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White House Hosts Buddhist Representatives for Fourth Annual Vesak Observance


As millions of Buddhists around the world honored the birth, enlightenment, and mahaparanirvana of the Buddha during the Vesak festival, the White House hosted its own annual observance last week, continuing a new tradition begun four years ago by the administration of President Joe Biden.*

Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, hosted the celebration with a lighting of lamps on 23 May, welcoming representatives from Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions, as well as ambassadors and representatives from the embassies of Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

“As part of my work as second gentleman, I’ve traveled all across this country, but I’ve also traveled all across the world, and I’ve met in many of those instances with local faith leaders and organizations and have felt informed deep connections and deep relationships across diverse communities and faiths, again, across this country and across the world. And this event is a big part of that.

“And it’s important that we build these coalitions. It’s important that we all come together; one, to express our interconnectedness, our faith, our joy, but also to combat hate, because the one and best way to combat hate is to do it together. To come together and do that. Because we know in this room that there’s so much more that unites us than divides us.” (YouTube)


Wangmo Dixey, president of the International Buddhist Association of America and executive director of Dharma College in Berkeley, California, who was present at the event as a coordinator, described the occasion in statement shared with BDG: “This moment was profoundly significant for all of us. It not only showcased the beauty and wisdom of our traditions in our nation’s capital but also demonstrated that more individuals are embracing these teachings as a path for everyday living.”

Speaking during the event, Dixey emphasized the significance of the lamp-lighting ceremony. “Let us reimagine this light as a beacon of hope, a possibility for each of us to manifest harmony and well-being within ourselves and ultimately to become ambassadors of world peace,” she said. “This message originating in this room can resonate around the world, as so many look to America to lead with its profound commitment to true internal freedom. Imagine the power within us to illuminate the world, showing that wisdom and compassion are the ways to lead humanity. Let us remember that we have such great figures like the Buddha to remind us that enlightenment is possible, even in this lifetime.” (YouTube)

Also among those in attendance, Roger Rosner, a senior executive at tech giant Apple, spoke on the relevance of the Buddhadharma in the modern world. “I was super, super fortunate . . . to be reintroduced to the Buddha’s explanation of what ails us, and his very clear cure of his understanding that our very minds are the source of our suffering and the key to our liberation,” Rosner observed. “I’m heartened today to see how the wisdom, ethics, and practices of the Buddha have spread throughout America. The Buddhist teachings are being embraced in schools, households, meditation centers, benefiting many, many people. And it is my hope and aspiration that this event will inspire still more. So on this day, I’m deeply honored to be able to express my joy in celebrating the birth, enlightenment, and passing of the Buddha, especially here in the White House. Thank you.” (YouTube)

US President Joe Biden issued a formal statement marking the occasion and acknowledging the contributions of Buddhists to American society:

Jill and I extend warm wishes to Buddhists in the United States and around the world as they celebrate Vesak. As we honor the birth, passing, and enlightenment of Buddha, we recognize the American Buddhists who contribute so much to our communities and our country. For over 2,500 years, those who adhere to the Buddha’s teachings have enriched and strengthened this world we share. Vesak is a time to reflect on the Buddha’s teachings, including the need to work for peace and justice, and cultivate humility and compassion as we work together towards a brighter future. (The White House)

Meanwhile, US Secretary Of State Antony J. Blinken issued a separate statement that emphasized diversity and freedom of religion: 

This full moon marks the celebration of Vesak, commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and passing of the Buddha. I wish Buddhists across the globe who are celebrating a Happy Buddha Purnima.

On this day, we recognize the contributions of Buddhist communities across the United States, exemplifying the religious diversity that has strengthened our nation for generations. As we work to ensure freedom of religion or belief for all, the United States renews its commitment to ensuring Buddhists around the world are free to celebrate Vesak in accordance with their traditions and values. (U.S. Department of State)

According to data for 2020 from analytics firm Gallup, Buddhists represent 1 per cent of the US population of almost 335 million people. Although the majority of American Buddhists are of Asian heritage, the spiritual tradition is represented across the nation among all ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

* Making History: Vesak Celebrated at the White House with Candle Offerings (BDG)

See more

Statement by President Joe Biden on Vesak (The White House)
On the Occasion of Vesak Day (U.S. Department of State)
International Buddhist Association of America

Related news reports from BDG

Young Buddhist Association of Indonesia Celebrates Vesak with Record-Breaking Moving Sculpture
Light Up Peace: Vesak Day Celebration at Washington DC
Ahead of Vesak, Catholic Leadership Urges Buddhists to Continue Interfaith Work for Peace
Young Buddhist Association of Indonesia Celebrates Vesak in the Spirit of Social Harmony
Buddhists Welcomed to White House to Celebrate Vesak

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