st1:place></st1:country-region>. </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>In fact, as stated clearly, all three branches of Buddhism were represented at the Forum. Masters of the Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana (or Tibetan Buddhism) actively participated in the Forum, as pointed out eloquently by the 11th Panchen Lama, Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu, in his remarks. This "unity of the three principal branches of Buddhism" in <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Hangzhou</st1:place></st1:City> was especially significant, as the world's religions face increasing fragmentation and splits from within. </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>But ASEAN's presence asserts the importance of Buddhism's "harmonious bridge" between the northern half of ASEAN and <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region>. Indochina and the <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Malaysian</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Peninsula</st1:PlaceType> are home to at least 120-130 million practicing Buddhists, a sizeable number compared to <st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region> and <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">India</st1:place></st1:country-region>. In fact, in ASEAN's population of 550 million, Buddhism is its second largest religion after Islam. </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Though Theravada Buddhism is predominant in the Indochinese countries, the "unity of Buddhism" was the theme that had brought together Buddhists from ASEAN and <st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region> and united them in spirit and mind in <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Hangzhou</st1:place></st1:City> and Putuoshan.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>But Buddhism could also become the glue between <st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region> and the northern ASEAN countries that also share a common border with <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region>. <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region> and ASEAN have sought to build an area of peace and harmony since ASEAN-China relations developed some twenty years back. Today, Buddhism could effectively provide another "unity of purpose" between these ASEAN countries and <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region>. </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Stability between these ASEAN countries and their big neighbour is actively sought after. Peace and harmony could now constitute the common impetus, as both parties develop their religious linkage through Buddhism, economic development and prosperity. Religious and economic cooperation could in fact bind this region into one of greater stability, when instability seems to plague many regions of the world today, ranging from terrorism, unequal growth and inadequate social redistribution to ecological and environmental disasters. </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>China needs stability on its immediate periphery to continue developing "sustainability" in its economy and society, just as the northern ASEAN countries seek economic opportunities to develop their societies (religion being one important aspect too), in a world wrought by uncertainties and rapid societal transitions that potentially destabilize "transitional" societies. </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Buddhism could provide this important spiritual link and affinity to transitional Asian societies that seek a better tomorrow, but not just through materialism alone, as the frantic pace of economic growth and development unfortunately dictates today. As Asian societies "modernize," there is an urgent need for them to seek religious direction to fill the moral void. Buddhism, with its philosophy of peace and harmony, could provide this important linkage. </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on"><SPAN lang=EN-US>China</SPAN></st1:place></st1:country-region><SPAN lang=EN-US> is indeed in the throes of a religious revival of all sorts, including the rise of Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity. Northern ASEAN countries, such as <st1:country-region w:st="on">Thailand</st1:country-region> and <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Myanmar</st1:country-region></st1:place>, have embraced Buddhism fervently over the past forty to fifty years, as wats and temples constitute the central focus of Thai and Burmese social life. Buddhism in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Viet Nam</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Laos</st1:country-region> and <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Cambodia</st1:place></st1:country-region> has taken off immensely after its official encouragement today, following the civil strife in these countries. The ethnic Chinese populations in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Malaysia</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Singapore</st1:country-region> and even <st1:country-region w:st="on">Indonesia</st1:country-region> have always actively cultivated and safeguarded their Buddhist beliefs, and are considered solid pillars of Buddhism in <st1:place w:st="on">Southeast Asia</st1:place>, together with the Thais. </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><st1:country-region w:st="on"><SPAN lang=EN-US>China</SPAN></st1:country-region><SPAN lang=EN-US> thus has a natural linkage and affinity with ASEAN through Buddhism, which is an added factor of stability between <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Beijing</st1:place></st1:City> and most ASEAN capitals. The ASEAN-China Free Trade Area is one significant pillar of cooperation and affinity; perhaps religion could serve as the second indispensable pillar with <st1:place w:st="on">Indochina</st1:place> as well. </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>While peace and harmony rang out as the theme of the Hangzhou Forum and the Putuoshan Declaration, China and most of ASEAN should find this affinity useful, notably to serve as a further "harmonious bridge" between them. Only then could ASEAN and <st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region> truly build peace, harmony and stability in the region in a sustainable way, besides the intense economic cooperation that has been building up between <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region> and ASEAN. Only then could ASEAN-China relations be consolidated to achieve a truly "harmonious region" in the future. </SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Dr Eric Teo <st1:PersonName w:st="on" ProductID="Chu Cheow">Chu Cheow</st1:PersonName>, a business consultant and strategist, is a Council Member of the Singapore Institute for International Affairs (SIIA).</SPAN></P>
Editor: Wang Xinyu
   
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