Sri Lanka celebrates the International Day of Vesak at UNESCO with a Symposium highlighting the relevance of Buddhism to contemporary life

The Permanent Delegation of Sri Lanka organized a symposium to commemorate the International Day of Vesak in collaboration with UNESCO on Vesak Day, 05 May 2023, at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. The symposium which acknowledged the contribution of Buddhism to the spiritual wellbeing of humanity over two-and-a-half millennia as well as its relevance to date, was chaired by the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka to UNESCO Manisha Gunasekera.  

The Assistant Director-General, Social and Human Sciences of UNESCO Gabriela Ramos attended the symposium as the Chief Guest and delivered the Vesak Day Message of the Director-General UNESCO Audrey Azoulay. The Director-General in her Message acknowledged and appreciated the contribution of the Permanent Delegation of Sri Lanka in hosting a symposium on Vesak Day, and for bringing people together “to enjoy this moment of reflection and celebration”.  She also highlighted the Buddha’s message of “wisdom, compassion, mutual understanding.” which “is still of great relevance today”.  She observed that “the values celebrated on this Day also underpin UNESCO’s mandate” of “intellectual and moral solidarity, [and] a culture of peace”.

The opening segment of the symposium included remarks by the Permanent Delegate of India Ambassador Vishal Sharma and the Permanent Delegate of Nepal Ambassador Dipak Adhikari who referred to the Buddha’s message of peace and compassion, the important Buddhist sites in their respective countries, as well as to the rich civilizational and cultural heritage that embodies the region.  Venerable Parawahera Chandararatna, the Chief Incumbent of the International Buddhist Centre in Paris, France in his capacity as the Chief Sangha Nayaka of France also addressed the gathering observing that the Buddha’s teachings encourage investigation and are open to all without discrimination.  Remarks were also delivered by the Permanent Delegate of Pakistan Ambassador Asim Iftikhar Ahmad who referred to the ancient Buddhist sites in the country which are part of a great civilisation linking Asia and Europe.

The discourse themed “The Relevance of Buddhism and Mindfulness Practices for Health and Wellbeing in the Modern World" was delivered by renowned Buddhist scholar Venerable Professor Mahinda Deegalle, Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge and Professor Emeritus in Religions, Philosophies and Ethics, Bath Spa, University, the United Kingdom. Venerable Professor Deegalle elaborated on the significance of Vesak, the essence of the Dhamma and its philosophical contributions, the Buddha’s message of loving kindness, and the commonalities of Buddhist culture and civilization that connect communities across the globe.  He also discussed the relevance of Buddhism and Buddhist practices of meditation to modern day life, how Buddhist teachings can enhance one’s wellbeing, and help address contemporary challenges.  

The symposium also included a brief Mindfulness Meditation practice session conducted by The Venerable Parawahera Chandaratana, thus providing an opportunity to the attendees to experience how the tools and techniques of the teachings can help them in their daily lives.  The symposium also included a Q&A session, which was followed by a reception with the serving of Sri Lankan and Indian food and Ceylon tea.

The Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka highlighted the pivotal role played by Sri Lanka in the United Nations in gaining recognition internationally for the Day of Vesak, with specific reference to the UN General Assembly resolution 54/115 of 1999.  She also referred to the celebration of Vesak in UNESCO over the years, from as far back as 1978 or earlier, under the aegis of the Permanent Delegation of Sri Lanka.  She reflected on the civilisational linkages and similarities binding countries across the Asian region and beyond through the celebration of Vesak, and on the significance of the Buddha’s message in promoting inter-cultural harmony and inter-faith dialogue today.

The symposium was attended by the Permanent Delegates of UNESCO, members of Permanent Delegations, staff of the UNESCO Secretariat, religious leaders, scholars, as well as devotees representing various Buddhist and faith communities in France.  The event was a moment of reflection and celebration as well as a reminder of the importance of preserving and promoting the rich cultural heritage of the world.