Secretary-General Urges Remembrance of the Buddha’s Message: Tolerance, Respect for All Religions

Full title:

Secretary-General, at Event Marking 2,600 Years since Buddha’s Enlightenment, Urges Remembrance of His Message: Tolerance, Respect for All Religions

United Nations Press Release
May 16, 2011

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the special event marking the 2,600th anniversary of the enlightenment of the Buddha, in New York today, 16 May:

I am pleased to celebrate this auspicious occasion with you.  It is a personal celebration for me, since my mother is a devout Buddhist.

I remember being inspired by the teachings of the Buddha as a child.  The wisdom of mindfulness, compassion and peace.  These values guided me through my early years.  And they were part of what motivated me to seek a career in public service.  Three years ago, I visited the Buddha’s birthplace at Lumbini in Nepal.  As I walked through the sacred grounds, I gave silent thanks for his teachings.

Buddhism and the United Nations share the goals of peace, dignity and human rights for all people.  That is why, more than 10 years ago, the General Assembly passed a resolution on recognizing the Day of Vesak around the world.  At the time, the representative of Sri Lanka quoted a famous saying of the Buddha: “One may conquer millions in battle, but he who conquers himself is alone the greatest of conquerors.”

This reminds me of the first words of the UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] Constitution, which states that, “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.

In our world of conflict and war, the United Nations is building strong defences of peace.  Through mediation, dialogue and diplomacy.  Through removing the conditions that cause unrest, from hunger and poverty to inequality and injustice.  And through our unwavering commitment to protecting our planet’s environment.

In this great effort, we can learn from the teachings of the Lord Buddha.  Two thousand six hundred years ago, he advanced the idea that all people are interlinked.  Today, we see how true that is.  We are linked by air travel, mobile phones and social networks.  We are all vulnerable to threats like disease, environmental pollution and natural disasters.  We can only overcome these problems by banding together for our common humanity.  Our fates are intertwined.

Two thousand six hundred years ago, the Lord Buddha taught that life and its environment are one.  Today, we know that the way we treat our planet directly affects us.  When we poison our water supply or exhaust our resources, we will suffer the effects.  When we care for our environment and protect nature, we can reap the benefits.

Two thousand six hundred years ago, the Lord Buddha preached non-violence and profound respect for all living beings.  Today, we are far from realizing these noble principles, but we understand the urgency of this task.  That is why we work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, why we promote mutual understanding and why we seek to resolve disputes peacefully. 

The Buddha’s teachings may be 26 centuries old, but they are as powerful as ever today.  As we celebrate the enlightenment of the Buddha, let us remember, above all, his message of tolerance.  Let us respect all religions.  And let us work for the well-being of all people.