[Closing remarks at the UNESCO international scholarly symposium on “The Contribution of the Buddha’s Teachings to Universality, Humanism and Peace”, in commemoration of the 2600th anniversary of the Buddha’s Enlightenment-Paris, 20th May 2011]
“This effort of ASPAC (the Asia-Pacific group) and UNESCO was an exercise in intervention. We were hoping to intervene against two syndromes. One which [Edward] Said called ‘Orientalism’, and the other, its reverse, which we may term ‘Occidentalism’. The first entails the notion that the West is the preserve of philosophy and the East is the domain of exotic cultures, and that ‘universality’ originated from and flows from West to East. Counter-posed to this Eurocentric vision is its inversion: the Eastern idea of the West as the site of a mechanistic materialism and a tawdry consumerism, whereas the East is the realm of the metaphysical and the spiritual.
This symposium has been an occasion for learning; I think we all learned something. I think that our thinking, our perceptions have been impacted upon by this seminar and one cannot expect more from any symposium.
We addressed the question of the contribution of the teachings of the Buddha’s to universality, humanism and peace, and I think we have found suggestions in the answers.
The teachings of the Buddha contributed to universality in two senses. Firstly, the problem, of suffering, and secondly, the aim, of the cessation of suffering. What can be more universal than that?
As far as the contributions of the Buddha’s teachings to peace goes -and here I am also thinking about the question raised about Buddhism and politics- may I suggest that there are two notions in Buddhism which impact on politics and can inspire a different kind or form of politics: one is the release or the emancipation from excessive attachment. In our part of the world and in the world as a whole, one may trace wars, which “originated in the minds of men”, to an excess of attachment to territory, to narrow ethnic identity, to power structures, to the wielding of power, to hegemony, and dominion.
Surely, no true Buddhist or society which claims to be Buddhist should persist in that excessive attachment to one narrow ethnic identity or one piece of territory, or to one hierarchy of power or religions?
Aligned to this is the notion of the Middle Path which is akin to or antecedent of the Socratic notion of the Golden Mean. The threading of the middle path, the avoidance of extremes also contributes to a far more humanistic and universalist politics. I think this is what we have gathered from today’s symposium.
I think this is a contribution that Buddhism makes to a new paradigm of politics.
I have a too long list of persons and institutions to thank, but may I say that the Ambassadors of India, China, Japan and I, we got together; we talked about this and then won the support and the ready endorsement of the ASPAC group who actively supported us. Pakistan, Bahrain, Afghanistan and so many other countries in our group joined the venture and strengthened us.
We had a very ready and willing partner in Director General Irina Bokova and I think her contributions today has been of absolute fundamental importance. I thank her.
And of course, Asst Director General Madam Alvaro Pilar-Lazo and Pilar’s people, of the Human and Social Sciences division of UNESCO, and Dr. Davidson Hepburn, President of UNESCO’s General Council, for moderating this panel, and the distinguished Indian delegate Dr. Karan Singh, for willing to stay over and co-chair this symposium; the ASPAC group and its head, the Ambassador of Thailand for the generous support and patronage extended to us.
And of course above all, I must thank the distinguished panelists − the speakers who approached the subject in different ways and different dimensions − but all of whom, coming from many parts of the world, helped us expand our consciousness that much more. I thank you all very much.”
Embassy of Sri Lanka
22 May 2011