The deputy abbot of the Wat Phra Chetuphon royal temple gives his thoughts. The Holy Father is simple, kind and serene, and the world “should take him as an example”. For him, “Christianity and Buddhism are similar to the wings of a bird: they work together and allow the animal to fly.”
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – After Pope Francis’s apostolic journey to Thailand (20-23 November), the friendship between Catholicism and Buddhism is even deeper, says Phra Rajapariyattimuni (Ven Thiab Malai), speaking to AsiaNews.
Deputy abbot at the Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimonmangkhalaram Rajwaramahawihan royal temple, also known as Wat Pho, the Venerable teaches at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU), Thailand’s oldest and most prestigious Buddhist university.
“His Holiness’s visit is the latest chapter in an almost fifty-year-old fraternal relationship between our two religions. The latter took its first steps on 5 June 1972, when Pope Paul VI received Somdet Phra Ariyavongsagatanana VII (born Pun Puṇṇasiri, known as Somdet Phra Wannarat), the 17th Supreme Patriarch of Thai Buddhism and former abbot of this temple,” said the Wat Pho deputy abbot.
More recently, several meetings cemented this friendship, Phra Rajapariyattimuni explained. The first took place over a year ago, on 16 May 2018 (video) when a delegation sent by the Sangha Assembly of Wat Phra Chetuphon (the temple’s highest religious authority) gave Pope Francis the translations in Pali-Thai characters of the Holy Scriptures of Phra Malai, an ancient sacred Buddhist text that King Rama VII had given to Pius XI in 1934. The delegation included Phra Rajapariyattimuni (picture 1), who contributed to the three-year work as director of the Transliteration Committee.
Between 1 November and 11 November 2018, Wat Phra Chetuphon celebrated the temple’s 230th anniversary. For the occasion, the abbot, the Venerable Phra Thepweeraporn, had invited representatives of the Holy See to take part in the celebrations. On 9 November, he welcomed a delegation from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue led by its secretary Mgr Ángel Ayuso Guixot, who now chairs the Council.
Between 7 and 9 March 2019, the Sangha Assembly of Wat Phra Chetuphon came to the Vatican for the conference on Religions and Sustainable Development Goals, organised by the Holy See and the United Nations (UN). The event provided another opportunity for meeting Pope Francis.
"Thailand is a Buddhist country, but friendship has no religion", stressed the monk. “For this reason, Pope Francis' visit to our country made all Thai, monks or lay people, happy. I met His Holiness twice.
“I exchanged only a few words with him, but I noticed three distinctive features in his personality. The Holy Father is above all a simple man: he leads a modest life but is capable of high thoughts; he is a person with a good heart, kind to all: just look when he stops to kiss children, seniors and the disabled; finally, the pontiff is contented, satisfied by what he has and does not want luxurious things.
"The whole world, regardless of religion, should take him as an example and aspire to these three things: simplicity, kindness and fulfilment".
Phra Rajapariyattimuni is “convinced that all religions have the same purpose: to educate people so that they do not do bad deeds. Buddhism and Christianity aspire to answer the same questions: ‘How can we create peace, calm and harmony within society?’. ‘How can we serve and care for the weakest?’ ‘How can we prevent wars?’”
“In light of these questions, the two religions can establish a fruitful collaboration. Despite the differences, Christians and Buddhists are called to respond to the same call. Christianity and Buddhism are similar to the wings of a bird: they work together and allow the animal to fly. Friendship leads to collaboration and, through the latter, to a common path. Thus, we can do good and achieve harmony.”
For Wat Pho’s deputy abbot, “In Thailand, Christians work in a Buddhist community without trying to convert people. The same applies to Buddhists.”
“When Pope John Paul II visited Thailand, I was a young monk aged 23-24. At that time, some Buddhists did not understand the meaning of his coming. This time there were no problems, just happiness. I am a witness to the long friendship between Thai Buddhism and Catholicism.
“In the past few days, many Buddhists took part in official events, including Mass, a Christian religious function, at the National Stadium. This is proof of the good relationship that binds us.”