By Shyamal Sinha
Buddhism is a religion which teaches people to ‘live and let live’. In the history of the world, there is no evidence to show that Buddhists have interfered or done any damage to any other religion in any part of the world for the purpose of introducing their religion. Buddhists do not regard the existence of other religions as a hindrance to worldly progress and peace.
From 5–6 August, 135 religious leaders and diplomats from 32 countries gathered at Sitagu International Buddhist Academy (SIBA) in Yangon, Myanmar, for an interfaith dialogue to promote global peace, harmony, and security. Notable participants included government officials such as Thura U Aung Ko, Myanmar’s union minister for religious affairs and culture, Ramachandra Damodar Naik, governor of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, and Nobuo Kishi, Japanese state minster for foreign affairs.
The event, titled “Samvad II: Dialogue for Peace, Harmony, and Security – A Global Initiative for Conflict Avoidance and Environment Consciousness,” was organized by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture in association with the Japan Foundation and the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) in India. In 2014, the fist Samvad dialogue, attended by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, was held in Tokyo.
U Thaung Tun, Myanmar’s national security advisor, delivered the opening address on behalf of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi: “In a 2003 UN General Assembly resolution, the nations of the world affirmed that inter-religious dialogue is an integral part of the efforts to translate shared values into action. This is why we are here today, and it is fitting that we do this in Yangon. The city was founded as Dagon, but, to mark the end of conflict, it was renamed Yangon, which means ‘end of strife’. This is our aspiration: to end strife and suffering for all people.” (Mizzima)
“All the great religions of the world share the goal of a peaceful world. All their founders taught tolerance and non-violence. All the sacred scriptures call for harmony between peoples. We all believe in peace, friendship, and respect. It is incumbent on leaders to preach these principles so that followers may see that they are the right path—not the ideals spread by those who hate.” (Mizzima)
This belief was reiterated by Venerable Sitagu Sayadawgyi, the chancellor of SIBA. In his speech, he emphasized how, despite religious and cultural differences, all those present were gathered for the common goal of achieving peace, stability, and security in a world too often lacking just these characteristics due to various religious, political, and racial conflicts.
In recent years, the host city of the dialogue, Yangon, has been the site of various religious clashes between members of the Buddhist majority and the Rohingya Muslim minority. Participants and speakers expressed hope that the dialogue would serve as an example of religious harmony to all religious groups in conflict.
U Thaung Tun observed: “Our constitution clearly states that every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice religion. We are proud to make this commitment, just as we are proud to dedicate ourselves every day to building peace and lifting hardship and suffering. . . . Every day we fight against extremism, and we fight the spread of fabricated stories meant to foment hate. Whether these problems originate abroad or at home, they cause the same atrocious problems. This has no place in our society, which is a rich tapestry of peoples.”
As Myanmar’s national security advisor, building interfaith relationships is one of U Thaung Tun’s core duties. “When people hear security, they think mostly of physical aspects of defense,” he contimued. But it is so much more than that. . . . Building relationships across faith is how we build peace. It is how we create harmony. It is how we maintain security.”
The 14th Dalai Lama has done a great deal of interfaith work throughout his life. He believes that the “common aim of all religions, an aim that everyone must try to find, is to foster tolerance, altruism and love.