Dalai Lama calls for greater harmony among different Buddhist communities

A forum in Bodh Gaya draws more than 2,000 monks and leaders from around the world.
By Tenzin Pema for RFA Tibetan
2023.12.21
Dalai Lama calls for greater harmony among different Buddhist communities The Dalai Lama visits the Mahabodhi Temple ahead of the International Sangha Forum in Bodh Gaya in India's Bihar state, Dec. 16, 2023.
RFA

Cultivate a life of virtue that will benefit others. 

This is the message that the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, told over 2,000 leaders and monks representing 30 countries and from various Buddhist traditions who gathered this week for a conference in northern India. 

The 14th Dalai Lama, 88, inaugurated the four-day International Sangha Forum in Bodh Gaya, in northern India, where Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment, to boost collaboration and dialogue among the practitioners of different Buddhist traditions and to deliberate on the role of Buddhism in the 21st century. 

“Whether you believe in religion or not, what is important for us to do is to avoid doing bad actions or accumulating bad karmas because bad karmas not only harm others but also are a cause of ruin to oneself,” he told monks, nuns and scholars. “Therefore, as much as possible, it is critical to cultivate a wealth of virtue.” 

“Being of benefit to others with a good heart and doing your best to remove their sufferings, that is the most important teaching of the Buddha,” he said as he sat in the middle of a large stage flanked by more than 30 other Buddhist leaders. 

The Dalai Lama speaks at the inaugural ceremony of the first International Sangha Forum in Bodh Gaya in India's Bihar state, Dec. 20, 2023. (The Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama)
The Dalai Lama speaks at the inaugural ceremony of the first International Sangha Forum in Bodh Gaya in India's Bihar state, Dec. 20, 2023. (The Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama)

The conference comes on the heels of increased efforts by China to strengthen ties with neighboring Buddhist countries such as Nepal and Bhutan to gain their leaders’ support for determining the current Dalai Lama’s successor.

China, however, is the only Buddhist country that failed to send a representative to the conference despite the government’s accelerated efforts to leverage Buddhism as a soft power tool to advance its political ambitions in the international arena. 

China, which annexed Tibet in 1951, rules the western autonomous region with a heavy hand and says only Beijing can select the next spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, as stated in Chinese law. 

Tibetans, however, believe the Dalai Lama chooses the body into which he will be reincarnated, a process that has occurred 13 times since 1391, when the first Dalai Lama was born. 

Disciplining one’s mind

Presiding over the three-day conference that began on Wednesday, the Dalai Lama underscored the importance of disciplining one’s mind and developing bodhichitta, or an altruistic attitude, to lead a meaningful life and to benefit others.

“If you wish to help others, you need to discipline your own mind,” he said. 

The Dalai Lama went on to say that cultivating altruism lies at the heart of both the Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist traditions. 

The Pali canon is the body of scriptures central to the Theravada school of Buddhism practiced in India, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Indonesia. 

The Sanskrit canon is the body of scriptures central to Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism practiced in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Mongolia and other countries.

The Dalai Lama told attendees that bodhichitta and the wisdom understanding of emptiness are the core of his daily Buddhist practice from the moment he wakes up. 

“This way I gather merit and purify mental defilement,” he said during his speech. “I continuously make a prayer to be of service to others as long as space endures. Being of benefit to others is the way to lead a meaningful life.”

Bridging traditions

The forum’s theme of bridging traditions and embracing modernity aims to strengthen harmony among the different Buddhist traditions “so that we can learn from one another, enriching our practice and the philosophy that we are encouraged to study,” said Ven. Mahayano Aun from Thailand who moderated the conference.  

“This is even more crucial in our 21st century where we are more connected than ever before,” he said.

Pema Khandu, chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh state in northeastern India, told the attendees that he was grateful for forums such as this that fulfill the Dalai Lama’s vision of bringing the Pali and Sanskrit traditions together. 

“And I’m happy to be able to take part in this sharing of knowledge and wisdom,” he said. “We try not only to cultivate the Buddha’s teachings within ourselves, but also attempt to make them the basis of policy.”

Pilgrims wait for a glimpse of the Dalai Lama during his visit to the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya in India's Bihar state, Dec. 16, 2023. (RFA)
Pilgrims wait for a glimpse of the Dalai Lama during his visit to the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya in India's Bihar state, Dec. 16, 2023. (RFA)

Since the Dalai Lama’s arrival in Bodh Gaya last week, devotees from India, Bhutan, Nepal and other countries have inundated the town, considered one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites, in hopes of glimpsing or receiving blessings from the Dalai Lama. 

Migmar, a 93-year-old Tibetan Army veteran who traveled more than 950 kilometers (600 miles) from his home in Bhutan, said he “made it a point to travel to receive His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s blessings.”

“I always pray for His Holiness's long life and for the quick resolution of the Tibetan issue,” he said, referring to Beijing’s repressive rule over the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan-populated areas of China, which Tibetans have deemed to be an illegal occupation for over 60 years.

The Tibetan Army, in existence from 1913 to 1959, was established by the 13th Dalai Lama  after he declared the independence of Tibet in 1912, but later dissolved by the Chinese government following the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising.

On Thursday and Friday, international Buddhist leaders will focus on Buddhist practices and studies that are common across traditions and discuss how Buddha’s teachings can be adapted to meet the ever-changing needs of people while ensuring their authenticity is maintained. 

The gathering ends Saturday with a post-conference prayer session for world peace at Maha Bodhi Temple, one of the four holy sites related to the life of the Lord Buddha and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Translated by Tenzin Pema for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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