Tuesday, July 5, 2016

We are all followers of the same Buddha?

Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay inaugurates the Conference
A Press Information Bureau (PIB) communiqué reported yesterday that ‘at the invitation of the Minister of Home & Cultural Affairs, Royal Government of Bhutan, Mr. Lyonpo Dawa Gyeltshen, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Shri Kiren Rijiju visited Bhutan from July 2-4, 2016 to attend the International Conference on Tradition and Innovation in Vajrayana Buddhism.”
We are also informed that Rijiju addressed the Closing Session of International Conference on “Vajrayana Buddhism: A Mandala of 21st Century Perspectives” at the Royal Institute for Tourism & Hospitality (RITH) in Thimphu.
A few words about this three-day conference on Vajrayana.
Last year, I wrote on this blog a piece titled, Buddhist Union – Spiritual Confluence or Geo-Politics? 
In another piece, I mentioned: "Prime Minister Modi has been promoting a new term, ‘spiritual neighbourhood’. He used it during his trips to Sri Lanka and more recently to Mongolia to link up with Buddhism. It makes for good diplomacy."
On March 19, 2015 the Dalai Lama had met with a delegation of Sri Lankan Theros (senior monks), to discuss about Vinaya, the Buddhist monastic discipline. It was a rather rare occurrence, as the followers of the Buddha rarely ‘exchange’ their views on their respective interpretations of the Buddha’s words.
The Dalai Lama told his Sri Lankan colleagues: “We are all followers of the same Buddha. At a time when scientific minded people are expressing some doubts about religion, many of them are expressing an interest in aspects of the Buddha’s teachings.”
The Tibetan leader then added: “To think of yourself as different from them, as someone special, is to create distance and a barrier between yourself and others, which can lead to isolation and loneliness.”
I then wrote: “It is unfortunately what has happened between the different Buddhist schools over the years (or perhaps centuries),” and I added: “This religious happening [meeting the Sri Lankan monks] has however some strong political connotation and it is a direct outcome of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Sri Lanka.”

Kiren Rijiju arrives at the Conference
The Thimbu Conference
The Thimbu Conference saw some 300 international participants discussing “continuity and change within both historical and contemporary expressions of Vajrayāna Buddhism.”
Though Vajrayana is often associated to ‘Tibetan Buddhism’, no Tibetan invited in Bhutan.
The answer can probably be found in the historical antagonism between Tibet and Bhutan, but also (and linked to it), in the sectarian clashes between the Drukpa and Gelukpa schools of Buddhism.
The conference was organized by the Central Monastic Body and the Centre for Bhutan Studies & GNH Research (with inputs from Ian Baker, a Buddhist scholar and board member of the International Society for Bhutan Studies, says the official announcement).
The organizers had announced that the speakers would be world-renowned spiritual leaders as well as prominent scholars and neuroscientists researching the effects of yogic and contemplative practices on the human brain and wellbeing. It sounds similar to the decade-old ‘Mind and Body’ programs of the Dalai Lama.
The announcement explained that the 65 speakers from seventeen different countries were “to share their insights and experiences, and engage in discussion.”
The main theme was “Vajrayāna’s dialogue with 21st century science, medicine, and ethics …and contributions to comprehensive human flourishing.”
The conference was linked to Bhutan’s policy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), “a philosophy based on the premise that true development takes place when material, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and environmental well-being are cultivated in unison and mutually reinforcing.”
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay while opening the Conference declared: “This conference is not only about what we Bhutanese can share with all of you who have come from across the world to experience Vajrayana Buddhism in its living context. We ourselves will benefit greatly by learning more about the forms that Vajrayana Buddhism has adopted in Mongolia, India, Nepal, Myannmar, Russia, Australia, Brazil, Japan, China, Europe, and the United States.”
Kiren Rijiju participates

No Tibet!
What does it mean?
For Bhutan, it is certainly a unique opportunity to push its ‘Happiness’ USP and promote its cultural and heritage.
The Royal Government should be complimented for this.
For Dharamsala, the time has perhaps come to start an ‘intra-faith dialogue’, it is as important (if not more) as the present ‘inter-faith dialogue’ for the survival of the Tibetan identity.
A lot could be said on this. I leave it for some future posts.

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