Asian Buddhist Forum Preface 021211

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    Preface

    In religion, India is the only millionaire..... so remarked the famous American writer Mark Twain. India

    is the birth place of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Believers of all religions have found a

    home in India. The welcoming disposition of Indian civilisation to diverse religious and cultural strands

    emanates from the innate strength of Indian culture which is aptly captured in the saying of Mahatma

    Gandhi, I do not want my house to be walled and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all

    lands to be blown about my house as freely as possibIe, but I refuse to be blown off my feet by any one

    of them. The true genius of India lies in its ability to integrate diversity into unity. Over the centuries,

    Indian civilization has confidently assimilated, synthesized and integrated outside influences, borrowings,

    impressions, and skills and to grow and evolve new patterns with an unmistakable Indianness. In India

    religious practices and traditions have seamlessly integrated with social ethos, moral codes, scientific

    knowledge and artistic traditions and are passed down from generation to generation effortlessly like a

    flowing stream. The Indian spirit of openness and urge to seek knowledge alongwith Indias cultural

    traditions travelled alongwith Buddhism to distant lands influencing their cultural and religious practices.

    The first seeds of Buddhism were carried by Indian traders in the 5th

    and 4th

    Century BC who established

    small communities along the Silk route. Emperor Asoka, after he adopted Buddhism as his religion in 256

    BC, sent Buddhist monks to various parts of the world to preach the doctrines of peace and harmony of

    Buddhism. Emperor Kanishka in the first century AD further intensified the efforts to propagate

    Buddhism. Since then the teachings of Lord Buddha have travelled far and wide transforming the lives of

    people who came in its contact. Buddhist Monks sent by Emperor Asoka strengthened Buddhist

    influence in Sri Lanka and Myanmar from where Buddhism spread to Thailand and other parts of South

    East Asia. Buddhist emissaries sent from India influenced the Hindu Kings of Cambodia who gradually

    adopted Buddhism as their religion. Later in the 8th

    Century Guru Rimpoche Padmasambhava brought

    the message of Lord Buddha to Tibet and Bhutan.

    First contacts of Chinese civilisation with Buddhist thoughts took place in Central Asia during the Han

    Dynasty. The first Buddhist temple in China, the White Horse Temple in Luoyang, became the centre of

    Buddhist learning in the first Century AD where Indian monks, Kashyapa Matanga and Dharamraksha,

    translated several Buddhist works into Chinese language. The tradition of translation of original

    Buddhist texts into Chinese continued thereafter for about 500 years which made the Buddhist

    philosophical and spiritual teachings widely accessible to Chinese scholars and common public.

    Kumarajiva who lived at the Caotang Temple in Xian for about 30 years from 383 AD translated close to

    100 Buddhist texts, the most prominent being the Saddharmapundurika (Lotus Sutra), and laid the

    foundation of Mahayana Buddhism and Madhyamika doctrine in China. By the time of the Tang Dynasty,

    Buddhism had seeped into the Chinese civilisation so deep that its effect could not only be seen on

    Chinese thought but also on Chinese art and culture. Story of the revered monk Xuan Zangs travel to

    India, where he stayed for 12 years from 642-654 AD in search of knowledge, has been immortalised in

    the Journey to the West. He brought back a large number of original Buddhist texts and translated

    these into Chinese which further deepened Buddhist influence in the Chinese civilisation. Dhyana master

    Bodhidharma established the Chan Buddhist tradition in China in the 6th

    Century AD. The Mahayana and

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    Chan schools of Buddhism from China influenced Korea, Japan and Vietnam firmly establishing

    Buddhism there. Establishment of the Yuan Dynasty in China strengthened Buddhist influence in

    Mongolia.

    It is a matter of great satisfaction that in the 2600th

    year of Lord Buddhas attainment of enlightenment

    under the Bodhi tree in the holy city of Bodhgaya in India, we are gathering under the auspices of Asian

    Buddhist Forum 2011 to retrace the footprints of Buddhisms journey from its birth place in India to

    different parts of the world. The theme of this Forum, Buddhist Canon(s) and Early Mahayana

    Buddhism will provide an opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of Buddhist monks and scholars

    who were instrumental in spreading the simple yet deep message of Four Noble Truths and Eight Fold

    Noble Path and help Buddhism take deep roots in several cultures around the world. I wish the Asian

    Buddhist Forum success and hope that through the deliberations in the Forum, we will be able to re-

    discover the common thread that connects various countries and peoples of Asia.

    In conclusion, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the National Taiwan University for organizing

    this Forum. My thanks also go to the Fo Guang University, the National Cheng Chi University, the

    Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taipei and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations in New Delhi for

    supporting this initiative.

    *****

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