Bangladesh Buddha Kristi Prachar Sangha Peace Gold Award Ceremony, Dhaka Bangladesh
Following this short time period of greeting with Vassula, we were ushered out and onto a large platform looking out onto a vast audience of people who had come to join the celebration. Although I felt uncomfortable at being up on the platform alongside Vassula, as I was merely accompanying her, I was imprinted all the more on the great admiration that the Buddhists here in Bangladesh give Vassula, as well as the honour they give her as a guest who brings a message of global peace. It also provided me with a brilliant view of the whole scene before our eyes. There were several speeches made by the National Buddhist Youth congregation in the morning; and although Vassula does not speak any Bengala (Bangla), she sat for several hours throughout these talks, as if she understood each word, never flinching in the increasing heat and noise that the day produced. We were invited to join everyone for a lunch that the most Venerable Suddhananda Mahathero oversaw himself in the large complex dining room. The guests were made to feel like royalty, whilst he ate nothing and served us until we were all satiated. There were vast vats of rice and several different types of curry that young men who had been homed in the Monastery complex had prepared for everyone.
After lunch we met with some of the other 12 distinguished guests who had been invited to receive the Atisha peace gold award for their outstanding contribution in different fields.
Vassula met Jenny Lee from the republic of Korea, who represented the Heavenly culture, World Peace, Restoration of light. She wished to speak and to have her picture taken with Vassula, (below) since her friend was also going to receive an award.
We were again ushered into the large marquee area for the life and works seminar of Kripasaran Mahathero. Following a recitation from Holy Tripitaka and an inaugural speech by most venerable Sanghanayaka Suddhananda Mahathero, Vassula delivered her speech as a “distinguished guest “. This was the main speech of the whole mission visit and I stood back on the ground below the platform from where Vassula delivered the speech, so that I could feel the temperature of the crowd, not in the literal sense of the word, but to determine how I felt they received what was being said. I watched faces concentrating on every word, consuming their meaning, as if it were being offered as a gift for those who wished to take; and take it, they seemed to do.
It is my great pleasure and privilege as the representative of the followers of “True Life in God,” to connect with you in honor of the 150th Birth Anniversary of Most Reverend Kripasaran Mahathero, Founder of Bengal Buddhist Association and Dharmankur Buddhist Temple in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. Through the fruits of his hard work and sacrifices, Venerable Kripasaran, resulted a revival of Buddhism to rediscover its legacy. Venerable Krispasaran should be an example to all that without sacrifice and hard work nothing can change.
Today, we are gathered here in a place where we notice the continuation of sacrifice, of hard work that is being done, sacrificing one’s life to serve the orphan, to have compassion for the widow, and lift the oppressed, to console the weak, the sick and lonely, to encourage the persecuted. These acts of charity are signs of dignity and true love that are done without self-interest. Such people are born not to live for themselves, but to be of service to others and give their life for others. They are an example of compassion, while charity is an act of high nobility and ever so honorable.
On earth, each one of us has a mission, which we must complete successfully. But it cannot be successful unless we do it sincerely with hard work and a lot of self-sacrifice. My part and duty in this world, after I’ve been called by God, is to promote peace, reconciliation and unity. It is not easy with what we are facing in our times, but I depend on God’s help.
Our Creator has impressed upon all His creation in his conscious what is right and what is wrong. Now, everyone must have noticed that the world is in a pretty bad shape. Corruption, violence and sufferings have augmented. The origin of any sort of conflict is usually located in our heart and sometimes well rooted. Our heart is like a mirror of our soul. It reflects on us what we have within it. If we have no place for the Divine in our heart but instead carry hatred and war, this heart’s feelings will be exteriorized and they will become reality, for a man’s actions flow out of what fills his heart.
At night, I look at the stars and the planets; I look at the vast Universe. Then I see our world, which is as a small speck of dust floating among zillions of stars and planets among this beauty of our galaxy. And I ask myself, how is it that this speck of dust that is our planet, managed to have so much barbaric violence and hatred coming out of its inhabitants? What inspires its inhabitants to be so wicked? What went wrong with humanity? Why is it obeying more and more the law of Evil rather than the Law of God, which is Love and Mercy? Where has humanity’s dignity gone?
What dignities can the poor and homeless have, when they can hardly survive, due to lack of the basics of life? Where has human sensitivity gone for these unprivileged people? What happened to the freedom that God has given us? Where is the freedom of speech, freedom of religion that, were they to be expressed, wouldn’t avoid discrimination and beheadings in a most barbaric way? It is against God’s Commandments we received from Him to kill. The 5th Commandment says: “Thou shalt not kill.”
Perhaps some of us have failed to speak up about dictatorial leadership, unethical behavior towards others, and have been disrespectful of the beliefs and traditions of the others, either because of fear, or indifference, or of pride. Therefore, I suggest we teach our people to promote understanding and respect for each other’s religious traditions and refrain from denigrating them. With this we will gain the trophy, which is: peace and harmony and unity.
The entire Universe functions in Harmony and Order under the Eyes of God, so how is it that there are so many on this planet who have failed to recognize the Order and the Harmony of God? We were not created to cover the earth with tyranny and blood. We were not created to be murderers; but it is obvious that all these carnages are because man has forgotten his Creator and his failure to give glory to God.
On earth, we all live under the same sun and are but one big family under God’s Light. No matter what part of the world we may come from, we are all equal before God’s eyes. Those who are in different religions are not less creatures made in the Image of God and destined ultimately to live in the House of God. And as human beings, we have basically the same needs; we all look for happiness, we all want good health. Who of us does not enjoy peace? Who of us does not enjoy good health? No one.
It is therefore, our responsibility for one another to cultivate a worldwide awareness of justice to stop this evil and this division among people; We have the capacity if we try harder to work diligently together in bridging our divisions instead of augmenting them; we should become breach menders, mending our differences and promoting peace where there is war, unity where there is division. In remaining silent while watching all these injustices and doing nothing about it, for fear of losing one’s reputation, or one’s identity, or comfort, or one’s life, this is considered far from human dignity; it is hypocritical; and nothing goes unseen in God’s Eyes.
We need a solution. The first thing one should focus on is education, which will resolve conflicts starting with a thirst for the truth. Educating the family, and extending it to our institutions, to our religious communities, to the whole world, telling them that man can live in peace and harmony, and can be reconciled with one another so long as they learn to love; reminding them of their Divine origin and moral values; rather than inspiring them with revenge. We must remind them to become the Image of the Living God, or of our Saints, who have no trace of impurity, no trace of revenge, no trace of hatred.
The world has been over-focusing on technology and materialism and have somewhat neglected the humanitarian part and its realities. Humans are not robots.
In all religions there is always a Holy Law to follow and Holy Books. This Law and Holy Books are meant to lead us into sanctity to be worthy in the Eyes of God. We should enter this Holy Path of Righteousness, whether it’s a Christian law, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or whatever else, and live it, not just know about it, so that our lives can be transformed and through this transformation we can transform the world. We should be like a city that’s set on a hill that cannot be hidden! Therefore, all religions have an important role to play in maintaining peace and unity. I sincerely hope that the day will come that through our efforts we will bring peace, harmony and unity that are so desired by all of us and that we can one day say sincerely to one another: “my brother, my sister.”
The event was closed by a vote of thanks by Mr Anupam Barua, Headmaster of Dharmarajika High School. From there we were provided dinner at the monastery complex, after which, we made our way back to our hotel. Father Stephen kindly celebrated Mass; all three of us agreed that the day had been eventful and had drawn to a natural close. It was almost midnight.
On that Sunday morning, after breakfast, we noticed that Father Stephen was not too well. He was having difficulty breathing and had chest pain as well as shortness of breath. I too had become unwell with severe back pain, nothing that had bothered me in the past, and could hardly move. It was very strange; we believed it was like some sort of “attack”, almost a distraction for Vassula, so as to interfere with the mission for which she had been sent to Bangladesh. Both of us, however, accompanied Vassula as planned. We had some time free in the morning for our trip with Vassula to Banani, the area that she lived in, in Dhaka when her charism began in 1985. We went to the seminary where Vassula had gone, in order to speak to a member of the clergy, so as to ask what was happening to herself at that time. We also visited the house in which she lived and from where she used to write the messages, at the very beginning of her reception. I took the photo below, as I watched Vassula stand and ponder from the doors of the church as to just how much life seemed to have changed from those days.
We returned to the hotel from Banani just before midday; we were to be picked up as we had been the previous day, to go to Dharmarajika Monastery complex. This day was the actual day that Vassula was to receive the award. When we arrived, we were ushered to take seats in the larger hall complex within the monastery grounds. There must have been about 700 people in the hall, if not more. There was a large stage set, ready to receive the guests as they were called to receive their awards. The event began again by a recitation from the Holy Tripitaka, the name given to the Buddhist Holy Scriptures. At the beginning of the event, there was the customary offer of garlands for the guests, who were comprised of Ambassadors and High Commissioners of China, Bhutan, India, and Myanmar. Additionally, the event began with a dance drama that provided each guest with a wonderful example of the passionate zest for art that the Bengalis seem to have, along with an example of the broad spectrum of artistic activity that they are engaged in. This stream of artistic expression seems to stem from a cultural growth that came about due to Bengal being the seat of Buddhism and Mauryan learning. The guests were treated to a most spectacular performance.
The award ceremony then began and Vassula was called up fourth in line to receive the gold award. The honorable speaker of the Bangladesh National Assembly, Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury presented Vassula with the award, and in turn, Vassula made a short speech of thanks, paraphrasing some of what her speech had contained the previous day. The noise in the hall was immense and the excitement tangible as people seemed proud of the occasion.
The day was drawing to a close. One of the guests who had received an award stood up and sang a wonderful song in Bangla, regaling with everyone as to how proud he is of his country. He was jovial, dressed in a red tunic and with white beard; it was as if the fictitious Santa Claus was closing the ceremony. Everyone was ready to leave with the gift of knowing that peace is sought worldwide. For me, the words of scripture came to mind that, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality”, Acts 10:34.
The following day, Monday the 24th of February was supposed to be a day in which Vassula could go back again to visit some other places in Banani and rest before having to go to the airport just before midnight to begin the long journey back to Athens.
However, just after breakfast, Fr Stephen took ill again and collapsed, having to be admitted to a local hospital. I was able to speak to the nurses who were looking after him, as I had worked in Bangladesh for almost 5 years and knew enough of the language to do this. My job, at that time, was in working at the post graduate school of nursing. The doctor in attendance only wanted to do a chest x-ray; however, I pushed for a whole load of other tests and examinations to be done, as I deemed it necessary due to his persistent ill health. With this added set of examinations, we found out what the matter was and Father was able to get treated in the proper way that was necessary for his condition. I stayed with him in the hospital up until 45 minutes before we had to leave for the airport to fly back. It wasn’t until Vassula and I were at the point of leaving the hotel, that Vassula said, “thank goodness you were here”. I suddenly realized that she had been inspired yet again, and I had the answer to my question…why did she ask me to go to Bangladesh?!
We departed from Dhaka at about 2 a.m and arrived back in Athens the following day after two flights, again via Doha. It had been a short mission trip in comparison to the trips that Vassula does regularly, but it had certainly been action packed.