Statement by H.E. Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations

Commemoration of 2600 Years of Buddhism at the United Nations

Opening Event, General Assembly Hall
16th May, 2011, New York

“It is appropriate that the enlightenment of Gauthama the Buddha 2600 years ago, a sage teacher who preached non-violence, tolerance, understanding and self-realization, should be celebrated by the United Nations.  This organization was created from the smouldering embers of global war and the resulting death, destruction and suffering to maintain international peace and security, to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems, to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of mutual respect.  Against this background, the Buddha’s message of compassion, tolerance and understanding remains ever relevant. “


Most Venerable Members of the Maha Sanga
Ambassador Hasan Kleib, Representative of the President of the General Assembly
The Secretary-General, H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon
Excellencies,
Distinguished Invitees,
Ladies & Gentlemen,

It gives me profound pleasure to welcome you to this hallowed Chamber, as we commemorate 2600 years of Buddhism.  The Buddha attained enlightenment on this day over 2 1/2 millennia ago in Bodh Gaya in Northern India.  Born to the Sakya royal family, the Buddha renounced all worldly possessions and his birthright to the Sakya crown and ventured forth in search for an end to suffering.  For 45 years after enlightenment, he preached a message of loving kindness, compassion, tolerance and self-awareness.  In the centuries that followed, Buddhism spread, first across India, and later shed its gentle shadow through most of Asia, having been carried to the far corners of the continent along trade routes by missionaries and traders, without the assistance of conquering armies. Its deep impact is evident in the history, the culture and the attitudes of most of Asia. 

It is appropriate that the enlightenment of Gauthama the Buddha 2600 years ago, a sage teacher who preached non-violence, tolerance, understanding and self-realization, should be celebrated by the United Nations.  This organization was created from the smouldering embers of global war and the resulting death, destruction and suffering to maintain international peace and security, to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems, to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of mutual respect.  Against this background, the Buddha’s message of compassion, tolerance and understanding remains ever relevant. 

Excellencies,

The Buddha preached that “hatred ceaseth not  hatred.  It is love and compassion that conquers hatred.”   Similarly, he admonished his followers to overcome “anger and hatred with loving kindness to achieve peace and happiness.”  I believe, these are sentiments to which we, in the United Nations, relate intrinsically. 

In a world that is troubled by endless violence, terrorism, inequality, natural and man made calamities, mistrust and conflict, poverty and deprivation, the Buddha’s message of  non-violence, compassion, understanding and the middle path holds an important place.   

Of special relevance to the contemporary world was the Buddha’s intervention to stop an emerging violent conflict between the Sakyas and the Koliyas over the division of the waters of the Rohini River.  Even then, disputes over dwindling and essential natural resources led to violence.

The Buddha stepped in front of the Sakya and Koliya armies and convinced the protagonists of the utter futility of violence as a means of solving problems and the value of human life above all else.  Suitably chastised, the Sakyas and the Koliyas amicably resolved their differences over the waters of the Rohini River. Two hundred years after the Buddha, the militaristic Emperor Asoka waged a series of bloody campaigns to bring most of the Indian Sub Continent under his domain.  After the war with the Kalinga Kingdom, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and massive destruction, a remorseful Asoka converted to Buddhism and became a messenger of peace.  Asoka came to be known as Dharmasoka because of his righteous rule.  He established hospitals, even for sick animals.  He sent missionaries to neighbouring States, including to Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka became a Buddhist kingdom as a result of the missionary work of Asoka’s son, Mahinda and Buddhism has had an abiding impact on our history.   

Ladies & Gentlemen,

I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to all who contributed to making this event a success.  The representatives of the sixteen Permanent Missions to the United Nations, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, the Lao Democratic People’s Republic, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, The Philippines, The Republic of Korea, Thailand,  and Vietnam, the monks from the different countries who are present today, in particular Venerable Piyatissa of the Queens Temple and the indefatigable Venerable Saddajeeva, the staff of the United Nations and the staff of the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka. 

May all beings be happy. 

 

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