Report from the secretariat of the 16th UNDV celebration in Ha Nam, Vietnam



Tam Chuc Convention Center, Ha Nam 14th May 2019

I. Preamble

On the 15th of December 1999, representatives from thirty-four countries proposed to the General Assembly of the United Nations that the full Moon Day in the month of May be recognized and observed at the United Nations’ Headquarters and its Regional Offices as the United Nations Day of Vesak. The General Assembly so resolved (Agenda Item 174 of Session No. 54) and, accordingly, the UN Day of Vesak was instituted in the year 2000 with the support of all Buddhist traditions.

In furtherance of that Resolution, we, participants from 112 countries and territories, have come together from May 11th to the 14th of 2019 for the celebration of the Buddha's Birth, Enlightenment, and Mahaparinibbana. Since its inception twenty years ago, this is only the third time it is being organized in Vietnam. Vietnam’s ability to host this auspicious event is thanks to liberal support from Government of Vietnam and the gracious and warm Vietnamese People, who in collaboration with Executive Council of the National Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS), opened their hearts and doors of hospitality for the World Buddhist leaders and Community.

For the last three days of celebrations, on several occasions, we had the honor to warmly welcome distinguished guests from across the region and the World. Representative of these distinguished guests were: President of Myanmar, H.E. Mr. U Win Myint; Vice President of India, H.E. Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu; Prime Minister of Nepal, Right Hon. Mr. K.P. Sharma Oli; Chairperson of the National Council of Bhutan; H.E. Mr. Tashi Dorji, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations/Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific H.E. Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana; Director-General of UNESCO, H.E. Ms. Audrey Azoulay; and, more than 20 Ambassadors along with many other dignitaries.

It was also our honor to warmly welcome the National Assembly Chairwoman H.E. Ms. Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan; Prime Minister of Vietnam H.E. Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc; President of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee, H.E.Mr. Tran Thanh Man; Permanent Deputy Prime Minister, H.E.Mr. Truong Hoa Binh; Deputy Prime Minister – Minister of External Affairs, H.E. Mr. Pham Binh Minh; together with other dignitaries including former President, former Chairman of the National Assembly of Vietnam and other past and present Political leaders of the Government of Vietnam.

The Celebration began with the Government Reception and Gala Dinner held at the National Convention Centre, Hanoi on 11th May 2019 hosted by Chairwoman of the National Assembly of Vietnam, H.E. Mrs. Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan and especially graced by the World Buddhist leaders.

II. Academics

We are facing grave challenges across the World, ranging from arising armed conflicts and environmental deterioration to the unraveling of familial and social relationships, mental illnesses and socio-economic inequality. These challenges urge us to work together and take responsibility to tackle our shared global issues. In this context, Buddhist visions of global leadership and social governance for a compassionate and sustainable future play a crucial role in not only resolving any of the World issues, but also guiding the World to walk on the right path that benefits all sentient beings.

The Academic Conference produced anthology of conference papers presented by 110 international scholars and 100 Vietnamese scholars at the UNDV 2019 conference on “Buddhist Approach to Global Leadership and Shared Responsibilities for Sustainable Societies.” That over-arching theme was organized into five perspectives.

First, within the scope of “Mindful Leadership for Sustainable Peace”, we analyzed conflicts, tendencies and motivations that impact world development in the future. Under the guiding light of Buddhism, two important theories are presented: (1) the revitalization of Buddhism in the era of ethical and social deterioration as the foremost and utmost mission, and (2) the crucial role of Buddhism in building the new foundation for mindful leadership and sustainable development.

Second, an understanding of the nature of “Harmonious Families, Healthcare System and Sustainable Development” are central to throwing a new light on the transformation of the social system. By focusing on the Buddhist approach in deepening understanding of how politics can deliver a suitable social policy, this transformation can be a foundation for positive social interaction.

We considered the fundamental ways in which the Buddhist teachings can be intimately woven into the reconstruction of happy families, effective health care service, a powerful nation and a sustainable society. Buddhist engagement in social welfare can be at the heart of these reform processes. Such engagements explore the fascinating ways in which the family can be strengthened; struggles over social order reduced; and, how the rise of Buddhist ethics may play a central role.

Third, “Buddhist Approach to Global Education in Ethics” affirms that ethical education is essential to Buddhist education. Buddhist education entails the education of human virtues, living values, life purpose and ideals for human beings, and thus, fosters well-being.

This theme also explores the importance of the teacher to be mindful in the way they talk, listen and teach the student so that they can effectively teach mindfulness. It urges us to implement Buddhist education in ethics on a regular basis within a secular, mainstream curriculum to enhance the output of today’s learners for the future generation.

Fourth, “Buddhism and the fourth Industrial Revolution” analyzes the positive impact of artificial intelligence, automation and robots. Application of technological innovations will help the production process faster, require less manpower, ensure product quality. However, the fourth industrial revolution may lead to labor market imbalances, economic uncertainties, even creating political discord.

New technology can result in changes in power relations, engender security concerns, and increase the gap between the rich and poor. These problems urge us to apply Buddhist teachings to find the relevant solutions and achieve sustainable development.

Finally, “Buddhist Approach to Responsible Consumption and Sustainable Development” goes to analyze the crisis of consumerism and the Buddhist perspective on overconsumption and its negative affects. The human tendency for overconsumption impacts the entire force of nature and the environment. Buddhist principles guide us to live responsibly and mindfully, while encouraging sustainable development that leads to a better life, with the least adverse effect on environment and society.

III. Cultural Festival

A celebration of the life and gifts of the Buddha would be incomplete without the opportunity to experience the customs and practices through the lens of the host nation and the experiences of Buddhists from around the Globe. The annual UNDV celebration allows practitioners from 112 countries and territories to experience the unique way various cultures celebrate the auspicious events of the Buddha’s life.

- The Bathing of the Buddha Ritual was performed with great solemn as a reminder that we need to wash away the dirt of our body and mind and thus, live a life of purity, dignity, and happiness.

- The Candle-lit Procession for Peace in Vietnam was attended by international Buddhist leaders and over 20,000 Vietnamese devotees.

- The Flower Float Parade from Phu Ly City back to Tam Chuc Pagoda, Ha Nam Province was beautifully showcased in celebration of UNDV 2019.

- In spare moments during the Conference, delegates were able to wander the long halls of the complex that had been turned into galleys of art and antiquities. World and Vietnamese Buddhist Exhibitions included exquisite collections of antiques, Buddhist paintings and photography, artistic stone sculptures, as well as oil paintings reconstructing Buddhist Ajanta caves in India.

- International Cultural Shows included two programs. The first program on “Sacred Vesak” exalted the contributions of the Buddha Shakyamuni to social transformations, bringing about benefits to all sentient beings. The second program, “Heritage Journey,” proposed new approaches to heritage, thus contributing to the preservation of heritage and cultural values of “Truthfulness, Wholesomeness, and Perfection” from different countries, including Vietnam, China, India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Thailand, Japan, etc.

- The Buddhist Cultural Trade Fair featured hundreds of market stalls selling cultural Buddhist products and vegetarian food items to serve thousands of visitors each day.

Across all the lands into which Buddhism was imported and continues to spread, it has combined with the indigenous culture to create a uniquely adapted practice. Vietnamese Buddhism is no different and our third component of the Festival emphasized Vietnam’s adaptation of the Buddha’s teachings.

Through the flow of history, from Ngo, Dinh, Tien Le, Ly to Tran dynasties, Buddhism has been considered as the national religion in Vietnam. Buddha’s teachings were being applied into daily life and taken an important role in accompanying the Nation and directing its people towards wholesomeness.

IV. Pageantry and Fellowship

The opportunities for the delegates to join in fellowship and to enjoy the hospitality of the Vietnamese people were weaved throughout the program of the four-day conference.

Each day the organizer provided some 50 thousand meals, three times a day, to those assembled at the Tam Chuc Temple complex. Prepared by some 1100 volunteers, the meals represented the best of Vietnamese cuisine. Vegetarian menus were available, along with some western fare for those delegates that desired more familiar meals.

While the logistics of this undertaking were no doubt daunting, mealtime provided the opportunity for the delegates to meet other brothers and sisters in the Dharma and to learn about differing cultures and make lasting friendships. Though at times seemingly confused and hectic, the communal form of dining and seating allowed for the greatest diversity at each table. The opportunity to forge a friendship that will last long after the last noodle in a bowl of Pho is consumed was most assuredly a benefit of the exquisite food service.

VI. Conclusion

Within the 11 years since Vietnam was honored to first host the United Nations Day of Vesak Celebration in 2008, the Vietnamese National Sangha has grown strongly and fast. We are planning and working again toward a goal of hosting this international celebration again. The National Vietnam Buddhist Sangha undertook a grand undertaking to hold a major international event, in a relatively remote, yet religiously significant venue.

Amidst numerous challenges of lodging, transportation, food service, and public safety, the 16th UNDV celebration afforded the National Vietnam Buddhist Sangha the opportunity to display the very best of Vietnam to its international guests and delegates. The National Vietnam Buddhist Sangha flawlessly rose to the occasion and provided high-quality celebration and experience to its guests. The hospitality of Vietnam was put on display, and a highly successful 16th UN Day of Vesak Celebration was concluded.

Instrumental to this effort was the tireless devotion of hundreds of volunteers who worked to ensure the success and safety of our Conference and festival. I would be remiss if I were not to acknowledge their service to this event, to Buddhism, the Sangha, our Nation, and the broader World community. Your efforts were critical to the success of this historic gathering.

However, this celebration would never have achieved its unprecedented success without you, the distinguished guest, the visiting Sangha, the presenting scholars, the delegates from 112 countries, and our countless participants.

We look forward to your return to Vietnam, whether individually or for another UN Day of Vesak gathering.

Thank you for your kind attention.