The United Nations Day of Vesak was celebrated in New York on 20th May 2016 in accordance with the UN General Assembly resolution 54/115 recognizing the day of Vesak internationally as the most significant day for the Buddhists all over the world. The Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York took the lead in organizing this year’s UN Day of Vesak along with the Permanent Mission of Thailand, and the Missions of the states that co-sponsored the resolution in 2000.
This year’s Day of Vesak commemoration had special significance as it was the first time that the Day of Vesak was celebrated at the UN since it was declared an optional UN holiday. The Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka was instrumental in getting the Day of Vesak declared an optional UN holiday through UNGA Resolution 69/250.
The celebrations commenced on the morning of 20th May with a heel dana offered to 33 Buddhist monks representing Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, South Korea and Japan, at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Dr. Rohan Perera, his Thai counterpart Ambassador Virachai Plasai, and senior diplomats from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Bhutan, Nepal and China attended the ceremony and offered heel dana to the Maha Sangha. A number of lay persons, including the staff of these countries were also present. Ven. Heenbunne Kondanna Thero, Chief Incumbent of the Staten Island Buddhist Vihara in New York conducted the religious ceremony. A sermon was delivered by Ven. Kamburawala Shri Rewatha Thero, the Chief Monk of Siam Nikaya Kotte Chapter in Great Britain and Chief Abbot of the Scotland Buddhist Vihara. A special reference was made on the loss of life caused by the devastating floods and landslides in Sri Lanka, and merit was transferred to the victims of the disaster.
A solemn event to mark the Day of Vesak, co-chaired by Ambassador Dr. Rohan Perera, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations and Ambassador Virachai Plasai, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Thailand to the United Nations was held in the evening of 20th May from 6.00 to 8.00 p.m. at the United Nations General Assembly hall. A large number of Buddhist monks representing many countries, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon, Permanent Representatives of Member States, senior diplomats, senior UN officials, staff of the Permanent Missions and the UN Secretariat, and Buddhists from various countries attended this solemn event.
Two scholarly sermons were delivered by Ven. Tapovanaye Sutadhara Thero of Sri Lanka, Director, Ventura Buddhist Study Center, California and Ven. Pasanno Bhikku of Thailand, Abbot of Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in San Francisco who attended the event at the invitation of the co-hosts.
Representatives of Myanmar, Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, Russian Federation, Indonesia, Bhutan and Nepal addressed the General Assembly reflecting on the significance of the Day of Vesak. All speakers expressed their deepest condolences on the loss of life caused by floods and landslides in Sri Lanka.
Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, former Secretary-General of ASEAN and special envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand also addressed the gathering. A number of short video clips on the Day of Vesak and Buddhism, including from Sri Lanka, were also screened.
Addressing the General Assembly, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and co-chair of the event to mark the UN Vesak Day, Ambassador Dr. Rohan Perera observed that the Day of Vesak provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon the continuing relevance of the Buddha's message, as the United Nations is confronted with unprecedented challenges in the contemporary global order in terms of peace and security. He said that the essential elements of the solutions to these challenges could be found in the message of the Buddha, in which peace and non-violence are at the core.
Quoting from the Dhammapada, he expounded on the eternal truth that there can be no peace or happiness for man, as long as 'the victor breeds hatred and the defeated lies down in misery' and that he who renounces both victory and defeat is happy and peaceful. Ambassador Perera concluded that these words are of particular significance as we engage in post- conflict reconciliation of societies and countries, including in Sri Lanka, after long years of conflict. He said that “winning the war will not bring happiness and harmony, unless the peace is won in the hearts and minds of the people” in keeping with the Buddha’s teachings.
Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
20th May 2016
Opening Statement by H.E. Dr. Rohan Perera, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations on the occasion of the UN Day of Vesak
UN Headquarters, New York- 20th May 2016
The Most Venerable members of the Maha Sangha,
Her Excellency Ms. Maria Emma Mejia Velez, Acting President of the General Assembly,
His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations
Distinguished Co-Chair, His Excellency Mr. Virachai Plasai, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Thailand to the United Nations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I consider it a great honour to extend a warm welcome to you all and to address you on this very auspicious occasion marking the thrice blessed Day of Vesak that commemorates the birth, the enlightenment and the demise of the Lord Buddha.
Sixteen years ago, Sri Lanka took the initiative to recognize the Day of Vesak internationally by spearheading the adoption of Resolution 54/115 under the guidance of the late Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, the then Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, with the active participation of not only other Buddhist States but all Member States of the United Nations.
Today, in this august General Assembly hall, we commemorate this thrice blessed day for Buddhists all over the world, when it has been declared as an optional holiday for the United Nations for the first time in terms of Resolution 69/250. This is the culmination of the initiative that we took sixteen years ago.
I strongly believe that this Vesak day provides all of us with an opportunity to reflect upon the continuing relevance of the Buddha's message, as we in the United Nations are confronted with unprecedented challenges in the contemporary global order. Today, the global community is faced with increasingly complex challenges to international peace and security in the backdrop of a rapidly evolving threat of terrorism, violent extremism and other forms of violent conflict.
Let us ask ourselves the question whether we cannot find in the message of the Buddha, the essential elements of the solutions to these challenges? I believe we can.
That Buddhism advocates Peace and Non- Violence as its universal and core message, is only too well known. The spirit of tolerance and understanding has been one of the most cherished ideals of Buddhist culture and civilization over centuries. History does not record a single instance of persecution or shedding of blood for propagation of the Dhamma or forced conversion of people, during its long history of over 2500 years. The Buddha's doctrine spread peacefully across the frontiers of the Asian continent, as it appealed to the reasoning and intellect of the individual. Violence in any form, under any pretext whatsoever, is absolutely against the teachings of the Buddha. It must be recalled in this regard that, Emperor Asoka of India, who resorted to war in expanding his vast Maurya Empire, having witnessed the ravages of war and having later understood the universal message of the Buddha, adopted the policy of Dharmavijaya or conquest through theDhamma having renounced resort to violence and war.
History records that the Buddha or the 'enlightened one' not only preached non-violence and peace but also visited the field of battle, actively intervening and preventing the outbreak of war. It is said that the Buddha personally intervened to solve a dispute that occurred between the royal clans of Shakya and Koliya , who were his paternal and maternal kinsmen respectively, on sharing the waters of river Rohini. These instances resonate as we deal with issues of prevention of conflict and peaceful resolution of disputes.
The essence of Buddhist philosophy in terms of peace and non violence is captured very succinctly in the Dhmmapada. It elucidates: (නහී වේරේන වේරානි - සම්මන්තීධ කුදාචනම්- අවේරේනෙච සම්මන්තී- ඒස ධම්මෝ සනාතනෝ) Na hi verena verāni- sammanti’dha kudācanam Averena ca sammanti- esa dhammo sanantano,- “In this world hatred never ceases by hatred; it ceases by love alone. This is an eternal law.”
Dhammapada underlines the eternal truth that there can be no peace or happiness for man, as long as 'the victor breeds hatred and the defeated lies down in misery' and that he who renounces both victory and defeat is happy and peaceful.
These words are of particular significance as we engage in post- conflict reconciliation of our societies, as our countries, including my own, emerge from long years of conflict. Winning the war will not bring happiness and harmony, unless the peace is won in the hearts and minds of the people.
In conclusion, I wish to quote Bhikku Bodhi, who expounds on the situation in which we the global community find ourselves in: 'We live in a world that thrives in conflict, and in which the forces that nurture conflict are pervasive, obstinate and terribly powerful. But what we can do and must do is to testify by our conduct to the supremacy of peace: to avoid words and actions that engender animosity, to heal divisions, to demonstrate the value of harmony and concord. The model we must emulate is that provided by the Buddha in his description of the true disciple: “ He is one who unites the divided, who promotes friendships, enjoys concord, rejoices in concord, delights in concord, and who speaks words that promotes concord” ' .
These are the hallowed principles that we must put into practice as we deliberate at the United Nations and strive to implement the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and to create a world of peace.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to inform you that we will be hosting the International Day of Vesak in 2017 in Sri Lanka along with an International Buddhist Conference with the participation of over 400 delegates from over 100 countries. We will be happy to share more information on these celebration in due course.
I feel extremely privileged to be part of this year’s UN Vesak Day celebrations. I extend my heartfelt appreciation to His Excellency the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Thailand for joining us in making this meritorious endeavor a success.
May all beings be happy and content!
I thank you.
UN Headquarters, New York- 20th May 2016
The Most Venerable members of the Maha Sangha,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have reached the concluding stage of a very successful celebration of the UN Day of Vesak at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. As we are concluding this special meeting, it would be remiss of me if I do not mention those who have made invaluable contributions to make this year’s Vesak Day commemoration a success.
First of all, on behalf of the organizing committee, I would like, very respectfully to thank the most venerable members of the Mahasangha for their presence on this solemn occasion. I am especially grateful to Ven. Tapovanaye Sutadhara Thero,(තපෝවනයේ සුතධර) Director, Ventura Buddhist Study Center, California and Ven. Pasanno Bhikku (පසන්නෝ භික්ඛු), Abbot of Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in San Francisco who travelled all the way from the West coast at our invitation, for their erudite elucidation of the Buddha’s message. I am also deeply grateful to Ven. Kamburawala Rewatha Thero(කඹුරාවල රේවත), Chief Abbot of the Scotland Buddhist Vihara, for being here today having travelled from the United Kingdom, and for delivering an erudite sermon this morning at the Dana offering ceremony held at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka.
Out special thanks go to His Excellency Ban-Ki moon, Secretary General of the United Nations who graced the occasion with his presence amidst numerous official commitments. I also thank Her Excellency Ms. Maria Emma Mejia Velez, Acting President of the General Assembly, for attending and speaking at the event on behalf of the President of the General Assembly who is out of New York on an official assignment.
I thank His Excellency Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, former Secretary-General of ASEAN and special envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand for attending this year’s Vesak Day celebrations. His statement provided very useful insights to all of us present here today.
I must also particularly mention that the His Eminence the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue of the Holy See has issued a message on the occasion of the Day of Vesak. I wish to convey my thanks to the President of the Pontifical Council thorough H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See. Indeed, gestures of this nature will augur well in strengthening the inter-religious dialogue and friendship in all our societies.
I thank their Excellencies the Permanent Representatives and other distinguished representatives from Member States who made statements at this solemn meeting. I express my profound thanks to all those who referred to the loss of life and displacement of people in Sri Lanka due to devastating floods. Our thoughts are with those who are affected. I am certain that the teachings of the Buddha will offer some solace to the families of the victims to come to terms with their irreparable loss.
My special thanks also go to the Permanent Representatives of the participating Member States and their staff who diligently worked to coordinate arrangements for this event.
I also wish to thank all the distinguished invitees who joined us today in celebrating the thrice blessed day of Vesak at the United Nations General Assembly hall.
I thank the conference management and security staff of the UN Secretariat for facilitating today’s Vesak commemorative event.
I extend my heartfelt appreciation to my dear friend and co-chair His Excellency Virachai Plasai, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Thailand, and his team for joining us in organizing this year’s Vesakcelebrations without whose assistance and diligence all this would not have been possible.
Finally, I thank my own staff at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka for their dedicated and hard work in organizing this event.
I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Day of Vesak.