Oslo, Norway—The 2016 International Day of Peace was celebrated with a program titled “The UN Sustainable Development Goals and Religion.”

UPF-Norway held the program at the Wat Thai Buddhist Temple in Oslo on September 22. The temple staff generously provided Thai food, refreshments and all decorations for the event.

The theme of the 2016 International Day of Peace was designated by the United Nations as “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace.” UPF-Norway added the aspect of religion, with the question “How can religion contribute to peace?”

The advisor to the UN Communication Office in Oslo, Ms. Malin Lenita Vik, presented the new 17 SDGs as an ambitious plan to end extreme poverty, create peace and stop climate change in the 15 years until 2030.

In her presentation she touched on the present situation in the world and the need for these particular goals. She explained about the process of selecting these goals, and emphasized the importance of including many people in the selection process.

Having goals helps to focus our efforts in the same direction, she said. During the 15 years of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015) extreme poverty was reduced by 50 percent, she said.

The realization of the SDGs is not only a governmental task; we all can be involved, whether we are an organization or an individual, Ms. Vik concluded.

The monk Pramaha Apinon from the Wat Thai Temple gave a presentation about “A Buddhist Approach to Peace.”

In spite of the many good resolutions we have observed up to now, we still have conflicts, he said. Human beings seem to be more attracted to violence than to peace. And to make peace is often easier than to keep it. Peace seems temporary.

Conflicts arise in the mind and should be resolved there. We are mind, he said.

Apinon said that peace and happiness go together. Without peace there is no happiness and vice versa. He added another synonym: freedom. Only a free person can be peaceful and happy. He elaborated on three freedoms: physical, social and spiritual.

Meditation is a Buddhist practice that helps the mind toward freedom. It is difficult to control the world, but we can learn to control our mind, he said.

The concept that we need to inspire people to spread happiness was central in Pramaha Apinon’s approach to peace.

Steinar Murud, the secretary general of UPF-Norway, spoke on the topic “Spiritual Values and World Peace.” He said the SDGs are universal and are something that everybody should be able to agree upon. Peace itself is something we all should be able to agree upon. But still we have conflicts. No peace has been sustainable. Why not?

Mr. Murud said that the presence of intelligent and knowledgeable people is good but gives no guarantee of attaining world peace. Knowledge is only a step on the way but is not enough.

The true foundation in any society is its spiritual values, he said. It is this foundation that has inspired and developed peaceful societies.

The UNESCO constitution states that since wars begin in the minds of people, it is in the minds of people that the defenses of peace must be constructed.

Peace must begin in the human mind and then be expressed externally, Mr. Murud said. This is a challenge. We might have good goals, but if they are not rooted in our hearts they easily can remain a utopian goal.

Mr. Murud referred to Dag Hammarskjöld, the second UN secretary-general, who said that the world needs a spiritual rebirth. To the degree that our society has a healthy foundation based on spiritual values, the external goals can be achieved. Mr. Murud concluded that this is how religions can contribute.

The discussion that followed contrasted the approaches to peace of the United Nations and Eastern religions. The first focuses on external goals, while the second focuses on the spiritual aspect. Both are very relevant and complementary in building a peaceful world.

Great refreshments made by the temple staff were much appreciated during the final social mingling that concluded the celebration.

Photographs by Pokki Steen

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