A Reflection on 2024’s UN Vesak Celebration in Thailand

By Ven. Aphichet Somkamsri

Ven. Aphichet Somkamsri is the director of the administrative divison of the ASEAN Studies Centre at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU). He can be reached at [email protected]

A week ago, 73 world leaders from the Buddhist community gathered in Bangkok, Thailand to join the world celebration of Vesak Day. Vesak commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and passing of Lord Buddha. Each year, these festivities are imbued with deep spiritual meaning and herald humanity’s ongoing quest for meaning in today’s world.

The selected theme for this year’s UN-supported Vesak celebration was “The Buddhist Way of Building Trust and Solidarity.”

The Thai government and the Sangha Supreme Council of the country joined hands in organizing the festivity because the 19th International Vesak Day, which was a significant event marking the unity of the global Buddhist community. It was also an event to honor His Majesty the King’s 72nd birthday.

From 19 to 20 May, there were various activities and ceremonies centered on offerings, goodwill messages, and blessings. The festivities kicked off at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU), where His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand presided over the Vesak Day ceremonies. Alongside academic seminar sessions, Buddhist leaders and scholars participated in Vesak rituals, discussion panels, and keynote lectures to share their knowledge and hope for how trust and solidarity could be reinforced in an ecumenical way among the global Sangha. These sessions offered attendees a unique opportunity to explore and learn about Buddhism’s multifaceted dimensions through the lens of tradition, education, societal harmony, and global interconnectedness.

Image by Kshripa Simon

The core event on 20 May took place at the United Nations Conference Center in Bangkok. On the occasion, the International Council for the Day of Vesak (ICDV), led by council president Phra Brahmapundit, announced the 2024 Bangkok Declaration, which commits to following the Buddhist framework of cultivating effective problem-solving, global partnerships, and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Moreover, the International Council for the Day of Vesak announced the date of the 20th United Nations Day of Vesak, which will be hosted by the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha in Ho Chi Minh City in 2025.

Keynote speeches were given by the UN secretary-general António Guterres, the UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay, and the ESCAP executive secretary Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana. In retrospect, the 2024 Vesak Celebration in Thailand was not merely a ceremonial event but also a powerful testament to the enduring relevance and universal appeal of the Buddhist teachings.

Education as Enlightenment

This year’s Vesak celebrations emphasizes education as a path to enlightenment. Academic seminars were held during the festivities, and they delved into the practical application of Buddhist principles in modern living and offered insights into mindfulness, trust, and societal harmony. Scholars and practitioners alike explored the intersection of ancient wisdom with contemporary challenges, highlighting the relevance of Buddhist teachings in navigating the complexities of the modern world.

Societal Harmony and Unity

In the rapidly changing world, the Vesak celebrations served as a hope for societal harmony and unity. The teachings of compassion and interconnectedness advocated by Lord Buddha resonated deeply, inspiring the attendees to reaffirm performing acts of kindness and generosity towards all beings. Additionally, Vesak was a platform for interfaith dialogue and cultural exchange, fostering mutual respect and understanding among different religious and ethnic groups.


Global Interconnectedness

The 2024 Vesak celebration in Thailand went far beyond the country’s borders, resonating with people of diverse cultures and backgrounds worldwide. International dignitaries, diplomats, and scholars gathered around the globe to pay homage to the Blessed One and reaffirm their commitment to peace, harmony, and mutual cooperation. Through diplomatic channels, cultural exchanges, and humanitarian initiatives, people around the world sought to promote dialogue, understanding, and collaboration on issues of common concern, such as climate change, poverty alleviation, and human rights.

As an integral part of the global Buddhist calendar, the spirit of Vesak reminds us about shared humanity and interconnectedness, urging us to cultivate peace, harmony, and understanding in our hearts and communities. Reflecting on the 2024 Vesak celebration in Thailand, let us carry forward its lessons of love, wisdom, and unity, inspiring positive change in ourselves and the world around us.

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