By Ajith Kumarajiwa
SEOUL, South Korea (Oct. 17, 2019) — After his lecture at the ancient Longquan Buddhist Monastery in China, Sri Lankan-born American diplomat Patrick Mendis arrived in Seoul. He was invited to give a keynote speech at the Chungnam Institute of History and Culture in Korea’s new capital city of Sejong.
“It was a long and tiring journey from Washington, but I learned a lot from these highly-educated Chinese monks at the Longquan Monastery,” said Professor Mendis, who was visiting the National Museum in Seoul.
“South Korea has achieved a remarkable progress over the last two decades,” Mendis added. As an American military professor at the Pentagon, he taught at the Yongsan Army base in Seoul and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) after his Pacific Command’s teaching tour in Japan. Prior to that, he taught at the U.S. military bases at NATO Command in England, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Turkey.
At the Longquan Monastery, which was established in 951AD during the Liao Dynasty, he discussed the application of Buddhist sutras in his speech on “What the Buddha taught on sustainable development.” On his previous visit, he also gave a lecture at the Monastery on the historical Buddhist links between China and Sri Lanka that go back to several centuries.
Over the past two decades, Professor Mendis has visited all the provinces of China and taught at over 25 Chinese universities, including Fudan, Renmin, Shandong, Tsinghua, Tongji, and Zhejiang. Most recently, he served as a distinguished visiting professor of Sino-American relations at the Yenching Academy of Peking University in Beijing.
For his contributions to China, Mendis was recognized with the International Confucius Award from the prestigious National Confucius Research Institute of China in Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius.
Recently he was invited to South Korea by the Chungcheong provincial government and the Chungnam Institute. With an audience of over 300 government officials and Confucian scholars, the Harvard educated Sino-American expert delivered a fascinating historical account of the value of Confucian culture in the founding of the United States and its relevance for the contemporary society.
As well as being a former U.S. Commissioner to UNESCO, Mendis has also previously served in the federal and Minnesota state governments during the Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations in various capacities. He was a former AFS high school exchange scholar to the state of Minnesota and a Hubert Humphrey fellow at the University of Minnesota.
For his leadership and public service, Mendis has been honored with numerous awards by the University of Minnesota, the University of Maryland, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He is the recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Award by the U.S. Department of State, where he once served as the secretariat director of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the former U.S. Information Agency.
Mendis has also established several awards. Those include the Millennials Award for Leadership and Service at Harvard University, the Edward Burdick Legislative Award at the University of Minnesota, the Sarvodaya Peace Prize in Sri Lanka, and the Patrick Mendis Prize at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.
A frequent visitor to Sri Lanka, he is still engaged with his friends, high school teachers, and professors, he said. The Best Commander of the Army Cadet Corps of Sri Lanka, Mendis served as the first Youth Ambassador of Sri Lanka at the United Nations prior to becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.
He has worked in and traveled to more than 125 countries. “Traveling makes me humble and insignificant in a larger scheme of things,” the professor said. Currently he is a distinguished visiting professor of global affairs at the National Chengchi University of Taiwan and a senior fellow of the Taiwan Center for Security Studies in Taipei.