Buddhist communities around the world celebrate the Feast of Vesakh on Wednesday, 26 May. It’s sometimes called Buddha Day as it marks Gautama Buddha’s birthday, although the feast celebrates all three important stages of the Buddha’s life – his birth, enlightenment and passing away. All are said to have taken place at the full moon of the fifth month.
Each year the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue sends a message of greeting to Buddhists to promote solidarity and fraternal dialogue.
This year, the Council’s President, Cardinal Angel Ayuso Guixot has titled the message Buddhists and Christians: Promoting a Culture of Care and Solidarity.
Dear Buddhist Friends,
On behalf of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, I am writing to you on the occasion of the feast of Vesakh to offer my heartfelt greetings. It is my prayer that this annual feast of the birth, enlightenment, and passing away of Gautama Buddha may bring joy, serenity, and hope to the hearts of Buddhists throughout the world.
The current world situation, tragically marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, challenges the followers of all religions to collaborate in new ways at the service of the human community. In his Encyclical Fratelli tutti, signed in Assisi on 3 October 2020, Pope Francis reiterated the urgency of a universal solidarity that allows humanity to overcome together the difficult crises that threaten it, because “no one is saved alone” (Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti, 32).
The Vesak greetings, of which we celebrated the 25th anniversary last year, have highlighted many of the values we hold in common and the wisdom that supports the collaboration we foster, especially in addressing times as hard as the present one. The suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has made us aware of our shared vulnerability and interdependence. We are called to discover and practice the solidarity enshrined in our respective religious traditions.
As Pope Francis says, “ancient stories, full of symbolism, bear witness to a conviction which we today share, that everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationship with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.” (Pope Francis, Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2021).
The Buddhist teaching on Brahma Viharas (Four Heavenly Abodes or Virtues) offers us a timeless message of solidarity and active care. In speaking about mettii (loving kindness), it exhorts followers to extend boundless love to all. “As a mother even with her life protects her only child, so let one cultivate immeasurable loving-kindness towards all living beings” (Metta Sutta). As the Buddha taught, practitioners are equally encouraged to “make haste in doing good deeds; one should restrain one’s mind from evil; for the mind of one who is slow in doing good tends to take delight in doing evil” (Dhammapada, 116).
May this dramatic situation of the COVID-19 pandemic strengthen our bonds of friendship and further unite us in service to the human family, adopting “a culture of dialogue as the path, mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard” (Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti, 285).
Dear Buddhist friends, these are the thoughts that I wish to share with you this year. Let us look forward to the future with hope and serenity.
Miguel Angel Cardinal Ayuso Guixot, MCCJ
Msgr. Kodithuwakku K. Indunil J.
You can also download a printable two-page PDF for Vesakh with information, bidding prayers, newsletter text and more.
We have an audio series ‘In Their Own Words’ in which followers of some of the world’s major religions talk about their beliefs.