Recent trends of Indian politics and Buddhism | Daily News

Recent trends of Indian politics and Buddhism

Nalanda University

Soft power tools presently used by the West are Hollywood, music and brand names. It is now becoming obvious the short life span of those cultures. In fact those cultural tools are miserably malfunctioning because those superficial "cultures" does not have the "muscle" or function as a vehicle to drive the objectives that Buddhism is able to achieve as a soft-power tool.

These are the realities that India and China have now understood. Indian Prime Minister's speech when he visited Sri Lanka as well as in his recent speeches delivered in his home country also highlighted this fact. On the other hand, Buddhism also has been able to generate a spiritual awakening amongst the people of the West probing for a calmer and philosophical meaning to their lives.

Asia also on the other hand needs to move away from the terrain of material pleasures. It is also important to note that Bangladesh, Maldives, Afghanistan were also all Buddhist nations once upon a time. In the above background, it is no coincidence that both India and China are now digging ancient links to Buddhism to use for its own strategic advantage.

Recent developments

Both China and India is now trying Buddhism to be used politically as a soft-power tool. Last week India declared one of their Cities as Buddhist spiritual Capital of the country. China hosted the first World Buddhist Forum in 2006 - attention was diverted to reviving Lumbini (the birthplace of the Buddha in Nepal) by investing USD 3 billion. India responded with supporting the Global Buddhist Congregation in Delhi. China has an edge because Buddhism is a fast-growing paradigm now in China whilst India is simply trying to use smart ways to counter Chinese hegemony.

China has often kept away India from regional links in South East Asia portraying India as an outsider but we can see through numerous trade agreements and visits that India is countering these drives using the cultural tool of Buddhism. For example as a strategic initiative, India is now looking at reviving Nalanda University.

India has even gone on to sponsor the International Conference on Buddhist Cultural Heritage in Yangon/Myanmar in an obvious bid to reach out to the 89% Buddhists in Myanmar. India also went on to take the "Kapilavastu Relics" preserved in the National Museum in Sri Lanka which showed how hundreds of thousands of Sinhalese Buddhists queue to pay homage.

Sri Lankan scenario

Scenarios related to Buddhism which has not yet understood by our leaders, is as follows:

Related to Buddhism, Sri Lanka does not need to do anything of that sort of digging as such, because it is already on the surface. Question is why we do not use Buddhism as a soft-power tool to forge greater ties with the Buddhist nations as well as spiritually invade into a fast growing Buddhist awakening in the Western hemisphere? We are all well aware that both India and China are rivals for supremacy in Asia and both are looking for new strategies to tap resources needed to strengthen that supremacy. India and China nations though they put Buddhism aside for other priorities, they are now realizing that their answer for regional supremacy lies with Buddhism. I wonder why Sri Lanka's policy makers are not planning to utilize this power, which is right under their very nose.

It is a tragic truth that misinterpretation of Buddhism's gentle philosophy advocating right to life for both man and animals, attributed to its decline.

However, it is not too late for Sri Lanka to spearhead Buddhist teachings in its right spirit through Buddhist students, cultural links including both East and Western students and the exchange of Buddhist thoughts, views, discussions and other cultural programmes - there is a whole world of ways and means that Sri Lanka is able to use Buddhism to its advantage - our question is why is it lying dormant?

Historical clarification

The Buddha was born in Nepal. The Buddha achieved enlightenment in India. Buddhism was later subsumed by Hinduism. Until now, none of India's governments sought to even consider reviving the lost place given to Buddhism. Historically, Buddhism was abandoned by India and its leaders never gave any prominence to it though the spread of Buddhism historically took place on its own way. China too opted to set aside Buddhism, until the emergence of its recent realization of how powerful if Buddhism could be used as a power tool.


India is not a predominately Buddhist country. Only 7% of Indians are Buddhist. Buddhism is accepted by only a handful of Indians who are more interested in the philosophical aspects of the Buddha's teachings. They are not interested or committed to Buddhism and would never desire to give up their Brahmin practices. India and China are now simply trying to stage a drama by acting as Buddhist. That is why Sri Lanka as a genuine Buddhist nation, needs to exert its supremacy because no one can challenge them. While China and India battling aggressively market on how to use Buddhism to its full potential, question is why Sri Lanka's Foreign Service is not using a tool already available? With so many missions and manpower, why is Sri Lanka not using this soft-power diplomacy that would certainly work to our advantage on international forums like UN/UNHRC etc.,?

Strategy for using Buddhism as a power tool

The populations of Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Mongolia and China are very powerful sources to tap by using Buddhism as a soft-power. For that, Sri Lanka needs to device culturally and religiously focus strategies to alleviate political standings of those countries. With all the facilities such as Buddhist foundations/ organizations/ Buddhist scholars already available it is timely for Sri Lanka's leaders to use every avenue available to tap into these resources and make Buddhism a soft-power tool instead of watching other nations that abandoned Buddhism to take the lead not out of interest for Buddhism but probably to use it as a political tool.

Our ancient irrigation technology which was based on Buddhist guidelines is also another area which should be exposed to the world which is currently heading to an environmental disaster. Buddhist based ancient technologies addressed the total eco system in producing foods and the western system addresses only the hunger of mankind which is in fact only one link of a total eco cycle. Buddhist system of producing food from nature was a deal with it and not a confrontation as being practiced now because mankind definitely failed in such confrontations. Kidney disease in Sri Lanka which kills average one beneficiary farmer of so-called modern irrigation project is a good illustration for the plight of pure western approaches in dealing with the natural eco system.


Buddhism is a kind of software which could be used to hack the military hardwares used by super powers to conquer the world. That soft power tool is available in Sri Lanka. It is within Sri Lanka's capability to unite the nations of Asia using the Buddhist soft-power tool politically. Buddhism should be treated as a powerful tool that policy makers need to seriously look upon.

There is a need to identify right advisors in this approach. Politicians, whether they are Buddhist or not, should be smart enough to judge themselves whether these so-called Buddhist advisors around them are advising them on the right direction! During the Buddha's time there were no Buddhists. People became Buddhists first after listening to what the Buddha preached with open mind. Understanding the Terms of Reference (TOR) to be followed in its right spirit is the first step to comprehend any new mission. It applies to Buddhism too.

Any new TOR can be comprehended only by listening with an open mind. Right knowledge about the address of the final destination meant in the Buddhist mission is the starting step. For that, in the political field, politicians should play a Vignu Role. Meaning of Vignu is not educated as such but rather the ability to be open minded honestly, towards alternative ideas and paradigms. Right advisors will then appear. They are around. It is matter of become smart enough to recognize them. Thanks to Internet, lot of such right advisors for the strategy proposed in this note have also now become accessible. To use Buddhism as a soft political power tool, it must have "native ownership". It is already fulfilled in Sri Lanka because Buddhism is still enshrined in our Constitution.