The Buddha teaches us to know and understand the Other - Irina Bokova, UNESCO Head

The Buddha teaches us to know and understand the Other – Irina Bokova, UNESCO Head


His Excellency Dr Karan Singh, Member of Parliament, Representative of India on the UNESCO Executive Board,
His Excellency, Mr President of the General Conference,
His Excellency, Mr Viraphand Vacharathit, Permanent Delegate of Thailand to UNESCO,
His Excellency, Mr Dayan Jayatilleka, Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka to UNESCO,
Permanent Delegates of the Asia-Pacific Group of Permanent Delegations to UNESCO,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for this initiative.

I am deeply honoured to be here.

This is a very special meeting.

On the occasion of the 2600th anniversary of the enlightenment of Buddha, we gather to discuss the contribution of the Buddha’s teachings to universality, humanism and peace.

As you know, these are themes that go to the heart of my vision of UNESCO in the 21st century.

We are living in times of uncertainty -- when individuals are buffeted by change, when societies are tested by natural disasters, by deep disparities and enduring conflict.

I believe that the world is not peaceful nor is it safe when over one billion people live in extreme poverty.
Societies are not secure when people lack access to education and health, when human behaviour threatens the environment, when women do not enjoy equal rights.

I believe that our future is not assured when over eight million children die each year before the age of five.
And all of this is within the context for the appeal I have made for a new humanism as the basis for human relations and human development in the 21st century.

In such times, I am convinced the inherent dignity and human rights of every individual must be the starting point for all our action and the measure of its success.

For me, a new humanism means ensuring that every boy and girl goes to school and receives a quality education.

It means reaching gender equality, giving women and men equal access to knowledge and power.

It also means a better grasp of our environment, by understanding and anticipating the consequences of climate change and how this affects the lives of millions of people.

It means protecting humanity’s great cultural diversity, along with the world’s biodiversity.

I believe the foundations of genuine peace lie with each individual’s ability to imagine a better world and to shape reality in this direction. What we are seeing now in the world – the quest for freedom -- is also part of this.

I use the term new humanism, but I know these ideas are not new. They reflect age-old wisdom.

Much of this wisdom is, indeed, 2600 years old.

The teachings of Buddha on universality, humanism and peace are part of this vision of a more just, more humane, more peaceful life for every man and woman.

The teachings of Buddha as a man, a thinker, and a philosopher are a source of light. They are a source of nourishment for the mind and of serenity for the heart.

I am very pleased that UNESCO is holding this symposium.

This House is built on the pillars of universality, humanism and peace.
Along the lines of Buddha’s teachings:

Since wars begin in the minds of men; it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.
This philosophy and these words open our Constitution.

They inspire our work to promote international cooperation in education, culture, the sciences and communication as the way to empower individuals, on the basis of the democratic principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect.

Humanism lies at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings.
Buddhism teaches us that “we are our master.”
Each of us contains the keys to our own enlightenment.

In this sense, the human being lies at the core of its own existence.

This implies both responsibility and freedom – to take care of one’s thought and action, to make the most of the freedom we have to decide and to choose our fate.
For the Buddha, this called for critical thinking. This is the capacity to question, to examine, to weigh – to examine conventional wisdom and to explore new ideas.
At the heart of this humanism lies a deep thirst for knowledge – so richly reflected in the Tripitakka, the collection of Buddha’s teachings.
And this leads me to the concept of universality.
Buddha taught that the true strength of the individual -- regardless of origin, condition or faith -- lies in the mind.
This potential is endless. This open inner horizon holds the keys to universality.
The thoughts and the spirit of every individual may be guided to attain this universality, free of hatred and excessive desire, through education, training, meditation and moral discipline.
From this angle, universality represents a condition of true coexistence between all men and women.
The teachings of Buddha carry a powerful message of solidarity that resides in the capacity of every individual to understand the Other, to know the Other.
As Buddha said, “in the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.”

Every individual is different, no culture is the same - but we are all joined by the essence of humanity, by the values of dignity, respect and compassion that are universal.

These lie at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings, and they are also part of UNESCO’s mission.
Here lies also the bridge between cultural diversity and universality, between the differences that enrich our world and the common humanity we all share.

“Peace comes from within,” Buddha used to say. “Do not seek it without.”
Genuine peace stems from inner peace, from the fulfilment of our potential, from the realisation of our freedom.
This requires dedication. It does not simply happen.

A culture of peace can arise only from knowledge and understanding. These are the foundations for respect and cooperation.
Education lies at the heart of this.
“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles,” said Buddha.
This is genuine wisdom.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The teachings of the Buddha invite us to think deeply about the world we live in, about our societies, and especially about ourselves.

These teachings are an invitation also to exchange with others and other religions other cultures guided by openness and respect.
I believe that your symposium will guide us in this direction and I look forward to the thoughts of the distinguished participants of our panel.
I thank you once again for this initiative.

(This address by Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO was made on the occasion of the Symposium “The Contribution of the Buddha’s Teachings to Universality, Humanism and Peace”  to mark the 2600th Anniversary of the Buddha’s Enlightenment)
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