Buddhist conference held in Yangon

by Cherry Thein, The Myanmar Times, Monday, 31 December 201

Yangon, Myanmar -- An international conference on Buddhist cultural heritage was held at Sitagu International Buddhist University in Yangon from December 15 to 17, with support from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

At the opening ceremony, Myanmar Vice President Dr Sai Mauk Kham said the preservation of Myanmar’s Buddhist cultural heritage would help bring peace and reconciliation to the country.

“The Buddha’s teachings on compassion, sympathy, patience and impermanence calm and guide the people. We can fill our physical needs with science and materialism, but our psychological needs can be released by the Buddha’s teachings. They are a priceless heritage for all people,” he said.

The decision to hold the conference in Yangon was made by the governments of Myanmar and India during the state visit of President U Thein Sein to India in October 2011. The plan was confirmed during Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit to Myanmar last May.

The patron of Sitagu International Buddhist University, Dr Ashin Nyanissara, said the seminar was aimed at maintaining and developing the dignity, culture and spirit of Buddhism in Myanmar and India.

“There are two components to maintaining Buddhist cultural heritage: spiritual and physical,” Dr Ashin Nyanissara said. “The physical heritage includes pagodas, images, religious buildings and mural paintings, while the spiritual side includes preserving the Buddha’s literature and teachings in their purity.”

“We are trying to maintain the spiritual heritage by teaching Buddhist literature and doctrine, while at the same time working to preserve the physical culture heritage,” he said.

The three-day conference included 26 presenters from 10 countries, whose topics ranged from preservation of religious buildings to safeguarding Buddhist literature.

Among the presenters was Dr Hla Tun, associate head of the Pali language and literature department at Pariyati Sasana University in Yangon.

He told The Myanmar Times that the seminar attracted a great deal of interest among people in Myanmar, even though it was the first time that such a gathering had been held in the country.

“Myanmar has maintained Theravada Buddhism in its original form, along with the relevant literature. The scholars who took part in the conference shared their views and perspectives on Buddhist cultural heritage, which is important for future generations and for the religion,” he said.

Dr Hla Tun said similar events should be held in the future, in collaboration with the government, religious groups and international organisations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

On the evening of December 15, officials from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Sitagu International Buddhist University held a ceremony at Shwedagon Pagoda to dedicate a shrine holding a 4.8-metre (16-foot) sandstone Buddha image donated by India.

On the same evening a stage performance about the life of the Buddha was presented at the National Theatre, organised by the Indian embassy in collaboration with Myanmar’s Ministry of Culture and Sitagu University.