On May the 4th, 2014, the International Buddhist flag was hoisted at Ottawa’s City Hall in honour of Vesak Day, which marks the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha. Mayor Jim Watson delivered an official proclamation marking Vesak Day to the audience, which was at full capacity. He was joined by several other dignitaries, including His Excellency Pisan Manawapat, Ambassador of Thailand to Canada, H. E. Harry Narine Nawbatt, High Commissioner of the Republic of Guyana, MP Royal Galipeau, MPP Jack McLaren, MPP Yasir Naqvi, Ottawa City Councillor Shad Qudri and various diplomatic dignitaries. Official messages were also delivered on behalf of the Governor General, the Prime Minister of Canada and the Premier of Ontario.
Although Vesak Day is recognized as an official holiday by the United Nations, this was the first time it was held at Ottawa City Hall, building on a celebration the previous year held at the Cambodian Buddhist temple in Stittsville. The event was the brainchild of Visita Leelaratna, a young professional who runs the Sirin Research Centre and Founder - Chairman of Vesak In Ottawa, with three others taking on advisory roles, including Venerable Master Bon Dat of Pho Da temple in Ottawa, Venerable Sam Rath of the Cambodian Temple in Stittsville, and Dr. Ian Prattis.
There are an estimated 500 million people in the world who identify Buddhism as their religion or way of life. While most live in Asia, Buddhism is recognized as the fastest growing religion in Western societies. In Canada, a Buddhist celebration like the one at city hall brings together ordinary Canadians from all backgrounds, Asian and non-Asian, who have made a commitment to lead noble, peaceful lives, and to practice kindness and generosity, according to the Buddha’s teachings. This was well reflected in the diversity of the participants, performances, and in the organizing of the event, which was free of charge and entirely volunteer driven. Participants were invited to offer a donation, the proceeds of which sent to support children's education in Cambodia.
The day also marked the occasion of Asian heritage month, reflected in the beautiful performances, which began with traditional Sri Lankan Hevisi drummers who led the procession of spiritual Elders, or Sangha. Four young Vietnamese girls performed an endearing traditional Hat Dance to herald in a “beautiful spring” and a very elegant dance troupe from the Chinese Seniors Support Centre in Kanata performed a dance called Happy Together. The Thai Dance Troupe of Ottawa (TDO) presented a fifteen-minute journey through time, music, and dance telling the story of the birth of the Buddha, his teachings and his disciples. One of the highlights was an inspirational talk by Dharmacharya Ian Prattis on the topic of Mindfulness as a tool to cope with cyber bullying. Performances closed with a lively Lion Dance by a local Vietnamese Buddhist youth group.
Visitors tasted national dishes, and took in Buddha statues and art on display. Other displays included the diplomatic missions of Thailand, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and South Korea, who saw this as an occasion to promote tourism to the various Buddhist historical sites their nations have to offer.
Organizers say they plan to make this an annual event, where all are welcome, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.
For further information or to volunteer for next year's event, kindly contact VesakInOttawa@gmail.com and visit www.VesakInOttawa.com.