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First Asian Buddhist Media Conclave Laments Lack of A Buddhist Media


Lotus News Feature By Kalinga Seneviratne

New Delhi: The International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) organized the first Asian Buddhist Media Conclave on 27 and 28 August in New Delhi, which was attended by over 60 delegates from 12 countries. The conclave included keynote speeches, panel discussions and interactive discussions on a range of topics under the theme of conflict avoidance and sustainable development. Diversity of opinions were expressed, and the interactive session adopted a number of resolutions.

Many Buddhist media practitioners from across Asia lamented the fact that there is no Buddhist media as such to express Buddhist opinions on social, political, economic and cultural issues in the region.

The Buddhist media conclave was funded by the Ministry of Culture of India and hosted by the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) – a leading Hindu think tank in India. It attracted Buddhist media practitioners and communication scholars from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Nepal, Singapore and India.

Venerable Dr Dhammapiya, secretary general of IBC in welcoming the delegates expressed the hope that the Conclave would come up with some strategies and solution to address the problems of communication the world face today. The communication channels and the things that are happening are not under our control, he pointed out. So it is “very important how we look at it and how we present the fact, how we really communicate the truth,” he added. He argued that Buddhists should not look at ‘dukka’ as darkness, but strategies to “lighting of the lamp, which will automatically eliminate or remove the darkness”.

Dr S Gurumurthy, vice chairman of VIF, in an illuminating and thought provoking keynote address called upon the Buddhist media practitioners, communication scholars and trainers from across Asia to think differently and challenge the norms of globalization and communications. “Media is interested only in hourly news. So in a media which is so conflict driven, how are we going to infuse eternal thought, eternal models, eternal thinking, eternal goals?” he asked, arguing “this is the challenge facing us all”.

He went on to explain that Indian philosophy provides many guides to developing communication processes to avoid conflicts. This, he argues, is based on Indian philosophy, that accept other points of views and are willing to enter into a dialogue on that basis. He noted that secular ideologies and modernity theories are as dangerous as extremist religious ideologies in driving conflict.

A major theme of the Conclave was ‘mindful communication’ and its application to journalism and communication for sustainable development. Two sessions were devoted to it, and one of which (that I chaired) discussed setting up regional training courses for ‘mindful communication for sustainable development’. It was argued during the sessions, that, we need to get away from the adversarial style of journalism, which was borrowed from the West focusing on conflicts, and instead develop a more compassionate and harmonious style of journalism. Visva Bharati University in Shantineketan founded by Rabindranath Tagore and Nava Nalanda University in Nalanda are expected to spearhead this project under auspices of IBC. Short-term courses are planned that would come on line towards the end of next year.

Dorjie Wangchuck, a communications scholar from Bhutan in a talk on ‘Middle Path Journalism’ argued that the current media model has become directionless and it is further augmented by social media not only in Bhutan, but across the world. So the time has come for a new paradigm based on Buddhist philosophy. “We need to look at the societal values so the value becomes one of our pillars of discussion on middle path journalism” he argued, emphasizing that Middle Path journalism would involve “the media working towards the greater goal of happiness in society and not against it”.

One of the resolutions adopted was to explore the possibility of launching Buddhist regional iptv (internet-driven) channel in English. It will not be a channel where Buddhist monks will sit in front of a camera and give a sermon for 1 hour nor hours of Buddhist chanting. The channel would adopt mindful communication concepts along with Buddhist perspectives in producing news and current affairs programs, talk shows etc. Also it will use contemporary packaging of traditional Buddhist cultural expressions to appeal to young audiences.

Lotus Communication Network (LCN) is working with a Singapore based IT company to launch this channel in association with IBC in India. Though such a channel will not cost much to operate, as long as existing Buddhist channels in the region join in to contribute contents, LCN estimates that an initial outlay of at least $ 100,000 is needed to develop online ‘mindful communication’ training packages, and commission special contents for the channel. If funding from the Asian Buddhist community could be mobilized, the channel could go online by the second half of  2019.

Another resolution adopted at the Conclave was to launch a Nalanda Arts Festival that could showcase both traditional and contemporary Buddhists arts including song, music, drumming, animations, films and other artistic forms. This festival will be organized by IBC in association with Nava Nalanda University with possible funding from the Indian government and Buddhist foundations and philanthropists from across Asia.  Possibly launched in 2020, this festival may be held in Nalanda in India for at least the first 3 years while it is developed as an annual gathering of Asian Buddhist artistic community. The major objective of the festival would be to repackage Buddhism as “cool” to young Asians.

Dr Victor Wee from Malaysia, who describes himself as a musician, lamented that very often music is undervalued and its potential has not been recognized by the Buddhist community. “This is unfortunate,” he noted, “because music can be a very powerful instrument of bringing people to Dhamma”. He went on to give examples of how new Buddhist musicians in Asia are adopting Buddhist values and chanting styles in new composition to bring Buddhism into popular culture.

At the end of the session, Singapore-based LCN launched a Buddhist “rap” music project with its first song clip titled ‘True Friends” with lyrics drawn from the Sigalovada Sutra where the Buddha advised a young Sigala in cultivating good friends and habits. The song sung in Sinhalese to a modernized ‘viridhu’ beat has English sub-titles (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZC1sgo1Z7E). More such songs are in the pipeline.

Rajiv Mehrotra, Trustee & Secretary of the Foundation For Universal Responsibility of HH The  Dalai Lama argues the Buddhist community is growing around the world, but, the greatest challenge is for Buddhists to understand what is the need of the Buddhist communities to communicate, and how we can respond to it. He suggested a study to be undertaken by IBC, about the communications/media needs of Asian Buddhist countries/communities.

Sisira Kumara Wijesinghe, secretary general of the Sri Lanka Press Association, also argued for the development of a journalism culture where journalists must be trained in humanness and to uplift the public. “All electric electronic media give pride of place to Buddhism early in the morning as well as by six o'clock in the evening in our country” noted Wijesinghe. “But on the other hand, the same media barons contribute largely to promotion of violence, hate, greed and conflict, devoting more than three fourth of their prime time in our TVs”.

These are formidable challenges facing Buddhist media practitioners and scholars in the region, who would like to see the media play a more constructive role in promoting community harmony, also reflect the age-old values and cultural practices of Buddhist communities in Asia.

Many participants felt that to achieve this, Asian Buddhist philanthropists need to change their focus from funding building grand Buddhist temples and huge stupas, to funding Buddhist media and cultural projects. As one speaker pointed out, if we do not change our funding priorities, most of these temples and stupas will end up like Borobodur in Indonesia, with no Buddhist communities left to maintain and support these as spiritual centres.

* The writer is the founder of Lotus Communication Network and was a co-organiser of the first Asian Buddhist Media Conclave in Delhi.

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