Vesak celebrations and UN Day of Vesak 2017-STATEMENT BY THE NATIONAL JOINT COMMITTEE
Buddhism is the national religion of Sri Lanka ever since the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka 2300 years ago by Arahant Mahinda and ready acceptance and embracement of Buddhism by King Devanampiyatissa and his subjects. It has enjoyed full state patronage right up to the time that the country came under the occupation of three European countries (1505 – 1948). The state patronage of Buddhism has been restored to some extent, since grant of independence in 1948.
Vesak is the most important Buddhist festival in the annual calendar as it honours the three auspicious events (Themagula) i.e. birth, enlightenment, and Mahaparibbana of the Buddha. It is commemorated on a large scale as an exclusive Buddhist festival in Sri Lanka and the rest of the Buddhist world.
The United Nations General Assembly has accepted Buddhism as one of the oldest religions in the world contributing to the moral, ethical and spiritual development of humanity for a period in excess of two and half millennia and acknowledged the importance of “Vesak” in 1999 by its resolution 54/115 as worthy of commemoration annually at the United Nations Headquarters and UN Offices.
Sri Lanka has been tasked to host the United Nations International Day of Vesak in 2017, under the theme “Buddhist Teachings for Social Justice and Sustainable World Peace”. The programme includes an International Buddhist Symposium and the participation of a significant number of delegates from 100 countries.
Celebration of Vesak
The National Joint Committee (NJC) while acknowledging the significance of holding the UN International Day of Vesak 2017 in Sri Lanka and resulting boost to the image of the country internationally, has noted with despair several advertisements placed in the leading newspapers of the country recently.
Throughout Sri Lanka’s Buddhist History lasting for over 2300 years Vesak has been an exclusive Buddhist Festival with only Buddhist symbols and decorations been displayed to mark the most important occasion in the Buddhist calendar. Even at worst of times during colonial rule under three Christian powers, this festive day for Buddhists was never highlighted with symbols of other religions.
There appears to be a calculated effort to depart from this long established tradition in Sri Lanka if we are to take cue from these advertisements which have been running in the leading newspapers in the last seven weeks (Sunday Times 2, page 10 – April 9, 2017).
While the main focus of the advertisement is on celebration of Vesak the margins of the advertisement at both the top and bottom ends are lined with the symbols of four religions, namely, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.
In addition, the advertisement attempts to dissuade the Buddhist public from constructing Dansals to feed the poor, engaging in celebration of Vesak in a fitting manner being a once a year occasion (Festival of Lights), and projecting Sri Lanka as a pre- dominant Buddhist country.
We have noted that while austerity is being advocated for Buddhists in celebration of Vesak this year, no such caution was sounded when Christmas was celebrated under State patronage last December, 2017. An exorbitant and unnecessary amount was misspent and squandered in decorating Colombo streets and public squares (with hardly any people on the Streets compared to Vesak) with fancy lighting and bulbs to show case Christianity including the erection of a massive artificial Christmas Tree on Galle Face Green, disregarding wide protests from the vast majority of Lanka’s citizenry.
The rationale for inserting non – Buddhist religious symbols in respect to celebration of Vesak, in a newspaper advertisement, is inexplicable except in terms of an agenda with possible State backing towards Multi –culturalising and downsizing Vesak as an exclusive Buddhist festival.
The NJC is deeply disappointed over this trend. There must be a limit to appeasement under the cover of a so called ‘ Peace and Reconciliation’. The irrepressible mandate of the State under the Constitution (Article 9) is to protect and foster Buddhism, and not to downsize and multi -culturalise the celebration of Buddhist festivals.
UN Day of Vesak 2017
It would indeed be tragic if the forthcoming UN Day of Vesak 2017 Conference due to be held in Colombo ( May 12 – 14, 2017) was to be used for promoting an agenda to spread inter – faithism and multi-culturalism, which have been introduced to countries with deep roots in Buddhist civilizational history e.g. China, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, etc. with a view to marginalise and drive out Buddhism from public life in these countries.
The Buddhist World will be further disappointed if the opportunity that will arise at the forth coming UN Day of Vesak 2017 Conference will not be used to discuss the problems and challenges facing Buddhists and Buddhist communities in many parts of the world.
Dr Anula Wijesundere
Col. Anil Amerasekera
Co – Chairpersons
National Joint Committee