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Vesak Celebration: Vatican’s Message Asks Buddhists and Christians to Promote Peace, Nonviolence

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Pope Francis with a Buddhist monk during an inter-faith audience. From radiovaticana.va

By Shyamal Sinha

Pope Francis with a Buddhist monk during an inter-faith audience. From radiovaticana.va

On Vesākha Day, Buddhists all over the world commemorate events of significance to Buddhists of all traditions: The birth, enlightenment and the passing away of Gautama Buddha. As Buddhism spread from India it was assimilated into many foreign cultures, and consequently Vesākha is celebrated in many different ways all over the world. In India, Vaishakh Purnima day is also known as Buddha Jayanti day and has been traditionally accepted as Buddha’s birth day.The name of the observance is derived from the Pali term vesākha or Sanskrit vaiśākha, which is the name of the lunar month in the Hindu calendar falling in April–May ..
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) of the Roman Curia released message on 22 April on the occasion of the Buddhist celebration of Vesak. The message calls on Buddhists and Christians to walk together to promote peace and nonviolence. The Vatican’s letter, titled “Christians and Buddhists: Walking Together on the Path of Nonviolence,” starts with the salutation “Dear Buddhist Friends,”.and is signed by PCID president Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran and secretary Fr. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixo. (Vatican Radio)

Vesak, also known as “Buddha Purnima” or “Buddha’s Birthday,” is observed by Buddhists all over the world. Vesak usually falls on the full moon day in April or May, and marks important events of the Buddha’s life: on this day, the Theravada Buddhists commemorate the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and great demise (mahaparinibbana). This year, Vesak is celebrated on 10 May.

The Vatican’s message emphasizes the urgent need to foster a culture of peace and nonviolence. Though there are many believers committed to peace, there are some who “exploit religion to justify their acts of violence and hatred.” (Vatican Radio)

“Jesus Christ and the Buddha were promoters of nonviolence as well as peacemakers,” the PCID writes. “Though we recognize the uniqueness of our two religions, to which we remain committed, we agree that violence comes forth from the human heart, and that personal evils lead to structural evils.” (Vatican Radio)

A Buddhist monk holds a placard during a protest against religious persecution in Bangladesh. From catholicherald.co.uk

The letter quotes the Dhammapada, a collection of sayings of the Buddha in verse, describing how the Buddha encouraged all to “overcome the angry by non-anger; overcome the wicked by goodness; overcome the miser by generosity; overcome the liar by truth.” (Vatican Radio)

The letter also quotes Pope Francis’s 2017 Message for the World Day of Peace: “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet, he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk 7:21).” (Vatican Radio)

The letter ends with a call to all Buddhists and Christians to work together on the following areas: “to study the causes of violence; to teach our respective followers to combat evil within their hearts; to liberate both victims and perpetrators of violence from evil; to bring evil to light and challenge those who foment violence; to form the hearts and minds of all, especially of children, to love and live in peace with everyone and with the environment; to teach that there is no peace without justice, and no true justice without forgiveness; to invite all to work together in preventing conflicts and rebuilding broken societies; to urge the media to avoid and counter hate speech, and biased and provocative reporting; to encourage educational reforms to prevent the distortion and misinterpretation of history and of scriptural texts; and to pray for world peace while walking together on the path of nonviolence.” (Vatican Radio)

The letter ends with the following whish from Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, and Fr. Migual Angel Ayuso Guixot: “Dear friends, may we actively dedicate ourselves to promoting within our families, and social, political, civil, and religious institutions a new style of living where violence is rejected and the human person is respected. It is in this spirit that we wish you once again a peaceful and joyful feast of Vesakh!”