The Opening Speech

By Abhidhaja-mahā-raṭṭhaguru and Abhidhaja-mahā-saddhammajotika, His Holiness the Most Venerable KumāraOvādācariya (Patron) of International Theravāda Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon, Myanmar

Your Venerable Rectors, Vice Chancellors, Principals, Your Excellencies, and Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I welcome you all to the International Conference of All Theravada Buddhist Universities and tell you how much I am pleased to see you here.  I truly appreciate the great effort you put in to participate in this International Conference of All Theravāda Buddhist Universities, and in particular I wish to commend you for the sacrifice you make to be here with us today, amidst your busy daily schedule in running your own great institutions.

I am also much honored that this International Conference of All Theravāda Universities, the very first of its kind for both Myanmar as well as others, is being held here in Myanmar.  Buddhist scholars from as many as 22 universities have gathered here to discuss the teaching of the Lord Buddha and how it can be best taught to students in a high standard and most effective way; this is indeed an excellent dhammasakāccha, "the discussion of the Dhamma".      

In Myanmar, over a thousand years since Theravāda Buddhism began to flourish in Bagan in the eleventh century, monasteries have been centers of learning as well as practice for the whole Tipiṭaka, "the Buddhist scriptures".  The Sangha therefore has led in Buddhist studies and its application to daily life.  Fruits of the scholarly pursuit of the Sangha have included their written work on Pāḷi grammar, for instance, the Saddanīti, a well-known Pāḷi grammar work by Ashin Aggavaèsa of Bagan; the interpretations on the Vinaya; Pāḷi and vernacular commentaries on the Suttanta and the Abhidhamma.  Needless to say such work has helped students to access the Pāḷi canonical scriptures with ease.  As to the practice, since the Bagan period there have been ariyapuggala, "those who have ennobled themselves through the realization of the dhamma".  Today, in more than three hundred and twenty six towns and cities, there are meditation centers just as there are many teaching monasteries all over the country.  We can see the continuous progress in both study and practice, because of the collaboration between the Sangha and the laity. 

Regarding the way the Tipiṭaka is taught and assessed, there are two approaches: one is without any formal examination and the other is through various examinations.  The first method is a traditional one, based on a detailed textual study and its strength is the emphasis on reading the Pāḷi canonical and commentarial literature in Pāḷi thoroughly.  And, there are also those who study the Tipiṭaka through the different curricula of the various examination boards, for example, the Government Examinations of the Pathamapyan; those of the Dhammācariya; those of the Nikāyas; and those of the Tipiṭaka.  These Government-sponsored examinations and the non-governmental examinations such as the Sakyasīha and the Cetiyaàgana have indirectly encouraged students to study the scriptures.  There have been thousands of monks educated this way.  The Tipiṭakadhara Examinations, the highest of all, has, for the last fifty-nine years, produced eleven graduates who have completed the whole syllabus of the Tipiṭaka

In 1986, under the auspices of the State Sangha Mahānāyaka Committee, two State Pariyatti Sāsana Universities were set up.  Those universities have brought in new approaches in the study of the Pāḷi canonical and commentarial literature.  Those institutions offer, besides the traditional ones, some additional subjects such as world religions, missionary work and English.  Those two universities have now produced more than a thousand graduates, to be exact, 982 Bachelors Degree holders,  officially called in Pāḷi, "Takkasīla-dhammācariya", and 208 Masters Degree holders, "mahā-dhammācariya".  Recently a doctoral program of study has also been introduced. 

More than a decade later, International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University and Sitagu International Buddhist Academy also began their courses of study.  These two new universities conduct all their courses only in English medium and are co-sponsors of this conference today.

With these enormous investments in the perpetuation and development in the field of study, Myanmar wishes to share her experiences with other Theravada brethren; and at the same time, Myanmar also wants to learn from the experiences of international Theravada Buddhist higher learning institutes to raise our standard even further.

Venerable Sirs, Pāḷi is the language of our canonical texts, I hope in this conference you will discuss various methods of learning the language, which would be very beneficial.  I understand this academic gathering is also focusing on the Abhidhamma and meditation.  Any knowledge derived from there would be helpful to the understanding of the nature of the world and that would be very interesting to even non-Buddhist universities.  I believe the result of a discussion on these subjects will indeed contribute to the promotion of Theravada Buddhism.  This is more so if the Theravada sangha can share their knowledge of the subjects in English. 

Finally, I have learnt that there is one other area of discussion.  Collaboration on masters and doctoral programs of study, that is on teaching, supervision and examining the theses, and any exchange program relevant to such academic activities, if materialized, will be of great benefit to all the institutions involved.

Venerable Rectors, Vice Chancellors, Principals and Ladies and Gentlemen, our gathering here today truly conforms with the spirit of the aparihāniya-dhamma, "no-downfall principles", one of which recommends us to meet and discuss frequently.  This will be for the good of the Buddhasāsana in the future.

With this, I declare open this historic International Conference of All Theravāda Buddhist Universities.