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Sanchi Stupa A HIDDEN GEM

Posted by pakin On June - 22 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS


LORD BUDDHA never honoured Sanchi Stupa with a visit but the World Heritage site is still regarded |as one of the outstanding Buddhism stupas in India.

The authorities in Madhya Pradesh designated the complex of stupas as a tourism site but it is not well known among Buddhists, notably ones from Thailand.

Some Buddhists from Southeast Asia countries such as Cambodia and Thailand have visited the site although very few of them made a second visit, according to a local tourist guide.

Besides monks and nuns from Sri Lanka who occasionally stay nearby and are isolated from the local community, there are no Buddhist religious activities in the area and there is no significant Buddhist population in Madya Pradesh state. Therefore, no Buddhist life or culture exists anywhere in the state, even at Sanchi.

Buddhists in Madya Pradesh are mostly neo-Buddhists, a sect established by BR Ambedkar in the 1950s, according to Anthony de Sa, chief secretary of the Madhya Pradesh government. “But they don’t believe and practice [in the same way] as people in the northeast of India who have practised the religion for more than 2,000 years or who are like what you see in Southeast Asia,” he said.

Sanchi Stupa has no religious function these days. It is a standalone Buddhist monument.

“Yes, people can come and worship here but neither flowers nor candles are allowed,” an official said.

People come here to see the architecture, as it is a masterpiece of Buddhist art and archaeological heritage, and not for religious purposes.

Originally built by the Mauryan Dynasty’s Emperor Asoka more than 300 years after the death of Lord Buddha, the stupa served a religious purpose until the 12th century.

Sanchi was not the home of Asoka, either, but the site was chosen since it was located on a hill or, as many have said, because it was the birthplace and home of his queen, Devi, who gave him a son, Mahindra, and a daughter, Sanghamitra. Asoka later commissioned his children as missionaries to Sri Lanka where they managed to convert the monarchy and others to Buddhism, and thus make Sri Lanka one of the Buddhism centres of the world today.

Unlike other Buddhism sites in India such Bodh Gaya and Savatthi, the Sanchi Stupa has a less direct connection to Lord Buddha because he never visited the area before or after becoming Lord Buddha.

It is believed that Asoka put Buddha’s relic in the Great Stupa, while the relic of two disciples of Buddha, Mandgalyayana and Sariputra, was found in the innermost chamber of stupa number three. The relic was sent to London during British colonial rule before it was returned to be kept in a modern temple built by the Mahabodhi Society of Sri Lanka, which is adjacent to stupa number three.

The temple is open to the public only once a year, on the last Sunday of November. “We are well aware that it is a relic of the two since Bali script records their names in stupa number three,” an official said.

If one misses the chance to see the relic, there are many other things to see in the Sanchi Stupa complex. The Great Stupa, also known as stupa number one, is regarded as the oldest stone structure in India – 36.5 metres in diameter and 16.4m high. At the four gateways, stories and symbols of Buddha and Buddhism are portrayed in sandstone.

Among many other things, the Asoka pillar lies close to the southern gateway of the Great Stupa. Emperor Asoka had a similar pillar elsewhere but this one is the finest. Unfortunately, it is said to have been broken down by a local landlord and the lion capital of the pillar is now kept in a museum. Four lions are the dominant feature on the Indian national emblem.

Adjacent to the western gate is a Buddhist Vihara, which was a place for monks to live and study. From the temple ruins, a path was paved to stupa number two, which stands at the edge of the hill. Its most striking feature is the stone balustrade that rings it.

For non-Buddhists and those not interested in the religious features of the stupas, the architecture reflects the close relationship between the Indian and Greek civilisations and is well worth viewing. Pillars and columns, as seen in many buildings in the stupa complex, were influenced by the Greeks. Even statues of Lord Buddha look like Greek’s gods, rather than the Indian native that he was.

Unlike many other attractive sites, Sanchi Stupa is rather quiet and calm as it is somewhat isolated from communities. No vendors can be found selling souvenirs outside the complex but it is still worth a look.

Japan ODA paper highlights ties with Asean

Posted by pakin On March - 11 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

TOKYO — A white paper on official development assistance highlights the importance of Japan’s cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the country’s national security, according to a copy of the document obtained Tuesday .

The ODA White Paper for 2014 to be released later this month states that “achieving growth and stability in this region has a great significance” not only to the region but to “Japan’s security as well.”

The white paper apparently emphasises the significance of ties with the 10-member Asean in reference to the growing influence of China on the region.

It comes after the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe adopted a foreign aid charter early last month that states that ODA can be used to support foreign armed forces in noncombat operations such as disaster relief, infrastructure building and coast guard activities.

The white paper also calls Asean an “extremely important market and place for investment for Japan” and notes that the distribution network for goods “underpinning the Japanese economy runs through the Asean region.”

Asean, which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, has a combined population of over 600 million people.

Mr Abe’s government sees the need to provide aid to countries near the sea lane from the Straits of Malacca to South China Sea, given its strategic importance to Japan in terms of the import of natural resources from the Middle East, Japanese officials said.

Noting how the ODA has been successfully utilised for the past 60 years, the document says the ODA is “not only contributing to recipient countries and international community but Japan’s peace, stability and prosperity too.”

Touching on China, the world’s second-largest economy, the document says Japan will disburse ODA in “limited” cases such as technical cooperation on food production in China.

Vietnam in rare note of ’79 China war

Posted by pakin On February - 18 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

HANOI – State media in Vietnam made a rare move of marking the anniversary of a border war with China Tuesday with a series of news articles describing the battles of Vietnamese guerrillas.

China invaded Vietnam’s northern provinces on February 17, 1979 after Vietnamese troops ousted the Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. The short conflict claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides and ended with Chinese forces withdrawing and both Hanoi and Beijing claiming victory.

The topic of Vietnamese-China relations is highly sensitive in Vietnam and is usually censored in the mainstream media. Attempts by anti-China protesters to hold events to commemorate the anniversary are usually stopped by police.

China is a major trading partner, but the two countries often disagree over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. Their relationship reached a critical point last year when Beijing towed an oil rig into waters claimed by Vietnam.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung condemned China over the recent building of islands in the sea and vowed to protect Vietnam’s sovereignty.

“February 17 1979 is the painful day for our nation,” prominent economist Le Dang Doanh said on his Facebook page.

“When the two countries normalized relations in 1991, China asked Vietnam not to mention this date. That is why we have no official activities to celebrate this event today.”

HANOI – At a small Hanoi cemetery, Nguyen Van Thao opens a fridge and pulls out a bag of bloody foetuses to prepare for burial — a grim reminder that Vietnam has one of the highest abortion rates in the world.

Around 40 percent of pregnancies in the country end in abortion, according to a report by doctors from Hanoi’s Central Obstetrics Hospital, the figure is double the rate given by official statistics.

A legacy of childbearing quotas, poor family planning advice for the young, and conflicting messages about sex have created a situation where some are relying on abortion as a form of contraception.

There are 83 abortions per 1000 women of childbearing age in Vietnam, compared to between 10 and 23 abortions per 1000 women in much of western Europe and the US, according to sexual health non-profit group, the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

“On our busiest ever day, we received 30 foetuses,” said Thao, who for around a decade has led a team of mostly Catholic volunteers in collecting foetuses, normally disposed as medical waste, from abortion clinics across the capital.

“It’s hard to count how many we’ve buried,” said volunteer Nguyen Thi Quy, 62, who helps Thao shroud the foetuses before giving them a proper burial at the cemetery in Hanoi’s Soc Son district.

For decades, communist Vietnam enforced a two-child policy, using a mix of administrative penalties and subsidised family planning to limit population growth. The scheme has since been scrapped, but its effects linger.

Abortions have never been socially taboo and the official rate of some 500,000 per 2.4 million pregnancies — around one in five — only counts procedures from state-run clinics.

“Sexually active young people have a problem… the public health system is not catering to (them),” said Hanoi-based United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative Arthur Erken.

Sexual behaviour among young Vietnamese has radically transformed in the last few decades — they have sex earlier and marry later — but the state’s old-fashioned family planning services offer little advice or suitable contraception to young, unmarried couples, experts say.

As a result they suspect that abortion — permitted up to 22 weeks and widely available, particularly at legal but largely unregulated private clinics — is being used to prevent unwanted pregnancies more often than in other countries.

“There is no systematic checking on private clinics. There could be another half million (officially unaccounted) abortions,” said Erken.

He added this would put Vietnam’s abortion rate at around one million for 2.4 million pregnancies and warned this figure “will increase unless we do something”.

– Uninformed youth –

Abysmal sex education in schools, a general lack of information on reproductive health, and no access to free family planning services mean that for many young Vietnamese, unwanted pregnancies are a fact of life.

“I’ve done this three times,” said Hoa, a fashionable looking 20-year-old, speaking to AFP after her third abortion at a private clinic in Hanoi.

“I was a bit scared the first time but now I’m used to it,” said Hoa, adding she didn’t understand why she kept becoming pregnant although she and her boyfriend had taken precautions.

Many young Vietnamese have no knowledge about contraception, said Le Ngoc Bao, country representative of family planning organisation Pathfinder International.

And while society has become more permissive, giving birth out of wedlock is still frowned upon.

“If they get (an) unwanted pregnancy… the only way (out) is to get an abortion,” he said.

As many young people don’t “fully understand the negative consequences of abortion” the immediate costs of buying condoms or pills might seem more significant than the abstract risks of not taking precautions, he said.

Moreover, Vietnam’s high abortion rate comes even though statistics show widespread use of contraception — a sign of poor family planning advice and counselling, Bao added.

In both private clinics and state-run facilities, even post-abortion counselling is limited, so some young women end up having repeated abortions.

Vietnam urgently needs to improve its provision of sexual education and contraception to young, unmarried women, Doctor Tran Ninh of the Vietnam Family Planning Association said.

– Pressure on fertility –

Vietnam’s two-child policy, while not as draconian as China’s notorious one-child limit, has long forced families to restrict the number of children.

“If they have three kids, it’s a big problem for their career, they will not get a promotion or a salary raise,” said Giang Dang, a development expert at the Center for Community Support and Development Studies.

Dang added that the idea of a two-child family became “ingrained” and suggested that although it’s been officially scrapped, local officials may still tacitly encourage it as “for them what counts is population growth being controlled”.

Cultural preferences for male children have also led to high rates of sex selective abortions in certain areas of the country.

In a bid to prevent this, Vietnam has made it illegal for medical staff to reveal the sex of a foetus before birth — although experts say the law is hard to enforce and widely flouted.

As a result of the high abortion rate and decades of family planning aimed at limiting family size, Vietnam has one of the fastest ageing populations in the world, said UNFPA’s Erken.

He explains: “The pressure that puts on society — for pension reform, for example — is phenomenal.