In New York, Vesak 2021 in Photos

Photographer A. Jesse Jiryu Davis documented three Vesak celebrations in New York this year.

A. Jesse Jiryu Davis11 June 2021
The New York Buddhist Council’s Vesak.

Though schools of Buddhism vary, most celebrate Vesak, or “Buddha Day,” which marks the birth, enlightenment, and death of the historical Buddha. Sanghas celebrated Vesak on or around May 26 this year.

In legend, it’s said that when the Buddha was born he took seven steps, then pointed at the sky and earth and said, “Above and below, I alone am the world-honored one.”  At some celebrations, we place a statue of the baby Buddha in a bowl surrounded by flowers and bathe him. The baby Buddha statue points up and down to remind us of this story.

Vesak expresses the variety and unity of Buddhists around the world.

I photographed Vesak celebrations at three different temples this year: Blue Cliff Monastery in upstate New York, part of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing; Chogyesa, a Korean Zen temple in the lineage of Seung Sahn Sunim, in Manhattan; and Jung Myung Sa, a traditional Korean temple in Queens, New York City. All three temples have been closed since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, but cautiously opened for the first time for Vesak.

Vesak expresses the variety and unity of Buddhists around the world: we come from all lineages and locations, and we have unique cultures and practices, but all Buddhisms descend from the teachings of the same historical Buddha. The ceremony at Jung Myung Sa displayed this unity especially. The celebration was arranged by the New York Buddhist Council, an ecumenical group, and priests from Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sri Lankan, Tibetan, and North American traditions all participated.

Blue Cliff Monastery, upstate New York

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Bathing the baby Buddha, at Blue Cliff Monastery in New York State.
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Blue Cliff Monastery.
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Blue Cliff Monastery.
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Sister Gioi Nghiêm speaks at Blue Cliff Monastery’s Vesak celebration.
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The baby Buddha statue at Blue Cliff Monastery.

Jung Myung Sa temple, Queens, New York City

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James Lynch, president of the New York Buddhist Council, during the council’s Vesak celebration at Jung Myung Sa temple in New York City.
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Bhante Kondanna at the New York Buddhist Council’s Vesak.
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The New York Buddhist Council’s Vesak.

Chogyesa temple, Manhattan, New York City

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At Chogyesa temple, sangha members hang lanterns from the ceiling, dedicated to their families and ancestors. The lanterns stay until the following year’s Vesak.
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Doam Sunim speaking at Chogyesa’s Vesak.
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Bathing the baby Buddha at Chogyesa temple.
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Chogyesa temple.
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The baby Buddha statue at Chogyesa temple.
A. Jesse Jiryu Davis

A. Jesse Jiryu Davis

A. Jesse Jiryu Davis is a programmer and photographer living in New York City. He is a student of Enkyo Roshi at the Village Zendo. Visit his blog at emptysqua.re.