Respected Members of the Sangha,
Friends in Dharma,
On behalf of His Holiness Somdet Phra Maharatchamangkalacharn, the Acting Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, and on my own behalf, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Buddhist Association of China under the leadership of Most Venerable Xue Cheng and the China Religions Cultural Communication Association led by H.E. Wang Zuo’an for extending an invitation to Thai Buddhists to participate in this Fourth World Buddhist Forum held under the supervision of the Government of People Republic of China
The theme for the Forum, “Common Aspirations and Actions – Exchanges and Mutual Learning,” is extremely apt, especially in the context of Buddhism, which is well known for its teachings on compassion (karu?ā) and wisdom (praj?ā). Compassion, which manifests itself in selfless acts of kindness aimed at alleviating the suffering of mankind, stems from, and is supported by, wisdom, in that it is through mutual learning that we gain insight into the problems that beset the world.
It was through his compassion that the Buddha sent his first group of 60 Arahants to go forth into the world and disseminate his teachings. As the Buddha said, “Caratha bhikkhave carikam, Bahujanahitaya, bahujana sukhaya Lokanukampaya, atthaya hitaya sukkhaya devamanussnam. Monks, go ye forth, for the welfare and happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, comfort and well-being of gods and men.” In this he was followed by King A?oka who, in the third century BC similarly dispatched several learned monks to various parts of South and Southeast Asia and beyond to spread the words of the Buddha. Some accounts suggest that one or more of these may even have reached parts of what is now China.
But the traffic was not one-way, for there are well-documented accounts that in later centuries several prominent Chinese monks travelled by way of the Silk Road to India in order to acquire Buddhist Scriptures or Tripitaka which they then translated following their return to China.
Probably first among these was a Chinese monk named Fa-Hien (337-422) who travelled on foot to India, where he then lived fifteen years, followed by a visit to Sri Lanka, where he lived for a further two years, before finally returning to China, by ship, via the maritime Silk Route.
Fa-Hien was followed, during the Tang Dynasty, by Xuanzang(602-664) who also embarked on a seventeen-year journey, again along the Silk Road, to India, where he studied Sanskrit at the University of Nālandā, before returning to China taking with him seventy-four Buddhist texts which he then translated under royal patronage.
Finally, mention might also be made of I-Tsing or Yi-jing (635–713), who travelled by sea to India via Srivijaya (modern Sumatra in Indonesia) and studied Buddhism at the University of Nālandā. He again produced numerous translations of Sanskrit texts into Chinese, as well as providing useful information about the kingdoms and societies of his day that lay along the maritime Silk Route from China to Nālandā.
The Buddhist world should be very grateful to these early pilgrims, since it is through their labours that a great many early Sanskrit texts, long since lost, have been preserved for posterity in Chinese translation.
We are very fortunate that the modern world of technology has spared us from having to emulate the long and demanding journeys undertaken by our predecessors. The ease of air travel has, these days, greatly facilitated, and accelerated, cultural exchange and mutual learning. I was, for instance, very grateful for the privilege of being able to attend all the World Buddhist Forums held in China, just as this is the fourth occasion that I have participated in this Forum.
It is encouraging that China lends this kind of support to Buddhism that has been so deeply rooted in, and such an integral part of, Chinese civilization for almost 2000 years. As we follow in the footsteps of all those pilgrims who trod the Silk Road before us, it is time now to develop greater cooperation between Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism. Our common aspirations are to spread the Buddha’s message of peace “for the welfare and happiness of the many.” The Theravada and Mahayana schools are similar to two wings of the same bird called Buddhism. The bird can fly all over the world only when both the wings work together in unity with the spirit of mutual respect, exchanges and learning.
In conclusion, may I express my appreciation and good wishes to the Government of China, and its people, for this, the Fourth World Buddhist Forum. May the power of the Triple Gem grant this international conference great success.
Thank you very much for your attention.