Some Buddhist traditions observe Vesak, a celebration of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death, on the day of the full moon in the fifth month, which this year was Saturday, May 21.
And this year, President Barack Obama issued the first-ever official recognition of Vesak with a proclamation. Of course, US Presidents declare a lot of different observances by proclamation (list here) so it’s not that big a deal. . Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also issued a statement.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations, which has recognized Vesak since 1999, had something to say, too. The comments by Obama and Trudeau were the standard stuff, but Ban Ki-moon (whose mother is Buddhist) went a bit further. Like the others, he acknowledged the contribution Buddhism has made to “the spirituality of humanity”, but as the UN press release from Thursday reads, he added that
[The] teachings of Buddhism can help the international community tackle pressing challenges, including mass population movements, violent conflicts, atrocious human rights abuses and hateful rhetoric aimed at dividing communities.
“The fundamental equality of all people, the imperative to seek justice, and the interdependence of life and the environment are more than abstract concepts for scholars to debate; they are living guidelines for Buddhists and others navigating the path to a better future . . .”
Citing the story of Srimala, a woman who pledged to help all those suffering from injustice, illness, poverty or disaster, Mr. Ban said that this spirit of solidarity can animate global efforts to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, carry out the Paris Agreement on climate change, and promote human rights while advancing human dignity worldwide.
The actions of Srimala also illustrate the primary role that women can play in advocating for peace, justice and human rights. Gender equality and the empowerment of women remain urgent priorities that will drive progress across the international agenda.”
The Srimaladeva Simhanada Sutra, translated as “The Sutra of Queen Srimala” or “Lion’s Roar of Queen Srimala” is an important and early Mahayana text composed by an unknown author during the third century BCE. Srimala means “glorious garland.” Through the concept of the dharma-body of tathagata-garbha or “womb of the Buddha”, the sutra teaches that all sentient beings originally posses the potential for awakening (Buddha-nature).
By portraying a woman in the leading role, Queen Srimala, the sutra affirms the positive role of women as bodhisattvas and teachers, as well as promoting the view that women too can become Buddhas.
The term “lion’s roar” refers generally to righteousness or correctness in dharma talk. In an early sutta, the Buddha says that when the Tathagata (Thus-Come-One) is upmost in his powers he “roars his lion’s roar and sets rolling the supreme Wheel of the Dhamma.”
The “Lion’s Roar” of Queen Srimala includes these words:
Those who search through all sufferings, who transcend all sources of suffering, who directly realize the transformation of suffering attain the pure, tranquil, and cooling Nirvana in the world fevered by impermanence and chronic dis-ease, and they become the guardians and refuge of the world in a world without safety and refuge. How is this? It is because Nirvana is not realized by those who discriminate superior and inferior natures: it is realized by those for whom wisdom is equal; it is realized by those for whom pure wisdom and insight are equal. Thus, the realization of Nirvana is called ekarasa, ‘the one taste.’ That is to say, the tastes of wisdom and liberation are indistinguishable.”