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Buddhism: India’s soft power projection tool

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: International Relations


Source: TH


Context: India recently hosted a global Buddhist summit in New Delhi, which saw the participation of key figures from the global Buddhist community, including the Dalai Lama.


What is soft power diplomacy?

 Soft power is the ability to obtain preferred outcomes by attraction rather than coercion or payment. Soft power diplomacy refers to the use of cultural, social, and economic means to influence the attitudes and behaviours of other countries, rather than relying solely on military or economic coercion. The concept of soft power was coined by Joseph Nye in the 1990s.

  • Examples of soft power diplomacy include cultural exchanges, educational programs, humanitarian aid, and public diplomacy campaigns.


Importance of Buddhism for India’s soft power diplomacy:

Historical and Cultural Ties India’s cultural and historical ties with Buddhism can help strengthen its soft power diplomacy with Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Promoting Religious Harmony As the birthplace of Buddhism, India can use its Buddhist heritage and teachings to engage with countries like China, which has a significant Buddhist population, to promote dialogue and understanding between the two nations.
Economic Benefits India is currently home to seven of the eight most significant Buddhist sites in the world. The Indian government has been developing the Buddhist Circuit, a tourist trail that connects them.

Pan-Asian presence 97 per cent of the world’s Buddhist population lives in the Asian continent, and a number of countries such as Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka conceive of Buddhism as intrinsic to their national values and identity
Soft Power Projection India can use its Buddhist cultural diplomacy to improve its relations with Southeast Asian countries and increase its influence in the region.

·        India has tried to provide an alternative to contested global politics, with morality as the guiding principle.

·        India’s Panchamrit principles include “Sanskriti Evam Sabhyata” which means cultural and civilizational links


Comparison of India’s approach to using Buddhism for soft diplomacy with that of China:

India China
Approach India has been promoting Buddhism as a soft power tool since the 1950s. China has been using Buddhism as a tool of soft power diplomacy for over two decades, particularly in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world.
Objectives To counter China’s growing influence, and promote India’s cultural heritage. To promote Chinese culture and expand China’s influence in the region and beyond.
Key strategies India has focused on restoring ancient Buddhist sites, building new ones, supporting scholars and monks, and promoting Buddhism through cultural exchanges. During the Cold War, China effectively used Buddhist diplomacy to engage with its neighbouring countries, and it continues to employ this approach to gain legitimacy for its Belt and Road Initiative.


Also, China has invested heavily in building Chinese Buddhist temples and monasteries abroad.

Film Link India has not been able to effectively utilize this domain China, with its influence over Hollywood, has completely dominated the narrative around Buddhism through cinema.
Examples of initiatives Restoration of the ancient Nalanda University, organizing the International Buddhist Conclave, 1st global Buddhist summit and promoting Buddhist circuit tourism in India. China has established the World Buddhist Forum, which brings together Buddhist leaders from around the world. Support the restoration of ancient Buddhist sites, such as the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia.


India faces several challenges in promoting soft power through Buddhism, including:

  • Many of India’s ancient Buddhist heritage sites are in a state of disrepair, which makes it challenging to attract visitors and promote Buddhist tourism.
  • Competition with other countries: Despite being home to a number of key Buddhist sites, such as Bodhgaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar, India has struggled to attract Buddhist tourists, who tend to favour sites in Thailand and Cambodia.
  • Fragmented Buddhist community: The Indian Buddhist community is fragmented and divided along sectarian lines, which makes it challenging to create a unified approach to promoting Buddhism.
  • India’s soft power is often overshadowed by its economic and political power, which means that its cultural influence, including that of Buddhism, is not always recognized on the international stage.



There is a need of promoting connections with other Buddhist schools of thought, such as Nagarjuna Buddhism, which is largely unexplored in academic study. Also, emphasize the need for effective implementation of the Nalanda University project and proper management of tourist sites for the success of the Buddhist Circuit Project.


Quote: “India has not given ‘Yuddha’ to the world but ‘Buddha’.” –PM Modi

Conclusion 2: As Buddha was the first diplomat of peace, his teachings of peace and cooperation in these tough times can become the guiding light of Indian diplomacy on the world stage.


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Analyze the significance & challenges of India’s soft power diplomacy through Buddhism. (250 Words)