Colombo, March 13 (newsin.asia): The wonders of the ancient Buddhist Gandhara civilization of Northern Pakistan and the ethnic and religious harmony it fostered were brought out by internationally acclaimed scholars from China, Germany, Pakistan and Sri Lanka at a seminar held in the Buddhist and Pali University in Homagama near here on Monday.
The scholars included Prof. Dr. Li Xiguang, Director, Tsinghua University International Center for Communication, China; Prof. Dr. Hugh van Skyhawk, University of Mainz, Germany; Brig. (R) Agha Ahmad Gul, Former Vice Chancellor, University of Balochistan Pakistan; Dr. Safdar Ali Shah, Director General, High Education Commission, Pakistan; Prof. Dr. Ghani-ur-Rehman, Director, Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations, Pakistan; and Ven. Senior Prof. Dr. Gallelle Sumanasiri Thero, Vice Chancellor, Buddhist & Pali University of Sri Lanka.
Brig. (R) Agha Ahmad Gul described how Gandhara civilization was multi-ethnic and multi-religious over centuries, and how the various ethnic and religious groups lived in harmony, in marked contrast to what one sees today when ethnic and religious groups go after each other’s throats.
Brig. Gul also said that the image of the Buddha which we now have, was first conceived by King Kanishka who ruled over the Gabndhara area. Kanishka was also the second most important factor in the spread of Buddhism in the Indian sub-continent and the world after Emperor Ashoka.
Prof. Dr. Ghan-ur-Rehman explained the symbolism of the sculptures found in the Stupas of the Gandhara era and identified the seven most important “treasures” that a Bodhisatva (a Buddha to be) should have to merit that high status. He rationalized his choice of seven from the ten which were represented in Gandhara art.
Prof. Dr. Hugh van Skyhawk spoke on the relics of Gandhāra art, particularly the iconic “Fasting Siddhārtha” statue. Prof. Dr. Li Xiguang shared excerpts from the notes of Chinese travelers who came to Uddiyana (as the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan was known then).
Five Chinese pilgrims, Faxian in the 5th century, Song Yun in the 6th century, Xuanzang in the 7th century, Huichao and Wukong in the 8th century had traveled through Gandhara.
In Chinese Buddhism, Uddiyana is identified with “Western Heaven” where the universal “Jade Emperor” and immortals live.
Dr. Safdar Ali Shah gave glimpses of the Buddhist heritage, including famous monasteries, stupas, and specimens of Gandhara Art preserved in Pakistan. As testimony to the tolerance of the people of that era, Dr.Shah said that there are Buddhist vestiges in some mosques which were built later when the Muslims took over the area.
When Buddhism spread beyond its birthplace in North India, the first two places where it took root were Gandhara (Pakistan) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
Relics of the Buddha were enshrined in the great Stupas of Gandhara. These were linked with other Dhato-Garbhas (Stupas or relic-depositories) around the world, including Sri Lanka, Dr.Shah said.
The Vice Chancellor of the Buddhist & Pali University of Sri Lanka, Ven. Senior Prof. Dr. Gallelle Sumanasiri Thero paid rich tributes to the Government of Pakistan for preserving the archaeological treasures, Buddhist sites and artifacts, which he saw during his visit to Pakistan. He appreciated the High Commission of Pakistan for holding the International Seminar at the Buddhist & Pali University.
In his concluding remarks the High Commissioner of Pakistan, Maj.Gen (R) Dr. Shahid Ahmad Hashmat said that Sri Lanka and Pakistan have inherited strong cultural relations deep-rooted in history.
“The mutual love between the two peoples, transcending any other consideration, is the foundation of the special relationship that is further cemented by the commonality of eternal values of universal peace and love for humanity, espoused both by Buddhism and Islam, ” he said.
Dr.Hashmat announced that the Government of Pakistan through its High Commission will be awarding 1000 scholarships to Sri Lankan students in diverse fields and exchange of faculty members, students and programs.
He invited the participants and students of the Buddhist & Pali University to visit Pakistan and assured that the High Commission of Pakistan will provide all assistance.