Thailand’s monk undertakes a mission to project Pakistan’s soft image, ancient Buddhist heritage

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Zubair Qureshi

Chief Monk of Thailand, Most Venerable (MV) Arayawangso will return to Pakistan in May 2023 and this time he plans to participate in the International Vesak Day festivities and address students of different universities.

Shortly after his departure from Pakistan where Arayawangso spent three-month’s (July-October 2022) rain retreat (Vassa) in Taxila, MV declared he would undertake a mission to project Pakistan’s soft image and potential of Buddhist tourism. In this regard, he will be heading a delegation of the Buddhist monks and tourists from Thailand and lead prayers on the occasion. The event is expected to showcase Pakistan’s rich and ancient Buddhist heritage and attract tourists worldwide. This will be MV Arayawango’s third visit to the land of Gandhara which he calls a unique place in the entire region, a centre of gravity for the followers of Lord Buddha across the world. “Pakistan needs to tell the world about its rich and ancient Gandhara Civilization as there is no such place on earth as pure as Gandhara,” he said.

Once the world, particularly the Buddhist world learns about the Buddhist treasures which are spread across the Khyber Pass and the Gandhara Route— Peshawar, Takht Bhai, Swat and Taxila—it would flock to these places to get inspiration and to practice Dhamma, the MV said.

Arayawangso visited Pakistan first in 2019 and during that brief visit he meditated at Dharmarajika stupa which is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is also referred to as the Great Stupa of Taxila and dates back to the 2nd century.

Revitalization of Buddhist tourism is in the best interests of Pakistan, he said adding when tourism flourishes, poverty graph comes down and consequently terrorism will cease to be. My message on the World Vesak Day will be to let peace prevail in this part of the world through progress and prosperity and activating the tourism channel will be quite useful in this regard, he said.

Arayawangso said during his visit he would address the students of Hazara University in KP and will also meet the religious leaders of Pakistan to bridge differences and promote interfaith harmony.

About Pakistan’s potential of Buddhist tourism, MV Arayawangso agreed the government of Pakistan should take measures to brief the external world about Pakistan’s civilizations like Gandhara and Sindh (Mohenjodaro). However, he emphasized first the Pakistani kids, particularly the school boys and girls should know about their rich and ancient heritage. The young generation should be told stories in an interesting way about Lord Buddha, the Gandhara and the Sindh (Mohenjodaro ) civilization etc, he said. Then they will take pride and love their past, he said. He spoke highly of the Directors of Museums and staff at Taxila, Peshawar and Swat and commended their dedication of work for restoration and upkeep of these museums. However, the MV suggested formation of an independent board supported by the government to look after these historical places.

The board should be a body with members from the museums, government side and the local people of the area and look for resources other than the government’s funding.

This will create confidence in the money-lending bodies and they will willingly support their projects such as conservation of Gandhara sites, development of infrastructure etc, the MV said.

During the previous two visits, my delegation and I enjoyed the hospitality of the Pakistani government and the embassy of Thailand. Without their support and constant care, the visit would not be successful, he said. He also appreciated the Pakistani embassy in Bangkok and the Thailand embassy in Islamabad for making necessary arrangements for his visit.