Using Buddhism as a tool of soft power 

Source: The post is based on the article Using Buddhism as a tool of soft power” published in “The Hindu” on 31st May 2023. 

Syllabus: GS2- International relations 

Relevance: About Buddhist diplomacy of India and China.

News: Recently, the Global Buddhist Summit took place in New Delhi in April. 

What are some facts about Shakyas after Buddha’s death and its importance for Indian diplomacy? 

The Shakyas who ruled Kapilavastu after Buddha’s Parinirvana did not have an army. Many were massacred. The remaining Shakyas fled to different parts of the country.  

Many also went to the Kathmandu Valley. They were granted a status comparable to that of the Vajracharya priests, but were not permitted to practise priesthood outside of their families.  

Therefore, in Golden Temple Shakyas alternate as temple caretakers and conduct all the rituals. This is one of the few temples in the Kathmandu valley where a 1,000-year-old tradition continues.  

Nepal accepted a grant from the Government of India to renovate portions of the Golden Temple complex. But, it has created a controversy.  

Many locals believe that India was only interested in this project because it is the temple complex most frequently visited by Chinese tourists. 

What are some facts about the Buddhist diplomacy of China? 

China is home to around 245 million Buddhists, 28,000 Buddhist monasteries, 16,000 temples, and 2,40,000 Buddhist monks and nuns. This makes Buddhism an important soft power for China. 

China has added religious overtones to China’s existing portfolio of cultural and linguistic diplomacy. The state religious system is supporting the growing political and economic power of China abroad. 

Beijing pursues a multifaceted and flexible approach to promote Chinese Buddhism abroad. Its approach varies depending on whether the target country is Buddhist-majority, Western, or one of China’s Asian competitors.  

As a source of Buddhism, the Chinese look to Nepal rather than India. The popular temples in Beijing have a connection with Nepal.  

China utilised Buddhist narratives alongside infrastructure investments in Sri Lanka. China would prefer to use its own version of Buddhism as a tool of soft power. 

In Nepal, a popular rumour is that China will send five million Buddhist pilgrims and establish hotels and other businesses through its investment arms as a big soft power push. 

What are some facts about Buddhist diplomacy in India? 

For India, Buddhism provided an identity of peace and tranquillity after independence when there was intense violence and division between Hinduism and Islam.  

There has been usage of Buddhist symbolism as a means of escaping difficult times. Due to such usage and evidence, India likes to claim Buddhism as its own. 

It convened the Global Buddhist Summit in April to promote Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama. There were no Nepal and Bhutan representatives present.  

The India International Centre for Buddhist Culture and Heritage is coming up in Lumbini, Nepal. Prime Minister laid the foundation stone in May 2022. This could be seen as an attempt to counter the opening of the Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa, Nepal

India’s overtures of Buddhism in Nepal began only after ‘Buddha is Born in Nepal’ became a populist slogan of sovereignty in Nepal.  

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