The 28th General Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists
Report by Egil Lothe, Buddhist Federation of Norway
The World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) is an international Buddhist organization founded in Sri Lanka in 1950. It may still be far from realizing its high ambitions expressed in its Constitution and similar documents. It may also be less than an organization universally accepted by Buddhists worldwide. Having its headquarters in Thailand it has also been criticized for being very close to the political establishment of that country. Still a significant segment of Buddhist countries and organizations are represented making it an interesting arena for learning about the current state of Buddhism and also a place to extend contacts with Buddhists from various countries. The EBU is also a member of the WFB as is the Buddhist Federation of Norway and a number of other EBU members.
The 28th General Conference of the WFB was held in in Seoul, Republic of Korea 26 – 29 September. The host of the conference was the Jingak Order which is a non-monastic Vajrayana denomination of Korean Buddhism. Having participated in two earlier conferences I did not expect much in terms of procedures expressing organizational structure and transparency. Previous experience with the so called “Standing committees” suggested that there would be time for discussions without any expectations of concrete work following the conclusions reached. On the other hand the conferences have often presented interesting lectures by distinguished scholars.
These expectations were generally fulfilled at the conference in Seoul. As far as the “AGM” (General Council which meet every second year) is concerned the most noteworthy item was the reelection of Phan Wannamethee as president (for another four years). Appearing among the participants was a number of “old hands” but also some new talents that may possibly bring in some new energy in the organization.
It should be noted that the WFB now has a website (http://wfbhq.org/) and a nicely produced journal in Thai/English. Some humanitarian work is also carried out especially by its Japanese member organization.
Our Korean hosts were efficient and friendly and ensured that the 200+ delegates and observers had a pleasant stay during the four days of the conference. On the last day there was a “Peace Forum” devoted to the division of the Korean peninsula and followed by an exposure visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at Panmunjon where the two Koreas meet at close range. Interestingly the Republic of Korea has a corps of Buddhist chaplains – monks from the Chogye Order embedded in the ROK army – of whom we met a few at Panmunjon where also a Buddhist temple was in the process of being built. These monks in military uniform manage about 400 temples in army camps around the country.
After the conference I also had the opportunity to meet monks at the headquarters of the Chogye Order which is the main denomination of Korean Buddhism with about 13.000 monastics and about 3000 temples and centres.
The next (29th) WFB Conference will be hosted by Japan Buddhist Federation and held at Narita, Japan, on 5 – 9 November 2018.