At Global Buddhist Summit, Modi Under Spotlight – Op-Ed

The two-day summit is regarded as a move by the Indian government to reinforce the country’s position as a key player in Buddhism. This is particularly significant as China has been sponsoring similar summits on Buddhism.

New Delhi: The Global Buddhist Summit in New Delhi was not only about showcasing India’s links to the religion but largely highlighted the Indian Prime Minister’s claim of being a promoter of the faith.

A digital compilation released by Press Information Bureau on the occasion included excerpts of 20 speeches made by Modi that were “important in understanding the rich connection between Prime Minister and Lord Buddha”. The e-book listed over 100 photographs, out of which only about 15-20 were of Lord Buddha, while the rest were of Modi at various events.

At the inauguration of the two-day Global Buddhist Summit in Delhi, the Prime Minister gave a speech in which he claimed two personal connections – that he has repeated in nearly every speech related to Buddhism.

He underlined that his Lok Sabha constituency of Varanasi, with its proximity to Sarnath which was the venue of Lord Buddha’s first sermon, has a significant Buddhist cache. Then, Modi noted that his birthplace of Vadnagar in Gujarat was known to have been visited by the Chinese Buddhist monk Hiuen Tsang, who was known for his chronicles of travel to India to acquire Buddhist scriptures.

During a speech on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked that the world is currently facing multiple challenges, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, economic instability, and climate change. Nevertheless, he expressed confidence that the faith of millions of Buddhists will prove to be a powerful source of strength during these trying times.

“It is universally accepted that today’s era is the most challenging time of this century. Today…two countries are at war for months [and] the world is going through economic instability. Threats such as terrorism and religious fanaticism are attacking the soul of humanity. A challenge like climate change is looming large over the existence of humanity,” Modi said in his Hindi speech.

Addressing the congregation of participants from 30 countries, Modi said that while the world was plagued with climate change and environmental disasters, “there are crores of people like you, who believe in the Buddha”. “This hope, this faith is the biggest strength of this earth. When this hope gets united, the Buddha’s Dhamma will become the world’s belief and Buddha’s realisation will become the belief of humanity,” he said.

The two-day summit, which came to an end on Friday, was organised by the ministry of culture in collaboration with the Delhi-based International Buddhist Confederation. The theme of the summit is “Responses to Contemporary Challenges: Philosophy to Praxis”.

Delegates from around 170 foreign nations, including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and Mexico, are participating in the summit, with Vietnam and Sri Lanka sending significant delegations.

While emphasising the significance of peaceful coexistence in Buddhism, Modi’s message was taking place against the backdrop of the absence of China and the Dalai Lama at the summit. Although invitations were sent to Buddhist institutions in China, there was no response. The Dalai Lama, who has been embroiled in controversy over his public behaviour with a young boy, cited “health” reasons for his non-participation, according to the organisers.

The two-day summit is regarded as a move by the Indian government to reinforce the country’s position as a key player in Buddhism. This is particularly significant as China has been sponsoring similar summits on Buddhism.

Quoting the Buddha’s teachings, Modi said that living in harmony with all people brings happiness. “Friends, today we see that the thinking of imposing one’s own thoughts and beliefs onto others is becoming a big problem for the world.” He emphasised that the Buddha’s teachings emphasised the importance of examining one’s own behaviour before attempting to preach to others.

Modi also visited a photo exhibition and offered monk’s robes to 19 eminent monks from Australia, Mexico, Nepal, Myanmar, South Korea, Mongolia, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

The summit concluded with the release of a New Delhi declaration on Friday. The official press release noted, “The Declaration reinforces the points highlighted by the Prime Minister in his opening address.”

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