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White House Holds Fourth Annual Vesak Celebration

Bishop Among Speakers at Event


To view the White House Vesak celebration, go to this link: 


 

For the fourth consecutive year, the Biden Administration celebrated Vesak with a White House ceremony and the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) was well-represented at the event. 


BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada — who attended the first Vesak at the White House in 2021 — was among the participants at the May 23 celebration at the White House that attracted an estimated crowd of about 100 people.


Other Jodo Shinshu Buddhism representatives included Rev. Kiyonobu Kuwahara, the program director for the Jodo Shinshu International Office (JSIO) and Supervising Minister of the Berkeley Buddhist Temple and the Buddhist Temple of Marin, and Bishop Rev. Toshiyuki Umitani of the Hompa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii (HHMH). 


Vesak honors the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing. In recognition of the occasion, President Biden issued the following official statement from the White House:


“Jill and I extend our warmest 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.”


Representing President Biden at the Vesak ceremony was Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, whose opening remarks highlighted the significance of the Buddhist holiday. 


“It’s important that we all come together,” Emhoff said. “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. Because we know in this room that there’s so much more that unites us than divides us.”


Emhoff said that as the “first Jewish White House principal, I always talk about finding joy in my own faith, even in the face of hate and anti-semitism. As we celebrate this event and celebrate our cultures coming together, let’s just keep that joy at all times.”


The event was coordinated by Wangmo Dixey, President of the International Buddhist Association of America (IBAA) and the Executive Director of Dharma College in Berkeley through the offices of Shekar Narasimhan, President of the Dharma Into Action Foundation. 


Dixey noted that there are about 3,000 Buddhist temples in the United States, each representing the Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions that trace back to the time of the Buddha. Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is part of the Mahayana tradition.


“Many elders have journeyed here to America, enriching our nation with their profound truth of reality,” Dixey told the gathering. “At the heart of the Buddha-Dharma is the conveyance of the truth of reality. It teaches the Four Noble Truths that we should understand suffering and identify its cause, and so find a path to the cessation of suffering and the way of life that embodies that this fundamental teaching illuminates a universal truth that remains timeless and profoundly relevant to the challenges we face in modernity. Central to these teachings is the practice of the Eightfold Noble Path, a guide to living, wisdom, ethical conduct and mental discipline.”


Before Emhoff and the Buddhist dignitaries lit a butter lamp in honor of Vesak, Dixey spoke about the lamp’s symbolism to light the way to world peace.


“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.”


Dixey said “each of us carry the inspiration and spirit of Vesak into our everyday lives. May we embrace the beautiful qualities that the Buddha has shown us to build a brighter and kinder future for all Americans guided by the timeless quality of love, compassion and mutual understanding. By lighting this lamp today, we send a message of peace and harmony that will resonate throughout the world.”


After Emhoff lit the lamp, representatives from the various Buddhist traditions took turns lighting the lamp and chanting sutras. Rev. Harada spoke as part of the Mahayana tradition.


“Mahayana literally means ‘large vehicle’ like a big bus that carries many people,” Rev. Harada said. “Buddhism uses the metaphor of a vehicle to illustrate how it is a teaching that carries us from a life of delusion, ignorance and suffering to a life of awakening, wisdom and liberation. This large vehicle carries anyone and everyone regardless of race, gender, social status or sexual orientation. 


“Our world is in great need of the teachings to awaken us to our own greed, anger and ignorance that bring suffering not only for ourselves, but to others,” he continued. “We are in great need of the teachings that urges us to listen to the Dharma to listen to others, to listen to our own inner voice. We are in great need of the teachings that urges us to live a life of a bodhisattva to work with the enlightenment of all beings.” 


After the Vesak ceremony, there was a Buddhist peace march around the Washington Monument the evening of May 23 with leaders from various Buddhist traditions. The event was held in partnership with the Tzu Chi Foundation and listed Dharma College as a key collaborator.


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5 Comments



The fourth annual Vesak celebration took place smoothly and well flappy bird

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This is wonderful to see the White House recognizing Vesak for the fourth year in a row. The Buckshot Roulette quotes from President Biden and Second Gentleman Emhoff highlight the importance of the Buddha's teachings for peace, compassion, and understanding.

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Thanks so much for the wonderful overview and sharing the link to the event. I felt a deep peace when reading about and watching the ceremony. The Buddhist messages of community, compassion, and self-reflection are much needed in the world right now.

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It's heartwarming to see such diverse representation from the Buddhist community and a strong message of peace and unity. tunnel rush

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