Commonwealth Day is a little-known celebratory day to acknowledge the Commonwealth of Nations, of which Australia is a member. A few years ago, Ajahn Brahm and myself attended a Commonwealth Day event when Queen Elizabeth visited Australia. This year, I’ve been invited to attend an interfaith servive at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in Canberra. I’ve prepared the following message.
Human beings seem to have two basic ways to overcome conflict: to bash each other over the head with the biggest stick you can find, or to sit down and have a nice cup of tea and a chat.
The Commonwealth of Nations is a grand example of the latter. It is a civilising and humane presence that encompasses some of the world’s wealthiest and poorest nations, joined in voluntary union.
Historically, much of the Buddhist world came within the sphere of the British Empire, and while memories of that time are not always rosy, the British made crucial contributions to Buddhism. It was a British linguist, William Jones, who discovered the secret affinity between Sanskrit and European languages, a British archaeologist, Alexander Cunningham, who discovered many of the Buddhist holy sites in India, and a British civil servant, Thomas Rhys-Davids, who established Buddhist studies on a modern footing.
Today over 20 million Buddhists live within the Commonwealth. Most prominent, of course, is Sri Lanka, which is the world’s oldest Buddhist majority nation. Significant Buddhist populations are also found in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and increasingly, Australia.
The Buddhist community is proud to take their place within the Commonwealth. There is much to do, as poverty and religious persecution still exist within the Commonwealth itself. I draw attention to the often-overlooked plight of the Buddhists of Bangladesh, who have endured violence and persecution as they attempt to practice their traditional faith.
I hope that gatherings such as this, and the values and relationships that they foster, will continue to overcome the hatred and blindness that tears people apart. Happiness is all too scarce and fleeting in our world, and we all know that the path to happiness is the path of love, of understanding, and of acceptance.