In as much as two global religions Christianity and Islam are given leadership today by powerful countries based in the West and Middle East respectively, the time has come for the oldest of the three global religions namely Buddhism to be backed by a powerhouse to dispel the widely circulated myth that it is a weak religion sustained by relatively weaker countries in Asia despite Buddhism’s unmatched contributions to the sustaining of world peace, unqualified respect for the natural environment including reverence for the lives of all living beings and promotion of Ahimsa and non-violence as the basis of resolution of conflict.
No other country today fits the description of a powerhouse with a close association with Buddhism lasting for more than two millennia than China. It has re-discovered the priceless value of Buddhism and the role it must play in the dissemination of Buddhism worldwide.
The 27th General Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) that was held in Baoji, Shaanxi Province, China from October 16 to 18, 2014, being the first occasion a WFB Conference was held in mainland China, was a clear indication of the new role that China has embarked upon. It was meant to send a strong message to the rest of the world that the China of the future will not only be a supplier of goods and services but also a source of enlightened thinking based on Buddhism.
Though there have been major upheavals from time to time in Chinese history for example the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1969), there is no gain saying that Buddhism is deeply rooted in China and is very much a part of the Chinese culture and civilization. Chinese Buddhism together with Confucius values will be a major export in the very near future. Using the country’s spectacular advancements in science and technology, Chinese Buddhism can be expected to blend with modern technology and re-focus on social engagement within China leading to its emergence as a major force in China with the support of both Provincial Governments and local governments, i.e. Municipal authorities.
China’s new leadership is no longer doctrinaire Communist. China’s President Xi Jinping has been quoted in the world press as saying that he believed China was losing its moral compass and he wanted the ruling Communist Party to be more tolerant of traditional faiths in the hope these will help fill a vacuum created by the country’s breakneck growth and rush to get rich. Xi, who was raised in Chairman Mao Tse Tung’s puritan China, is dismayed by what he sees as the country’s moral decline and growing obsession with money. Xi has expressed the hope that China’s “traditional cultures” or faiths - Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism - will help fill a spiritual void that has allowed corruption to flourish.
The WFB Conference held this month in Baoji, Shaanxi Province and for the first time in mainland China, may well be considered as a new starting point for both Provincial Governments and the Central Government of China to foster Buddhism and it will not be a surprise if the world were to see Buddhist missionaries from China emerging very soon to spread the teachings of the Buddha all over the world in a manner similar but more ethical than Christian evangelists from USA and other western countries engaged in spreading Christianity in former colonies.
China must claim the leadership of the Buddhist world to better project its image and Chinese culture, which is rooted in Buddhism, and in addition to effectively counter aggressive foreign religious evangelism in many parts of the world. Furthermore, if there is any cultural and spiritual base that can unite Asia; that is Buddhism primarily because the other two great Asian nations namely India (birthplace of Buddhism) and Japan are heirs of a great Buddhist civilization that spread to the far corners of Asia long before the entry of foreign political and religious influences from the West.
27th General Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in China
Buddhistdoor International Justin Lam
From 16–18 October, China demonstrated both its impressive human and material resources when it hosted the 27th General Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB). The conference took place in Baoji, a third-tier city in Shaanxi Province, and was attended by more than 600 representatives from 30 countries and regions around the world. The event was being held in China for the first time since the founding of the WFB in 1950.
The theme of the conference was “Buddhism and Public Charity.” Representatives from different countries and regions spoke on the topic at a symposium on 17 October, while at the closing ceremony on 18 October WFB secretary-general Phallop Thaiarry read out a declaration agreed upon by conference representatives stating that, “We vow to work with all human beings to achieve human happiness through a kind heart; social harmony through respect; world peace through reconciliation; and to promote goodwill through fellowship.”
The conference events were held in the Wanfu International Hotel, the Joy International Hotel, and the hall of the Namaste Dagoba in the Famen Temple Cultural Scenic Zone, and included the General Council Meeting of the WFB as well as various cultural and other activities. Built during the 2nd century, the Famen Temple houses a “true relic” of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, and is considered one of China’s most important Buddhist temples. Reportedly, 7,000 security personnel were deployed over the three-day event. The two hotels where some of the meetings were held and where representatives were staying had strict security measures in place, restricting entrance to conference participants and staff alone. Wufu Square near Famen Temple and the temple itself were also closed to the public.
The Chinese government appeared to take the WFB conference very seriously, and the opening ceremony was attended by Chinese officials ranked as high as the secretary of the Secretariat of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, Du Qinglin, and the director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, Wang Zuoan. Buddhists and leaders of Buddhist countries around the world also held the conference in high regard. The king of Thailand sent a representative to read out his congratulatory message at the opening ceremony, and the president of the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee of Myanmar delivered a speech. The presidents of Nepal and Sri Lanka were also among those who sent greetings to the organizers.
The conference attracted a great deal of media attention both in China and abroad. Just before the closing ceremony, a media reception was held at the Joy International Hotel at which reporters were given the chance to interview specific delegates from different countries. Over the WFB’s 64-year history, 26 previous general conferences have been held in different places in the world. The present event was organized through the joint efforts of three bodies: the Buddhist Association of China (BAC), the Shaanxi Organizing Committee (an organizing committee at the provincial level), and the Baoji Organizing Committee (at the municipal level).