Building a New Civilization for the Future of Humanity

From:Voice of Longquan     Author:Voice of Longquan     Time:2017-11-02 13:00:15
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The Buddhist thought of wisdom has blazed a whole new path for us to reconsider modern civilization and reconstruct new civilizations. Only a new civilization can shape a new world; and only a new world can give birth to new sustainable peace in which every life is equal, wholesome, and fully-lived.

Building a New Civilization for the Future of Humanity

-Speech at the International Peace Conference, UNESCO, Paris

(September 26, 2017)

Ven. Master Xuecheng, President of the Buddhist Association of China

Honorable Madam Irina Bokowa, UNESCO Director-General,                       

Mr. Michael Worbs, Chairman of UNESCO Executive Board,

Mr. Phallop Thaiarry, Secretary General of World Fellowship of Buddhists,

Dear representatives and friends:

Good morning!

First of all, I would like to thank the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) and the UNESCO 2017 International Peace Conference for inviting the Buddhist Association of China (BAC) and myself to be present here. 

Since the publication of the Millennium Development Goals in the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000, more than 600 million people across the world have been lifted out of poverty as a result of the concerted efforts of all parties. Governments of all countries have worked to enhance their citizens’ awareness of development related issues, and to support the implementation of the agendas that target the shared development of humanity, on an unprecedented scale with brilliant achievements.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his speech at the Meeting Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Establishment of China-France Diplomatic Relations held on March 27,2014,said such words:

To realize the Chinese dream, we have set the Two Centenary Goals. One is to  double the 2010 GDP and per capita income of urban and rural residents by 2020 in order to build a society of moderate prosperity. The other is to turn China into a modern socialist country that is strong, prosperous, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious and realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation by mid-21st century. We are keenly aware that to realize this Chinese dream, we must keep deepening reforms in all aspects by freeing people’s minds, unleashing social productivity and invigorating the society.

Currently global economic and social imbalance still exists among different regions of the world due to the after-effect of the 2008 financial crisis. Such issues as hunger, gender inequality, insufficient medical services and limited basic education demand urgent solution.

Following the MDG, the United Nations published Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on September 25, 2015, urging countries in the world to co-work on social, economic and environmental problems and make sure that no one will be left behind. As the MDG is now at a pivotal juncture, the WFB, an advisory agency of the Economic and Social Council of the UN, calls for the care and support of both Buddhists and non-Buddhists of various communities across the world in order to realize the shared goal of sustainable and peaceful development.


At this very moment, as a Buddhist, I feel my responsibility more solemn than ever before. I keep thinking about this question: how should I carry forward the Buddha’s spirit of loving-kindness, wisdom and Middle Way in the time of peaceful development and win-win cooperation to bring benefit and inspiration to the human society that will progress in a more just, fair, equal, inclusive and sustainable manner.

Looking back on the history of Buddhism, we can find that eminent monks in all ages inside and outside China have made unremitting efforts in spreading the Buddha’s spirit of loving kindness and compassion, promoting diversified cultural exchanges in compliance with the world context of multi-polarization, and curbing wars by defusing enmity among people of different regions and ethnicities. Buddhism has always been serving as a messenger for regional peace, between countries along the Belt and Road, from the west coast of North America, North Pacific, to China, Korea and Japan in East Asia, to Russia and Mongolia, and to Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Laos in South and Southeast Asia.

Etymologically, the Chinese characters “和平” (peace) means being free of war and other forms of hostility; it is a synonym for harmony, stability and better life. Peace is a shared aspiration of humanity. The English word “peace” is derived from the Latin word “Pes.” Its equivalent Indian word is “quiet,” and its equivalent Chinese translation in Buddhist scriptures means being pacified, a tranquil and crystal-clear state of mind, which is the highest state in Buddhism: Nirvana. As a verse from the Vimalakirti Sutra says, “The Dharma is peace and pacification, because it is free from desire,” and another verse from the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment states, “Their Perfect Enlightenment illuminates everywhere, and is perfectly still, without duality.” From the two verses we are deeply aware that maintaining regional peace and promoting stable development across the globe is the ultimate compassion and expectation of the Buddha for all living beings. 

Handling the relationship between economy, environment and society is the key to solving the issue of sustainable development. It will be hard to keep a balanced and coordinated development if we proceed from merely one of the three aspects. The Buddhist philosophy of “I am part of you and you are part of me” may be inspirational for the endeavor of sustainable development. In the eyes of the Buddha, the human activities are akin to being enveloped in a crystal amalaka fruit. They are diverse but interdependent, with their interests being inextricably interwoven. All human activities and even the whole universe are dependent co-arising devoid of intrinsic nature.

I. The lost world of Grand Union

Peace is a dream forever cherished by humankind. More than 2000 years ago, the Chinese people envisioned a peaceful world of Grand Union, as described in the Book of Rites, “When the Grand course was pursued, a public and common spirit ruled all under the sky; they chose men of talents, virtue, and ability; their words were sincere, and what they cultivated was harmony. Thus men did not love their parents only, nor treat as children only their own sons. A competent provision was secured for the aged till their death, employment for the able-bodied, and the means of growing up to the young. They showed kindness and compassion to widows, orphans, childless men, and those who were disabled by disease, so that they were all sufficiently maintained. Males had their proper work, and females had their homes. They accumulated articles of value, disliking that they should be thrown away upon the ground, but not wishing to keep them for their own gratification. They labored with their strength, disliking that it should not be exerted, but not exerting it only with a view to their own advantage. In this way selfish scheming was repressed and found no development. Robbers, filchers, and rebellious traitors did not show themselves, and hence the outer doors remained open, and were not shut. This was the period of what we call the Grand Union.” (trans. by James Legge)

Today, the Agenda for Sustainable Development enacted by the United Nations envisages a world of peace for modern times: “We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence,” and “We pledge that no one will be left behind.” This great vision enables us to see the dim outline of the ancient world of Grand Union.

But in reality, the human race is facing unprecedented crises: environmental pollution, imbalanced ecosystem, epidemics and diseases, energy depletion, financial crisis, wealth polarization, lack of faith, moral degeneracy, religious conflicts, racial genocide, terrorism, war, nuclear threats and so on. For the first time in human history we are confronting so many global problems and difficulties fatal to our common destiny.

Facing the enormous gap between ideal and reality, we must ask ourselves: how come that the humankind lost the world of Grand Union that was once so close to us?

Grand Union does not mean that all things are identical without diversity, nor does it mean a fixed world order with defined hierarchies. Rather, it is harmony in diversity in that all differences are integrated into a “Great Way,” just as rivers running to the sea and stars surrounding the moon. Though interpretations of the “Way” vary between the ancients and the contemporaries as well as the Easterners and the Westerners based on their own perspectives and ways of thinking, they are all pointed to the truth. Every step in the human history toward the world of Grand Union signifies a step closer toward the world of truth. This speaks to the fact that the loss of the world of Grand Union indicates humanity’s falling away from the world of truth.

In the classical age of humankind, the world of truth was embedded in people’s life and soul, and the ordinary life was the pathway leading to the world of truth. The essential meaning and ultimate goal of human life was to prove the existence of truth through life and to reflect the value of life through truth. The Confucian classic Doctrine of the Mean dictates: “What Heaven has conferred is called the nature; an accordance with this nature is called the path of duty; the regulation of this path is called instruction. The path may not be left for an instant. If it could be left, it would not be the path.” (trans. by James Legge) Similarly, Plato stated in the Timaeus: “The way of tendance of every part by every man is one—namely, to supply each with its own congenial food and motion; and for the divine part within us the congenial motions are the intellections and revolutions of the Universe. These each one of us should follow, rectifying the revolutions within our head, which were distorted at our birth, by learning the harmonies and revolutions of the Universe, and thereby making the part that thinks like unto the object of its thought, in accordance with its original nature, and having achieved this likeness attain finally to that goal of life which is set before men by the gods as the most good both for the present and for the time to come.” Further, Buddhism is a discipline of inner studies. Through inner enlightenment one understands the truth of dependent co-arising and emptiness of self-nature of the universe and human life, thus helping all beings, including ourselves to be free from suffering and fetter of life, and ultimately attaining Nirvana, the perfection and freedom of life and the real peace.

In the classical age, religion and philosophy were an integral part of moral and devotional consideration, so was science (or natural philosophy). For example, Neo-Platonists of the sixth century believed that physics not only contributes theories to medicine and mechanics or other technologies, but also “helps to perfect one’s rationality, which is the higher part of the soul; it is auxiliary to morality; the ladder to know God and the Ideal; last, it evokes our devotion and appreciation for God.” 

Religion, philosophy, and science – the modern triad of clearly divided spiritual territories – used to be like-minded peers that complemented each other in the classical world. What kept them unified back then was the common goal of enhancing inner virtue and being awakened to the world of truth. This ultimate common goal formulated the model of a world of Grand Union, and it continues to inspire people of different ethnicities, cultures and faiths to awaken to the truth in their own ways of introspection and insight, thus attaining to the two-fold world of Grand Union—peace and perfection of their own lives and of the world. 


II. The transcendent world versus the mundane world

In the classical age that cherished the ideal model of the world of Grand Union, the body and the mind of humans were congruent, and the Eastern and Western civilizations were interconnected. The entire human civilization was built upon the goal of inner awakening and perfection of life rather than knowledge accumulation, technological advancement, economic growth or material wellbeing. In modern times, however, the world of truth, morality, spirituality and values have been gradually separated from the present world, with science disregarding concerns for morality and values, and improvement of material conditions overtaking the pursuit of spiritual perfection. This caused the split of human body and mind and made the East and the West fall into the so-called “clash of civilizations.” (Such clash is not that between the Eastern and Western cultures themselves, but that between modernity and tradition. Therefore, it is not the clash of cultures in nature; it is a world crisis caused by modernity.) That is how the modern world presents itself.

The current profile of the modern world originates from the cultural prototype of subject-object duality in the West. Tension exists between the objective reality of divinity and human subjectivity. As there is a strict hierarchy between divinity and humanity as well as between transcendence and mundanity, conversion to the spiritual world of truth often comes with suppression of human nature or even self-abandonment. This extremity reached its peak during the dark period of the Middle Ages. With the spiritual hegemony being shaken by the Renaissance, the Reforms and the Enlightenment, accompanied by the surging of capitalist forces, the human subjectivity stood at an unparalleled historical height. Humanity, human rights and rationality were worshipped. The value of humankind was no longer represented through the realization of gods or the world of truth, but rather through mankind’s creative activities and realization of self-motivations. People turned to self-indulgence from the self-suppression in the Middle Ages, to self-aggrandizement from self- abandonment. In this change, such “isms” were born as materialism, egocentrism, anthropocentrism, ethnocentrism and cultural imperialism, suddenly adding negative factors to the world peace.

Pushed forward by waves of technological revolution, the creativity of humankind has increased exponentially. People become much more concerned with their own learning, capabilities and wealth than their moral standard and degree of inner awakening. With the advent of the fourth industrial revolution characterized by new technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data and biotechnology, subversive impact will be exerted on the way of producing, living and the values of mankind. Inequality in the world will probably increase. Technological upgrade without consideration in a transcendental dimension has taken mankind toward the path of blind development without an ultimate purpose. People feel intensive spiritual void and sense of meaninglessness when indulging in the “super confidence” from creating and dominating the world with technology. 

In this widely acknowledged secular age, the sustainable development of mankind and sustainable global peace might be dependent on a host of critical steps: to promote re-integration of the transcendent world into the mundane world, or in another word, to incubate a new transcendent world in mundanity, so that the two can divest themselves of the old dualistic mode and move towards a brand-new age of unification; and to re-direct human subjectivity towards inner transcendence and awakening, away from endless exploitation, dominance and control of the external world.

III. A world of sustainable peace in the perfect Middle Way

In the effort to reconstruct a holistic world for humankind and realize human’s inner transcendence, the Buddhist ideas of Middle Way and Buddha nature can inspire some insight. 

The Middle Way is a characteristic description of dependent co-arising and emptiness of self-nature. From a Buddhist perspective, all things, from the entire universe to every individual movement on earth are lack of intrinsic nature as they are all combinations of interdependent conditions. This essential nature of emptiness and dependent co-arising reveals that the truth (or ultimate reality) is characterized by the Middle Way, as what Nāgârjuna describes as the Eight Negations: “Neither existent nor extinct, neither permanent nor annihilated, neither identical nor differentiated, and neither coming nor going.”  The ultimate reality of the Middle Way is not merely the various phenomena of birth and death, eternalism and nihilism, one and many; it also rests upon the phenomena which arise out of various conditions and their combinations. This signifies that the Middle Way is the simultaneous grasping of empty of self-nature and dependent co-arising of all phenomena. The world of truth and the world of phenomena, in other words, the transcendent world and the mundane world, are two dimensions of the same thing, existing at the same time, indivisible and inseparable from each other. 

The Buddha-nature is the inner potential in us to attain enlightenment. It is the lamp of our mind, the treasure of our life. The ultimate reality of the Middle Way in the external world exists in the form of dependent co-arising and emptiness of self-nature; whereas in the internal world, it takes the form of a perfect harmony, a Buddha-nature of the Middle Way that transcends all difference and duality. If we begin to consider this world from the perspective of the Buddha-nature of the Middle Way rather than from human desires, we will find enough wisdom to master the spiritual and material worlds. We will not serve our possessions and become slaves of materialism, nor will we deny our natural needs and fall prey to religious dogma.

The wisdom of the Middle Way can help humankind achieve a perfect union between the transcendent world and the mundane world. It engages both Buddha nature and human nature, unites the transcendence and immediate presence of life itself, and opens up a new mode of civilization. It lays a solid cultural foundation which is fundamental to building sustainable world peace.

i. Perfect harmony between the transcendent world and the mundane world

From a Buddhist perspective, the division and opposition between the world of transcendence and the world of mundanity is symptomatic of the duality between ultimate truth and conventional truth. As long as such a dichotomy exists, whichever end the world tends toward (transcendent or mundane), it will lead to suffering and non-freedom.

The world of the Middle Way is the perfect, non-dualistic world of both ultimate and conventional truths. As The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way (Malamadhyamakakarika) says, “The Buddha's teaching of the Dharma is based on two truths: a truth of worldly convention and an ultimate truth. Those who do not understand the distinction drawn between these two truths do not understand the Buddha's profound truth. Without a foundation in the conventional truth, the significance of the ultimate cannot be taught.

The conventional truth is truth in the immanent or mundane world. The ultimate truth is the world of Truth, which is sacred and transcendent, but also constructed upon the conventional world. Nāgârjuna again claims, “Whatever is dependently co-arisen, that is explained to be emptiness. That, being a dependent designation, is itself the middle way.”  This passage shows that the interdependently arisen world itself is already a revelation of the “ultimate reality of the Middle Way,” as seen through the three perspectives of Emptiness, Provisional Existence, and the Middle Way (the three truths).

Meanwhile, Han Chinese Buddhism adds to the teachings of the Middle Way a  more significant sense of perfection and a stronger internal striving for transcendence. The Tiantan School advocates for “a mind that examines thrice” and “perfect harmony among the three truths.” In this way, the mundanity and transcendence of the world can fuse, without contradiction, into the consciousness of every cognizant subject. Similarly, the Hua-yen school constructs a “dharmadhātu-pratītyasamutpāda” doctrine, which interprets from a wider perspective and sees the world of truth and the present world as an unobstructed, boundlessly united whole. The Chan (Zen) school states that “the mind itself is Buddha,” which is to signify that the world of truth already has roots in everyone’s mind; the ability to see the truth entirely depends on one’s ability to enlighten the mind.

Such a non-dualistic view on truth and the world will guide humankind’s striving for transcendence towards active participation in the society instead of abandoning the world, toward an inner transcendence rather than salvation through external events. It can even be said to be a “two-fold redemption” for both the sacred world and the conventional world.

ii. The mergence of Buddha nature and human nature, the unity of ultimacy and present

The Western culture in modern and contemporary times has brought about the awakening of power in humans and the establishment of human subjectivity. However, since it has abandoned the transcendent dimension of human life, it eventually led to the losing of control on power and the puffing of egotism. The so-called crisis of modernity and a not-peaceful world are all rooted in this. Nonetheless, Buddhism is able to integrate ultimacy and present, self-belief and utter “selflessness,” sacred Buddha nature and the most common human nature, making the understanding and practice of truth part of one’s spiritual life and everyday life – this is the state of “The mind itself is Buddha,” —the path of becoming the Buddha in reality.

The Discourse on the Perfection of Consciousness-only explains “belief” thus: “What is belief? It is the deep understanding of, and ardent desire for, realities, qualities and capabilities. ” That is also to say Buddhist faith implies three levels of meaning: first, believing Buddha’s teaching to be true; second, believing the good qualities of the Buddha and the Three Jewels to be true and real, and third, believing that one has the ability to understand and bear witness to truth, and to attain the same merit and virtue as the Buddha. Hence, a Buddhist does not believe in himself but in the belief that he can become the Buddha and attain the ultimate and perfect enlightenment of life. Such belief is founded on a deep understanding and recognition of the Buddha nature which lay hidden in the seemingly ordinary human nature.

Venerable Master Zhizhe of China’s Tiantai School says, “When one understands that all Dharma originates from within the mind, then one understands that the mind is the great vehicle, the mind is the Buddha-nature.”  Venerable Master Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism says, “The self-nature of Bodhi is originally clear and pure. Simply use that mind, and you will straightaway accomplish Buddhahood.”  He also says, “Unenlightened, the Buddha is a living being. At the time of a single enlightened thought, the living being is a Buddha. Therefore you should know that the ten thousand dharmas exist totally within your own mind. Why don’t you, from within your own mind, suddenly see the true suchness of your original nature?”  In the same way, Han Chinese Buddhism has instilled in people’s one thought of true mind the notions of ultimate truths such as “Buddha-nature,” “the self-nature of enlightenment,” “true suchness of original nature.” In this manner, the possibility of attaining Buddhahood in the future has become a necessity in the present moment, and the subjectivity of truth was internalized to the objectivity of real life. The Chan School has, unprecedentedly, integrated the transcendent world and the mundane world, the sacred icon and the ordinary people themselves. This has allowed the pursuit of ultimate meanings to penetrate the mundane life. The hope to attain human redemption through one’s own efforts has never been so close at hand and so real.


IV. New civilization, new world, new peace

As the modern world is swept forward rapidly by capital, material and technology, the seemingly prosperous and advanced human civilization is laden with flaws and risks. The future of world peace, in the face of ever increasing global inequality is a matter of grave concern. People of insight from both the East and the West have coincidentally started to trace back to the classical age for ancient wisdom.

The Buddhist thought of wisdom has blazed a whole new path for us to reconsider modern civilization and reconstruct new civilizations. The new civilization in the future should be a holistic one that features the congruence of body and mind, the harmony between human and nature, the unity of the material and spiritual, as well as the integration of the East and the West. It should be a civilization of ultimacy in that all progress and development is aimed at achieving perfection of life and ultimate liberation. It should be a “civilization of the mind” that values spiritual wellbeing and enlightenment. It should be a civilization that is open, inclusive, impartial, and organic and that transcends time and space and embodies the unity of all sentient beings, the equality between self and others and the non-duality of life and its environment.

Only a new civilization can shape a new world; and only a new world can give birth to new sustainable peace in which every life is equal, wholesome, and fully-lived.

Thank you!


Editor:Bella Liu
Tags: new civilization,Buddhist thought of wisdom, future, humanity

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