India’s Buddhist Diplomacy: Promoting Soft Power and Regional Cohesion


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Global Buddhist Summit and Buddhist tourism circuit and other related facts

Mains level: India's Buddhist Diplomacy


Central Idea

  • India’s recent two-day global Buddhist summit in New Delhi was a significant opportunity for India to strengthen its soft power and connect with the global Buddhist community. India has been investing in Buddhist diplomacy efforts, with a focus on promoting tourism through the development of the Buddhist tourist circuit and by visiting Buddhist sites during Southeast and East Asian visits.

What is global Buddhist summit?

  • A global Buddhist summit is a high-level gathering of key figures from the global Buddhist community, including prominent scholars, sangha leaders, dharma practitioners, and government officials, to discuss and promote the teachings and values of Buddhism, as well as to strengthen ties within the global Buddhist community.
  • The summit provides an opportunity to exchange ideas and explore ways to address contemporary challenges faced by society, guided by the principles of Buddhism.
  • These summits also provide a platform for countries with strong historical and cultural ties to Buddhism, such as India, to project and connect with the global Buddhist population, thereby strengthening their soft power.

Facts for prelims: Global Buddhist summit, New Delhi

Organized by Ministry of Culture in collaboration with the International Buddhist Confederation
Attendees 171 foreign delegates from South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, and Taiwan, along with 150 delegates from Indian Buddhist organizations
Key Figures The Dalai Lama, prominent scholars, sangha leaders, and dharma practitioners
Theme “Responses to Contemporary Challenges: Philosophy to Praxis”
Emphasis Continuing relevance of Buddha’s teachings in today’s world and India’s commitment to preserving and promoting Buddhist culture and heritage
Focus Promotion of tourism through the development of the “Buddhist tourist circuit” and strengthening ties with the global Buddhist community
Highlighted Efforts India’s Buddhist diplomacy and cultural exchange, promoting regional cohesion
Objectives To shape the discourse around Buddhist issues on the global stage, to reinforce India’s soft power, and to maintain its edge over China in promoting Buddhist heritage
Importance A valuable opportunity for cultural exchange, sharing of ideas, and strengthening ties within the global Buddhist community

The Panchamrit: Current Indian government’s guiding principles for foreign policy

  1. Samman (Respect): To build a foreign policy based on mutual respect and recognition of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.
  2. Samvad (Dialogue): To promote dialogue and engagement with all nations to resolve disputes and build understanding.
  3. Sahyog (Cooperation): To promote cooperation and collaboration with other nations to achieve common goals and address shared challenges.
  4. Shanti (Peace): To promote peace and stability in the region and beyond, and to work towards global disarmament and non-proliferation.
  5. Sanskriti Evam Sabhyata (Culture and Civilization): To promote cultural and civilizational links with other nations, and to work towards the preservation and promotion of India’s rich cultural heritage.

How China used Buddhist diplomacy during the Cold War?

  • During the Cold War, China used Buddhist diplomacy as a tool to engage with neighboring countries and gain influence in the region.
  • Sponsoring exchanges: China sponsored exchanges between Chinese Buddhist leaders and their counterparts in other countries, which often involved the exchange of gifts and the establishment of cultural centers to promote Chinese culture and Buddhism abroad.
  • Offering scholarships: China offered scholarships to foreign students to study Buddhism in China, which helped promote Chinese culture and build goodwill among the international community.
  • Sending Buddhist delegations: China sent Buddhist delegations to participate in international events, which helped promote Chinese culture and enhance China’s image as a responsible global power.
  • Promoting regional cooperation and peace: China promoted Buddhism as a source of common values and cultural heritage, which helped foster a vision of regional cooperation and peace that would serve China’s interests in the region.
  • Using Buddhism to promote domestic policies: During the Cultural Revolution, China promoted its own brand of Buddhism, which was heavily influenced by Marxist-Leninist ideology. This version of Buddhism promoted the idea of a Buddhist socialist state and was used to promote loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.

How India can leverage its Buddhist diplomacy?

  • India can leverage its Buddhist diplomacy in several ways to promote its interests and reinforce its soft power. Here are some of the ways in which India can do this:
  • Promote Buddhism at the highest levels of government: India can continue to promote Buddhism and its rich cultural heritage at the highest levels of government, by organizing high-profile events and promoting cultural exchanges.
  • Organize cultural events: India can organize cultural events that showcase its Buddhist history and heritage, and promote cultural exchange between India and other countries.
  • Strengthen ties with key Buddhist institutions and leaders: India can work to strengthen its ties with key Buddhist institutions and leaders around the world, to build stronger relationships and promote greater cooperation.
  • Utilize Bollywood to promote Buddhist heritage: India can utilize the reach of Bollywood to promote its Buddhist heritage, by producing films and television shows that highlight the importance of Buddhism and its role in Indian history and culture.
  • Collaborate with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR): The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) can play a significant role in promoting cultural events within and outside India, and India can collaborate with ICCR to promote its Buddhist diplomacy efforts.
  • Develop the Buddhist tourist circuit: India can continue to develop the Buddhist tourist circuit to promote tourism and cultural exchange, by investing in infrastructure and promoting Buddhist pilgrimage sites.
  • Strengthen ties with the global Buddhist community: India can continue to strengthen its ties with the global Buddhist community, by participating in international events and promoting greater understanding and cooperation between nations.

Facts for prelims: Quick revision box from civils daily

Council Timeline Location Sponsor Outcome
First Buddhist Council 483 BCE Rajagriha King Ajatashatru Compilation of the Tripitaka scriptures
Second Buddhist Council 4th BCE Vaishali Unknown Established two separate sects of Buddhism
Third Buddhist Council 3rd BCE Pataliputra Emperor Ashoka Compilation of the Abhidhamma Pitaka
Fourth Buddhist Council 1st century CE Kundalavana, Kashmir Emperor Kanishka Compilation of the Mahayana Buddhist scriptures


  • India must act to ensure that it remains a key player in the global Buddhist community. As Buddha was the first diplomat of peace, his teachings of peace and cooperation can become the guiding light of Indian diplomacy on the world stage, especially in these tough times.

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