Global Buddhist Summit on Protection of Buddhism
Posted on May 11th, 2023

Senaka Weeraratna

Buddhism is the most endangered religion in the world. Buddhism has lost more territory and space worldwide to other religions in the last one thousand years, than any other World Religion. The encroachment of Buddhist territories still continues. The danger is there for everyone to see. Now the competitors are at the Gates of Buddhist Citadels e.g. Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The moment Buddhist nations take legitimate steps to protect their Buddhist Heritage and space, the Human Rights peddlers scream and protest from treetops backed by a compliant media, ever willing to serve the interest of those who wish to see Buddhism displaced from its traditional primacy. According to the critics of Buddhism, the loss of ground incrementally in the last one thousand years is in keeping with Buddhism’s manifest destiny.  

Buddhists by nature are passive and undemanding. This was clearly seen at the Global Buddhist Summit held in New Delhi recently. A lot of rhetoric on the lofty nature of Buddhism as the ideal religion of the future because of its emphasis on Ahimsa or Non – Violence. But at the same time on the ground level, nobody appears to have raised the issue that Buddhism was gradually losing ground. Buddhist Asia was much bigger in size and territory, say, in the year 1000 ( common era) than it is today. 

Let us ponder on the following points: 

1) Buddhism (and Hinduism ) have been unsuccessful in gaining official recognition as a Religion in 24 of 26 European Union (EU) countries. In the whole of Europe, only three countries have given official recognition to Buddhism in their Constitutions. They are Russia, Austria, and Belgium. This issue should have been raised at the Global Buddhist Summit and a Public Demand made via the final Declaration for the recognition of Buddhist Human Rights and Freedom of Worship (in an official sense) in Europe.   But unfortunately, nobody has taken up the issue of lack of reciprocity on the part of the EU in granting Official Recognition to Buddhism,  

2) Representatives of threatened Buddhist communities or threatened Buddhist countries were not given a platform to air their genuine grievances, 

3) Buddhism is the religion most friendly to all life forms.  It is an Animal Rights Religion par excellence (Norman Phelps).

 Buddhism explicitly includes animals in its moral universe. Buddhist rules of conduct—including the first precept, Do not kill”—apply to our treatment of animals as well as to our treatment of other human beings. Yet, a predominantly Buddhist country like Sri Lanka has failed to reform its animal welfare laws and consequently, the world’s most obsolete and archaic piece of legislation i.e., the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No. 13 of 1907 (enacted by the British Raj) still governs the welfare of animals with a low Rs. 100 fine as the maximum punishment for an act of heinous cruelty committed on an animal. No deterrent effect with such an abysmal (immeasurably low ) fine. 

What is the reason for this shameful lapse? 

1) The lack of true believers in Buddhist precepts with a strong commitment to upholding Buddhist values in Sri Lanka’s Parliament through, say, the enactment of the Animal Welfare Bill (which should be a cause for concern for Buddhists everywhere) and

2) The sacrifice of the welfare of animals for collecting votes from non – Buddhist communities that see animals as edible and unworthy of statutory protection. The fact that there are hardly any Voices for Animals in the Parliament of Sri Lanka influential enough to push through this legislation has disgraced the country’s Buddhist underpinnings.   

Global Buddhist Summit Conferences must change tact from i.e., fellowship to solidarity and from propagation to defense. An endangered Religion can survive only if there is a workable and well-thought-out survival strategy to save it. What has the Buddhist world learned from the loss of Nalanda University in 1202? or from the transition of South Korea from being a predominantly Buddhist country in the 1950s to a non-Buddhist country in the 1990s?  

None or very little.

The next Global Buddhist Summit must be focused heavily on the Protection of Buddhism. For such a Global Summit additional categories of guests are required. Not necessarily archaeologists or preachers generally speaking, but lawyers, journalists, comparative religion and media experts, and filmmakers, among others. People who can articulate and respond to attacks on Buddhism and its practices in the media, score, and win debating points for Buddhism in both Print and Social Media. 

Unless Buddhists unite to protect space and territory and surmount planned hostility toward it, Buddhism may end up in the Museum (Maldives) or purely as a tourist attraction ( Central Asia), which has been the sad fate of Buddhism in several former Buddhist countries of Asia.

Senaka Weeraratna

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