A global Online Vesak Celebration organized by the International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) was streamed live on 26 May, a six-hour event dedicated to global peace and relief from COVID-19.
Vesak is the most sacred day of the year for millions of Buddhists around the world, who celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and mahaparinirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha. In a resolution in 1999, the General Assembly of the United Nations recognized the international Day of Vesak to acknowledge the contributions that Buddhism has made to the spirituality of humanity over two-and-a-half millennia. This year marks the 2565th Buddha Jayanti (the birth of Buddha) and, like last year, the occasion was mainly celebrated online due to the ongoing pandemic.*
The IBC organized the celebration with support from India’s Ministry of Culture and with the participation of partner organizations: the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee, the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace (Mongolia), and the International Buddhist Council (India). A keynote address was delivered by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, and a written message was shared by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is a patron of the IBC.
The program was divided into four segments. The first consisted of ceremonies and prayers at Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India, Mayadevi Temple in Lumbini, Nepal, and the Sacred Tooth Relic Temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Chants were dedicated to global peace and to relief from the pandemic.
The second segment was streamed from Bhutan, India, Mongolia, and Sri Lanka, and consisted of a welcome address by IBC secretary general Ven. Dr. Dhammapiya, and greetings from officials: Indian minister of state for minority affairs, youth, sports, and AYUSH, and vice chairman of the National Organising Committee for Buddha Poornima Celebration Kiren Rijiju; Indian minister of state for culture and tourism, and chairman of the National Organising Committee for Buddha Poornima Celebration Prahlad Singh Patel; Mongolian culture minister Nomin Chinbat; Bhutanese foreign minister Tandi Dorji; Sri Lankan prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa; and IBC deputy secretary general Shartse Khensur Rinpoche Jangchup Choeden.
Two presentations testified to long-term cooperation between Indian and Mongolian scholars. The first was on a digitized set of rare texts of the Mongolian Kanjur (the translated words of the Buddha) by Dr. Sachidanand Joshi, member secretary of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, Indian Ministry of Culture. The second was on a catalogue of the Mongolian Tenjyur(translated commentaries on the teachings) compiled by the Mongolian Scholar Byambin Rinchen (1905–77) and edited by Prof. Shashi Bala.
In the third segment, monks from Malaysia, Mongolia, and Thailand chanted sutras for relief from COVID-19. Vaisakh Samman Prashasti Patra Awardees also offered acceptance messages. The Vaisakh Samman Prashasti Patra is awarded to Dharma masters who are outstanding scholars of Buddhist philosophy for their contributions to humanitarian services, inter-religious understanding, and peace and harmony, and for their contributions to disseminating the Buddha’s teachings and the preservation of Buddhist cultural heritage.
A Green Tara invocation was chanted for global peace by Dr. Christie Chang from Taiwan, with video messages from eminent Buddhist masters and practitioners in Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tibet, Vietnam, the UK, and the US.
The fourth segment consisted of multicultural events with participants from nine countries.
As the event was dedicated to pandemic relief, many participants spoke about this global crisis:
The COVID-19 pandemic has not left us. Several nations, including India, have experienced a second wave. This is the worst crisis humanity faces in decades. We have not seen a pandemic like this for a century. This once-in-a-lifetime pandemic has brought tragedy and suffering at the doorstep of many. The pandemic has impacted every nation. The economic impact is huge as well. Our planet will not be the same after COVID-19. In the times to come, we will certainly remember events as either pre-COVID or post-COVID. But over the last year there have been many noteworthy changes as well. We now have a better understanding of the pandemic which strengthens our strategy to fight it. — Narenda Modi
We are dedicating this Vesak – Buddha Poornima to pray for the victims of the second wave of COVID-19 in India, Nepal, and other parts of the world, and seek alleviation from the pandemic. I would like you all to join in saluting the Corona Warriors for putting service before self and helping us all in combating the pandemic. — Kiren Rijiju
Let us all join together in doing whatever we can to overcome the global threats we face, including the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought such pain and hardship across the world. – His Holiness the Dalai Lama
The IBC, based in New Delhi, is described as the first organization to unite Buddhists around the world. The seeds of the IBC were sown in autumn 2010, during Ven. Lama Lobzang’s visit to Sri Lanka, when sangha members suggested that India host a large-scale international Buddhist conference. Planning then began for one of the largest international gatherings of Buddhists in Indian soil: the Global Buddhist Congregation. The IBC was formed with the aim of uniting the Buddhist organizations and preserving the tangible and intangible heritage of Buddhism.
* Vesak Goes Digital as Buddhists Head Online to Honor the Buddha and 17th United Nations Day of Vesak Event Canceled over Coronavirus Risk (Buddhistdoor Global)
Text of PM’s address at the virtual Vesak Day celebrations on Buddha Purnima (Press Information Bureau, Government of India)
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Message for Buddha Purnima / Vesak (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
Vaishakh Samman Prashasti Patra honours 2019, 2020 and 2021 (Press Information Bureau, Government of India)