White House extends warm wishes to Buddhists with third annual Vesak celebration

On Friday, a third annual Vesak celebration was held at the White House honoring the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha.

8 May 2023
Second Gentleman Mr. Douglas Emhoff lights a candle in front of a white statue of the buddha
Second Gentleman Mr. Douglas Emhoff at the third annual Vesak celebration at the White House. Photo via the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center New York on Facebook.

The White House held its third annual celebration in recognition of Vesak on Friday, May 5 and shared a statement from US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on the Buddhist holiday that celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and passing of the Buddha. The statement from Blinken reads:

Happy Buddha Purnima. We send our best wishes to Buddhists around the world as they commemorate Vesak.

Vesak marks the birth, enlightenment, and passing of the Buddha. The occasion provides the chance for us all to reflect on his teachings and renew our commitment to universal values such as compassion, tolerance, and human dignity.

On this occasion, we celebrate the rich contributions of diverse Buddhist communities in every corner of the globe and recommit to working together across belief traditions to build a better world for everyone.

This year’s ceremony at the White House marks its third annual Vesak celebration. According to a press release from the International Buddhist Association of America (IBAA), the event was hosted by Second Gentleman Mr. Douglas Emhoff and attended by ambassadors from Cambodia, Nepal, Thailand, and Sri Lanka alongside delegations from India, Indonesia, Mongolia, and representatives of the IBAA. The event was held in the White House Indian Treaty Room and included the lighting of butter lamps, as shared by the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center, whose co-founder and director Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche attended the celebration.  

Attendees of the third annual celebration at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of IBAA.

“With between 700 million and a billion followers, Buddhism is the third of the great missionary religions, along with Christianity and Islam, and brings a message of perhaps unique importance to the cultural conditions we find today,” Wangmo Dixey, President of IBAA, commented in the association’s press release. “The International Buddhist Association of America was founded to rise to this challenge, the challenge of bringing together all the various Buddhist voices found in America, and promoting the civilized and reasoned discourse that is such a feature of our great tradition.”

This year’s ceremony coincided with Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. A White House representative told Religion News Service that by hosting the event, the White House hopes Buddhists celebrating Vesak across the United States will know “that the White House sees, hears and values them on their sacred holiday.”