International Lay Buddhist Forum Held over the New Year in Thailand
The Bodhimitra International Lay Buddhist Forum (ILBF), one of the best known organizations for Buddhist laity, held its ninth meeting in the city of Ayutthaya and Bangkok from 28 December–2 January under the theme “Lay Buddhists – Roles and Relations: Buddhist Lives of Mindful Transformation.” The forum was held at Rajabhat University in Ayutthaya and then Thai Hua Temple in Bangkok and attended by participants from over 20 countries.
The forum consisted out of lectures highlighting ways in which Buddhist laity can help their local and wider communities while contributing to the work of the sangha. The morning session on 29 December was chaired by vice chair of the Bodhimitra ILBF Dr. Bee Scherer and held with Dr. Hin Hin Aye, Dr. Dominick Scarangello, Dr. Philippe Turenne, Dr. Franz Gschwind, Dr. Saul Tobias, Dr. Damenda Porge, and Ms. Shermila Milroy. The afternoon session featured Dr. Kabindra Bajrachaya, Dr. Puspa Ratna Shakya, Dr. Beob Gyung Kim, and Ms. Nampet Panichpant-Michelsen. Attendees enjoyed a break on the next day, with the Bodhimitra ILBF steering committee meeting in the evening. The forum continued on 31 December, with talks by Dr. Franz Gschwind, Ms. Johanna Manner-Gschwind, Ven. M. Dhammasiri, Dr. Kalinga Seneviratne, Ms. Enkhgerel Batsaikhan, and Dr. Roseanne Freese. In addition to the talks, G. T. Maurits Kwee gave workshops on relational Buddhism and Dr. Thanh & Xuan conducted meditation workshops.
The opening of the forum featured trained elephants welcoming attendees. The reception and conference venue was prepared by the royal Thai architect, Ajahn Dulpichai, and the each member of the delegation was individually welcomed by president of Rajabhat University Dr. Kasame Bumrungveth with a beautiful scarf designed by Ajahn Dulpichai.
One of the speakers expressed distress at seeing the chain marks on the elephants’ feet, which led several participants to comfort the speaker by pointing to local cultural perspectives while acknowledging the need to love all sentient beings and advocate for their wellbeing. This led to a productive discussion about the need for skillful means to help relieve suffering for non-human beings.
The lectures officially concluded on 31 December, and all that was left was to welcome in the New Year, which was marked by a countdown at the temple of Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan with several thousand Theravada monks conducting a chanting ceremony.
“Participants were overjoyed and touched by what they witnessed—thousands of people sitting outdoors so peacefully together, listening in hushed quiet to the sermons: it was unthinkable for those who had not seen such an environment before,” Dr. Christie Chang, chair of the Bodhimitra ILBF's steering committee and former president of the Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women, told Buddhistdoor Global. “The Buddhist chanting lent the surroundings a deeply spiritual vibration. Everyone was so respectful, neat, and tidy.”
Chang also highlighted the dana shared at the New Year celebration: “There were free food booths with all sorts of noodles, drinks, popcorn, and other snacks. It was such an auspicious way to start the New Year.”
The Bodhimitra ILBF describes itself as “an independent lay Buddhist movement that is all-inclusive in membership and outlook. . . . The movement aims to represent and further the interests and roles of lay Buddhists in the development of local and global Buddhisms in the world today.” (ILBF) The organization does not lobby for the views of any school, but instead represents the interests of lay Buddhists and the healthy development of Buddhism in contemporary society.
Its beginnings can be traced back to the First Lay Buddhist Forum in Seoul in 2007, although it was formally constituted in 2011. Since 2012 the Bodhimitra ILBF has held bi-annual conferences, with the most recent in North Sumatra, hosted by the pan-Indonesian Buddhayana community under Ven. Xueyan. The first five forums were held in South Korea, supported by the Chongji order under the leadership of Hwaling Lee and Jongin Kim. Bee Scherer brought the forum out of East Asia and held the sixth forum in Spain, and since then its international roots have continued to expand.
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