15 Sept. 2019
Academic Paper for: World Buddhist Kulapati Forum (WBKF 2019), Malacca, Malaysia.
Category: “Organization Management and Sustainability”
Topic: “World Buddhist Organizations- Challenges & Opportunities in the era of Artificial Intelligence and Modern Technology”
By: Dr. Lye Ket Yong,
President- Middle East Meditation Center.,
Secretary-General of World Alliance of Buddhists (WAB)
In recent years, Buddhism has been undergoing rapid expansions especially in the West, with the revival of Buddhism in South Asian countries, and an overall increasing interest in Buddhism amongst youths and younger generations.
This is partly due to the emergence of numerous world Buddhist organizations (WBO), that has actively propagated and promotes Buddhism globally. Although each individual WBO has their specific Objectives and missions, the common roles of these WBOs are to propagate, promote, protect and develop Buddhism globally as well as to encourage unity among all Buddhists. Although the lists of WBOs that existed today are in-exhaustive, among the notable WBOs are;
- Rissho Kosei-kai is one of the oldest, a worldwide Buddhist organization founded in Japan in 1938 by Nikkyo Niwano and Myoko Naganuma. It combines the wisdom of both the Lotus Sutra and the foundational teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. Its purpose is to bring these transformative teachings to the modern world.
- The World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) is an international Buddhist organization established in Sri Lanka in 1950, by the initiation of Dr. Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera. Its purpose are to promote various exchanges and friendship among Buddhists in the world, in order to spread the noble teachings of Buddha, and contribute to the World peace. It has memberships of 197 Regional Centers in 41 Countries.
- The European Buddhist Union (EBU) is an international umbrella association of Buddhist organisations and national Buddhist unions in Europe. The EBU was founded in 1975 with an objective to facilitate international exchange and promote spiritual friendship amongst European Buddhists, to support social action and ideas motivated by Buddhist values, and to amplify the voice of Buddhism in Europe and worldwide.
- The World Buddhist Sangha Council (WBSC) is an international non-government organisation (NGO) whose objectives are to develop the exchanges of the Buddhist religious and monastic communities of the different traditions worldwide, and help to carry out activities for the transmission of Buddhism. It was founded in Colombo, Sri Lanka in May 1966.
- The World Alliance of Buddhists (WAB) is a network of international Buddhist organizations with worldwide membership from Buddhist temples, organizations, Buddhist educational institutions and individual Buddhist leaders. It was established in 19 January 2016 with its mission of Protection, Promotion and Propagation of Buddhism in all over the World. To-date it has memberships from 73 Regional Centers from 30 Countries.
- The International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) was founded in 2010 during Ven. Lama Lobzang’s visit to Sri Lanka. Headquarter is in India, its mission is to promote & propagate Buddhism in India and worldwide and the protection of Buddhist cultural heritage. Currently this WBO has been undergoing transformation and is supported and funded by the Indian government.
- The United Nation Day of Vesak (UNDV) was recognized by the United Nation at its General Assembly in 1999. The first event was held at the UN Headquarters in New York to celebrate the Birth, Enlightenment and passing into Nirvana of the Lord Buddha. Thereafter in 2004, with the setting up of the International Council for the Day of Vesak (ICDV), the Event was held in Bangkok, Thailand and supported by the Thai government. An annual event, it brought together all Buddhist Leaders, Scholars and Organization’s delegates worldwide and provide a platform for deliberations on various Themes and topics which was ultimately lodged with the UN Headquarters as the Bangkok Declaration.
Global Religious Landscape for Buddhism
(Ref. Pew Research USA)
There are about 488 million Buddhists worldwide, representing 7% of the world’s total population
Buddhism began in Asia, and the vast majority of all Buddhists (nearly 99%) still live in the Asia- Pacific region. Only two other regions – North America (3.9 million) and Europe (1.3 million) – have more than 1 million Buddhists.
Although the majority of Buddhists live in Asia and the Pacific, only about one-in-eight people (12%) in that region are Buddhists. About 1% of North Americans are Buddhists. In each of the other four regions, Buddhists make up less than 1% of the population.
All 10 countries with the largest Buddhist populations are in the Asia-Pacific region, and these countries collectively are home to the lion’s share (95%) of all Buddhists. Half (50%) of the world’s Buddhists live in one country, China. The largest Buddhist populations outside China are in Thailand (13%), Japan (9%), Burma (Myanmar) (8%), Sri Lanka (3%), Vietnam (3%), Cambodia (3%), South Korea (2%), India (2%) and Malaysia (1%).
Seven countries have Buddhist majorities: Cambodia, Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Laos and Mongolia.
Buddhism expanded in India in the centuries after the death of the Buddha, particularly after receiving the endorsement and royal support of the Maurya Empire under Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE. It spread even beyond the Indian subcontinent to Central Asia and China.
A steady decline of Buddhism in India set in during the 1st millennium CE, though it continued to attract financial and institutional support during the Gupta era (4th to 6th century) and the Pala Empire (8th to 12th century).
The decline of Buddhism in India, the land of its birth, occurred for a variety of reasons such as sectarian conflicts within Buddhism, a loss in public and royal support for Buddhism, socio-political developments, gains by competing Indian religions such as Hinduism and Jainism, and the invasions of India from central Asia.
Challenges faced by World Buddhist Organizations in their missions
- Low Fertility rates among Buddhists
With a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 1.6 children per woman, Buddhists have considerably lower fertility levels than the world’s overall population in the 2010-2015 period. Indeed, the TFR for Buddhists is below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman.
|Source: The Future of World Religions. Population Growth Projections, 2010-2060 Pew Research Center|
- Aging Buddhist Society
Globally, Buddhists were older (median age of 34) than the overall population (median age of 28) as of 2010, and more than half of Buddhists were ages 30 and older.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the median age of Buddhists in 2010 (34) was five years older than the median age of the population overall (29). By contrast, Buddhists in North America (median age of 30) are considerably younger than North America’s general population (37) as of 2010. This is largely due to a high number of young Buddhist immigrants and their children living in North America.
- Religious Switching/Conversion
This is due to Religious conversion through inter marriage, embracing of other religion due to aggressive Religious campaign, political hegemony and migration.
North America is the only region where sufficient data were available to project rates of religious switching into and out of Buddhism. In this region, the Buddhist population experiences a net loss of members when religious switching is taken into account. Consequently, the projected number of Buddhists in North America in 2050 (6.1 million) is slightly lower than it would be if religious switching were not factored into the projections (6.7 million).
- Conflicts and Sectarian competition between Buddhist sects
Conflicts may be subdiveded into 2 categories:
- Those conficts
that happens and existed within our Buddhist Organizations and between Buddhist
practitioners and Sangha order.
- Sectarian Competition and disagreement between different “Nikayas” or Schools of Buddhism.
- Conflicts resulting from Religious competition, terrorism, political influence, regime changes, governmental pressure and interference or persecution.
- Those conficts that happens and existed within our Buddhist Organizations and between Buddhist practitioners and Sangha order.
- Fake News and Negative propaganda through Social Media and Information Technology
Nowadays the general public tend to rely heavily on social media for information, making them particularly vulnerable to the spread of fake news. In several instances, these fake news have contributed to the spread of ethnic tensions, religious violence and even political confrontation.
“Fake news,” hate speech and disinformation on social media has led to violence between Buddhists and Muslims in places like Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
- Negative effects from usage of Artificial Intelligence in Buddhism
One cannot deny that advancements in Information Technolgy and Artificial Intelligence has indeed contributed positively towards Buddhism, in the field of propagation, and education.
Development of Robot Priest, knowned as “Mindar”, created to preach the teachings of the Lord Buddha in colloquial language at the Kodaiji Temple in city of Kyoto. As Mindar gave its speech on the Heart Sutra and humanity, English and Chinese subtitles were projected on the wall as music played in the background.
Yet another creation is the Android Kannon, a Buddhist robot that delivers religious teachings in multiple languages.
“Peppa” the humanoid Robot Priest, dressed in ceremonial monk’s robes are programmed to conduct funeral ceremony for USD462, much cheaper than the USD2,232 charged by a human priest to carry out the same task.
Longquan Temple in Beijing created Xian-Er, a robotic monks programmed to give sermons in Mandarin language, and is able to interact with humans to answer simple dhamma questions.
However, it also brings with it some negative effects towards Buddhism;
What is lacking in these Artificial Intelligence Robots Priest are “Conciousness”, Virtues and “Vinaya” (monastic code of conduct) found in human monks, which plays an important part in Buddhism, for shaping one’s Merits’ Field and ultimately affects our practice of Buddhism, accumulation of Merits, Karma and rebirth.
Overdependence in the usage of A.I. Robots, may result in the loss of respect anmd reverence for ordained monks and over time, a great reduction in the population of the Sangha communities.
- Cult and Deviational Teachings
The new millenium saw an increase in popularity in the use of Private Broadcasting Media stations, Smart Media TV, You-Tube and Satellite TV for the propagation of Buddha Dhamma. Although some Buddhist Channels and Organizations that broadcast these Dhamma teachings are genuine, some Channels may be controversial and deviatioanal or cult teachings.
Some Cult Organizations in the guise of Buddhism even organize elaborate international Conferences and invited unsuspecting reknowned Buddhist leaders and Senior Sangha to participate in their event in order to promote their missions.
To differentiate between a Cult Group and Buddhism, the Rule of the Thumb is to ask yourself 3 simple questions:
- Do they teach the Dhamma according to the Buddha’s teachings and philosophy?
- Do they take Refuge in the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dhamma & Sangha)?
- Do they abide by the Vinaya (Code of Conduct/Precepts)?
- Destructions, desecration of Buddhist Sites, Artifacts & Buddhist heritage. Disrespectful and wrongful portrayal of Buddha Images.
The destructions of ancient Buddhist cultural heritage like The Buddhas of Bamyan, a 6th-century monumental statues of Gautama Buddha carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat, Afghanistan was a major loss and causes outrage to the Buddhist Community. The statues were dynamited and destroyed in March 2001 by the Taliban. International opinion strongly condemned the destruction of the Buddhas but apparaently nothing positive was done to prevent these destructions.
Mes Aynak, is a site 40 km southeast of Kabul, Afghanistan that possesses a vast complex of Buddhist monasteries. Mes Aynak contains Afghanistan’s largest copper deposit, as well as the remains of an ancient settlement with over 400 Buddha statues, stupas and a 40 ha (100 acres) monastery complex.
Afghanistan’s eagerness to unearth the copper below the site is leading to the site’s destruction rather than its preservation. Several “Save Mes Aynak” initiatives was launched by concerned WBO and but was unsuccessful to stop these destructions.
Increase in reports of disrepectful portrayal of Buddha Images and Statues;
Paintings of Buddha images portaryed as Ultraman causes an outrage and controversy in Thailand recently, with the Paintings by an Arts student auctioned for millions of Thai Bahts.
In 2013, during an Arts festival in Germany a huge Buddha sculpture was displayed in a market square in Munich. The large gold-colored sitting Buddha tipped onto its back and has reportedly been climbed on disrecpectfully and photographed in inappropriate ways. Despite protest by NGO and WBO groups, Munich’s Municipla Department of Arts and Culture has reportedly insisted to keep the statue on display until the end of the Arts Festival.
These are just some of the examples of ever increasing destructions and disrespectful portrayal and inappropriate display of Buddha Images.
More should be done by WBO’s and Buddhist NGO’s to educate and work with the UNESCO with regards to this concerns.
- Regime and political effects against the growth of Buddhism.
The Lord Buddha in one of his sermon has proclaimed that a nation’s dorminant Religion and growth is very much dependent on the religion of its Nation’s Head. Regime and political influence plays an important part in the development and growth or decline of Buddhism in a Nation.
In India, Buddhism began to wane in the sixth and seventh centuries CE when devotional Hinduism replaced Buddhism in the south and Hephthalite Huns invaded and sacked monasteries in the north. By the thirteenth century, repeated invasions by the Turks ensured that Buddhism had virtually disappeared.
But as early as the third century BCE the Indian emperor Ashoka, a great Conquerer having converted to Buddhism, is said to have contributed immensely to the development and growth of Buddhism in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). By the fifth century CE Buddhism had spread throughout what are now Myanmar and Thailand.
According to Patheos.com (Library of World Religion Web), Political developments in Asia will play a major role in the future health of Buddhism, especially military conflicts and regime changes. China/Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand and Myanmar (traditionally Buddhist majority countries) seems most poised to experience war or serious civil conflicts in the immediate future.
- Competing Religion
Buddhism is under threats from other mainstreams orthodox religions especially Islam.
In traditionally Buddhist majority Countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and even China, the greatest threat is from Islam. Studies in the 21st century suggest that, in terms of percentage and worldwide spread, Islam is the fastest-growing major religion in the world. A religious forecast for 2050 by Pew Research Center concludes that global Muslim population is expected to grow at a faster rate than the Christian population due primarily to the young age and high fertility-rate of Muslims.
Opportunities & Activities for the developments of global Buddhism
World Buddhist Organizations (WBO) like the World Alliance of Buddhists, the International Buddhist Confederations, World Buddhist Sangha Youth, World Federation of Buddhists and many other Buddhist network Organizations like Fo Guang Shan, World Buddhist Kulapati Association, Dhammakaya Foundation, Tzu Chi Foundations, etcetra are busy organizing activities and events to propagate, promote, protect and the revival of global Buddhism.
For Global Buddhism to flourished and grow, Unity remains the primary concerns amongst the 4 main buddhist traditions. Buddhism shall be strong only if the Four Pillars of Buddhism namely- the Bhikkhu (Monks), Bhikkhuni (Nuns), Ubasok (Male Supporter) and Ubasika (Female supporter) as well as all the traditons (schools) of Buddhism stays united. This is of primary concerns to all WBOs and all Buddhist institutions, and efforts must be made through networking, collaborations and knowledge sharings amongst buddhist orgnizations for unity and solidaarity.
On a positive notes, it is indeed encouraging that a lot of World Buddhist Organizations (WBOs) has continuosly organized Projects, Buddhist Activities, Social, Humanitarian, Meritorious events and International Forum and Conferences in order to engage and empower Buddhist youth, and to promote and develop global Buddhism.
Some of the Programs and activities organized regularly by these WBO’s that is worthy of mentions are;
- Mass Sangha
Ordinations Programs that is organized by the Dhammakaya Foundations, in conjunction
with the World Alliance of Buddhists, held in Thailand, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka
- 5000 monks mass ordination on August 2019, Dhammakaya Temple Thailand
- 10,000 novices Ordination in April 2019, Dhammakaya Temple, Thailand
- Mass Monks Alms
Offerings and MahaSanghadana Programs:
- the 20,000 monks Alms Offerings in Mandalay, Myanmar on 21 Jan. 2018
- the 10,000 monks Alms Offerings in Hatyai, Thailand on 18 August 2019
- Annual Mass International Tipitaka chanting Ceremonies held in Nepal, organize annually by Wangmo Dixey and supporting Organizations.
- Annual Kathina Offerings Ceremonies
- United Nations Day of Vesak is celebrated annually – Conferences and Forums during the events with the resulting resolutions listed in the Bangkok Declaration and lodged with the United Nations Office.
- Networking, Collaborations and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between various Buddhist Universities and Learning Institutions to provide Scholarship, and Fee waiver for Sangha and Buddhist students to pursue Diloma, Degree and Post Graduate courses in Buddhit studies.
- Organizing of International Buddhist Conferences and Buddhist activities in various parts of India-Assam, Tripura, Hyderabad, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, Arunachal and Nagpur in order to educate, promote and revival of Buddhism in India.
- Organizing of International Buddhist Youth Camps and Forums in South Korea, Taiwan, China, India, Thailand and Malaysia in order to educate, engage and empower young buddhist youth to be future Leaders.
- WBOs are also actively involves in Humanitarian aids and relief efforts during natural disasters and calamity in various countries.
Although Challenges are many which outweigh opportunities, but WBOs and all buddhist institutions should put in extra efforts to harness advances in comminications technologies, and modern technologies to our advantage for the propagation, promotion and development of global buddhism. New technology will continue to transform lives at ever increasing rates and to the extend that buddhist can stay abreast of such developments, we will be able to seize tremendous opportunities in influence and support.
By Dr. Lye Ket Yong. PhD (Hons) Philosophy
President, Middle East Meditation Center Dubai, UAE
Secretary General, World Alliance of Buddhists (WAB)
15 Sept. 2019