Thailand’s Chief Monk ends 3-month rain retreat

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Pakistan custodian of ancient sites, has immense potential for Buddhist tourism

Zubair Qureshi

Chief Monk of Thailand Arayawangso on Wednesday called Pakistan a land of peace and reiterated he would spread this land’s message to the world, particularly the 32 Buddhist countries and tell them to visit this wonderful land which was once the centre of great Buddhist Civilization.

Arayawangso who concluded his three-month (mid-July to mid-October) rain retreat or “Vassa” in Taxila said he was thankful to the Punjab government for making arrangements, embassies of both Pakistan in Thailand and that of Thailand in Pakistan, tourism department and local officials for making arrangements and taking care of his delegation.

The Vassa ended at a Kathina Ceremony or “offering of robes and other gifts” and a large number of Thailand’s Buddhists hailing from all walks of life such as businessmen, army officers, lawyers, teachers, former ambassadors and government officials participated in the Kathina Festival and presented robes and other gifts to the Sangha (Arayawangso and his disciples).

Besides, some staff members and the nationals of Sri Lanka, Nepal and ASEAN countries’ missions in Islamabad were also there attending the Kathina ceremony.

The gifts that were presented to the Sangha mostly included robes, flowers, everyday utensils, cups, goblets and small and big artifacts.

Interestingly, Pakistani guests also presented gifts to Arayawangso and expressed their belief that with the visit of the Chief Monk, the bond of friendship and religious (inter-faith) harmony would grow stronger between Pakistan and Thailand Buddhists.

In the Dhamma Discourse (daily sermon) that followed Kathina Chief Monk particularly mentioned and appreciated the Pakistani people’s hospitality and gesture of good will as they too presented flowers and gifts to him.

This shows the people here believe in doing good deeds and giving up bad things, he said adding Pakistan is a land of peace and by hosting the rain retreat Sir John Marshall Ancient Building has extended this message of peace to all 32 Buddhist countries.

One of the facilitators and organizers of the Buddhists trip, Imran Shaukat said never in the past had such a large number of Buddhist tourists visited Pakistan all together. This is the beginning of a new era in religious tourism, he said adding the Pakistan government can earn millions of revenue by providing adequate facilities to the Buddhist tourists.

This all is happening because of MV Arayawangso’s efforts to promote and project Pakistan as a land of peace as well as a repository of rich Buddhist heritage, he said.

Secretary Punjab Tourism Department Asiya Gul also welcomed the Buddhists’ holy leader and his delegation in Pakistan. “We welcome all those Budhhist tourists who have come to Pakistan and assure them every care will be taken to make their stay comfortable,” said Gul.

Ambassador of Thailand Chakkrid Krachaiwong, Myanmar Ambassador Win Myint, , High Commissioner of Brunei Darussalam Abdul Mubdi Osman, Ambassador of Indonesia, Adam Tugio, High Commissioner of Sri Lanka Vice Admiral (R) Mohan Wijewickrama and Ambassador of Vietnam Ambassador of Vietnam Nguyen Tien Phong were also present in the Festival and termed it a landmark occasion in the history of Pakistan that for the first time in perhaps centuries, rain retreat is held in the land of Gandhara Civilization.

Among many Buddhist sites, Pakistan has Dharmarajika Stupa, the largest and the most sacred of all the stupas and according to the Buddhist scriptures, it also contains fragments of Buddha’s bones. According to Imran Shaukat, if security concerns of foreign tourists are addressed, Buddhist places and sites are properly maintained, this sector alone can generate millions of revenues every year.

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