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Keynote Address by Vice President at the 16th UN Day of Vesak in Vietnam

May 12, 2019

His Excellency Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister of Vietnam
His Excellency Win Myint, President of Myanmar 
His Excellency K P Sharma Oli, Prime Minister of Nepal
Her Excellency Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, President of the National Assembly of Vietnam
His Excellency Tashi Dorji, Chairman of the National Council of Bhutan.
Most Venerable Dr. Thic Thien Nhon, President of National Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, and President of United Nations Day of Vesak Celebration 2019
Most Venerable Professor Dr Phra Brahmapundit, President of International Council for Day of Vesak Distinguished religious and spiritual leaders
Excellencies, Esteemed Delegates
Friends from the media
Sisters and brothers


I bring the greetings from the land of Lord Buddha to you all on this auspicious occasion of Vesak, the most sacred of days. I am deeply honoured to be invited to the 16th United Nations Day of Vesak celebration in Ha Nam Province.

It is a day to revere the birth, the enlightenment and the Parinirvana of Lord Buddha. A day to rejoice and celebrate. A day to reflect on the thoughts and teachings of Lord Buddha that have reverberated in the minds and hearts of people across the globe for more than 2500 years.

Vesak provides us an opportunity to recollect the constant tussle between the forces of war and peace, of violent conflict and peaceful co-existence.

Throughout human history the dark forces of unbridled ambition and unending spiral of irrational hatred and anger have raised their ugly head and unfolded a number of tragic tales of blood and tears.

It is however, heartening that there is always a streak of reassuring light that shines through these ominous dark clouds. There are voices that soothe, visions that heal. There are visionaries who restore sanity to the troubled humanity. India has been home to many such visionary sages who firmly believed in the power of goodness which ultimately triumphs in this ceaseless struggle.

India’s vision has been of a world as one large family and its dreams have been woven around the theme of peaceful co-existence. In the long rich lineage of path breaking thought leaders comes Lord Buddha, a truly remarkable fountainhead of wisdom.

His timeless message of Dhamma, "the wonderful humanizing power of the great master” as Swami Vivekananda called it in his address at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, is more relevant today than ever before.

In the serene setting of the Tam Chuc Pagoda in Ha Nam province we have gathered here for the celebration of the 16th United Nations Day of Vesak with the theme of ‘Buddhist Approach to Global Leadership and Shared Responsibilities for Sustainable Societies’.

What are the attributes of good leadership at different levels and how do we build a sustainable world? These are questions to which Buddhist approach can provide useful answers.

In fact, as the United Nations Charter of 1945 indicates, the world community came together in the aftermath of World War II and established the United Nations, "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind”.

70 years later, the United Nations took another major step to not only maintain peace but move forward to create a sustainable planet and, as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development states, "strengthen universal peace in larger freedom.” There is a clear recognition that "there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.” So, it is quite apt that we are discussing global leadership and sustainable development today as we celebrate UN Vesak Day.

The Buddhist approach of Dhamma (righteous behaviour) and emphasis on Pragnya (wisdom), Karuna (compassion) and Maitri (camaraderie) as well as reduction of Trishna (greed) offers a set of building blocks for the architecture of a new world order where violence and conflict are minimized and development takes place without degrading the natural resources.

In this context, it is worth recalling the anguish of the great Indian Emperor Ashoka who embraced Buddhism in the 2nd Century BC after winning the Kalinga war. He won a tough battle but when he saw the trail of destruction and extreme human misery the war had left behind, he decided that he shall never again engage in a war. Buddhism pointed the way forward to him.

He was transformed from Ashoka–the-Fierce (Chandashoka) to Ashoka–the Righteous (Dharmashoka). He followed the dasavidha rajadhamma (the ten-fold virtues) which Lord Buddha felt that every righteous leader must follow. These virtues are;

Dana – generosity; Shila – character; Parityaga – sacrifice; Ajjava – integrity; Maddava – kindness; Tapa - self-control; Akkodha – gratitude; Ahimsa - non-violence; Khanti – Patience; and Avirodhana - Uprightness.

Ashoka understood that central to Buddhist philosophy is the ultimate common good of bringing about happiness of all people. Violence had no place in it. It was the vision of harmonious, inclusive, sustainable development.

Buddhism’s great contribution is its balanced approach. Avoiding extreme positions and appreciating that truth lies always somewhere in the middle, Lord Buddha’s message prompts us to find what he had called the ‘middle path’. His noble eight-fold path comprises of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

If global leadership can adopt this approach, it is possible to avoid conflict, reconcile different viewpoints and achieve consensus. It can also steer individuals away from bigotry, dogmatism and fanaticism to a more balanced view of life essential for peaceful co-existence. Underlying this approach is an inclusive perspective that respects each individual and diversity of thoughts. It is an antidote to the contemporary malaise of radicalization and religious fundamentalism. It is an approach that promotes equity and equanimity in which each view point is given equal importance and no irrational or hasty decision is taken.

It encourages reflection, what Lord Buddha calls "mindfulness”. This builds a culture of self-evaluation and constant improvement.

Distinguished delegates,

Sustainable society is possible through social justice, which in turn is linked to managing conflict within oneself and in the world at large.

Sustainable society is possible through sustainable consumption and production. Sustainable society is possible when we are mindful of the future while we meet the needs of the present. Buddha talks of curbing ‘Trishna’, the thirst, which, in turn, stems from greed. Greed has driven mankind to dominate and degrade our natural habitat. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of Indian nation, had echoed this concern in his famous statement that "Mother nature has enough for man’s need but not for man’s greed”.

The contemporary global leadership faces a huge challenge in constructing sustainable societies with peace and harmony. The genesis of conflict among nations has roots in the idea of hate and violence originating from an individual’s mind-space. The growing menace of terrorism in the world is a manifestation of this destructive emotion. The proponents of ideologies of hate need to be constructively engaged to avoid mindless death and destruction. As Buddha said, ‘nasthi santi param sukham’, ‘there is no higher bliss than peace’. Buddha’s message of peace and compassion provides an ideology and effective answer to overcome sectarian and ideology-driven violence all over the world.

The global leadership more than ever needs to work together to promote dialogue, harmony and justice, based on compassion and wisdom. We need to create a more positive environment of peace by agreeing to work together to uphold the ideals of Lord Buddha and promote values of peace, accommodation, inclusiveness and compassion in the policies and conduct of the global community.

Vesak is an occasion to celebrate this unbroken shared heritage of Buddhism. A heritage that connects our societies across generations and through centuries.

Two millennia ago, following the voyages of Indian sailors and traders who carried with them the statues of Lord Buddha, Indian Buddhist monks travelled widely to shores of South East Asia, including Vietnam. The learned Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika School and Prajna ideology had a profound influence on Vietnamese Buddhism. Historians stress that Mahayana Prajna was directly transferred from South India to Vietnam through Indonesia and Champa Kingdoms. Many Indian monks such as Mahajivaka, Kalacarya, Dharmadeva and Vinitaruci made important contributions to the development of Buddhism in Vietnam.

We are civilizationally linked through Lord Buddha’s universal message of peace, compassion, harmony and welfare for all. At a deeper level, our shared cultural space, religion, and philosophy have been influenced and shaped by Buddha’s message.

Venerable Monks, Excellencies, and Friends!

On this blessed day of Vesak, we are reminding ourselves of the great treasure house that Lord Buddha bequeathed to humanity.

The path of Dhamma he showed us is a path that can lead us to discover a world of lasting peace, a world where all human beings can live a life of dignity and fulfil their potential, a world where economic growth and environmental protection go together.

For this, mere words will not do. As Lord Buddha says in Dhammapada, "words not acted upon are like beautiful flowers without any fragrance or trees without any fruits. Only when words are followed up by actions do they acquire the fragrance or the trees bear fruits.”

In our turbulent contemporary world, we need more fragrance of ideas and fruits of action that will transform the quality of lives. We need an enlightened world leadership and a just and responsive world order. As Lord Buddha said, we need men and women who have Pragnya or Vichar Dhamma or right thoughts and Sila or Achara Dhamma or right action. We need a confluence of these two streams.

Let me conclude with one of Lord Buddha’s messages emphasising Maitri or the love of all living beings:"Maitri must flow and flow forever. Let it be your sacred obligation to keep your mind as firm as the earth, as clean as the air and as deep as the Ganges. Let the ambit of our Maitri be as boundless as the world and let your thoughts be vast and beyond measure in which no hatred has any place.”

Ha Nam, Vietnam
May 12, 2019

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