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

Interfaith Dialogue -  General Assembly Hall
16th May, 2011, New York

Most Venerable Members of the Maha Sanga
Distinguished Invitees,
Ladies & Gentlemen,

We are assembled here to discuss a theme of great relevance to the work of this organization, and to the world that we live in, as we commemorate 2600 years of the Buddha’s enlightenment – Peace, Tolerance and Understanding.  2600 years ago the Buddha preached a message of compassion, tolerance, understanding and self-awareness.  A message that remains relevant to us today in a world afflicted by endless violence, terrorism, disease, natural and man-made calamities, poverty and deprivation.  Influenced by the principles of tolerance and understanding, Buddhism coexisted with the numerous religions that existed then in India.  In my country, even today, Hindu temples happily exist within Buddhist temple grounds.  During the colonial era, when different colonial powers dominating the coast of Sri Lanka persecuted religions that they did not tolerate, the Buddhist Kandyan Kingdom in the centre of the country provided refuge to the persecuted.  This is a message that is relevant to the modern world. 

The Buddha’s message was carried to all corners of India by missionaries and traders.  Over the centuries many countries of Asia came under the sublime influence of Buddhism.  From Bactria and today’s Afghanistan in the West to the very extremities of the Asian land mass, to Korea and Japan, Buddhism spread rapidly without the assistance of conquering armies.  It remains the dominant intellectual and cultural force in many Asian countries to this day.  The Buddha clearly said to the Kalamas that no one should accept his message unless convinced that it accorded with reason.  My own country, Sri Lanka has been under the influence of Buddhism for over 2300 years while other religions are also represented in our population.  The profound impact of Buddhism on the history, the arts, the culture and the attitudes of the people of these countries is evident to this day.  The teachings of the Buddha have clearly influenced the daily lives of millions of people in Asia, and increasingly, is a factor in the West.

I hope that this discussion will contribute to advancing the lofty goals of the United Nations.  Let us use our religious traditions to advance world peace. 


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