International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon and Sitagu International Buddhist Academy, Sagaing
Saturday, 24 February 2007
This International Conference of All Theravada Buddhist Universities is the first of its kind in the history; it will bring together all Theravada institutions of higher learning for a common purpose. The conference is aimed at, in the short term, networking institutions, which is in itself a process building for collaboration; in the long term, however, it is envisaged that any collaboration amongst the Theravada Buddhist universities will be immensely beneficial to any effort to propagate, in accordance with the Theravada tradition, the teaching of the Lord Buddha in all parts of the world through academic study and practice.
As far as the prospect benefit on the academic pursuit is concerned, through collaboration, the universities will be able to maintain and then raise their academic standard. A world standard Theravada Buddhist university, in turn, is vital to the propagation of the Dhamma and world peace.
The holding of this conference in Myanmar this year is so significant in that it coincides with the great celebrations by all Buddhists from every coroner of the globe of the 2550th Mahaparinibbana of the Lord Buddha or the Buddhist Era.
The conference is co-sponsored by International Theravada Buddhist Missionary Universities (ITBMU), Yangon and Sitagu International Buddhist Academy (SIBA), Sagaing. The conference itself will be held at ITBMU and at Woodlands Hotel, Mt. Poppa. After the conference all the foreign delegates will visit SIBA in Sagaing.
The opening ceremony will take place in the morning of 9th March 2007 at ITBMU. The Chairman of the State Sangha Mahanayaka Committee, the Most Venerable Abhidhajamaharatthaguru Bhaddanta Kumara of Magwe will bestow his blessing on the conference and open the ceremony. The Most Sitagu Sayadaw will make a keynote speech. After the opening ceremony, all the delegates, foreign and local, will be flown to Mt. Poppa.
At Woodlands Hotel in Mt. Poppa, the conference will continue until the 11th evening. During the two days, four academic sessions and one round table discussion will be conducted. The first of those sessions is to introduce the institutions present to each other through discussion and exchange ideas on the scope and direction of syllabuses. Programmes of study best demonstrate the thinking and practicability of each educational institution. This proposed workshop is not aimed at unifying the differences, which may well naturally be there between academic institutions, but rather to learn from one another. In this session, as many as fifteen papers will be presented by heads of universities, covering all the institutions present at the conference.
The other sessions deal with, first and foremost, the traditions of Pali studies; Pali studies is very important for Theravada Buddhism as its Canonical texts are preserved in the Pali language. The focus is not just on language but also on philosophy and teaching. There will also be a session on the Theravada Abhidhamma, a subject studied in detail only in Myanmar and a discipline which increasingly receives more and more attention from scholars of psychology. The last panel is on how or if meditation practice can be studied and taught academically. Increasingly western universities have come to study and research on meditation. Here there is an argument is meditation can be taught as a university subject. This conference will contribute to this debate.
Besides these four academic sessions, a round table conference will focus on the practicality of collaboration, for example, on examining doctoral theses. Except in the internationally well-known ones, many universities in Asia have just begun in the last two decades or so a doctoral programme of study. For many, this research degree programme is still new. This is true for all the Theravada Sangha universities. It would be therefore useful for all the Theravada Sangha universities to pull their resources together and help each other in their PhD programmes. At the conference, relevant authorities from the invited institutions will work out how they can best help each other to advance their shared aim of producing quality PhD works. A database of qualified scholars from those institutions who could be called upon to examine doctoral theses will also be also compiled and approved.
The round table conference is expected to discuss issues of shared concern amongst the institutions and put any agreement reached in writing. A Memorandum of Understanding is being prepared.
To implement any agreement, it is necessary to put in place a mechanism of process building, which in practice means forming an association of all Theravada Buddhist universities. As a start, member universities will recognise each other academic qualifications. There will regular meetings and an academic journal for the association.
It is hoped that future collaboration and exchange will be extended to include an exchange of students and teaching staff between universities and joint research projects.