Buddhist diplomacy must be enshrined in Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy whatever government is in power
In one part of the world military interventions are taking place. In another part of the world the soft power of Buddhism is being tapped and not just by the Asian giants but even the West is pivoting to Asia on the back of Buddhism. Notice Western military personnel suddenly taking to Buddhist meditation! In such a scenario when the golden eggs are in Sri Lanka’s basket, our leaders are adopting a conflicting and counter-productive anti-Buddhist foreign policy. The reason is clearly that the descendants of the lascoreens & sepoys are now at the helm and attempting to redirect policy which is not in cohesion with the historical foundation of the country. While the GOSL celebrated UN Vesak Day with pomp and pageantry, the foreign policy statement made has no mention of Buddhism & its soft power role given that it is part & parcel of the foreign policy of both China, India & even the West.
The 21st century belongs to Asia. China & Russia have clearly established themselves as superpowers and leaders of Asian nations. India too is vying for its stake. Former Indian Foreign Secretary Krishnan Srinivasan says “Buddhism in Asia is one of our greatest assets, a definite element in our soft power.”
Sri Lanka cannot discount the importance of its geopolitical positioning. Sadly, Sri Lanka has had few leaders to take advantage of that positioning in particular taking advantage and improving Sri Lanka’s ports.
The strategic importance is such that the West’s economic policies are pivoting to Asia and rebalancing their strategies in the region. The symbolic gestures indicate the importance of Buddhism in that policy. Obama & Hillary were seen worshipping at Buddhist temples, even China and India are tapping Buddhist diplomacy to penetrate to countries of Asia – sponsoring conferences, financing Buddhist religious sites, displaying relics in countries. Diplomatic pragmatism must always take stock of the religious and cultural feelings to connect with countries and the key countries that India, China & West are enthusiastically renewing ties with are very proud Buddhist nations gripping desperately to hold on to their proud Buddhist heritage.
Friendships with countries are sustained by ancient links as noted every time world leaders look back and recall the treasured memories of how relations had nurtured and developed over centuries.
China never forgets to fondly draw reference to the long historical & cultural relations shared between Sri Lanka & China. Buddhism holds a special and significant place as Buddhism has been part & parcel of that link. For China reviving its ancient silk maritime route, Buddhism and Trade are synonymous.
What is important is that Buddhism spread WITHOUT a shred of violence or coercion. The tenets of compassion, right livelihood, and self-salvation is what the world is urgently in need of. It was that success that resulted in Buddhist globalization without harm to none not even sentient beings. This is what stupefies and alarms most who see Buddhism as a challenge.
At the other end it is a perfect means of truly advocating democracy in a political process that is not country-destructive. Buddhism affords people the ability to think beyond fixed ideas and that in turns helps transform self and societies irrespective of race, nationality or gender. Superficial “cultures” do not have the “muscle” or function as a vehicle to drive the objectives that Buddhism is able to achieve as a soft-power tool.
Asia rising to super power status will be a far peaceful and compassionate continent following the dogmas of Buddhism with the economic and developmental changes taking place. Ideals of Buddhism intersect with the political and economic contexts of many Asian nations & is embedded into their “nationalistic” thinking. Elsewhere too it is generating a spiritual awakening especially among Europeans who have found solace away from living in a myth and following faith based on rules & regulations. Large numbers are now turning closer and closer to Buddhist philosophy.
It is easy for any nation to use hard power – military might is never without drawbacks, economics has its ups and downs but a far greater way is to use soft power and with majority of Asian nations spiritually aligned to Buddhism there is no other soft power that needs to be used.
If any country should champion Buddhism it is Sri Lanka with its unbroken record of continuity with the country’s culture and identity underlining that status quo. To use a soft power tool, it must have “native ownership” and India nor China can claim to have given due place to Buddhism in their national policies unlike Sri Lanka where Buddhism is enshrined in its Constitution. However, the issue has been why Sri Lanka’s Governments have failed to make maximum use of it? The problem has been that the country’s foreign policy has been shifting to adjust and meet the religious affiliations of the subject Minister or the external powers that help bring governments to power. However, individuals cannot be allowed to determine a country’s foreign policy undermining the Buddhist identity of the country which is why the Maha Sangha must at a future date bring up this factor for discussion and ensure that Buddhism remains part of the country’s foreign policy and used as a soft power tool in view of its relevance to both the West and Asia.
Hard as it is to accept the West has nothing close to match the ancient cultural historical heritage of the rest of the world. It is possibly a key reason why the West is promoting new cultures that sets out to undermine and compromise those ancient cultures. Multiculturalism, shared values are just a handful of experiments now being ironed out forced through UN programs and international trade deals.
However, sovereign nations and leaders must have the pluck to say that while minorities have all of the individual freedoms and rights to follow their individual faiths, the status quo of Buddhism cannot be bargained or compromised at any cost and must be respected.
Sir Edwin Arnold, in his book The Light of Asia (1879), recorded that “Buddhism has influenced millions for over 26 centuries and the spatial dimension of its dominions extended “from Nepal and Ceylon over the whole Eastern Peninsula to China, Japan, Tibet, Central Asia, Siberia, and even Swedish Lapland.”
Shenali D Waduge