On the Belt and Road: The Spiritual Footprints of Buddhism and the Construction of a New World Civilization

From:Voice of Longquan     Author:Ven. Master Xuecheng     Time:2017-06-29 00:43:06
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On the Belt and Road: The Spiritual Footprints of Buddhism and the Construction of a New World Civilization

-speech at the ‘Symposium: Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism along the Belt and Road’

President of Buddhist Association of China

President of Buddhist Academy of China


Venerable Master Zhi Hui, Presideng of Hong Kong Buddhist Association,

Venerable Master Jian Zhao, President of Macau Buddhist Association,

Venerable Master Jing Yin, Abbot of Hong Kong Po Lin Monastery,

Dear Masters and guests,

Good afternoon.

On this 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return and the 25th anniversary of the grand opening ceremony of the Great Tian Tan Buddha, we hold the seminar of ‘Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism within the Belt and Road Initiative’ in Pok Co Hall of Po Lin Monastery. This is a very important and meaningful theme. The essence of The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, can be summarized into ‘five interconnections’ –– policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds; as well as ‘one community with shared interests, destiny and responsibilities’. 

The launch of the Belt and Road Initiative not only knocked open the economic lifeline connecting China, Asian, Africa and Europe, but also activated deeper cultural connections lying underneath for more than 2000 years. Coming hard on the heels of cultural awakening are not only cooperation and development based on a regional mindset, but also the shaping of a whole new history of the world, and the inauguration of a new human civilization.

Looking back at the inaccessible ancient Silk Road, there were only three groups of people who ventured into the never-never land in a peaceful, death-defying way: envoys, businessmen and monks. Buddhist monks had no financial or political backup in any way. All they could rely on, and all they disseminated along the way, were only pure belief and virtuous spiritual culture.It’s fair to say that Buddhists were truly envoys for culture and peace along the Silk Road. With the current Belt and Road Initiative, it’s imperative for Buddhism to revisit its cultural mission and shoulder new historical responsibilities: to inject strength of belief into the Belt and Road Initiative, while imparting the glory of culture; to create new culture, new ideas and new vision of civilization for this era with the profound and flexible wisdom from Buddhism, so that the Belt and Road not only becomes a prosperous economic zone, but also an important starting point for the new structure of civilization for the world.

Currently, in the development of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions ought to cooperate and deepen their conversations with regard to the transcendent, altruistic, innovative and profound aspects of Buddhism. In this way, the mind’s lamp, which was once lighted up by the virtues of great monks, would be passed around through our hands, and its flame reach every dark corner of the world.Equally, the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ would become a cradle of new civilization in the world. If a new model of civilization is in character transcendent, altruistic, innovative and profound, then it definitely will become a civilisation that fosters the growth of humanity and heart-felt convergence. Such a model would also realise —presently and ultimately — a civilisation that is mutually beneficial and truly sustainable.

‘Virtue is never alone,it will have neighbours.’ A person whose ultimate aim in life is the mutual growth and enlightenment of the mind will undoubtedly discover others who share the same vows and aspirations on his path.In other words, it is by truly recognising the oneness of human life and the intimate connection between different minds that an individual, a team, a region, a nation and a people can have the courage to break out of the shackles of self-protection, the fence of egocentrism, and begin to help and benefit other human life and other groups in mutual understanding and appreciation.

The journey of seeking or promoting Dharma on the ancient Silk Road may seem lonely and long without end, not to mention that one could perish on the way without a sound. But in fact, every Dharma-seeker had, behind their back, innumerable teachers, friends and people that continually supported and encouraged their pursuit forward.This was very much true for those who succeeded in their attempts. On his way westward, the Master Xuanzang received escort by soldiers on the borders, extraordinary reception by King of Kao-ch'ang, guidance from Indian great masters such as Venerable Jiexian, and high recommendations from the King Śīlāditya. After he returned to translate the Buddhist scriptures, he received full support from kings and ministers, to monks and laypeople.

Similarly, all of Master Jianzhen’s six trips to Japan were accompanied by a few dozen disciples. Several of them went on all of the trips, and never left the Master’s side in life and death, in happiness or pain. Equally, the Master cared for his disciples with great compassion. At first, he was moved by the two Japanese monks, Youei and Fushou, who ‘on their way to seeking Dharma encountered numerous disasters and unspeakable adversity, yet they remained determined and regretted nothing.’ As the Master decided to ‘grant their wish,’ he embarked on the journey to transmit the Dharma in Japan.

On the ancient Silk Road, although there were many obstructions in transportation, people still sought to communicate, explore unknown regions, and mutually wish to help and benefit each other. Such interchanges, learning and appreciation were not temporary alliances for profitable gains or superficial imitation out of curiosity; they were a profound recognition of the interdependence and co-existence of all life and conditions.They signify the fundamental desire to pursue truth and enlightenment. The world in itself is a oneness that connects all life and conditions, whereas the enlightenment of the mind and the benefiting of all sentient beings are the ultimate goals of human’s spiritual pursuit. If one is blind to these objectives or lost on his way, then loneliness and solitude await him.

The modern society is highly developed in technology, transportation, and digital information. The physical distance between things has shortened, but the distance between individual minds has increased. There are even barriers between us that lead to alienation from others, such that we seem not to know ourselves. Yes, technology may let us fly in outer space, yet it cannot reduce the distance between our hearts. Despite being in an ever more opened world, each of us is entrapped by our loneliness.Hence, in the face of the problems brought by a technological age, we as humankind must bring people together through the path, move them by virtues, and befriend all with our hearts. In the experience of walking on the same path and pursuing the same aspirations, we can experience spiritual joys and the oneness of life. Only by acting according to the Path, by responding according to the Dharma, and relying on good teachers and friends, can we realise true communication between people and transcend the solitude of an ever-open world.

Theravada and Mahayana in the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ originally belonged to the same Buddhist tradition. If Buddhism itself can strengthen the mutual understanding between different traditions, to borrow and learn from each other, then we can spread the tolerant, free and open-minded spirit of Buddhism across the world. In this way, we can help the birth and growth of a new civilisation of the world, a civilisation that recognises and embraces the oneness of life.

We seem to live in a liberal age. However, the world is full of all kinds of cultural conservatism, hegemony and even colonialism. In the face of cultural differences, either aggressive assimilation or conflict must be chosen. Is this dualistic cultural attitude the inevitable choice of humankind? Is it the best choice?From the perspective of Buddhism, both conflict and opposition are a manifestation of the inability to learn efficiently from others and to make changes and innovate.

Hinged upon the profound essence of Chinese culture, Chinese Buddhism has applied its consummate wisdom of the Middle Way into Buddhist theory and practice. It has not only developed the Eight Schools which blend all doctrines of Indian Buddhism, but also built up the rules of monastic life fit for Chinese society. Its thorough sinicization, from doctrine, to practice, to organizational form, fully demonstrates the inclusiveness of Chinese culture and the consummate interfusion characteristic of Buddhism. Chinese Buddhism is a combination of that inclusiveness and perfect interfusion, and exhibits outstanding openness, inclusion and interfused harmony. These characteristics were more prominent during the Tang Dynasty when the empire was strong and culture flourished.

Both Master Xuanzang and Master Jianzhen were the excellent representatives of the cultural characteristics at that time.Master Xuanzang had visited many reputable Masters and studied various dharma during his study in China. After he went to India, he delved more deeply into the doctrines and dharma of various schools in details. He had excellent Sanskrit, and thus at the grand debate organized by Harsavardhana, he could not be defeated and nobody even dared to raise a challenge. Thus he was rewarded the respectable title of Mahāyānadeva (meaning the Deity of Mahāyāna) and Mokṣadeva, and was commonly recognized as the most venerable Master by the whole Indian Buddhism society at that time.Because of his broad vision, open mind and far-reaching thinking, the Master translated so many sutras that he presented the whole Indian Buddhism system to the Chinese people, building a deep and extensive rooting for the profound theories of Chinese Buddhism.

When Master Jianzhen voyaged east to Japan, he carried 48 sutra, vinaya and shastra works with him, including Mahayana sutras, the Bodhisattva pratimokṣa, the Dharmagupta Vinaya and many commentaries. With this, he established the Vinaya School and the Tendai School in Japan, and introduced varied techniques and skills of Tang Dynasty into Japan.The studious Japanese society successfully integrated Buddhism with their local culture, established various Schools of Japanese Buddhism and inherited the essence of the Tang culture comprehensively.

The cultural exchange and mutual learning, integration and innovation carried out on the ancient Silk Road has been an inspiration to the builders, participants and observers of Today’s One Belt One Road Initiative:All of us, whether we adhere to Southern or Northern Buddhism, Western or Eastern culture, whether we are Chinese or from another ethnicity or nation, must develop an attitude that values learning and the courage to innovate. We must tap into our reserves of wisdom in order to overcome the cultural disparities between different peoples and nurture an open and accepting environment that can accommodate and understand different cultures.Only by building such a consensus can we help modern humanity to break through the cultural conflicts and ideological barriers in this time of increasing liberty. This is the spiritual attitude that the new world civilization should possess.

Historically, Hong Kong was known as Tuen Mun. Since the Tang Dynasty, it has been a part of the ‘foreigner’s route from Canton to the sea’, which connects trade and transport along the maritime Silk Road. Buddhism also travelled from the Chinese Mainland to Hong Kong, where we can still find traces left by Venerable Master Pei Tu of the Tang Dynasty.Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, known as the ‘premier Buddhist Monastery in Hong Kong’, has a history of more than 100 years. The Tian Tan Buddha here is a typical example of friendly exchange and sincere cooperation between Buddhists in the Mainland of China and those in Hong Kong.Twenty years after its handover, with its status as a renowned international center for finance and business as well as shipping and logistics, it will play a key role in the Belt and Road Initiative.If we look deeper and farther, this is where Theravada and Mahayana converge, and where Eastern and Western cultures come together, Hong Kong should present an open space for religious and cultural interchange in order to achieve greater development and achievement.The Belt and Road Initiative is not only a path for international free trade and political and economic cooperation amongst different counties, but also a new route where global cultures can exchange and learn from each other. It is a fresh new starting point for shaping a new global civilization.Transcendence, altruism, innovation, sustainability and oneness are hallmarks of this new civilization, while openness and tolerance are also qualities that will be important for it.From India to China, from the Chinese Mainland to Hong Kong, from the Belt and Road to the whole world, we hope that the spiritual footprints of Buddhism can keep advancing. May Hong Kong become the Oriental Pearl that lights up the world and the hearts of people with a true spirit of openness, tolerance, freedom and innovation. 

Tags:Master Xuecheng,Belt and Road

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