Zemithang Conference is Proof that the Roots of Nalanda Buddhism are Well and Alive

Op-Ed, by Kooi F. Lim, The Buddhist Channel, 27 June 2023

Arunachal Pradesh, India -- In a significant event that evokes the historical flight of the 14th Dalai Lama from China-occupied Tibet in 1959, Arunachal Pradesh played host to a major Buddhist conference on 17 April 2023.

Gorsam Stupa in Zemithang, venue of the national conference on Nalanda Buddhism

The national conference on Nalanda Buddhism was held at Gorsam Stupa in Zemithang, Arunachal Pradesh. The conference's theme on "Re-tracing the source in the footsteps of acharyas: From Nalanda to Himalayas and beyond" re-establishes the roots of Buddhism to its land of origin Bharatvarsh and the great centre of learning of Nalanda.

Zemithang, the first stop on His Holiness' journey to India, welcomed over 600 delegates, including Tibetan spiritual leaders, who gathered to commemorate this historic event and discuss the revitalization of Buddhist traditions.

This conference, organized by the Indian Himalayan Council of Nalanda Buddhist Tradition (IHCNBT), signifies the deep-rooted Buddhist heritage in the region and offers an opportunity to strengthen the connection between Buddhism and the local communities.

The significance of Zemithang, situated in the Tawang district, cannot be overstated. As the last Indian border through which the Dalai Lama entered India, it holds a special place in the hearts of Buddhists worldwide.

Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu aptly highlighted this importance during the conference, emphasizing the symbolic value of choosing Zemithang as the venue for this gathering.

Most venerable Rinpoches, Sangha members, scholars across Himalayan region from Mangyul Ladakh to Monyul Tawang assembled to deliberate on relevance and importance of Nalanda Buddhism in 21st century for peace and harmony. Picture credit: Pema Khandu

Zemithang, nestled in the Pangchen Valley, is not only geographically significant but also carries a profound spiritual essence. Its name, meaning "sand valley," resonates with the essence of impermanence, a core teaching in Buddhism.

The local people, known as Pangchenpa or "people who gave up sin," embody the values of ethical conduct and spiritual growth that Buddhism espouses. By hosting this conference, Zemithang has become a testament to the enduring spirit of Buddhism and its transformative power.

Amidst the grandeur of the conference, Chief Minister Pema Khandu stressed the importance of reinvigorating Buddhism and deepening its connection to Nalanda Buddhism. He aptly acknowledged the global expansion and resurgence of Buddhism, while advocating for a vibrant and intellectually robust approach to the tradition.

Recognizing the central role of reasoning and analysis in Nalanda Buddhism, he emphasized the compatibility of Buddhist teachings with scientific principles. Buddhism, as the Chief Minister rightly pointed out, offers its followers the freedom to engage in critical thinking, providing a unique blend of spirituality and rationality.

Arunachal Pradesh, with its substantial Buddhist population, stands as a bastion of Buddhist culture and tradition. The people of this region have admirably preserved their heritage with unwavering religious fervor.

In a world grappling with the erosion of cultural identities, Arunachal Pradesh sets an inspiring example of the harmonious coexistence of diverse faiths.
Chief Minister Khandu's acknowledgment of the presence of various religions and indigenous faiths in the "land of the rising sun" is a testament to the inclusive ethos of India.

This gathering in Zemithang not only celebrates the rich legacy of Buddhism but also presents an opportunity to address the challenges facing Buddhist communities today. It is crucial to ensure that Buddhist traditions remain vibrant and relevant in the modern world, while respecting their historical roots.

Efforts must be made to preserve sacred sites, support monastic institutions, and foster a deep understanding of Buddhist teachings among the younger generation.

Furthermore, the Zemithang conference serves as a reminder of the need for interfaith dialogue and cooperation. By embracing diversity and fostering peaceful coexistence, Arunachal Pradesh exemplifies the principles espoused by Buddhism. It is heartening to see the people of this region living these values and upholding their cultural heritage.

As we reflect on the significance of this momentous gathering in Zemithang, let us remember the universal message of Buddhism: compassion, wisdom, and inter-connectedness.

The Buddha's teachings have the power to guide humanity towards peace, harmony, and inner transformation. It is incumbent upon us, as inheritors of this profound wisdom, to ensure that Buddhist traditions flourish and continue to inspire future generations.

The Zemithang conference has laid a strong foundation for collaboration, dialogue, and the exchange of ideas among Buddhist communities. It is our collective responsibility to nurture this foundation and build upon it, fostering a renaissance of Buddhism that resonates far beyond the borders of Arunachal Pradesh.

Let us come together to preserve our shared spiritual heritage, invigorate the principles of Buddhism, and create a world that embodies compassion, understanding, and peace.

May the winds of change that began in Zemithang carry the light of Buddhist wisdom to every corner of the world.
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