China thinks Buddhism
by Senaka Weeraratna on 17 Oct 2014 3 Comments

China is hosting the 27th World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) General Conference at Baoji City in Shaanxi province, north east China (October 16-18, 2014), its first time ever. China will likely use the occasion to convey to the world that in future it intends not only to be an economic and military superpower but also a source of enlightened thinking and civilisational influence, based on Buddhism.    


Baoji city was chosen as the venue of the WFB Conference because Shaanxi is the birthplace of the ancient Chinese civilisation. Xi’an was the capital city during the reign of 13 dynasties (Zhou, Qing, Han and Tang), which in total lasted over 1100 years. Buddhism which originated in India was first received in Shaanxi Province.


Buddhism is deeply rooted in China and is an integral part of the culture and civilisation. It is the only outside influence that was allowed to integrate successfully into Chinese society over a period of over a thousand years by a community (Chinese) fully conscious of its place in history and in the unfolding world. 


Though all religions in China suffered a setback during the period of Chinese Communism and particularly during the ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’ in the mid-1960s, Chinese Buddhism has steadily recovered and is rapidly expanding registering the fastest growth for any religion in China. The number of adherents varies from a conservative 300 million to a liberal interpretation of over one billion.  


Chinese Buddhism can be expected to be a major drive in the future, using advancements made in technology and wealth. The Chinese polity is discovering the priceless value of Buddhism and its huge potential in bonding with other countries in Asia and particularly India. The recent moves on the part of China and India (under Prime Minister Narendra Modi) to draw closer to each other in many spheres using historical Buddhist civilisational and cultural links bodes well for both countries and the greater stability of Asia.


In the colonial period, the Chinese and other Asian peoples were forced to watch in despair the inroads that Christian missionaries were making in Hindu and Buddhist dominated parts of Asia. The Chinese were for decades at the receiving end of Christian evangelization, and of late Islamic resurgence, particularly in the north western parts of the country. 


But today leadership is no longer doctrinaire Communist and sees huge potential in Buddhism which it views as a noble path for moral and ethical progress and spiritual transformation of Chinese society. It is felt that Buddhism can help in reducing social divisions far more effectively than Abrahamic religions which are strongly linked to external forces outside China. Buddhism is seen by Chinese as helping believers to cope with fast-changing modes of behaviour and modern lifestyles plagued by wealth gap and social unrest.


China’s close association and patronage of Buddhism will be beneficial to both China and Buddhist Asia desperately seeking a countervailing power to lead and offset the growing challenges posed by threatening influences emanating from the West.




The theme of the Conference is ‘Buddhism and Public-Benefit Charity’. The Conference will attract representatives of WFBs Regional Centers and world renowned Buddhist scholars, and provide an opportunity for world Buddhist leaders to develop a new Buddhist vision and answers to various issues relating to the spread and protection  of Buddhism, that have risen in several parts of the world.


The German Dharmaduta Society (based in Sri Lanka) being a Regional Centre of the WFB, has submitted three Resolutions to the WFB to establish three Standing Committees on: 1) Animal Welfare; 2) Conflict Resolution, and 3) Buddhism on the Internet.


Standing Committee on Conflict Resolution


The purpose of this Resolution is to provide an opportunity to the WFB to engage with the wider world in addressing conflicts affecting Buddhists. Currently there is a lacuna in the structure of International Buddhist Organisations that prevent them from offering assistance to Buddhist countries, Buddhist communities etc in danger when faced with threats from within and outside a nation.


The history of Buddhism in the last millennium illustrates this point. The map has changed dramatically and continues to change. Buddhists worldwide can no longer afford to remain like ostriches with heads buried in the sand oblivious to the growing existential threats aimed at diminishing the historical living and cultural space enjoyed by Buddhists, particularly in traditional Buddhist countries.


If there are issues related to sovereignty that prevent international Buddhist organisations from directly intervening in such conflicts, then at the same time there is nothing to prevent an in-depth discussion of the ongoing challenges faced by Buddhists at International Buddhist conferences and explore solutions. For example, even the Maha Bodhi Temple at Bodhgaya is under threat and disturbance from a nearby place of worship using its loudspeakers that disturb the peace and quiet in the very environment that the Buddha attained enlightenment. This is an affront to the sanctity of Bodhgaya.


To protect the sacredness of Buddhist citadels is a prime duty of all Buddhists, Buddhist associations and international Buddhist organisations. Organisations like the WFB must rise to the challenge and take cue from the manner in which the World Council of Churches, and inter-governmental organisations such as OIC and even sovereign states such as the Vatican function to protect the interests of their faithful.


The support of the other Regional Centres of the WFB is vital for the successful passage of all three Resolutions.


Conceptual framework


Buddhists lack a global organisational mechanism to help save Buddhist communities and / or Buddhist nations in danger. In the last few years we have seen Buddhists in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka and sometimes even in South Korea being subject to attacks and various kind of threats, generating existential fears among them. Comparatively speaking  , Buddhists do not have inter-governmental organizations bound together by common faith on the lines of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), League of Arab Nations, or common cultural and religious heritage such as the European Union (EU), to speak and intervene on their behalf. Conflict resolution in different forms has helped mitigate and ultimately solve many problems in the world. The time has come for the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) to seriously engage in giving voice to Buddhist concerns on a global level and take responsibility to engage in conflict resolution or at least send fact finding missions like the OIC does, to areas where Buddhists are affected adversely in a conflict.  The first step towards such involvement is the establishment of a WFB Standing Committee on Conflict Resolution.


The Buddha taught non-violence and compassion throughout the Dharma and always recommended peaceful resolution of conflict. When Buddhists, Buddhist countries, or Buddhist institutions are endangered or involved in conflicts, lives can be saved by using the prestige of WFB and the experience and skills of reliable Buddhist mediators to intervene, when invited, in these conflicts.


The author is Hony. Secretary, German Dharmaduta Society

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