China thinks Buddhism

  • By Senaka Weeraratna
  • October 2014

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, Qin, 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

First  published Click here to view

Also see pictures of
1. Bodh Gaya Temple
2. Sarnath

Receive Site Updates