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