P. Stobdan drills down into the Chinese Government’s use of Buddhist Soft Power narrative.
“It is ironic that India no longer has the fuel for spinning its own dharma wheel, leave aside replenishing others’. Instead, China’s version of Buddhism is already having immense consequences for the Asian landscape.
The spectre of China’s economic rise has certainly boosted people’s quest for spirituality. In fact, after having failed to project Confucianism as an ideal alternative guide for ethical standards, the Chinese state has been patronising Buddhism as an important social and spiritual movement, realising that it would also make China more acceptable to the world outside.
The world didn’t realise how and when China injected new life into the hitherto moribund Buddhist Association of China (BAC), established in 1953. The BAC’s activities have grown phenomenally both within China and outside.
Within China, the number people who believe in Buddhism seems to have risen at an astonishing rate. As told to this author recently by the prominent Chinese scholar Hu Shisheng, the total number of people professing a combination of Buddhism and Taoism in China would be almost one billion. In fact, for the Chinese, Buddha is not just a teacher but also considered a God to be worshiped by those seeking salvation.
But it is the external dimension of Buddhism that the Chinese are keenly promoting. The Chinese are already translating their economic weight into spiritual might – aggressively projecting China as the chief patron of Buddhism at a global scale. In fact, Beijing is doing everything possible to build psychological links with the people of other nations through Buddhism.
Not only has the BAC deepened links with overseas Chinese Buddhists, but also with other Asian Buddhist nations. With the idea of setting up Confucius centres world over being abandoned, China seems to be using Buddhism as the latest tool to project the country’s softer image and its ‘peaceful rise’ onto the global stage.
Never has China project Buddhism at a global scale like this before. After 1949, China held the World Buddhist Forum for the first time in 2006. The forum, held four times since, drew thousands of monks from across the world. China now plans build Lingshan city as the Vatican for Buddhism.
Almost every prominent Buddhist institution in the world seems to have fallen into the BAC’s fold. The most prominent, the World Buddhist Sangha Council founded in Sri Lanka in 1966, is run directly by Chinese masters.
Similarly, the prestigious World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB), founded in Si Lanka in 1955 by 25 nations (headquartered in Bangkok), is currently headed by Masters Hsing Yun and Yi Chen of China and Taiwan. China also hosted the annual general conference of the WFB in 2014 in the city of Baoji, that drew global Buddhist leaders.
China’s outreach programme extends to cover the sanghas of both Therāvāda and Mahāyāna traditions in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Korea, Mongolia and other countries. Chinese Buddhists make generous donations to deepen institutional ties through funding Buddhist projects and assisting educational systems, such as the daham pasala education system in Sri Lanka. The Chinese Mahāyāna institutions devote funding for reviving new bhikkhu and bhikkhuni-sanghas across Asia.
It is another irony that Buddhist globalisation and diplomacy, originally practiced by Indian emperors such as Ashoka and Kanishka, is now being lifted by the Chinese to embed into their soft power game. Beijing has started helping friendly countries repair, renovate, resurrect and even build new Buddhist institutions. China garners support in favour of friendly countries to hold major international events such as the UN Vesak Day.”
This is what 70 year old Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche thought in 1992 to be the best way to preserve Tibetan Buddhism.