The study “Religious NGOs and the United Nations” was the first interdisciplinary study of religion involving field studies and interviews at the UN and in 2017 resulted in the publication of a book titled Religion, NGOs and the United Nations: Visible and Invisible Actors in Power. The study pointed out that compared to Christian organizations, Buddhist organizations registered at the UN are miniscule in number. In addition, religions other than Christianity and Islam have scant influence at the UN and the study called on the need for inclusive and participatory representation from Eastern religions at the UN.
An inter-governmental agency of South Asian, Southeast Asian, and East Asian countries can enable Buddhism to vote at the UN and obtain Permanent Observer status. Permanent Observer status and the right to vote at the UN is available to Islam (through the Organization of Islamic Co-Operation) and Christianity (the Vatican) but not to other religions.
A solely Buddhist country grouping will lead to the exclusion of key Hindu majority countries of India and Nepal where the Buddha was born, achieved enlightenment, preached, and achieved nirvana. Both countries have crucial pilgrimage areas in the Buddhist belief. Second, almost all South Asian, South East Asian and East Asian countries have indigenous religions and traditions, which intricately entwine with Buddhism. It would be unfair to exclude them and doing so would once again perpetuate the religious majoritarianism that the UN study seeks to address.
Forming an inclusive body will enable intrinsic religious, cultural, and spiritual traditions of its Member States to offer new interpretations to the UN goals of human rights, environmental sustainability, social justice, gender empowerment, poverty alleviation, and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. It can open a new chapter in the field of Buddhism in International Relations and UN studies.
Submitted by Durgesh Kasbekar, Doctor of Social Sciences Member, Executive Committee, Religion in International Relations Section International Studies Association (ISA), Connecticut, USA Member, Board of Directors, Steveston Buddhist Temple, Richmond, BC
51 thoughts on “Buddhist organizations at the UN”
Exactly what the UN needs a pure mindset on achieving new goals for Society
None of the UN platforms viz. the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders (2000), Dialogue among civilizations (2001), Alliance of Civilizations (2005), the High-Level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace (2007), and the UN Decade of Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace (2011–2020) accord the same rights and privileges to Buddhism as accorded to Christianity and Islam at the UN. Buddhism does not have the status of either a non-member state or a permanent observer at the UN. To address this lacuna, it is imperative to lay down a theoretical and conceptual framework for a single body that can hold a diversity of Eastern faiths and folk religions in its embrace. By democratizing and expanding Buddhism’s influence at the UN, such a body can facilitate the UN’s goal of providing a voice and representation to the religious dimension of the world’s cultural diversity.
Dialogic processes between religions and civilizations at the UN and other global platforms occur primarily between Christianity and Islam. The Muslim-initiated effort of 2001 called “Dialogue among Civilizations” at the UN is an example of this. The “Alliance of Civilizations” initiative, which began in 2005 during the tenure of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, aimed to address the rising tensions between Western countries and Islam. “The Common Word between Us and You” and “The Cordoba Dialogue” are additional examples of dialogic initiatives to redress misunderstandings between Islam and the West. Such dialogues came about as a response to Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and the unfortunate events of September 11, 2001. The struggle between OIC countries and few Western countries over the Defamation of Religion resolution from 1999 to 2011 also contributed to the initiation of dialogic efforts. Comparatively, the rigor and motivation behind Christian- (or Western-) Muslim dialogues is superior to the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders (2000), the High-Level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace (2007), and the UN Decade of Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace (2011–2020), all of which are more generic than specific. Hence, inclusion of other religions and civilizations in one-to-one dialogue processes and platforms is the need of the hour.
Consistent inter-civilizational dialogue at the UN can bridge religious conflicts the world faces today. The 2006 Dusit Declaration on Muslim-Buddhist dialogue has not moved beyond Southeast Asia. Had there been a formal, rigorous dialogue between Islam and Buddhism at the UN in the past two decades, perhaps the UN would have been able to avoid or mitigate Buddhist Muslim conflicts in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. It could also have intervened and possibly stopped the destruction of the historically and culturally significant Buddha statues at Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in the late 1990s. An enhanced status for Buddhism may act as a platform for a much-needed dialogue at a global level. Unfortunately, international academic bodies such as the UN University (UNU), the International Studies Association (ISA) and International Association of Universities (IAU) have has not undertaken any project to explore the imbalance of religious representation at the UN.
Although the UNU, ISA, IAU have contact mechanisms with UN and its different projects, they have not yet responded to the lacunae pointed out by the Carrette & Miall study of 2017. There was hope that these bodies would initiate some steps when the UN completed its 75th year in October 2020. They can choose to do so in the future. They can enable intrinsic religious, cultural, and spiritual traditions of East Asian, Indic, and Folk religions to offer new interpretations and facilitate the UN goals of human rights, environmental sustainability, social justice, gender empowerment, poverty alleviation, and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.
Submitted by Durgesh Kasbekar, Doctor of Social Sciences Member, Executive Committee, Religion in International Relations Section International Studies Association (ISA), Connecticut, USA Member, Board of Directors, Steveston Buddhist Temple, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada
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