Why are Sri Lanka’s policy makers not using Buddhism as a Soft-Power tool?
Posted on December 25th, 2012

Shenali Waduge

We are all well aware that both India and China are rivals for supremacy in Asia and both are fishing for new strategies to tap to forge the alliances needed to strengthen that supremacy. If India and China nations that once put Buddhism aside for other priorities are now realizing that their answer for supremacy lies with Buddhism why has Sri Lanka’s policy makers not utilized this power which is under their very nose?

Historical facts have to be first made clear. The Buddha was born in Nepal. Buddha achieved enlightenment, gained spiritual following and achieved nirvana in India (Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Kushinagar “”…” all located in the Indian state of Bihar, one of the poorest in India). Buddhism was subsumed by Hinduism and none of India’s governments sought to even consider reviving the lost place given to Buddhism until now. However, Buddhism was abandoned by India and its leaders never gave any prominence to it though the spread of Buddhism historically is nothing anyone can deny. China too opted to set aside Buddhism until its present realization of how powerful Buddhism exactly is.

Buddhism’s compassion has unfortunately subjected ancient Buddhist nations that have been invaded and natives slaughtered through history. Once Buddhist nations today are occupied by invading forces who now claim their right to these nations “”…” Bangladesh, Maldives, Afghanistan were all Buddhist nations once upon a time. It is a tragic truth that Buddhism’s gentle philosophy advocating right to life for both man and animal attributed to its decline.

In the modern context, much of the blame for the deterioration of religions in the world is primarily due to the teachings of its master being replaced by ideologies of those now functioning as leaders of different faiths driving people away from the fundamental teachings originally advocated. This is why there is so much of confusions and contradictions that prevail in all religions and why by virtue of these differences there is calamities based on religious beliefs and practices. The present day religious heads are totally accountable for the catastrophe’s that prevail globally.       

Nevertheless, both India and China are pulling out all their historical links to Buddhism in a bid to use Buddhism to its highest potential. The efforts of these two nations to scurry for links should have Sri Lanka taking the lead for Sri Lanka weathered the storms of 500 years of colonial rule and despite the fact that it was the Sinhalese Buddhists who were massacred in trying to save their nation Sri Lanka remains a nation with over 68% Buddhists. Whilst China never forgets to remind India that its Buddhist population is far greater than that of India “”…” though Buddhism came to China several centuries after its spread in India. India in an attempt to prove Buddhism was imported from India to China built a Buddhist temple in Luoyang. Though China’s Buddhist credentials become weak in the face of international opposition to its treatment of Tibet though much of the real situation is often hidden from the world by western owned international media.

The tell tale signs of Buddhism been made a powerful soft-power tool is evident.

China hosted the first World Buddhist Forum in 2006 “”…” attention was diverted to reviving Lumbini with a USD3billion project, the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal. India responded with supporting the Global Buddhist Congregation in Delhi. China has an edge because Buddhism is a fast-growing religion now in China whilst India is simply trying to use smart ways to counter Chinese hegemony. China has often kept 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.

India is also looking at reviving Nalanda University “”…” an extremely strategic initiative and one that should not escape anyone’s attention because it was a place that imparted far more “teachings” on students than Buddhism alone! India, Japan, Singapore and China is part of this effort which next asks why has Sri Lanka not prominently featured in this effort? 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.

It is not too late for Sri Lanka to spearhead Buddhist teachings, Buddhist student cultural links including both East and Western students and the exchange of Buddhist thoughts, views, discussions and other cultural programs “”…” there is a whole world of ways that Sri Lanka is able to use Buddhism to its advantage “”…” our question is why is it lying dormant? India is not a predominately Buddhist country and accept for a handful of Indians more interested in the philosophical aspects of Buddha’s teachings they are not interested or committed to Buddhism and would never desire to give up their Brahmin practices. This is why Sri Lanka needs to exert its supremacy and no one can challenge this.

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. The advantages are many.

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. The success of Muslim nations has been to use Islam as a soft power which is incorporated into its “nationalistic” thinking and actions. The soft power tools of the West are Hollywood, Music and brand names. However such 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.

Asia aside, Buddhism 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 on the other hand needs to move away from the terrain of material pleasures that is moving them further from their religious practices.

It is no coincidence that both India and China are now digging ancient links to Buddhism to use for its own strategic advantage and when Sri Lanka does not need to do anything of the sort why do we not use Buddhism as a soft-power tool to forge greater ties with the Buddhist nations as well as tap into a fast growing Buddhist awakening in the Western hemisphere?

While China and India battle aggressive marketing strategies on how to use Buddhism to its full potential we question what Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service is doing by not using a tool already powerful and available with Sri Lanka? 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?

The populations of Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Mongolia and China are a very powerful source to tap using Buddhism as a soft-power tool and Sri Lanka needs to culturally and religiously use these allies to alleviate its political standing. 

Nevertheless with all the mechanizations in place, a plethora of 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 or belief in Buddhism but simply to use it as a political tool. 

Sri Lanka on the other hand has ensured whatever the odds that Buddhism has not faced the same fate. It is within Sri Lanka’s right to unite the nations of Asia using the soft-power tool politically and it’s a powerful tool that Sri Lanka’s policy makers need to seriously look upon.  It certainly does question the lack of interest and wonders whether it is because non-Buddhist advisors are advising the Buddhist leaders along the wrong path! If this is so it is time the Buddhist leaders realize the folly and address the situation immediately.

23 Responses to “Why are Sri Lanka’s policy makers not using Buddhism as a Soft-Power tool?”

  1. herman Says:

    Shenali the answer to your question is simple – we do not have in SL a Leader who is Truly a Buddhist, very few leaders in the government are honestly Buddhist and most in the Maha Sangha are too busy with non Buddhistic activities!

  2. HussainFahmy Says:

    Soft Power tools are bound to be ineffective if they contradict with the natural disposition of Human Nature. Tried and tested method for most people are historically, a Divine belief system which has driven Humanity to everlasting ultimate happiness. The question should be why people choose a system of faith to apply in life.

    Buddhism is a great Philosophy, would work only if practiced within its tenets. What percentage of 68% of the Sri Lankans are practicing? Are the Sri Lankan Buddhists setting an example of moving people towards or away from it. The more we try to protect our way of life with destructive means the less we succeed. The trend is absolutely unacceptable.

    Could it be the survival of the fittest be the guide?

  3. mjaya Says:

    Why do so many people believe in a great imaginary?

    This question has a simple answer.

    Its only a matter of indoctrination, you repeat 1+1=3 a hundred times and bingo! someone who can’t think for himself (and figure out that 1+1=2) will continue believing that 1+1=3. Combine this with violence for disbelieving, and anyone who figures out 1+1=2 will never dare speak it out.

    The rest becomes clear and apparent for those who can think for themselves.

  4. mjaya Says:

    I always respect the right for anyone to believe what they believe in whether it is 1+1=3, 1+1=4 or even 1+1=9 as long as it is benign and mind their own business.

    If a belief system inspires violence, preaches but threatens violence for questioning it or tries to enforce its stone age, barbaric ideology and customs on others, then its a different matter.

  5. Nanda Says:

    The following statement is absolutely not correct. And advocating such false statements will not help Buddhism.

    ” It is a tragic truth that Buddhism’s gentle philosophy advocating right to life for both man and animal attributed to its decline.”

    Converse of this reasoning goes,
    “It is a tragic truth that aggressive philosophy of no right for life for non belivers and animals attributed to the sucess of Islam”, which too is rubbish. Islam by all means is not sucessful at all. Islamic countries which are not slaves to USA ar the proof.

  6. Fran Diaz Says:

    Our thanks to Shenali for bringing up important points.
    WWI&II, the Cold War (1945-1991) definitely had a bearing on SE Asian Buddhist countries, as did Colonialism. When any peaceful country is invaded by aggressive others, then the peaceful country too changes to survive, or at least changes/imitates in an attempt to understand the apparently ‘winning aggressive’. It’s not really an interest in the true teachings of religion (all religions teach peace), but Resources & a type of neo-slavery that is looked for by aggressive others.

    However, the world has now seemingly done the full circle re religion. In the end, even the aggressive others really want to live in peace ! But will mankind ever really change ?

    State & religion does not mix well.

  7. Fran Diaz Says:

    Also, Buddhism is not strictly a religion (faith & worship). It is a Philosophy and points out the truths in life, so will never change, and is therefore Universal, whether embraced or not.

    State & ethnicity mixes well.

    It is pertinent to mention that aggressive others tend to fight their ancient and personal battles on Sri Lankan soil.

  8. Fran Diaz Says:

    Another thought : State & Common Sense also mixes very well.

  9. Piyadigama Says:

    Self defence is not against Buddhist teachings.

  10. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    husainfahmy – what % of muslims practice islam? while your meanest, subtle attacks on buddhism is getting unnoticed i must say buddhism will stay alive for another 2400 years while every other religion will disappear – even our friend arthur c clark predicted that – he is good at predictions – while your ancestors wiped out buddhism physically from the face of india (also brahmis) – and your last moghul proclaiming ‘ there is no semblance of buddhism in india’ and you say its ‘natural selection’!!! but baloney is that wahabi? buddhism is even above a philosophy – its has no attributes of a religion or philosophy i.e is non dogmatic, no faith in a god who seem to be doing homework of all, no syllogism, no rationality -its a pure truth based on empirical observations rather than hammered out of a bullish philosopher on his own reasoning (how many times i have mentioned this in this forum and people go on branding buddhsim a philosophy) we are ‘conditioned’ to believe in all these western crappy phils and go on assuming buddhism is a philosophy. read my comment on mahindas article on environmental degradation for more enlightenment. your grey matter seems to be dissolving over to you hf.

  11. mjaya Says:


    Remember the dodo? It became flightless because it didn’t need to fly. It was stuck in an island, did not need to fly to get food like other pigeons so it lost its ability to fly.

    The same happens to humans. When you follow a doctrine that where you are not needed to think to follow the nonsense it preaches, when you are trapped in its absurdities, the brain goes the same way as the wings of the dodo……………. :D

  12. mjaya Says:

    Sunil, …. subtle humor is far more effective than arguing.

    Laughing helps improve your health and has the exact opposite effect on someone boiling with hate and vengeance, unless by some spectacular miracle (by the great 100% Compassionate(TM) and Merciful(TM) imaginary), one sees the futility of ones outdated beliefs and learn to laugh at themselves!

    Hope you are enjoying a nice big laugh after reading this…… :D

  13. lingamAndy Says:

    Anpe Sivam – Love is god !!!
    Why are Sri Lanka’s policy makers not using Buddhism as a Soft-Power tool? but Our Sakotharaya Buddhism Srilanka has been given order by India to use hard Power tool to kill 7,000 our Demila Saivate Srilanka Sakotharam civilans !
    What can we do?? Ins Aallha !

  14. Samson Says:

    Mu-ham-mad. It explains everything. Doesn’t it?

  15. Dr.Rajasingham Narendran Says:


    Buddhism will be an effective soft power in Sri Lanka, if it is practiced more in spirit more than in words by our politicians , their coterie and the politcized monks. Everything the latter do is anathema to what Buddhism -theravada or any other- stands for. Buddhism is a palpable living force among especially the rural folk in Sri Lanka. Unforunately, this is not reflected in how our country is run. Sri Lanka is yet a liveable country because of the majority who practice it and manifest its core principles. Though a majority yet, they are under seige now and their numbers are bound to decline with time. To an outsider and decerning insiders, Sri Lanka does not appear to be a state governed by the principles of Buddhism, although Buddhist symbols are sprounting in increasing numbers all over the country. This schizophrenia has to be cured for the soft power of Buddhism to assert itself and make Sri Lanka the paradise it should be. A paradise is where there is peace, tranquility, fairness, justice, kindness, honesty, compassion, equality, security and a decent life for all.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  16. HussainFahmy Says:

    Sunil – Please Stick to the topic of discussion, Soft Power Tool and the responsibility of its teachers. Is it an inferiority complex to compare with other religions? Please stop comparing and start living the Buddhist Tenets.

    Sunil Vijayapala – Posted on February 11th, 2011 Lankaweb.

    If teachers are corrupt what would you expect the students to be? Buddha lived by example and did not commit any act contravening to Vinaya even in secrecy. Well if Emblipitiya Bhikkus grow their own Marijuana what do you expect Embilipitiya people would follow? If Bhikkus keep women in our citadel Anuradhapura and build houses for them and keep families, you need not go any further. If Bhikkus serve liquor to laymen, what example do they show? If sick monks in hospitals have sex with nurses… well the list never ends! Corrupt Bhikkus existed even during Buddha’s time and latter times and they were chased away but that is a thing of the past as the powerful Chief monks in Sri Lanka are the biggest crooks, patronized by corrupt politicians and the rich.

  17. mjaya Says:


    When you play chess with a monkey, all the monkey has to do is knock over the chess pieces and claim victory.

  18. lingamAndy Says:

    Well if Emblipitiya Bhikkus grow their own Marijuana what do you expect Embilipitiya people would follow? !!!
    Why you are geting anger ,
    1) Marijuana is good staff, if you use once you want talk against &
    2) If Bhikkus keep women , that women is his mother,
    3) If Bhikkus serve liquor , liquor orange barly,
    4) sick monks in hospitals have sex with nurses…-he is sick that why he is in hospital , what you expect from sick person
    5) Corrupt Bhikkus existed even during Buddha’s time – Who said Buddha is not corrupt that why he left his kindom for peace ?

    now mjaya is going call me donkey !!!

  19. HussainFahmy Says:

    lingamAndy – Not angry, irritated with people going all out to make more enemies than friends. Your justifiable comments are unlike those with stone age mentality living the life of a barbarian, nothing positive to contribute but hatred and self destruction. They prefer to stay Deaf Dumb and Blind and throw insults which reflects their breed and upbringing. These people should visit the Arabian Peninsula and witness the progress made socially and economically and the steps taken to become a melting pot of all communities.

    Contribution to a discussion is an exchange of Ideas with mutual respect. Attacking ones faith has proven pointless and fatal. Every effort should be made to dig deeper into each others belief and find a way to accommodate them; even if it does not make sense to ones faculties.

  20. mjaya Says:

    ** They prefer to stay Deaf Dumb and Blind **

    Ha Ha Ha! Just look in the mirror!

    ** These people should visit the Arabian Peninsula and witness the progress made socially and economically and the steps taken to become a melting pot of all communities. **

    Hmm, lets see…… if you mix sugar, eggs, baking powder, vanilla etc etc. and get it right you end up with a cake. A communal melting pot works like that. Now lets look at the Arabian peninsula, what will happen if a Saudi were to keep an idol of Jesus Christ or Krishna? What will happen if a Saudi woman were to wear a sari in public without dressing up like Darth Vader? Get the picture?

  21. mjaya Says:


    Lets make peace.

    So we won’t have to talk about, Gurus getting pleasure out of 6 year old “Devadasis”, gossip about Hijras, people drinking sewage (water of the Ganges) full of human body parts and waste, Dalits being beaten up for coming to law college, enjoying a sip of cow urine, Gurus painting themselves with cow dung, how the goddess Saraswathi was born (do we really have to discuss it?), etc. etc.

  22. Samson Says:

    Without fighting in internet forums do your bit to ruin Islam. Americans and others are now exporting large amounts of gold from impoverished Islam country Afghanistan. It is 100% legal. You can take away any amount of gold out of Afghanistan. It is damn cheap in Afghanistan. They will give you 1 bar of gold and 2 Fathimas for $10,000. Many Sri Lankans and Indians who use lot of gold are already buying cheap Afghan stuff and bringing them. You can earn more than 250% profit.

    The more poorer Afghan Muslims become, the worse it becomes for Islam. Afghanistan’s neighbors are Pakistan and Iran. They are the most powerful Muslim countries. When Afghanistan becomes poorer and poorer, violent spills into the Pakistan and Iran. We should help Americans and Indians take everything valuable out of Afghanistan. It is a good business.

  23. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    thanks andy phallus(great comment) and mjaya – yea true this guy hf keeps us amused with his second rated philosophy and allah, hullalla, mahalla. these blind faiths will disappear and truth will triumph – hindus love to believe not in just one god but several gods (just a sigle buddha is not enough)- the gods who were kicked and lost their heads eventually replaced by an elephant head, which bring some kind of a fear to them and also the monkey face – – when i was in luxmanjhula i noticed the hindus who just worship the river ganges, even when they see it through the gap of two buildings – it was hilarious – one thing i appreciate allah hullalala mahalla is that they don’t worship figures (statues etc) but pray in the direction of their citadel mecca – the place where no other religion is tolerated – while i was constantly disturbed by blasting koran verses, while meditating under the bodhi tree in buddha gaya – this is what our good old friend hussainfahamy says the subtle acceptance of allah the only god, the only true god, the almighty – on his way to heaven hf will see a sign – a left turn which will take him to the right place where he belongs.
    guys pl advocate simple letters in english – we must kill this language before it kills all other languages on this precious planet of ours.

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