China taking lead of Buddhist World
by Senaka Weeraratna on 09 Nov 2014 62 Comments

In as much as two global religions Christianity and Islam are today given leadership by powerful countries based in the West and Middle East respectively, the time has come for the oldest of the three global religions - Buddhism - to be backed by a powerhouse to dispel the widely circulated myth that it is a weak religion sustained by relatively weaker countries in Asia despite Buddhism’s unmatched contribution to sustaining world peace, unqualified respect for the natural environment including reverence for the lives of all living beings and promotion of Ahimsa (non-violence) as the basis of resolution of conflict.


No country today fits the description of a powerhouse with a close association with Buddhism lasting for more than two millennia than China.  It has re-discovered the priceless value of Buddhism and the role it must play in the dissemination of Buddhism worldwide.


The 27th General Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists that was held in Baoji, Shaanxi province, from 16 - 18 October , 2014, was the first occasion a WFB Conference was held in mainland China, clearly indicated the new role China has embarked upon. It was meant to send a strong message to the rest of the world that the China of the future will not only be a supplier of goods and services, but also a source of enlightened thinking based on Buddhism.


Though there have been major upheavals in Chinese history e.g. the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1969), there is no gainsaying that Buddhism is deeply rooted in the country and is very much a part of Chinese culture and civilization. Chinese Buddhism together with Confucian values will be a major export in the very near future. Using the country’s spectacular advancements in science and technology, Chinese Buddhism can be expected to blend with modern technology and re-focus on social engagement within China, leading to its emergence as a major force in China with the support of both provincial and local government i.e. municipal authorities. 


China’s new leadership is no longer doctrinaire Communist. President Xi Jinping has been quoted in the world press as saying that he believed China was losing its moral compass and wanted the ruling Communist Party to be more tolerant of traditional faiths in the hope these will help fill a vacuum created by the country’s breakneck growth and rush to get rich.


Xi, who was raised in Chairman Mao Tse Tung’s puritan China, is dismayed by what he sees as the country’s moral decline and growing obsession with money. Xi has expressed the hope that China’s “traditional cultures” or faiths - Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism - will help fill a spiritual void that has allowed corruption to flourish.


The WFB Conference held in Baoji in mainland China may well be considered as a new starting point for both provincial governments and the central government of China to foster Buddhism. It will not be a surprise if the world were to see Buddhist missionaries from China emerging very soon to spread the teachings of the Buddha all over the world in a manner similar but more ethical than Christian evangelists from USA and other western countries, engaged in spreading Christianity in former colonies.  


China must claim the leadership of the Buddhist world to better project its image and Chinese culture, which is rooted in Buddhism, and in addition to effectively counter the aggressive foreign religious evangelism in many parts of the world.


If there is any cultural and spiritual base that can unite Asia, it is Buddhism, primarily because the other two great Asian nations, namely, India (birthplace of Buddhism) and Japan are heirs of a great Buddhist civilisation that spread to the far corners of Asia long before the entry of foreign political and religious influences from the west.


On the day of the inauguration of the WFB Conference at the magnificent Famen Temple in Shaanxi province (October 16), China’s major television network CCTV broadcast a news item worldwide showing the grand opening ceremony and an interview with a Sri Lankan appealing to China to lead the Buddhist world and that if that were to happen Sri Lanka will fully support such a claim by China.


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