Buddha’s teachings can resolve today’s conflicts too – President at UN Vesak Day
The teachings of the Buddha are relevant today as they were twenty six centuries ago. If the leaders of our modern world are to embrace this advice, many of today’s conflicts, both domestic and international, could be resolved for the benefit of mankind, said President Mahinda Rajapaksa, addressing the United Nations Day of Vesak celebrations, in Bangkok today ( June 2).
“Justice and the Rule of Law are not alien concepts for those of us who from our childhood are nurtured by the doctrine of Buddha. These are, therefore not concepts that need to be preached to the converted,” the President said.
Here is text of President Rajapaksa’s address:
Most Venerable Sirs,
Most Venerable Prof. Phra Dharmakosajarn, President, International Council for Day of Vesak
Your Excellency, Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand
Your Excellency, Yongyoot Wichaidit, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand
Dr Noeleen Heyzer, Under Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the UN - ESCAP
Venerable Sirs, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great joy to be amongst you today as we celebrate the United Nations Day of Vesak, here in Bangkok. At the very outset, allow me to thank the Royal Thai Government, United Nations and the International Council for Day of Vesak, for the organization of this event, and also for the recognition given to this most important day in the Buddhist calendar.
As the year of the Two Thousand Six Hundredth (2600th) Sambhuddathwa Jayanthi, comes to an end, I am not here simply as the Head of State of my country, but as a proud custodian of a tradition that has been passed down from one leader to another for centuries – as a protector and promoter of the Buddha Sasana. This has been the sacred duty of every Sri Lankan leader since time immemorial. I am humbled by this historical responsibility.It is with much appreciation that I recall here the historical role played by Thailand, our host today, throughout the centuries, to ensure the wellbeing of the Buddha Sasana. One such occasion was 259 years ago, when Upali Maha Thera from Thailand, arrived in the last kingdom of Sri Lanka, Kandy, in the year 1753 to reinstate the higher ordination of Upasampada. We in Sri Lanka and the Buddhist world at large owe a debt of gratitude to the Thai people for having preserved the sublime teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha in its purest form.
Venerable Sirs, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Buddha exhorted virtues of a righteous ruler, describing the Dasa Raja Dhamma or the ten-fold righteous rules of good governance as follows:
I quote in Pali:
“Danang Silang Pariccagang
Ajjavan Majjavan Thapang
Akkodho Avihim sa cha
Khanti cha Avirodhata’’ (unquote)
“A righteous ruler will be: generous and charitable, of high morality, willing to sacrifice, honest and of high integrity, Kind and gentle, having austerity in habits, practicing non-hatred and non-violence, patient and tolerant and showing non-enmity.”
Even as children we are taught that when a ruler of a land carries out his or her administration in accordance with the Dasa Raja Dhamma, or the ten-fold righteous rules of good governance, both the ruler and the ruled will prosper and be invincible. Through these noble virtues the Buddha has advised on an array of aspects of governance, in which are incorporated all the seemingly modern concepts of democracy, justice, human rights and the rule of law; those very values that we today perceive to be the foundations of a free and democratic society.
These teachings of the Buddha are relevant today as they were twenty six centuries ago. If the leaders of our modern world are to embrace this advice, many of today’s conflicts, both domestic and international, could be resolved for the benefit of mankind. Justice and the Rule of Law are not alien concepts for those of us who from our childhood are nurtured by the doctrine of Buddha. These are, therefore not concepts that need to be preached to the converted.
Venerable Sirs, Excellencies, Ladies & Gentlemen,
Sakyamuni Buddha declared the basics of human rights thousands of years ago. The only classification of human beings according to Buddha is based on the quality of their moral conduct.
The Buddha condemned the caste system and recognized the equality of people, spoke on the need to improve socio-economic conditions, recognized the importance of a more equitable distribution of wealth among the rich and the poor, enhanced the status of women, recommended the incorporation of humanism in government and administration, and thought that a society should not be run by greed but with consideration and compassion for the people.
As per the teachings of the Buddha, the differences among men are made not by birth or the labels that are given through chance or choice, be it race, religion, nationality or any other, but by deed, by what they do.
Najachcha Vasalo Hothi
Najachcha Hothi Brahmano
Kammana Vasalo Hothi
Kammana Hothi Brahmano (unquote)
This means that:
“Not by birth is one an outcast, not by birth is one a Brahmana. By deed is one an outcast, by deed is one a Brahmana”.
As the world comes together in the contemporary era, driven by technology, economic integration and people to people contacts, we are also witnessing a simultaneous fragmentation of groups, attempting to differentiate themselves from the rest of humanity. Instead of diversity being celebrated and cherished to create broader solidarity of ethnic, religious and ideological differences, it has increasingly become a source of conflict.
Different nations, ethno-religious groups and communities are competing over land, economic resources and political space, destroying solidarity and the need to establish a sense of common humanity. Religion, unfortunately, is becoming one of the fundamental forces of this division. Instead of being a great unifier and a source of spiritual enrichment, organised religion is increasingly becoming a tool in the hands of extremists, to create divisions among fellow humans, and in extreme cases to invoke violence against other groups.
We, as Buddhists have a responsibility to arrest this dangerous development. We, in Sri Lanka take pride that different communities, following diverse religious faiths, have lived in harmony for many centuries. Even while separatist terrorists attempted to heighten religious sentiment through devastating attacks on places of most venerated religious worship, our people maintained their unity and harmony.
In 1987, terrorists massacred dozens of hapless and innocent pilgrims at the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, grown from a sapling of the sacred of the Ficus Religiosa tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. These same terrorists killed 33 Buddhist monks in June 1987 in Aranthalawa, and over a hundred Muslim worshipers at Kattankudi, in 1990, both in Eastern Sri Lanka. In 1998, they bombed the Sri Dalada Maligawa, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, one of the most venerated Buddhist shrines in the world.
In August 2005, the terrorists also assassinated the then Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Lakshman Kadirgamar. I take a few moments to reflect on the enormous contribution made by the late Lakshman Kadirgamar for getting the Day of Vesak declared as a UN event, and his instrumental role in the passing of the UN Resolution in February 2000 that recognised Vesak as the most sacred day for Buddhists all over the world.
Yet through all these provocations, the people of Sri Lanka refused to be drawn into religious conflict. The age old tradition of respecting each other’s faiths prevailed over monstrous attempts by terrorists to sow the seeds of religious division.
The superiority of one individual or a group of people or community, therefore, is not through a particular divine right or by virtue of their birth, but by their actions. The manner in which one group conducts itself will determine whether it is worthy of a higher or lower label. Such words of wisdom are of paramount value in today’s context, where certain nations and groups have endeavoured to preach and lord over others by virtue of their given labels -- super power, regional power, economic power etc. It is by the conduct of these nations that they must be judged and be determined whether they are superior to another.
Venerable Sirs, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
As we celebrate the Day of Vesak, I wish to invoke that universal power of Metta or loving kindness, as approximately translated into the English language. The vice of anger and hatred that leads to many a conflict and heartache across the globe, can be subdued through the power of loving kindness.
Let us spread that message of peace to all corners of the globe, let the light of Buddhism shine and quell the darkness of ignorance, and,
May all beings be happy, and may the Noble Triple Gem Bless you all.