Last month, many Buddhists around the world celebrated the importance of the birth, life, and death of the Buddha with Vesak.

Before we say goodbye to this important event in 2016 we can note several public acknowledgments of the holiday.

Ideals of Buddhism Recognized

The value of the Buddha's teachings and the role of Vesak are recognized beyond various Buddhist communities. Since 1999, the United Nations has recognized the importance of Vesak.as an official holiday in its headquarters and offices. The impetus for this official acknowledgment was from the hopes expressed at the International Buddhist Conference of November 1998 in Sri Lanka. The resolution states in part that it means to acknowledge "contribution that Buddhism, one of the oldest religions in the world, has made for over two and a half millennia and continues to make to the spirituality of humanity." (1)

Relligion and Politics

Some news articles report on ethnic and nationalistic clashes fueled by religion commingled with politics. The observance of Vesak in 2016 has also given rise to expanded perspectives. For example, a Buddhist cleric from Myanmar took heart from Vesak celebrations in Indonesia.

What the Buddha Taught about Respecting Other Religions and People

Observations of the Myanmar monk, U Sandi Marbhivamsa, is the focus of a recent article in the Myanmar Times, which discussed his experiences in attending a Vesak-related interfaith conference in Indonesia on May 19. There he was reminded that the Buddha did not attack other religions or races.

At the famous Borobudur Temple the cleric joined representatives of Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. He also travelled to various Buddhist sites in Indonesia.

His recent experience in Indonesia showed him that the primarily Muslim population there, one of the biggest in the world, had no prejudice against Buddhists, he said. “I knew Indonesians respected Buddhism, despite [Indonesia] being a majority-Muslim country,” he is quoted in the Myanmar Times. “They are not extremists.” He is now sharing this message back home.

“We in Myanmar can protect Buddhism without insulting other religions. People of different religions can work together in a peaceful way. There is no need for religious extremism. We can learn from Indonesia in that respect,” he said. (2)

New Statements from the United Nations

For Vesak in 2016, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon linked the teachings of Buddhism to the challenges facing the international community, from mass population movements to violent conflicts and human rights abuses.

“The fundamental equality of all people, the imperative to seek justice, and the interdependence of life and the environment are more than abstract concepts for scholars to debate; they are living guidelines for Buddhists and others navigating the path to a better future,”.the Secretary-General wrote. He further expressed his appreciation of the teachings to promote human rights while advancing human dignity worldwide. (3)

Historical Recognition by the Unites States of America

BDK America and BDK Hawaii are based in the United States, and it is therefore encouraging to report that the importance of Vesak has been officially recognized for the first time at a national level. Thanks to various groups, including the White House Vesak Committee, the following statement was issued by President Barak Obama.

 

The White House - May 20, 2016
Statement by the President on the Celebration of Vesak

 

Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to Buddhists in the United States and around the world in their celebration of Vesak, a day honoring the birth, enlightenment, and passing of Buddha. During this season, we reflect on Buddha's universal teaching of peace, service, and recognition of common humanity shared values that bind us all as Americans. This occasion gives us an opportunity to commemorate the many contributions of Buddhists to our progress and recommit us to building a brighter future for all communities, cultures, and religions. As we come together in hope for wisdom, courage, and compassion, our family sends our best wishes during this season. (4)

Aspiration

We will conclude with this aspiration as expressed by Secretary-General Ban. “On this Day of Vesak, let us pledge to reach out to bridge differences, foster a sense of belonging, and show compassion on a global scale for the sake of our common future,” he said. (3)


NOTES

(See also "Vesak around the World.")

1. Resolution 54/115, "International Recognition of the Day of Vesak at the United Nations Headquarters and Other United Nations offices," executed December 15, 1999; PDF retrieved June 1, 2016.

2. Ei Ei Thu , "Monk says denigrating other religions is against Buddhism," Myanmar Times, May 30, 2016.

3. "On Day of Vesak, UN Chief Says Buddhism Can Help Enlighten World about Pressing Issues," May 20, 2016, UN News Centre.

4. "2016 Vesak Greetings from President Obama," Wheel of Dharma, 1.