On Wednesday, for the first time in US history, a Vesak celebration honoring the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha was held at the White House.
US president Joe Biden offered an official statement yesterday in recognition of “the first time in US history,” as a White House press release notes, that the White House would “celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and passing of the Buddha.”
Jill and I extend our warmest wishes to Buddhists in the United States and around the world as they celebrate Vesak, a day honoring the birth, enlightenment, and passing of the Buddha. The ceremonial lighting of a lamp, the symbol of this holiday that has been celebrated for over 2,500 years, reminds us of Buddhism’s teachings of compassion, humility, and selflessness that endure today. On this day, we also commemorate the many contributions of Buddhists in America who enrich our communities and our country as we all work together toward brighter days ahead.
The celebration included the Second Gentleman, Mr. Douglas Emhoff, lighting a candle in the White House in the presence of Venerable Uparatana (Sri Lankan/American) on behalf of the Theravada tradition; Rev. Marvin Harada (Japanese/ American) on behalf of the Mahayana tradition and Venerable Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche (Tibetan/American) on behalf of the Vajrayana tradition.
According to a press release, Wangmo Dixey, President of the International Buddhist Association of America, coordinated the event in collaboration with the offices of Shekar Narasimhan, President of the Dharma Into Action Foundation. It quotes Mrs. Dixey:
It is wonderful that prayers were offered from all three great traditions of Buddhist practice here, at the heart of American democracy. It is so auspicious that this should happen on this day of celebration of the life and teachings of the Buddha. May the prayers we offer today bring peace and healing to all peoples, particularly to our brothers and sisters in India, the heartland of the Dharma, and may the light that radiates from here, the White House of America, bring wisdom and harmony to the whole world. We are lighting a million camps today to honor this historical moment in our Buddhist history in America.
For more on Vesak, read the Lion’s Roar article, “Celebrating Vesak, or ‘Buddha Day.'”