The World Fellowship of Buddhists ended its five-day General Conference on Thursday at a showplace temple in Hacienda Heights with the election for the first time of two Americans as vice presidents.
Jack Petranker, 42, executive secretary of the Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center in Berkeley, said that, to his knowledge, he is the first Caucasian Buddhist active on the U.S. mainland to win election as one of 15 vice presidents for the world body.
“It amounts to a recognition that Buddhism is entering a new phase as a world religion active on every continent,” Petranker said after the meeting at the just-completed, $25-million Hsi Lai Temple. The temple’s opening ceremonies will be held Saturday.
Seen as Significant
Another American, Sunao Miyabara of Hawaii, was reelected as a vice president. Having two American vice presidents was seen as significant because delegates otherwise sought to spread the posts around the globe, including representatives in Nepal, Mongolia, France, Hong Kong, China and the Soviet Union.
Reelected president was H. E. Sanya Dharmasakti of Thailand, who missed the biennial conference because of illness. The World Fellowship, headquartered in Bangkok, has no say in doctrinal matters, but is the Buddhist equivalent of the World Council of Churches, promoting cooperation among Buddhists.
The 16th General Conference was the first ever held outside of Asia, reflecting the growth of Buddhism in North America. The schedule included many social events and a tour of Disneyland, leaving only Thursday morning for the consideration of several resolutions.
A proposal to form a humanitarian Buddhist Peace Commission under World Fellowship auspices drew the most discussion. It was approved after Karl Springer, an American-born follower of Tibetan Buddhism, successfully countered objections by Petranker that delegates had insufficient time to consider the resolution’s ramifications.
Officials of the World Fellowship, including its treasurer, cautioned during the debate that an organization that rarely gets all its members to pay their annual dues would be unlikely to raise enough funds to support the proposed commission.
But delegates were urged to pass the resolution, despite the peace commission’s uncertain future, by the Venerable Havanpola Ratanasara, president of the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California.
Ratanasara asked how an organization that talks a lot about peace and Buddhism’s role in the world could not support such a commission. “It is of utmost importance,” he said. A standing vote, requested by Petranker, approved the resolution, 30 to 9.