Forum to Seek New Approaches to Address Conflict, Reconciliation and Healing

Religious leaders from throughout Asia and Africa, and representatives from their spiritual and cultural traditions, gathered at the headquarters of the Buddhist organization Dharma Drum Mountain outside of Taipei, Taiwan,from 27-29 October, 2007 to explore how their spiritual traditions can bring new understanding and insight into the challenges facing their regions, and how they can build a framework for cooperation based on shared spiritual values.

Sheikh Bentounes from Algeria, Sheikh Saliou Mbacke from Senegal, and Bishop Ochola from Uganda led the African delegation, which also included participants from Kenya and South Africa. Venerable Guo Dong, Abbot President of Dharma Drum Mountain in Taiwan, H. H. Swami Paramatmananda Saraswati from India, and Venerable Hiek Sopheap from Cambodia led the religious delegation from Asia, which included participants from Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Lebanon. The Most Venerable Master Sheng Yen, founder of Dharma Drum Mountain and a key advocate for global inter-religious exchange, provided the guiding vision of the summit and addressed the group at the opening.

Political and economic ties between Africa and Asia have grown tremendously in the last few years, but there has been little exchange between religious leaders. This is the first time religious, spiritual and cultural leaders from these two regions have come together to explore how their shared historical experiences and common cultural values can create a new collaboration for the benefit of their communities.

Most of the discussions centered on how to foster compassionate leadership – in the political, economic and religious realms – so that the relief of human suffering becomes the priority.

There was agreement on the need to foster universal spiritual values, not only the beliefs and practices of their individual religions. Many of the critical problems – violence, poverty and environmental degradation – could be addressed by making universal spiritual values a greater guiding force in their communities.

It was agreed that compassion is the unifying value among all the religions and can be the vehicle for building greater religious unity. Religious leaders also stressed the need to incorporate traditional spiritual reconciliation practices into all conflict resolution efforts.

The outcome of the Summit was the creation of an Asia-Africa Spiritual Forum that would focus on strengthening relations between religious leaders, and also seek to promote widely the need to engage spiritual principles and practices in the effort to end conflict and foster reconciliation and healing in the two regions. The Forum would also work to increase awareness of how compassionate leadership can help address other critical problems, including poverty, environmental degradation and gender inequity.

The Summit was hosted by Dharma Drum Mountain of Taiwan and was organized in partnership with the Global Peace Initiative of Women. Other partnering organizations included the All India Movement for Seva (AIM for Seva) the Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa (IFAPA), and the Global Development for Peace and Leadership in South Africa.

Dharma Drum Mountain is one of the leading centers of Buddhist practice and learning in the world today. In addition to its monastery and retreat center, its facilities include an Institute of Buddhist studies and a world-class Buddhist library. Dharma Drum Mountain has a large base of members in Taiwan as well as a membership that extends around the world.

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