International Day of Vesak celebrated at the United Nations

The Buddhist Channel, May 29, 2014

United Nations -- The United Nations (UN) in New York commemorated the International Day of Vesak in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 54/115 at a well-attended ceremony held in the Trusteeship Council in the UN Conference Building on the 13th May, 2014.

This year, Ambassador Norachit Sinhaseni of the Kingdom of Thailand chaired the commemoration. The gathering was addressed by the President of the General Assembly, H.E. Dr. John Ashe, and the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), H.E. Mr. Nassir Al Nasser, representing H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Dr. Ashe, in his speech highlighted Buddhism to be timeless; “The message of the Buddha stands today as unaffected by time and the expansion of knowledge as when it was first enunciated”. To be Open; “Buddhism appeals to reason and freedom of thought, recognizing the inherent dignity of the human person and the human mind. It calls for equality and understanding, and its teachings and practices are equally accessible to all regardless of country, color, creed or gender”. And only religion to remain scientifically sound; quoting Albert Einstein, “If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.”

Mr. Nasser in his remarks highlighted the “affinity between Buddha’s message and the UNAOC’s principles enhancing and fostering stability, prosperity and peaceful coexistence”.

The Secretary General, in his statement said that the Buddha’s teachings can inspire “our efforts to address many of the broader challenges confronting our world -- in peace and security, in development and in the protection of our environment. In each of these areas, we have to rise above narrow self-interest, and think and act as members of one global community”.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal, as well as, Permanent Representatives and Deputy Permanent Representatives of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam addressed the gathering.

Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona stated that “Buddhism which is more a philosophy and a way of life, advocated the middle path and was extremely appropriate to the strife torn world of today.  The Buddha’s message of peace, tolerance and understanding was a soothing balm to a humanity striving to end violence and conflict”. He also added, “The attraction of Buddhism was its simple reliance on self-accountability without the need for intervention by a superior being or beings. You, yourself, were responsible and accountable for what you did or did not do.”


Ven. Monks,

H.E. Ambassador Sinhaseni

President of the General Assembly, H.E. John Ashe

The Representative of the Secretary-General and the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, Ambassador Nassir,


Friends, Buddhists and Non- Buddhists,

We are gathered here tonight, pursuant to the General Assembly, Res. 54/115, to celebrate three very important events for Buddhists around the world. Gautama the Buddha was born, attained enlightenment and passed away on the full moon day in the month of Vesak, over two thousand five hundred and sixty years ago. The coincidence of these events was significant by itself and has given cause for celebration,  but more importantly, it was the message of the path to end suffering, peace, non violence, ahimsa, tolerance and coexistence that he preached for forty five years that inspired millions of men and women for two and a half millennia. The Buddha's teachings spread from one end of Asia to the other without the assistance of invading armies and the brute authority of states and in the process caused a magnificent surge in cultural expression as evidenced in Bamiyan, Gandhara, Taxila, Anuradhapura, Yangon, Ayuthya, Bangkok, Angkor, Borobudur, Beijing and Nora. The Buddha’s message remains relevant today as we confront a multiplicity of challenges here at the United Nations.

His message was carried by missionary monks, traders, travelers, and others. Many countries in central Asia were once flourishing Buddhist kingdoms, as can be seen even today from the ruins of massive temples and delicately executed sculptures and paintings. During various times in history, strong links existed among the various Buddhist kingdoms of Asia. History records the exchanges of missionaries and pilgrims among Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and China. Early diplomatic practice in the region was dependent on relations among Buddhist monarchies. The Chinese monk, Fa Hian, spent six years at the Abayagiri Monastery in Sri Lanka in the sixth century and left copious records of his experiences. Our main religious order today owes its origins to Thailand. Sinhala kings maintained, at their expense, a vast pilgrim's rest in Bodh Gaya in Northern India.

The attraction of Buddhism was its simple reliance on self-accountability without the need for intervention by a superior being or beings. You, yourself, were responsible and accountable for what you did or did not do. It sought to identify the causes of sadness and proposed a solution - the middle path. Buddhism in essence was not a religion, but a way of life. A philosophy. It acknowledged no distinction based on caste, ethnicity or sex.  

Today Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist country. Over seventy per cent of the population is Buddhist. The country embraced Buddhism after Emperor Asoka of India sent his only son, Mahinda, and daughter, Sanghamitta, as missionaries. Since then the royal family, the people, their art and culture have all been influenced by the gentle tenets of Buddhism. Sri Lanka has also come under other influences over the centuries, introduced with the assistance of the swords of invading armies. But the predominant feature of our history has been the tolerance and accommodation extended by the majority Buddhist population to the religions introduced later. Today, churches, Hindu temples and mosques exist cheek by jowl with Buddhist temples. While tensions emerge occasionally, as they do in most other countries, we deal with these with an approach that combines accommodation, understanding and tolerance and where necessary by deploying the law. There is zero tolerance of religious hate speech.

Our attitudes are conditioned by thousands of years of co existing with different religious groups. The Hindus have lived amongst us for a thousand years. The Muslims who initially came as traders from the Middle East settled down, inter married with local women and became an integral part of our community. The Christians of different denominations, who came with the Western colonial powers, are a vital part of our social fabric. We all live among each other and all are an integral part of the Sri Lankan social tapestry framed by the majority Buddhist community. Temples, churches and mosques, schools and community centres belonging to the different faiths exist side by side in our villages and towns.

I am most encouraged by the presence of all of you at this event. A joyful and reverential commemoration of the life and teachings of an exceptional human being. One who forsook a princely life and went in search of the way to rid life of suffering.

Sri Lanka’s celebration of this day will be highlighted in a video that will follow. I take this opportunity to thank Ambassador Sinhaseni and the staff of the Permanent Mission of Thailand for the wonderful organisation of this event, this morning and now.

May all beings be well!.

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