News at Tipitaka Network
United Nations Day of Vesak opened in Hanoi
Compiled by Tipitaka Network Newsdesk, Sunday, May 18, 2008
The fifth United Nations Day of Vesak (UNDV) celebrations opened on May 14 in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, with thousands of Buddhists from the world over gathering at My Dinh National Convention Center to spread Buddha's message of peace, love and harmony. The UN Secretary General, state leaders and many Buddhist organisations sent messages to the UNDV Conference which marked the 2252nd Vesak, the thrice-sacred day of Buddha's birth, Enlightenment and Nibbana.
Over 600 Buddhist delegations consisting of about 5,000 representatives from 90 countries and regions met during the three-day Conference, the biggest ever Buddhist international event in Buddhism's over 2000 year's long history in Vietnam. "It's an historical event and moment of pride for the Buddhists and the whole country. The Vietnam's Buddhist community is obviously excited about it," said Venerable Dr. Thich Nhat Tu, secretary, International Organizing Committee of the United Nations Day of Vesak (UNDV).
The World Buddhist Summit President, the Venerable Dr Kyuse Enshinjoh, said it was a chance for Buddhist dignitaries representing their 370 million followers to seek the end of war, conflict, social injustice and environmental pollution.
Venerable Professor Le Manh That, the chairman of UNDV in Vietnam said: "The event is an opportunity to apply the Buddhist perspective to solve a multitude of problems the world faces today."
On May 14, Conference participants took a minute of silence to remember the victims of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and Monday’s earthquake in Sichuan, China. The Dalai Lama was absent from the Conference.
The main theme of this year's Conference is "Buddhist Contribution to Building an Equitable, Democratic and Civil Society". World famous Zen master and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh has been holding a retreat of over 400 foreign delegates in Hanoi for last couple of weeks. On the opening day, he and UNDV founding president, Dr. Phra Dharmakosajarn, gave respective speeches on "Buddhism's Role in War Prevention" and "Buddhism for a Just, Democratic and Civil Society".
On the second day, the delegates attended a symposium of seven workshops discussing global issues. The talks focused on seven themes: "War, Conflict and Healing: A Buddhist Perspective"; "Buddhist Contribution to Social Justice"; "Engaged Buddhism and Development"; "Care for Our Environment: Buddhist Response to Climate Change"; "Family Problems and the Buddhist Response"; "Symposium on Buddhist Education: Continuity and Progress"; and "Symposium on Buddhism in the Digital Age."
Venerable Thich Giac Toan, Vice President of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS) Executive Council said Buddha's fundamental teachings of love, compassion and wisdom should be upheld and disseminated to build a peaceful and happy life for humans as the world faces serious disasters, war, violence, hatred, poverty, racial and religious discrimination.
Prof Jinabbodhi Bhikkhu from Bangladesh's Chittagong University emphasised Buddhism's contributions to social justice. Social equity should lead to enlightenment, while enlightenment and happiness were contrary to misery, he said, adding that Buddhist theories on social justice met the demands of modern society.
The issue of new technology also took centre-stage, as the meeting spotlighted "Symposium on Buddhism in the Digital Age". Venerable Thich Chan Quang said if Buddhist followers ignored the digital world, they might lose an effective means for learning and disseminating the Buddha's teachings.
Turning to the theme "Engaged Buddhism and Development", Venerable Thich Bao Nghiem from the VBS said the Sangha had striven to expand international exchanges between Buddhist organisations and other different religions in many other countries. These were done in the spirit of peace, friendship and solidarity, he said.
Venerable Thich Gia Quang, Vice Secretary General of the VBS Executive Council, highlighted Buddhism's role in tackling climate problems. He said environmental pollution threatened the development and lives of hundreds of millions of people in the world and had become an urgent global problem.
United Nations in a resolution in 1999 decided to celebrate the thrice-sacred day of Vesak in the month of May. The first celebrations were held back in the year 2000 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Subsequently, these celebrations were successfully held in Bangkok, Thailand since 2004.
It is also an international religious and cultural day that promotes interaction and exchange of Buddhist cultural values from diverse countries. Cultural activities were organized not only in the capital Hanoi but also in other 55 cities and provinces. Prominent among cultural activities was a Buddhist culture and arts exhibition which opened at the National Convention Hall on May 13. An English book featuring 52 popular pagodas in Vietnam is published as part of the celebrations. The final editing of the book was undertaken by Professor Keith Weller Taylor from the Carnell University of the United States.
A special programme of art performances was held over the three evenings at the Conference venue. It included a special dance performance accompanied by traditional Vietnamese musical instruments "Flower Blossom - Buddha is Being Seen" based on an idea by Venerable Thich Minh Hien and choreographed by Tan Loc, composer Anh Quan's latest piece "Singing for Vesak" performed by famous singers My Linh and Trong Tan, a special performance of cai luong (reformed opera) titled "Cuoc Doi Duc Phat" (Life of Buddhism), and the first-ever Buddhist symphony composed in Vietnam "Khai Giuc" (Begin the Enlightenment) by composer Nguyen Thien Dao.
The three-day Conference ended with a declaration on the environment, world peace and human rights. At the closing ceremony on May 16, participants approved a 16-article declaration summing up the Fifth International Buddhist Conference. The Hanoi declaration made special reference to protecting the environment and the over-exploitation of natural resources, especially at a time of climate change; the promotion of world peace through mutual trust and respect; preventing conflict through disarmament and banning tests on nuclear weapons; and acknowledging that social and economic development cannot be secured without peace and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Ven Nhat Tu summed up the significance of the celebrations for humanity at large: "The celebrations are a reminder to the world about the teachings of the Buddha, and also a call that if Buddha's teachings of compassion, simple life and selfless service to society are followed, the life on earth would become a blessing."
The Hanoi declaration runs as follows:
"We, the participants from seventy four countries and territorial regions of the International Buddhist Conference on the United Nations Day of Vesak at the National Convention Center, Hanoi, Vietnam, from May 13-17, 2008 (B.E. 2552), gratefully acknowledging that the Conference on Buddhist Contribution to Building a Just, Democratic and Civilised Society has been generously supported by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, have unanimously resolved the following:
On May 16, after the closing ceremony, a candle-lighting vigil praying for world peace and for the victims of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the earthquake in China was attended by about 20,000 people. Balloons were released in the air and specially designed postcards to commemorate the UNDV festivities were distributed. On May 17, Conference delegates visited famous Buddhist and world heritage sites in northern Quang Ninh and Ninh Binh provinces.
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Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa.
Buddha sāsana.m cira.m ti.t.thatu.