Scholars from SCO countries discuss ways to revive common Buddhist lineage

The two-day conference on March 14 and 15 was organized by the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of External Affairs and the International Buddhist Confederation (IBC), as a grantee body of the Ministry of Culture

March 20, 2023 12:15 pm | Updated 12:15 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Union Minister for Culture, Tourism and Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), G. Kishan Reddy at the inauguration of the SCO Conference on ‘Shared Buddhist Heritage’ along with the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Culture, Arjun Ram Meghwal and the Minister of State for External Affairs and Culture, Meenakashi Lekhi, in New Delhi

Union Minister for Culture, Tourism and Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), G. Kishan Reddy at the inauguration of the SCO Conference on ‘Shared Buddhist Heritage’ along with the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Culture, Arjun Ram Meghwal and the Minister of State for External Affairs and Culture, Meenakashi Lekhi, in New Delhi | Photo Credit: ANI

In a first of its kind event, India hosted a conference last week on ‘Shared Buddhist Heritage’ under the ambit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which saw participation of scholars and experts from Russia, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Belarus, Bahrain, Myanmar, United Arab Emirates and Kazakhstan. India will also be hosting the World Buddhist Conference in the next few months, officials said.

“Cross cultural linkages between central Asian and South East Asian nations need to be revived and the spiritual artery of Buddhism remains in India. And the effort is the revival of Buddhist culture which the SCO can give momentum given the common linkages despite the divergences,” an official said on the sidelines of the conference. Buddhism originated in India, and the relevance remains very much in India, the official added.

The two-day conference on March 14 and 15 was organized by the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of External Affairs and the International Buddhist Confederation (IBC), as a grantee body of the Ministry of Culture.

“The aim of the conference is to re-establish trans-cultural links, seek out commonalities, between Buddhist art of Central Asia, art styles, archaeological sites and antiquity in various museums’ collections of the SCO countries,” statement issued by IBC said.

Buddhism can be used to build a common cultural line between all the SCO countries, another official said at the conference. Cooperation aside, the much awaited announcement of the next Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Buddhism, is a continuous issue with China stating that the choice of the next Dalai Lama lies with them.

In the past, Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, had said that it was possible that after his reincarnation could be found in India while stating that any other successor named by China would not be respected. “In future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas come, one from here, in free country, one chosen by Chinese, then nobody will trust, nobody will respect (the one chosen by China),” said the 14th Dalai Lama who has been living in exile in India since fleeing China in 1959.

Speaking at the conference, Dr A. Imran Shauket, Advisor to Pakistan Tourism Coordination Board and a promoter of Buddhist heritage of Pakistan said Pakistan’s Swat Valley was a treasure house for Buddhist archaeology and it is believed there were 1,000 monasteries in this region. 

The Peshawar museum houses several scripts in both the Sharda and Pali languages, inviting Indian scholars, he said while stating that “the doors were open to Indian scholars to study these and decode them, as well as visit Buddhist sites in Pakistan.” He also offered to organize exhibitions on Gandhara and Swat excavated findings around the SCO countries.

Many of the Buddhist sites had been destroyed over the past several decades. The army too had blown up stupas in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP)’s Kyber region but now defacing or destroying artefacts has become a major offence in Pakistan. However, the developers were moving faster than the excavators or archaeologists, he added.

However, Pakistan has internal issues and blasphemy laws which hinder expansions of cooperation in this regard, officials noted.

The Russian delegates at the conference called for easier access to Buddhism circuits in India P. A. Tugarinov, a researcher at the State museum of the history of religion in Russia proposed to have collaborations and exchanges with India, a view that was echoed by few other participants.

Buddhism came to Russia in 17th century in Kalmykia province and is currently in three big regions, N. G. Alfonso, Curator of the Central Asian Art collection at the State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow. Referring to the collection of Buddhist objects the museum has, hangka icons, miniature paintings, sculptural and relief images, altar decorations, ritual attributes and ritual weapons, amulets and caskets, she said there was a distinct connection to India. “For instance, the terracotta clay items of 16th century are very similar to the icons found in Madhya Pradesh.”

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