The first international conference on “The Buddhist Path to UN Sustainable Development Goals” was held at the World Buddhist University (WBU) in Bangkok this month. The conference, organized by WBU in cooperation with several other partners such as Thailand’s Office of National Buddhism, took place on 4–5 December, bringing together more than 100 Buddhist leaders, academics, and executives from the public and private sectors.
In his opening address,WBU rector Ven. Phra Dr. Anil Sakya stressed that the conference was intended as an open dialogue to discuss ways “to ensure the sustainability of the planet, provide social and economic justice, and advance the cause of ethical decision-making.” (Travel Impact Newswire)
The gathering also enabled Buddhist institutions, organizations, and networks to become part of the conversation and potentially part of the solution, he said.
The conference was held in honor of Thailand’s late King Bhumibhol Adulyadej, also known as “the development king,” who was born on 5 December, and the late 19th supreme patriarch of Thailand Somdet Phra Nyansamvara.
A number of the presentations drew parallels between the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), the Buddhist teachings, and the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) developed and espoused by the late monarch, conceptualized as a secular and sustainable model for human progress.
All of the speakers at the conference called for a reconceptualization of the understanding of “development”—one closer to the Buddhist Middle Way and more holistically sustainable. Participants pointed out that if development was only taken to mean innovations that improve people’s quality of life, such as technology, it failed to recognize the continued conflicts, disease, hunger, anger, and poverty that need to be addressed.
“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 that guarantees Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well as Gross National Happiness (GNH),” Ven. Phra Anil told the delegates.(Travel Impact Newswire)
He added that the first sermon of the Buddha was all about sustainability: “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.’” (Travel Impact Newswire)
The keynote speaker at the conference was Dr. Patrick Mendis of Harvard University, who noted that the Buddhist teachings apply in equal measure to individuals, communities, societies, and nations, but that all of this rests on the individual. In addition to describing how conventional economics as espoused by bankers and economists are in complete contradiction to the Buddhist teachings, he argued that Buddhism is not about limiting the enjoyment of life and natural endowments but reducing unnecessary craving for them that leads to human suffering and environmental decay.
“When human greed and acquisition of excessive wealth becomes a way of life, it creates an imbalance in human life and in the natural ecosystem,” Mendis said. “The Buddhist teachings advocate a gentle attitude towards the environment and stress the importance of a peaceful, violence-free, happy society,” a balance he called the “Buddhist Equilibrium.” (Travel Impact Newswire)
Other speakers, from Thailand and overseas, also shared their research and ideas for achieving the sustainable development goals. The conference ended by noting that similar to the way that industries are shifting toward alternative energies to mitigate global warming, a shift to alternative development pathways is needed to avert a potentially far wider and more disastrous global meltdown.
Global leaders speak on the Buddhist Path to UN Sustainable Development (Daily Financial Times)
First Buddhist University conf on SDGs mulls challenge of averting Global Warming AND Global Meltdown (Travel Impact Newswire)