By Shyamal Sinha
The International Lay Buddhist Forum (ILBF) is an independent lay Buddhist movement that is all-inclusive in membership and outlook. Any lay or ordained individual or member of any lay or monastic Buddhist organisation who are supportive of lay Buddhist development and the interaction of lay and monastic Buddhists are welcome. The movement aims to represent and further the interests and roles of lay Buddhists in the development of local and global Buddhisms in the world today.
The International Lay Buddhist Forum (ILBF), one of the best known organizations for Buddhist laity, held its ninth meeting in the city of Ayutthaya, Thailand, from 28 December–2 January under the theme “Lay Buddhists – Roles and Relations: Buddhist Lives of Mindful Transformation.”
The forum consisted out of lectures highlighting ways in which Buddhist laity can help their local and wider communities while contributing to the work of the sangha. The morning session on 29 December was held with Hin Hin Aye, Dominick Scarangello, Philippe Turenne, Franz Gschwind, Saul Tobias, Damenda Porge, and Shermila Milroy. The afternoon session featured Kabindra Bajrachaya, Puspa Ratna Shakya, Beob Gyung Kim, and Nampet Panichpant-Michelsen. Attendees enjoyed a break on the next day, with the ILBF steering committee meeting in the evening. The forum continued on 31 December, with talks by Franz Gschwind, Johanna Manner-Gschwind, Ven. M. Dhammasiri, Kalinga Seneviratne, Enkhgerel Batsaikhan, and Roseanne Freese. In addition to the talks, G. T. Maurits Kwee gave workshops on relational Buddhism.
The opening of the forum featured trained elephants welcoming attendees. One of the speakers expressed distress at seeing the chain marks on the elephants’ feet, which led several participants to comfort the speaker by pointing to local cultural perspectives while acknowledging the need to love all sentient beings and advocate for their wellbeing. This led to a productive discussion about the need for skillful means to help relieve suffering for non-human beings.
The lectures officially concluded on 31 December, and all that was left was to welcome in the New Year, which was marked by a countdown at the temple of Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan with several thousand Theravada monks conducting a chanting ceremony.
“Participants were overjoyed and touched by what they witnessed—thousands of people sitting outdoors so peacefully together, listening in hushed quiet to the sermons: it was unthinkable for those who had not seen such an environment before,” Christie Chang, president of the Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women, told. “The Buddhist chanting lent the surroundings a deeply spiritual vibration. Everyone was so respectful, neat, and tidy.”
Chang also highlighted the dana shared at the New Year celebration: “There were free food booths with all sorts of noodles, drinks, popcorn, and other snacks. It was such an auspicious way to start the New Year.”
The organizations does not lobby for the views of any school, but instead represents the interests of lay Buddhists and the healthy development of Buddhism in contemporary society. Its beginnings can be traced back to the First Lay Buddhist Forum in Seoul in 2007, although it was formally constituted in 2011. Since 2012 the ILBF has held bi-annual conferences, with the most recent in North Sumatra, hosted by the pan-Indonesian Buddhayana community under Ven. Xueyan.
ILBF is a wholly independent lay Buddhist movement, representing the interests and roles of lay Buddhists. The ILBF represents its individual members only, not the lineages or traditions or orders or organisations of its members.