A Sri Lankan Buddhist inside the deserted Bellanwila temple in Colombo on May 7, 2020. A Sri Lankan Buddhist inside the deserted Bellanwila temple in Colombo on May 7, 2020. 

Covid-19: UN urges unity and service on Buddhist feast of Vesakh

The UN chief has released a message for Vesakh, underscoring Buddha’s timeless message of unity and service. The Vatican had earlier released a message for the occasion.

By Robin Gomes

Many Buddhists across the world are marking the feast of Vesakh on May 7.   Sometimes informally called "Buddha's Birthday", Vesakh actually commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha, and is celebrated on different days in different countries. 

Unity and service

Buddha’s message of unity and service to others is more important today as humanity suffers from the Covid-19 pandemic, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a message for Vesak. 

“As we honour the birth, enlightenment and passing of Lord Buddha, we can all be inspired by his teachings,” he said, greeting millions of Buddhists around the world marking the feast day.

“And as the human family suffers the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he pointed out, “we are reminded of the sutra: ‘Because all living beings are subject to illness, I am ill as well’.”

“This timeless message of unity and service to others is more important than ever,” Guterres said, stressing, “It is only together that we will stop the spread of the coronavirus and recover.”

The UN Secretary-General thus invited all to “celebrate Lord Buddha’s wisdom by taking action for others with compassion and solidarity, and by renewing our commitment to build a peaceful world”.

The Vatican on Vesakh

Earlier, on April 2, the Vatican had also released a message  for Vesakh. Entitled, “Buddhists and Christians: Constructing a Culture of Compassion and Fraternity”, the message by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) encouraged the followers of the two religions in the service of “a wounded humanity”.  It underscored the high value given by both religions to compassion and fraternity. 

In this regard, the Vatican recalled the words of Pope Francis when he met the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch of Thailand in Bangkok on November 21 last year.   

“We can grow and live together as good ‘neighbours’,” the Pope said, “and thus be able to promote among the followers of our religions the development of new charitable projects, capable of generating and multiplying practical initiatives on the path of fraternity.”

Pointing to the life of renunciation and detachment that marked the lives of Gautama Buddha and St. Francis of Assisi, the PCID offered them as inspiration to a “culture of compassion and fraternity for the alleviation of human and ecological suffering”.

The Vatican especially invited Buddhists to take part in "Reinventing the Global Compact on education",  a Vatican event in October promoted by Pope Francis.  

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue concluded its message with a prayer for those hit by Covid-19 and their caregivers. “Let us encourage our faithful to live this difficult moment with hope, compassion, and charity,” it urged.

The PCID has been sending messages for Vesakh for the past twenty-four years.  It also sends messages for Diwali and Ramadan.


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07 May 2020, 13:29