Monks to turn Borobudur into tourist magnet

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The International Buddhist Conference is held in Indonesia from November 18-20, with ten participants from Cambodia. BEC

A delegation of Cambodian monks, led by the Venerable Lon Sokunthea, attended the International Buddhist Conference Indonesia (IBCI).

The event – titled “Encountering the Sacred: Borobudur as a Site of Pilgrimage and Tourism for the Buddhist World” – was organised by the Association of Buddhist Colleges of Higher Learning, in collaboration with the Indonesian Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs. It was sponsored by the World Alliance of Buddhists and the Association of Buddhist Tourism Operators.

Venerable Hak Sienghai, executive director of Buddhism Education for Cambodia (BEC), was invited to be one of the six key Buddhist speakers at the conference, which aimed to promote the potential of Borobudur Temple as a tourist attraction for international Buddhist travellers to Indonesia, a former Buddhist-majority nation.

The IBCI was held from November 18-20, in Magellan, Central Java, Indonesia, with delegates and speakers from 10 countries. Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the United States took place, along with the hosts.

Wibowo Prasetyo, special envoy for media and communication at the Indonesian religious affairs ministry, noted that the conference intended to build momentum for the transformation of Borobudur Temple into a centre for Buddhist learning and inspiration for everyone.

“Borobudur is not only admired for its beauty and architecture. It is as much a source of inspiration as it is a tourist attraction,” he said.

Prasetyo added that the temple was built as a symbol of Buddhism’s prosperity in the 9th century, while the faith was flourishing in Indonesia. Many of the Buddha’s teachings are highlighted in the temple’s sculptures.

“It is no exaggeration to call Borobudur temple a lesson in the teachings of Nusantara Buddhism. Nusantara refers to the former territory of the country’s Majapahit Empire of Indonesia in the ancient Javanese language. On this basis, Buddhists consider Borobudur a sacred place of worship,” Prasetyo said.

Cambodian speaker Sienghai highlighted the virtues associated with the construction of temples, such as generosity, perseverance, mindfulness and wisdom, which are important qualities for all mankind.

He explained why these attributes were symbolised by the great temple, which pre-dated even the jewel in Cambodia’s crown, Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century, while Borobudur was built in the 9th.

“It is clear that our Buddhist ancestors – of all nationalities – must have been very confident to build this remarkable temple. For it to have survived more than 1,000 years required perseverance, and generosity in its construction and maintenance. Monks and Buddhists should display the same traits to share Buddhism,” he said.

According to Prasetyo, the conference also focussed on the promotion of Buddhism throughout Indonesia, and around the world.

Sienghai expressed his gratitude for the honour of addressing such a well respected gathering, and said he was pleased to have fulfilled one of his long-held wishes, having visiting Borobudar Temple for the first time.

“This conference was important for several reasons. First, it demonstrated the value of Buddhism in Cambodia, as shown by the number of our monks who were invited. Secondly, it personally honoured me, in my role as director of the BEC. Finally, it offered Khmer Buddhism a place on the international stage,” he added.