Buddhism as a soft power tool in India-Japan cultural relations

In the context of prevailing international scenario charged with conflict and terrorism, Buddhism offers many advantages. Buddha and Buddhism, despite being a product of India, are today more sacrosanct and popular in countries like Japan, China, and Thailand. Buddhism today is the most enduring pillar of India-Japan relations. While Japan’s utilization of Buddhism is of long-standing, in the case of India, it is only over the past few years that Buddhism has acquired weight in its Asia policy. During the past one decade, the Indian policy-makers are making conscious efforts to utilize its allure for fostering deeper engagement with Asian countries – especially in the east and southeast, as part of its “Look East, Act East” policy. This involves not just sprucing up and showcasing Buddhist sites and monuments, but also establishing people-to-people contacts and promoting cultural exchanges via tourism. Under India’s present political dispensation with its Hindu nationalist leanings, along with Buddhism, efforts are also being made to project “Hindu-Buddhist” unity globally, through congregations, exhibitions, and melas, with India and Japan being the key participants in the strategy. Of all the soft power initiatives, India’s Nalanda University project perhaps carries maximum potential for facilitating inter-civilization dialogue, inter-faith understanding and Asian convergence. However, while Buddhism can be the basis for cultural cooperation and diplomacy, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, like India, should avoid overt use of any particular faith, whether Buddhism or Hinduism, as this contains the risk of piquing India’s myriad groups.

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