By Shyamal Sinha
“Vesak”, the Day of the Full Moon in the month of May, is the year’s most sacred day to the millions of Buddhists around the world. It was on the Day of Vesak two and a half millennia ago that the Buddha was born. It was also on the Day of Vesak that the Buddha attained enlightenment, and it was on the Day of Vesak that the Buddha in his 80th year passed away.
The 16th United Nations Day of Vesak Celebrations, an international observation of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and mahaparinirvana, which ran from 12–14 May, were successfully concluded on Tuesday at the Tam Chuc Buddhist Culture Center in Kim Bang District of Vietnam’s northern Ha Nam Province.
Among the attendees for the celebrations were Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, Myanmar President Win Myint, Nepalese Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli, Chairman of the National Council of Bhutan Tashi Dorji, and more than 1,650 delegates from 112 countries and territories, along with some 20,000 Vietnamese Buddhist dignitaries, monks, nuns, and followers.
It marks the third time that the UN’s official Vesak commemoration has been held in Vietnam, having previously taken place in Hanoi in 2008 and the northern city of Ninh Binh in 2014. Each of these events were organized by the Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam in coordination with the International Council for the Day of Vesak.
The UN General Assembly officially recognized Vesak as a religious-cultural festival in observation of the three sacred events of the life of Shakyamuni Buddha on 15 December 1999. The first official celebration was held at the UN Headquarters in New York in 2000.
This year, the Vesak celebration, organized under the theme “Buddhist Approach to Global Leadership and Shared Responsibilities for Sustainable Societies,” featured five forums discussing mindful leadership for sustainable peace; Buddhist approaches to harmonious families, healthcare, and sustainable societies; Buddhist approaches to global educations in ethics; the fourth industrial revolution and Buddhism; and Buddhist approaches to responsible consumption and sustainable development. Some 398 international and Vietnamese scholars and Buddhists shared ideas by contributing papers dealing with Buddhist values.
Between the opening and closing ceremonies, the celebration included spiritual and cultural events, such as the ritual bathing of the Buddha, a Buddhist cultural and art exhibition, Buddhist cultural fairs, and a floating lotus lantern display at nearby Tam Chuc Lake.
Heads of state, ambassadors, and representatives of international organizations sent well wishes and special messages for the occasion. In a recorded video, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed great pleasure in addressing the event, and acknowledged the teaching of the Buddha as an inspiration for a peaceful world. “In a time of growing intolerance and inequality, the Buddha’s message of nonviolence and service to others is more relevant than ever,” said Guterres. “On the Day of Vesak, let us renew our commitment to building a world of peace and dignity for all.”
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said in a message that, “This United Nations Day of Vesak is a moment to reflect on the significance of the Buddhist teachings for sustainable world peace and social justice.
“In a world that is deeply interconnected but still divided by unacceptable inequalities, conflict, and rising intolerance, the Buddhist teachings encourage us to act with awareness, generosity, and solidarity,” she emphasized.
During the opening ceremony, PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc welcomed and offered his best wishes to the international delegates. He observed that the UN Day of Vesak celebration was a further step to promoting Buddhist values and unity for world peace, cooperation, and sustainable development, all of which are incorporated in the teachings of the Buddha.
Venerable Phra Brahmapundit, president of the International Council for the Day of Vesak, noted that the three-day event was not only a gathering for Buddhist followers from different countries, but also a platform for conveying a message to all people advocating sustainable development in the world.
Meanwhile, Venerable S. Lokajit, secretary-general of the Supreme Sangha Council of Bangladesh, said the Vesak celebration offered an opportunity for followers of different Buddhist traditions to meet under one roof. He praised the venue Tam Chuc Pagoda as a paradise that serves as a space for spiritual practice and a tourist attraction.
After the conclusion of the festival, free tours were offered to international delegates to some of Vietnam’s spiritual and natural highlights, namely Trang An-Bai Dinh and Yen Tu, Fansipan Sapa, which were also aimed at showcasing Vietnam’s tourism potential.
The UN General Assembly internationally recognised the Day of Vesak in 1999 to acknowledge the contributions that Buddhism, one of the oldest religions in the world, has made and continues to make to the spirituality of humanity.