04/11/2006, 00.00
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Buddhism can reduce social divisions better than Christianity and Islam

Religious Affairs Bureau heaps endless praise on Buddhism on the eve of the World Buddhist Forum organised under the patronage of the Chinese government. The Vatican and Tibetan Buddhism raise different problems.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Buddhism can contribute better than Christianity and Islam to healing community divisions and help believers deal with major changes in Chinese society, this according to State Administration for Religious Affairs director Ye Xiaowen, who was quoted in the Xinhua news agency as he commented on the upcoming World Buddhist Forum scheduled to take place in Zhejiang on April 13-16.

The forum is being organised by the Buddhist Association of China and the Religious Culture Communication Association of China which Mr Ye chairs.

Other religions such as Christianity and Islam can also contribute to the building of a harmonious society (e pet project of Chinese President Hu Jintao), but Buddhism can make a "distinctive contribution" because its pursuit of harmony is closer to the Chinese outlook.

"As a responsible country, China has a distinctive thinking and forward-looking policy in promoting world harmony. Religious power is one of the social forces China can draw support from," he said.

Mr Ye said Buddhism can help believers cope with a fast-changing society, now plagued by a huge wealth gap and increasing social unrest.

Buddhism is China's most important religion in numerical terms, and has been persecuted by the Communist regime like other religions.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Tam Wai-lun, associate professor at the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that the reason for Mr Ye's great enthusiasm about Buddhism is related to the forum itself of which his organisation is a sponsor.

What is more, the central government is at ease with Buddhism because the latter has less contact with outside forces, which the authorities often see as meddling in China's internal affairs.

Ties between the faithful and the Holy See are one of the reasons relations between China and the Vatican are difficult since Beijing considers the latter a foreign power.

Even the Dalai Lama, who heads Tibetan Buddhism, is seen by the Chinese government as a foreign power that wants "to divide" China.

Professor Tam noted that there was nothing new in Mr Ye's praise of Buddhism. The central government has always tried to use religion to strengthen its rule, forcing religious groups into a United Front, as an added tool to prop up the power of the Chinese Communist Party. 

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