India’s North Eastern region, along with her immediate Eastern neighbours, namely Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh collectively form one of the most intricately woven regions at the levels of religion, art forms, languages, social customs, and biodiversity. This geographically contiguous yet diverse region is strategically placed. Rimming the Bay of Bengal to its south, it links India and the South East Asian Nations, and serves as a bridge between the SAARC and ASEAN countries. Fed by the perennial snows of the Himalayas, the rivers of the region rush downhill, meander across rich alluvial plains and reach the Bay of Bengal coast, dotted with ports. In all, therefore, it is a comprehensive geographic unit holding immense potential for secure economic growth and social prosperity. Before the Partition of 1947, the region thrived as a vibrant entity and enjoyed wonderful synergies leading to trade and prosperity, all framed and bound by deep spiritual and cultural ties. Buddhism is one of the common threads that bind the whole region, and indeed is also its anchor-sheet.
The Partition of 1947 bears testimony to how unnatural political boundaries forced upon naturally contiguous geography have led to problems that have hindered the overall economic growth and security of the region. Yet, the deep emotional and familial bonds with a spiritual undertone form the basis of a latent “togetherness agenda”. If highlighted and nurtured, this can unleash enormous energy for growth and prosperity.
In his message to the Founding Members’ Conclave of the International Buddhist Confederation in September 2013, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had observed: “I think now the time has come for some kind of combination; of modern education, modern technology with ancient Indian heritage and philosophical sort of these knowledge (sic). I think we must combine this modern technology and education that provides us physical comfort. The ancient Indian knowledge about emotions, about mind and the knowledge of how to tackle these emotions, provide inner peace and inner strength…”
Indeed such a synergy of ancient spiritual and philosophical wisdom with modern science and technologies and a new outlook for the future can promise a new dawn for the region. India has long enunciated her “Look East Policy” which, in recent times renamed as the “ACT EAST POLICY”, has gained further importance, reviving hopes of ending the land-locked isolation of the North Eastern states, and in particular opening up the region to the larger South Asian arena. Furthermore, the level and quality of bilateral and sub-regional cooperation amongst India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal are key factors for success of critical sectors like natural resource management, disaster management, poverty alleviation, security, counter terrorism etc. However, there is considerable “action deficit” in the region, which inhibits real development and the possibility to exploit win-win synergies. To revive and redevelop physical, psychological and emotional links between the societies of the region, India and her immediate neighbors must use their common history and spiritual legacy advantageously before it is too late. For this it is imperative to consider the role of the religious and spiritual traditions that crisscross the region, such as Buddhism in all its forms.
Historically the North Eastern region of India has been the land bridge that has connected South Asia and South East Asia. It is through here that philosophies and traditions travelled. Thus while Buddha Dhamma was born in South Asia, its philosophy, traditions and beliefs travelled over land to countries that constitute South East Asia. Today, while South Asia is home to the most sacred sites connected to the life of Buddha, including Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, Rajgir, Kushinagar and Sravasti, South East Asia is home to the greatest number of followers of the Dhamma.
It is through such spiritual and cultural bonds that exist in the hearts and minds of the people, that the countries of the region can create an atmosphere for sub-regional cooperation. The effort can be spearheaded by focused civil society organizations. Governments can provide the strength of political structures; corporates and government together can take a step forward by putting in economic structures. There is however a “third space” beyond such efforts which can be, and must be, nurtured: that of a network of communities across the region inspired by the timeless values of love, peace and brotherhood, who can build bridges of trust and become votaries for win-win solutions across borders, thus ensuring overall and balanced economic growth, security and stability. Civil Society initiatives by small businesses, organizations and individuals can play a positive role in augmenting trust-building and furthering people-to-people exchanges, as well as cultural and educational exchanges. They can also help in building confidence in the political and economic structures that governments are trying to put in place, but only if they are based on the timeless traditions of celebrating unity in diversity, mutual respect, compassion and faith. The role of interfaith dialogues gleaning from the life and teachings of the great masters of Buddhism is one of the critical components to forge such a fraternity.
The two-day seminar will invite heads of spiritual organizations, scholars, writers, civil society, media, business, diplomats, policy makers, and entrepreneurs. The aim of this seminar is to discuss, debate and create a way forward for reviving the role of Heritage and Cultural linkages in order to forge sub-regional synergies for growth and all-round development.