First Buddhist University conf on SDGs mulls challenge of averting Global Warming AND Global Meltdown

Company contributor Travel Impact Newswire

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When the Rector of the World Buddhist University (WBU), the Venerable Phra Anil Sakya was invited to speak recently at a conference of bankers and economists on alleviating poverty and implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, he asked if they had made a mistake inviting him in the first place. After listening to two hours of talk, “I told them that I should not have been invited here. It was all beyond my understanding. It didn’t make any sense.” Why? Because Buddhist monks take vows of poverty and live below what the UN describes as the poverty line of US$3 a day. So, he asked the bankers, “What do you mean by eradicating poverty? I want to live as a poor person. I don’t have any income. I go out every morning with my alms bowl. Does that make me an obstacle to achieving the SDGs?”

The moral of the story: Bankers seeking solutions to global poverty and ways to implement the SDGs may want to first look inwards before pursuing external solutions. Indirectly, Ven. Phra Anil was challenging them: Who is really living an unsustainable life? Who is really living in poverty? Is poverty defined only in financial terms? Are the SDGs just about economics? He told the bankers their main concern is always the economy. “But if I change to my own language, you will see that hunger, health and conflict are universal human problems, not just the problems of 21st century.”

Ven. Phra Anil narrated this story in his opening address to the first international conference on “The Buddhist Path to Sustainable Development Goals,” the first such event organised by the WBU in cooperation with several partner groupings between 4-5 December 2018. It brought together about 100 leading academics, private and public sector executives and Buddhist leaders for an open dialogue on ways “to ensure the sustainability of the planet, provide social and economic justice and advance the cause of ethical decision-making.” It was also designed to get Buddhist institutions, organizations and networks to highlight the centrality of the cause-and-effect factor and brainstorm ways to become a part of the solution. In the afternoon of the second day, an open discussion was held with the general public.

A number of academic dissertations highlighted the moral, philosophical, financial, social and economic linkages between the UNSDGs, Buddhist teachings and the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) of Thailand’s late monarch Bhumibhol Adulyadej, the “Development King”. Fulfilling his duty as “King of All the Thai people”, regardless of caste, creed or religion, the late King, free of any pressure to pursue profits or votes, conceptualised the SEP as a secular and sustainable form of human progress, well before the United Nations woke up to it.

Indeed, the conference dates honoured two important Thai occasions: King Bhumibhol’s birthday, 5 December 1927 which is also Father’s Day in Thailand and the late 19th Supreme Patriarch, Somdet Phra Nyansamvara who was born on 3rd October 1913, the founding date of the WBU.

Every speaker stressed how the “development” model adopted over centuries was a total deviation from the Buddhist Middle Path, and never really holistically sustainable. If many of the inventions of humankind were designed to improve the “quality of life”, why is there so much continued conflict, disease, hunger and poverty?

Said Ven. Phra Anil, “There is growing recognition that current economic development policies are neither sustainable, nor do they contribute to happiness. The world is searching for a perfect development model which keeps a holistic vision of human development, a balance between material and mental development, which guarantees GDP as well as Gross National Happiness (GNH).”

Ven. Phra Anil began by pointing out that the Buddha’s first sermon itself was all about sustainability. He said, “Fundamentally, sustainable development is any development which has a balance as its foundation and has no negative by-product on society, economy and environments.’ That is the same root and same meaning as the Sanskrit root of ‘Dhamma.’ In other words, Buddhism is all about guidance on sustainable development. Accordingly, the Buddha’s first sermon, Dhamma-cakka-pavattana literally can be translated as ‘the application of sustainable development in action’.”

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