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The idea of forming an Asian Buddhist Congress to emphasise and strengthen international understanding and develop closer cultural ties in the Asian Region came to Colonel George Ranatunga when he attended the Los Angeles Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists way back in the 1980 decade.
On his return and after meticulous spade work, preliminary arrangements were finalised and he as President of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress invited Buddhist leaders of several Asian Countries, for the inauguration of such an association.
With state participation, the ceremonial meeting of the association was held at the BMICH on March 23, 1990. On this occasion Sri Lanka formally moved a resolution to: "Form an Asian Regional Organisation to promote among the members, strict observance and practice of the Teachings of the Buddha, to propagate the sublime doctrine of the Buddha and secure unity, solidarity and brotherhood amongst the Asian Buddhists."
The resolution seconded by Ven. Dr. Swarn of Nepal was unanimously adopted by delegates from Bangladesh, Hongkong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore and Thailand.
The ABC from its inception has held biennial sessions in selected member states who will host the visiting delegates. Local organisations are free to carry on their programmes of activities internally in their respective regions or countries. Accordingly the Sri Lanka branch of the ABC has successfully carried on a development programme for poverty alleviation in Anuradhapura District during the past five years.
The second biennial Conference was held in Saranath, Varanasi (Benares) India, from 09th to 14th April 1992, mainly sponsored by the Mahabodhi Society of India. In addition to the founder participants of the Congress, provincial delegates from Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and Assam and foreign delegates from Japan and Korea were present.
Participation of new delegates from Bhutan, Sikkhim and Tibet was a specially encouraging feature as most of them were Mahayanists.
Massive crowds following different faiths in the region keenly awaited the arrival of the guests at the entrance to Mulagandhikuti Vihara, Sarnath, venue of the Second Conference, where the Buddha delivered the first sermon.
A colourfully decorated pavilion with a special dais, packed to capacity by invitees, delegates, observers and spectators keen to gain a first-hand view of the historic event, covered the facade of the Vihara.
President of the Mahabodhi Society India, Ven. Dr. Mapalagama Vipulasara Nayaka Thero, Secretary Ven. Dr. Dodangoda Revatha, Governor of Uttara Pradesh B. Satya Narayan Reddy, Ven. Dr. S. Reinpoche, Director of the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies - Saranath, Dr. Dan Ji Guptha, Mayor of Lucknow, Mohamed Swalek Ansari, Mayor of Varanassi, Col. George Ranatunga, Founder President, Prem Bahadur Sakya (Nepal) and Dadasaheb Rupwate (Bombay) Vice Presidents occupied seats in the rostrum for the ceremonial sessions which lasted three hours in the afternoon of April 10, 1992.
Participation of the Central Government of India was made by (then) Minister for Heavy Industries, P.K. Thungam.
Governor of Uttara Pradesh, Satya Narayan Reddy making the inaugural address said. "The spectre of violence and terrorism was haunting humanity over the world. But we should be optimistic that a super human came to the rescue of all mankind.
Buddha was such a great son of the Indian soil who delivered the message of peace and salvation. This conference no doubt will awaken the hearts of men to that noble truth preached by Him."
The conference achieved its aspirations - with the united call of nearly one-third of the world Buddhist population there represented to emphasise the mission of universal Peace - to bring awareness to the entire universe that the Satara Brahma Viharanas - the Four Sublime states of consciousness denoting the four noble qualities of the heart, when developed lift man to the highest level of being, to be a perfect man.
These four noble qualities are (1) Metta - all embracing loving kindness building up generosity, friendliness without enmity, hatred and anger (2) Karuna - Compassion - the desire to free those who suffer (3) Muditha - Sympathetic Joy or rejoicing as against envy to promote only virtues and mutual happiness and prosperity and (4) Upekkha - Equanimity or composure of the mind. They must be included in the minds of men who are at the helm of affairs, the world leaders and the like who decide on the destiny of man.
Leaders who are guided by the teachings of great religions, leaders imbibed with the sublime truths who live in them and practise them are those who have universal love for mankind. It is through the Teachings of the Buddha that we can have inner peace, achieve unity and then world peace.
The Asian Continent from China through India to Asia Minor has been the home of several great religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. The superior task of those religious prophets was to rescue man from evil, a unifying effort advanced in diversity; to inculcate purity in thought, expression and action so that loving kindness, fraternity and universal peace could be achieved in the regular process of civilization whether it be Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Muslim civilization.
The curator at the Taxila Museum, off Rawalpindi (in Pakistan) spoke with great pride of the Buddha Statues preserved there - the ancient University. Way back in 1919 A.D. Buddha relics from Dharmarajika Stupa in Taxila had been gifted to Sri Lanka by the (former) Government, and these relics have been enshrined in the precincts of the Dalada Maligawa, Kandy.
Again in 1958 the Pakistan Government gifted Sacred relics of the Buddha, excavated from the Kalavan Stupa, in the same region. On a third occasion, a casket of Hair Relics of the Buddha found in Chittagong of East Pakistan (Presently in Bangladesh) was gifted through Mr. M.M. Mahrooff, Sri Lankan Ambassador to Sri Lanka by the Pakistan Government on November 11, 1959.
These relics of a very rare category were received with great veneration by Gate Mudaliyar L.M.W. Senanayake, his brother and sister all of Madampe (Chilaw District) through the Government of Sri Lanka and enshrined them in the Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi Stupa at Senanayake Aramaya at Madampe to commemorate the Buddha Jayanthi Year.
Unlike the movable relics, the Giant Statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan are immovable. Hence it is of national pride for that country to protect such invaluable treasures from vandals and iconoclasts, and provide necessary facilities for tourists, scholars and historians to study them. This matter is undoubtedly a subject which concerns the Asian Buddhist Congress.
The Third Biennial Assembly of the ABC to be held 12th - 15th May 1993 at the BMICH was cancelled owing to unforeseen circumstances - death of President Premadasa, on May Day 1993. Two years later, Colonel Geroge Ranatunga, Founder President of the ABC died on 19th May 1995, which event definitely occasioned a setback to the activities of the Congress.
The Congress is however fortunate to have got a new lease of life under the present leadership of Ven. Dr. Mapalagama Vipulasara Nayaka Thero, who served the Executive Committee since its inception. He is not only a missionary of culture well known in any part of the world, but also the President of the Mahabodhi Society India.
He assumed office as President of the ABC in January this year, and finalised arrangements to hold the Fourth Biennial Assembly of the Congress in Sri Lanka. The sessions were held from May 15 to 17.
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