More than 1,000 Buddhist monks and adherents from around the world gathered in East China's Zhejiang Province for the opening of the first World Buddhist Forum on Thursday.
"This is the first world Buddhist meeting China has ever held and a great event for Buddhists around the globe," said the 11th Panchen Lama Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu, in his first ever attendance at an international religious meeting.
At the forum in Hangzhou city, he prayed for everlasting Buddhism and eternal world peace.
He also urged Buddhists to shoulder the historical responsibility of defending the nation and working for the people, "a solemn commitment Buddhism has made to the nation and society".
Eight monks from the Chinese mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong who proposed the forum in 2004 staged a ceremony to open the forum in the local great hall of the people.
Outside, crowds waited eagerly for a glimpse of the Panchen Lama.
Monks and adherents from 33 countries, as well as the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan are attending the event which ends on April 16.
"I'm very glad to see so many Buddhists together. Although we are from different sects, we share the same wish for a good future," said Tep Vong, one of the two top monks in Cambodia.
"All of us have come to pray for peace and harmony for the world," he said.
Under the theme "A harmonious world begins in the mind", participants will focus on three topics of Buddhism's unity and cooperation, social responsibilities and the peaceful mission to stimulate different countries, nations and religions to work for a peaceful, prosperous and harmonious world.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent the forum a congratulatory letter, calling on the international community to work for common interests and harmonious and peaceful co-existence.
Liu Yandong, vice-chairwoman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, called for concerted efforts of governments and peoples and an active role of religion in building a harmonious world.
Buddhism, with around 100 million followers in China, is regarded by the government as being more closely related to Chinese traditions and has a deeper influence on the Chinese public.
Qi Xiaofei, deputy director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, said: "The Chinese culture values harmony, which is quite similar to Buddhist concepts. That's why Buddhism is so popular in China."
The possibility of convening international conferences on other religions in China depended on the consensus and support of believers as well as public understanding and cooperation, he said.
The Buddhist monks are hoping to set up a permanent body to organize future World Buddhist Forums.