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DateLine Tuesday, 28 August 2007

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Timeless bond

Sri Lanka established diplomatic ties with many countries after obtaining independence in 1948, but its religious and cultural ties with most Asian nations are centuries old. Apart from India and Nepal, where Buddhism originated, Sri Lanka has had deep religious links with China, Thailand, Myanmar, Japan, Vietnam Laos and Cambodia.

The Nikini Poya which falls today assumes added significance considering the fact that Buddhist and diplomatic delegations from three of these countries - China, Thailand, and Myanmar - are now visiting Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka shares a rich Buddhist heritage with all three countries.

Diplomatically, China is one of Sri Lanka's staunchest allies. It has never hesitated to help Sri Lanka, which has a firm one-China policy, whenever its assistance was sought.

The BMICH and the Supreme Court complex will stand sentinel to the everlasting friendship between the two countries. Sri Lankan leaders have always made it a point to visit China to reaffirm these bonds of solidarity and friendship.

Even among such visits, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's visit to China earlier this year stands apart as it was a major turning point in the ever-strengthening Sino-Lanka relationship. One of the main highlights was China's pledge to fund the Norochcholai coal power project and several other high-profile development projects.

It was also a success vis-a-vis Buddhist ties, as the Lankan delegation paid homage to several Buddhist places of worship in China and formed bonds with leading Buddhist priests from the China Buddhist Association and other bodies. Now they have reciprocated the visit. This will hopefully see a new chapter in religious ties between the two countries.

The Theravada system of Buddhism is practised in both Thailand and Myanmar. Several erudite Bhikkus from Sri Lanka have received the Agga Maha Panditha title from Myanmar. Bhikkus from both countries reside in temples and Aranyas in Sri Lanka, learning more about Buddhism and indeed, about the country and its people. Thai temples regularly assist temples in Sri Lanka and Lankan Bhikkus regularly visit both countries.

The gift of two tuskers to the Sri Dalada Maligawa by Myanmar symbolises the close religious ties between the two nations.

However, diplomatic and religious ties cannot grow in a vacuum, without people to people contact. Sri Lanka must more aggressively promote its Buddhist places of worship and festivals, including the Sri Dalada Maligawa and its annual Perahera, the Atamasthana in Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Dambulla rock cave temple, Polonnaruwa and Kataragama.

Most Buddhists around the world have little or no knowledge of these sacred sites. Our tourism promotion authorities must take the initiative to publicise these places of worship and sacred sites especially in Buddhist countries and countries with a substantial Buddhist population.

The worldwide pilgrimage market is growing and Sri Lanka is in an ideal position to take advantage of this trend. Similarly, Sri Lankans would like to know more about the Buddhist places of worship in other countries including China, Thailand and Myanmar.

In this context, the authorities on both sides need to establish cheaper, direct flights to facilitate the pilgrimages. Such an offer, combined with an effective awareness campaign, could garner more pilgrim tourists.

The documentaries now being filmed by the television crew accompanying the Chinese delegation will no doubt generate a very positive response among the Chinese population, which is increasingly becoming more affluent.

With China granting Preferred Destination status to Sri Lanka, there is an added impetus to come here.

Buddhism has flourished in Sri Lanka for nearly 2,500 years. With the active cooperation of other Buddhist countries, Sri Lanka has become a voice for Buddhism in the modern world and a centre of Buddhist learning. The visits currently underway by delegations from China, Thailand and Myanmar will strengthen this status.

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In the world stage, there are three types of diplomatic agents as stipulated in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 based on three types of assignment: embassy, consular, and international organisation. The embassy is the primary diplomatic presence established by one country in another that it recognizes. The chief official of the embassy is the ambassador, who serves as his country's official representative to the host country.

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Essence of Buddhism embodied in Dhammapada

The Dhammapada is a book of wisdom. It is an unmatched unique text, which sums up the essence of Tripitaka (Basket of Buddhist Religious Texts). Dhammapada is sacred to Buddhists, as the Bhagavadgita to Hindus, Tao Te Ching is for Taoisms the Chinese religion founded by Lao Tsu based on Tao or way of Nature, the Holy Bible to Christians and Al-Koran to Muslims.

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Inclusive Nature Of Buddhist Philosophy

When you understand the spirit of Buddhism correctly, you can follow and practise it while living in this workaday world. In Buddhism, true renunciation doesn't mean running away from worldly affairs, leaving your family or taking to ochre clothes.

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Diana's 10th death anniversary:

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Ten years after her high-speed death in a Paris tunnel, Princess Diana shows no sign of retreating into the shadows - her most enduring legacy the ability, even now, to engage, capture and divide public opinion.

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