The Permanent Delegation of Sri Lanka, in collaboration with UNESCO, organized a symposium at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris to commemorate the International Day of Vesak. The event, held on Vesak Day, highlighted the profound impact of Buddhism on humanity’s spiritual well-being throughout history and its continued relevance in contemporary life.
Chaired by the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka to UNESCO, Manisha Gunasekera, the symposium featured the Assistant Director-General of Social and Human Sciences, Gabriela Ramos, as the Chief Guest. Ramos delivered the Vesak Day Message on behalf of the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, acknowledging and commending Sri Lanka’s Permanent Delegation for hosting the symposium. She emphasized the enduring significance of the Buddha’s message of wisdom, compassion, and mutual understanding, which remains relevant in today’s world. Ramos also highlighted the alignment of these values with UNESCO’s mission of intellectual and moral solidarity and the promotion of a culture of peace.
The symposium commenced with remarks from Ambassador Vishal Sharma, the Permanent Delegate of India, and Ambassador Dipak Adhikari, the Permanent Delegate of Nepal. Both dignitaries highlighted the Buddha’s teachings on peace, compassion, and the presence of important Buddhist sites in their respective countries, underscoring the rich cultural heritage of the region. Venerable Parawahera Chandararatna, the Chief Incumbent of the International Buddhist Centre in Paris and Chief Sangha Nayaka of France, also addressed the audience, emphasizing the inclusive nature of Buddhist teachings, which encourage investigation without discrimination. Ambassador Asim Iftikhar Ahmad, the Permanent Delegate of Pakistan, referenced the ancient Buddhist sites in his country, emphasizing their role in connecting Asia and Europe as part of a great civilization.
Renowned Buddhist scholar Venerable Professor Mahinda Deegalle, Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge and Professor Emeritus in Religions, Philosophies, and Ethics at Bath Spa University in the United Kingdom, delivered a discourse on the theme, “The Relevance of Buddhism and Mindfulness Practices for Health and Wellbeing in the Modern World.” Professor Deegalle expounded on the significance of Vesak, the essence of the Dhamma (Buddha’s teachings), and its philosophical contributions. He emphasized the message of loving kindness, the cultural and civilizational commonalities that unite global communities, and the application of Buddhist practices, such as meditation, to address contemporary challenges and enhance well-being.
The symposium provided attendees with an opportunity to engage in a brief Mindfulness Meditation practice session led by Venerable Parawahera Chandaratana, enabling them to experience firsthand how Buddhist teachings and techniques can positively impact daily life. The event also included a Q&A session, followed by a reception featuring Sri Lankan and Indian cuisine, as well as Ceylon tea.
During her remarks, the Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka highlighted Sri Lanka’s pivotal role in gaining international recognition for the Day of Vesak within the United Nations. She referenced the UN General Assembly resolution 54/115 of 1999, which played a significant role in establishing Vesak as an internationally celebrated day. The Permanent Delegate reflected on the enduring civilizational linkages and shared cultural heritage among Asian countries, emphasizing Vesak’s role in promoting inter-cultural harmony and inter-faith dialogue in the present day.
The symposium witnessed the presence of Permanent Delegates of UNESCO, members of Permanent Delegations, UNESCO Secretariat staff, religious leaders, scholars, and devotees representing various Buddhist and faith communities in France.