The Most Venerable members of the Maha Sangha,
Her Excellency Mrs. Lyutha Al-Mughairy, Acting President of the General Assembly,
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 and a privilege to have this opportunity to extend a warm welcome to you all and to address you on this very solemn occasion marking the Day of Vesak that commemorates the birth, the enlightenment and the demise of the Lord Buddha whom Buddhists all over the world consider as their greatest teacher and guide.
The month of June is also of particular significance to Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Tuesday the 2nd of June marked the Poson Poya the day Buddhism is recorded to have been introduced to Sri Lanka in 3rd century B.C. History records the dispatching of ArhatMahinda, son of the great emperor Asoka of India to Sri Lanka and his historic encounter with the king of Sri Lanka. This marks the beginnings of the religio-cultural links that were established between the two countries in that period and which endure to this day.
I cannot imagine a better place to reflect on the great doctrine or the Dhamma that the Buddha preached—a doctrine of peace and tolerance-- than the very seat of the United Nations where humanity has resolved to “practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours”. The Buddha’s teachings, nurtured by the principles of Maithri- loving kindness, Muditha- sympathetic joy, Karuna- compassion and Upekkha-equanimity, show the path to liberation and freedom of all living beings.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am always fascinated by the striking closeness between the very principles on which the United Nations is founded and the universal truths contained in the timeless message of the Buddha. It is interesting to note that the Buddha advocated many of these universal principles such as non-violence, peaceful resolution of disputes, building consensus and peaceful co-existence. This was more than two millennia before the UN Charter was adopted.
He upheld the principles adopted by Lichchhavis, one of the most famous ruling confederate clans of his time in India as the key to democratic governance for the benefit of the people i.e. to “meet in harmony, discuss in harmony and rise in harmony”. Perhaps, this is one of the first instances where the ideas of consensus building and democratic governance had been conceptualized. The timelessness of the Buddha’s message is quite evident, as these are the same principles that we are trying to adhere to within the United Nations today, principles of justice, rule of law and good governance, for the greater good of all humanity, at a time when the established global order is coming under increasing stress and challenges.
In these troubled times when humanity is confronted by mutual distrust, hatred and violence, the universal laws that were propounded by the Buddha have the utmost relevance. The Buddha preached, I quote:
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.” It is this universal and eternal law that we must keep in mind and make all endeavours to uphold when we deliberate within these walls, amidst rising tensions across the world.
At the United Nations, we are striving as representatives of the international community of states to serve humanity and make the world a better place for future generations. However, I often wonder whether we can bring about real changes to the world only by adopting resolutions and making laws, without first mending the hearts and minds of the people and changing from within. Because, the mind of the individual is crucial. This is aptly reflected in the Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) wherein it is stated: “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”
The Buddha too emphasized the need for this change of the individual from within. I quote:
Yo sahassam sahassena- sangāme mānuse jine
Ekañ ca jeyya attānam- sa ve sangāmajuttamo
“To conquer oneself is nobler than conquering thousands of men in a battlefield. Such a man, who conquers himself, is the greatest of conquerors.”
This is the greatest lesson we can learn as we commemorate the triple noble events of the life of the Buddha today.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel extremely privileged to be part of the organizing committee of this year’s UN Vesak Day celebrations in keeping with the General Assembly resolution 54/115. My heartfelt appreciation goes to His Excellency the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Thailand for taking the lead in this meritorious endeavor.
May all beings be happy! (Sabbe satta bhavanthu sukhitatta).
I thank you.