At a time when the world is grappling with the Ukraine-Russia war, China-orchestrated pandemic, food shortage and economic slowdown, New Delhi is hosting the first ever “Global Buddhist Summit” on April 20-21 . The world at large is keenly watching events unfolding during this first-of-its-kind summit as it has been inspired by valuable and compassionate teachings of Buddha. It will be watching how Buddhist teachings can be useful in the contemporary world. Prafulla Ketkar, Editor Organiser, recently had a comprehensive interaction with Venerable Dr Dhammapiya, Secretary General, the International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) and Venerable Khensur Rinpoche Jangchup Choeden, Deputy Secretary General, IBC: Excerpts
What is IBC and what is the basic idea behind this Global Buddhist Summit?
Dr Dhammapiya: International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) is a Delhi-based event. But we are having our members, institutions, organisations, monastic, nunnery members spread across the globe. Over 350 institutions, organisations and members will be there from 29 countries apart from the member countries. Its motto ‘Collected Wisdom and United Voice’ is important. It is a united effort to take forward the Buddhist communities, the Sangha members, numerous monks, nuns, laymen, laywomen, and then in the Sangha, we will share non-Sangha collective wisdom. Juries will discuss how we can address two different kinds of challenges, issues or problems which the world is facing today. This is the main motto of IBC.
The upcoming Global Buddhist Summit will mainly have two extreme views. So those extreme views will discuss how we can have a healthy society, a harmonious society, a peaceful society, a peaceful world by walking the middle path. Buddhist scholars, Buddhist Sangha members, Buddhist people from all Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia, Asia, Europe, Africa and America would be sharing their wisdom, knowledge and experience. For example, how ancient India’s wisdom taught by Buddha can help this world to survive the global challenges. And how the world at large can overcome the crisis which we are facing today. We are facing a huge global turmoil.
Many people are talking about the global disorder, especially after the Ukraine war. The so-called post-World war scenario has led to a situation where it seems that the United Nations is also crumbling. The alternatives that are coming either in the form of the Chinese model or Russian model look very unstable and distressing. So in such a scenario, how far would Buddha’s teachings reach the common man across the globe? When peace and stability are badly needed and everybody is concerned about this, how do you see this summit playing a role in finding answers?
Dr Dhammapiya: Buddha’s philisophy has all the answers. So wherever there is darkness, what you need is light. Right. The darkness is the symbolic representation of all the crises and what we are looking for is stability. So we need to have light. And we have one light, the source of light is the Sun. And the source of light is the fully enlightened Buddha. So like that, what we have to present to the world is the light of enlightenment. We have to enlighten the minds and hearts of the people. That’s why I reiterate that we need to have an understanding of the light of wisdom and knowledge about the universality of our existence. And the second is the light of compassion. But we propagate this light of enlightenment, the light of wisdom and light of compassion. And for each one of us, it is not that the life of the Sun is only for India. Buddha was not like that. The light of knowledge, wisdom and compassion that Buddha has shown us is also not for India or Buddhists. It is for the whole world because we are interdependent. As of now, G20 India has given the idea of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (one world, one family. What I would like to say is that when all the top Buddhist leaders from around the world will meet together at this Global Buddhist Summit, we will deliberate on different issues like the war, violence, terrorism and climate issues and environmental issues that one is facing these days. I think we can definitely come up with some kind of solution or at least a path to show, to dispel the darkness of this instability. And this will have a great impact in hosting such kinds of deliberations and the result they show.
So, we will go to another important issue that we are facing today. It is about health and fitness. In fact, as a media person when I saw the post, I did not know whether we should call it post-pandemic. Continuous pandemic will be more apt. This is the reason why people are more concerned about issues related to health and wellness. Unfortunately, the focus is only on physical wellness. The focus is only on the medicine and the treatment part of it.
While the Indian wisdoms are represented by Buddha, Dharma or teachings which have a holistic idea of wellness. So how this summit at global level is going to propagate these ideas about health and wellness? Is it going to be a key concern for this summit?
Venerable Khensur Rinpoche Jangchup Choeden: Yes, I do believe that it is one of those main topics that we are trying to address. And you see, we are organising this important summit as a kind of a main stakeholder. When something happens to the world, we can remain out of it. We are also stakeholders. We are not unconnected. So it is really directly affecting us. And for that reason, we have to do something. We can treat things like, ‘Oh, this is happening to someone else, but it is not going to touch me.’ So for that reason, I think our Government is taking a very proactive approach. We are grateful for that. And with that, inspired by the Government’s approach, we are organising this event.
So, of course, health is one of the most important issues which we are concerned with, at present. But of course, mental health and physical health are two very intricately connected things. So we cannot address a physical health issue without addressing mental health. So for that reason, I think this summit will play a very significant role by propagating the Buddhist messages. Buddhist messages are mostly concerned about mental health. And Buddha has very clearly talked about the mental functioning of human beings and how to deal with it and what are the negative things, what are the positive things, what are the neutral things and how to enhance the positive things to overcome the kind of negative things. So these were taught by Buddha 2,500 years ago. And it is even today as relevant as it was relevant in those days because the mental structure of human beings didn’t change. We are exactly the same as at the time when Buddha was living and even today. So from that angle, I think we are inviting leaders from all over the world, particularly connected to the Buddhist faith or Buddhist kind of lifestyle or Buddhist teachings. And that includes Sankara leaders and also non-Sankara leaders. Besides that, we have also invited a lot of academicians in all the different fields and all these academicians come from all different backgrounds like some of them are historians, some are connected to the health industry, some to meditation and contemplation and similar things. And these academicians from different fields are playing a great role now.
In present times, we have contemplative neuroscience. It is one of the brainchilds of Hishaun and Sidarayana. They came up with this idea and then we moved forward very effectively.
And this is making a huge development in understanding health and well-being. So this summit will greatly contribute in that direction and hopefully the modern science community will take keen interest in these teachings which directly address mental health and mental well-being. This will directly impact our lifestyle. So I do believe very strongly that it will help.
There is another lead tool to tackle all the concerns that you have shared relating to the model of development. People have been talking about in the binaries whether capitalist or socialist or you know everybody raises concerns about climate change and environmental innovation. But when it comes to actual conduct, there is very little to offer than mere words. India is fortunately showing a path now cutting down on its image to a large extent meeting the desired goals which were supposed to be 20, 30 goals now. They are revising them. So, the key issue is how to balance between scientific innovation, economic development and still ensure that we do adopt the system in life. I know most of the times when we talk about the Buddhist teachings, people never think. It is just about renunciation and spiritualism.
But what about the basic material life? Can we have a sustainable path ahead and can we expect some light from these components?
Venerable Khensur Rinpoche Jangchup Choeden: I do believe very strongly that we can expect a lot of things from here. Because a balanced lifestyle as venerable has spoken about is a very important concept of Buddhism and that balance doesn’t only apply to some areas, it applies to all the areas. It also applies to consumption, production and all the other ways that we use all the different varieties of materials. So that is also one of the reasons that in Buddhist venerable teachings He has kind of greatly emphasised on moderation consumption. But his monasteries are keeping limited numbers of buildings. And Buddhist monasteries keep limited members. So this really teaches us the importance of limiting consumption. So unfortunately in a modern consumer-driven economy it is always propagated like this, the more you consume, you are happier. But unfortunately that is not the truth. If that is the truth then I have a strong statement against it.
How could it be possible for those great saints, who lived in the caves with minimal resources and supplies, to enjoy such a high level of happiness in their lives?
Venerable Khensur Rinpoche Jangchup Choeden: It should be impossible to have that. But that is happening, that has happened in the past, that is even happening today. So we really need to address that. Unfortunately, the capitalist economy is based on consumerism. And it requires people to consume more. When people consume more, more interest is generated and more movement of money is there. So it is good for the Government, businessmen, for many things but it is bad for the environment. It is bad for global warming. But unfortunately the greed of the human being is overriding the need of the environment, caring for the environment and being careful about global warming and the current changes. So unfortunately that is true but that is a bit of truth.
But we need to work to face these challenges. How can we do this?
Venerable Khensur Rinpoche Jangchup Choeden: I do believe very strongly that the message that we give will really dawn in the course of time. It will get to the truth or it will touch many more people. And then in that way we can make people think more and then act differently and definitely it will be achieved. So hope is always there and we have to just work in that direction. That is something that I think will happen.
You are going to address global challenges with this perspective. Now after these two days deliberations of April 20th and 21st, how far do you see? Also, you said that members of the Dharma, Sangha and various non-Sangha backgrounds will be coming. So what is the way forward? How outcomes of these deliberations can be taken forward to society?
Dr Dhammapiya: When the system changes the economy then you find solutions to world global peace, stability and violence. One big answer is the way forward. First thing we have identified here is to discuss the environmental issues and the health issues and then violence and other issues. So these are not common only to the Buddhist world or the Buddhist people. So what Buddhist can contribute definitely, it has to go down to the grassroots level to all the followers. As you know, one monastery under it has hundreds of families or thousands of followers. So if all of us take a decision that we must act in this way for a healthy life, a peaceful life, a harmonious life and to promote these ideas and that we can circulate it. We have to definitely commit ourselves to what we say and practise it.
Can we expect some resolutions coming collectively for some kind of action programme for this?
Venerable Khensur Rinpoche Jangchup Choeden: I just believe that the members who can propagate it and practise that they are some level of monasteries. Frankly talking to you, these kinds of summits normally do not have a kind of mechanism to take forward such topics. So application falls into some other kind of groups. It does not fall into the organiser’s area but we can inspire people to think in that direction and the thinking is the first step towards the change and in that area we can create a significant role. But once we get there then how it draws down that’s another area but I think it could be really helpful if we can also play some role and then it will be further useful to have these kinds of conferences again and again.
So we have heard directly from the organisers of this very important group of summit that is happening in Delhi and we are seeing that the Buddhist teachings which originated in this great ancient land with ideas related to the balanced life but goes beyond the binaries and thinking politically about living and non-living. So we hope that this summit comes up with certain conflict ideas and solutions for the future world and as it is preceding this G20 organisation with Indian presidency, we hope that we recontextualise the teachings of the time as Dhamma for one world, one family and one future.