India’s Ministry of Culture celebrated Buddha Jayanti at Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in New Delhi on Monday, in cooperation with the International Buddhist Confederation. In his keynote speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who inaugurated the event, emphasized the importance of Buddhist diplomacy to India’s relations with other (predominantly Buddhist) countries in Asia.Buddha Jayanti, also known as Vesak, is one of the biggest Buddhist holidays in South Asia, commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of the historical Buddha. The event was attended by representatives of 40 Buddhist organizations, and some 10,000 Buddhists monks, nuns, and lay followers, including attendees from Japan, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.
Modi gave sangha dana (offerings) to the monks and nuns present, and presented the Vaishakh Samman Prashasti Patra Award to the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, and the All India Bhikshu Sangha in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, for their efforts to preserve and promote India’s Buddhist heritage, art, culture, and Buddhist studies.
Evoking the spirit of Buddhist diplomacy, Modi asserted that “India has never had a history or tradition of attacking others’ ideology or country. India has never been an aggressor. It has never encroached upon [the territory] of any other country.” He added that “at a time when terrorism, casteism, and dynasty politics appear to be overshadowing the teachings of the Buddha, the talk of affection and friendship are becoming more relevant and important.” (The Times of India)
Modi also highlighted that soon after assuming office in 2014, it was the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan that hosted his first official diplomatic visit, followed by Nepal—the birthplace of the Buddha. Even his first official visit outside South Asia was to another predominantly Buddhist country: Japan.
In his address, Modi also highlighted the government’s efforts to preserve and promote India’s Buddhist cultural heritage. He noted that 18 states had recognized Buddhist sites, and that a sum of 3.6 billion rupees (US$53.8 million) had been approved to construct a Buddhist circuit comprised of historic sites recognized as relating to Shakyamuni Buddha or as spiritual homes of Buddhism that are being developed as tourist destinations. Modi also stated that the Archaeological Survey of India has been assisting in the restoration of Buddhist sites in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam.
“We are developing infrastructure for Buddhist tourism, which is going to connect Southeast Asia with the important Buddhist sites of India,” Modi said. “I am also very pleased that the government is a partner in the restoration of many Buddhist temples, which also includes the centuries-old Anand Temple in Bagan, Myanmar.” (The Times of India)
In his monthly radio program Mann Ki Baat On 29 April, Modi noted that India has inherited the Buddha’s wisdom and that Buddhism had helped to cement long-standing ties between India and many other Asian countries, including Cambodia, China, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, and Thailand, where the Buddha’s teachings are still flourishing today.
In recent years, India has adopted a Buddhism-influenced approach to diplomacy when reaching out to other nations with a Buddhist heritage, such as China, in an attempt to build bilateral relations built on the foundation of a shared spiritual heritage.
In her recent official visit to Mongolia, India’s Minister for External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, emphasized the Buddhist commonalities between the two nations. In an address, during her visit Swaraj noted, “Buddhism has been a great connector of civilizations since millennia. Even though Buddhism originated in India, it spread across the mighty Himalaya to East Asia and across the seas to southeast Asia. Eventually, it also made its way to the vast steppes of Mongolia, where it has found a permanent abode for over two millennia.” (News 18)
Centre developing infrastructure for Buddhist tourism: Modi (The Times of India)
India has never been an aggressor nor an encroacher: PM Narendra Modi (The Times of India)
PM Narendra Modi talks of Buddhism as part of his outreach (DNA)
From Wuhan to Buddha smiling in Delhi, a full week (The Indian Express)
PM Modi to Award Buddhist Institutes, Felicitate Monks on Budh Purnima (News 18)