The Buddha's Birthday Celebrated in New York City

May 11, 2006

Source: The Martin Marty Center

On May 11, 2006 The Martin Marty Center published an article by Matthew Weiner, Director of Programming at the Interfaith Center of New York and a Ph.D. candidate at Union Theological Seminary: "May marks the anniversary of the Buddha's birth more than 2,500 years ago. And now, all across America, Buddhists are observing 'Vesak,' a highly significant time for commemorating the birth and enlightenment of the Buddha. Traditionally falling on the day of the full moon in May (this year on the 13th), events surrounding Vesak day began in April (when the Japanese Jodo Shinshu community celebrated), were in full force last week, and continue next week, with a celebration at the United Nations. In New York City alone, there will be nearly a hundred formal celebrations... In America, the ritual has developed into a multifaceted opportunity to reinforce one's particular ethnic Buddhist identity, to be publicly Buddhist among non-Buddhists, and also to unite as Buddhists even across the lines of various sects. These modes of participation can be observed in the Vesak celebration in New York City's Chinatown. Each Chinese Buddhist temple has its own ceremony, but they join together as the American Buddhist Council to participate in the larger Chinese Buddhist community celebration, held publicly in Chinatown on a spring Saturday. This public event contrasts with the more intimate renditions enacted in individual temples. This year, the audience of a thousand people was largely Chinese, but also involved hundreds of tourists. It began with ethnic Chinese performances, including a marshal arts demonstration, drumming, and a Lion Dance. It also included messages from Mayor Bloomberg and representatives from the NYPD, with Sri Lankan and Tibetan Buddhists participating, as well."