by Dr. Lewis Lancaster


Buddhist Himalaya VOL. V  NO. I & II  1993 


Copyright 1979 by Gakken Co. Ltd.

At this time meeting which brings together Buddhists from so many countries, it is well to remember hat Buddhism was in many respects the first world religion, It was the first religion, It was the first religion which cross over the traditional boundaries: whether ethnic ones or Political or cultural but also because of the faith and dedication of the lay community. It was the merchants who carried it along the trade routes and spread it from its original hove in the Ganges Valley to the distant oasis cities of Central Asia and East Asia. The fact that we are here hosted by the Lay Association of Taiwan is part of long history of the support which lay people have given. And they have given not only support but also inspiration and imagination to the way in which the religion developed and spread.

Today, we all inhere it the tradition which has come down through the centuries. We inhere it the teaching, the methods of practice and meditation, the texts contain the teachings, the art and architecture of the centuries, and the sacred relics of the Buddha and the great masters, This is our heritage: the Sangha scriptures, and the relics. When Buddhism became a portable religion and spread from India, there were four things were portable: holy persons, texts, images of the Buddha and relics. All four were moved from place to place. What are we to do with there four during out time? I would like to make some suggestions to you who are the leaders of the monastic as well as the lay groups.


(1)   The Sangha:

The people of Buddhism are its heritage, for it is through them that the Dharma is expressed and it ism for t5hem that the Buddha first taught the dharma, I believed that one of the greatest challenges to Buddha to day is to help to train lay people in practice and doctrine. We live in an age of literacy, a time when the vast majority of them embers of Buddhism are educated to a level which was unknown even a few decades ago. These laity require that religion provide them with the same training and assistance that they receive in the secular education. The heritage of Buddhist must be preserved among the lay people well as the monastic community. We live at a time when the monasteries of Buddhism are facing great challenges. A real of the world which have experience political rejection of Buddhism and other religions, are now having a renewal of the spiritual practices. 


We see this in Mongolia, Russia, China, Tibet and Cambodia. As young people flock to the monasteries en these regions, they will need training and support. The heritage of the monastic life is a precious jewel of Buddhism and it needs all of out support.


(2)    Art and Architecture

The world has profited from the beautiful art works and structures which Buddhism has produced. Some of the most important art works in the world belong to the Buddhist tradition. But here too, problems exist which must be addressed by all of us. Some of the greatest treasures of Buddhist artistic endeavors are found within countries that are no longer Buddhists. The Central Asian areas which are controlled by populations that are dominantly Muslim, may require that Buddhists from other nations provide assistance to preserve and protect objects such as the great Buddha image at Bamiyan. The great pilgrimage sites in India and Nepal are the objects of support from Buddhist countries about there are many other sites that should be given consideration. I would like to suggest that this group might create a registry of Buddhist treasures, much as some nations designate national treasures. We need to let the world know about the most important sites of Buddhist art. At the same time, the recognition of a site as a "World Buddhist Treasure" may help the local people secure funds from their governments to keep these treasures from harm. Buddhist should keep some archive of photographs of these treasures, publish volumes which feature the treasures and in this way help to spread information about the Dharma. When repairs are needed, it should be a responsibility of Buddhists to help provide them with international cooperation.


(3)    Text

The books are close to my own heart, for as a scholar who has taught for many years, I an aware of how important it is to have preserved in out libraries, the ancient teachings. Buddhism has the largest canon in the world and it is going to be constant and formidable task to keep it available for use. At the Los Angeles meeting of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, I urged the delegates to take seriously the impact of the new technology. The previous generations of Buddhism, carved thousands of printing blocks wrote with careful calligraphy millions of leaves of texts, and in the 20th century turned to the printing technology to published metal type editions of the canons. Out challenge at the end of the 20th century is to consider in what ways we will make these text available for the generations to come, These new generations will rely upon computers, and they will use as ordinary vocabulary words such as "on line date bases", "hypertext data" etc. We must make the scriptures available to them in a form that they understand and use. I am pleased to report that since that meeting in Los Angeles, we have made progress. Mahidol University in Bangkok has done the input of the Siam Edition to the Pali and we will publisher a CDROM of the first 45 volumes in October.


In Sri Lanka, Colombo University is doing the input to the canon from that nation. The Dhammakaya Foundation is putting into the computer and the Burmese community in India and the U.S. are working on that version of the Pali. With Support from the Lay Buddhist Association of Korea, we started the input of the Chinese canon as preserved on the printing blocks at Hae-in Monastery and this work will be carried forward by the new computer center being set up at that monastery. At the Academy of Social Science in Beijing, more that 10 million characters of the Chinese canon have been put into the computer and they are working at the rate of one million per week. Here in Taiwan, Fo Kuang Shan has been at work doing input of the Chinese. The Tibetan version of the Derge is being done at Sera Monastery in India and the Central Institute of Minorities in Beijing is planning to input the Peking Edition of the Tibetan. We need the support of lay people to see that all of these projects are carried to completion.  


(4)    Relics

Finally, we come to the fourth portable item of Buddhism the sacred relics of the Buddha and of great masters. Yesterday, we heard much about the history and widespread use of relics as part of the religious practice of Buddhists. The opening of the pagoda here in Taiwan is a further recognition of the importance of the relic. I believe that many people do not realize the potential of the relic for the spread of Buddhism. There are two major ways of practice with regard to the dead. One is the veneration of esteemed ancestors, ones own kin. The other is the veneration of esteemed dead who are not ones ancestors. Buddhism introduced the use of the relic as an object of veneration and religious practice. The Buddha was not the genetic kin of the many people who came in pilgrimage to his relics at sites such as Sanchi. But these pilgrimages were essential for the development of Buddhism as we know it today people who are strangers to one another, who belong to ethnic groups that are far removed from the place where the relic is housed all meet at the place where the relic is housed. They find that people of all different groups came together and realize at this site that Buddhism is not limited to one area, to one group, to one nation. We need to understand and preserve the relic as a way of joining together in the veneration of out esteemed dead, tot he founder and to those who followed him. It matters not whether the relic is in India or Korea, or Taiwan, the power of its appeal is universal. As lay people we can meet at the relic and it creates between us a bond that is not achieved in any other way.


I close with the thought that the Buddhist heritage of the Sangha, the art, the texts and relics requires effort to preserve it. But in this we must not forget that it is also a responsibility of out time to continue to train the Sangha, to make works of art that are worthy of the Dharma, to copy and spread the texts and to house and pilgrimage to relics. It seems to me that you are involved in these projects, may I encourage their heritage. It is my belief that the endeavors of which I have spoken, will in large part be the responsibility of those who sit in this room. I urge you all to take up your fair share of this task, so that the generations of the future will have the opportunity to receive, understand and practice the Dharma.