For the First Time in U.S. History, the celebration of Vesak, honoring the birth, enlightenment and passing of the Buddha, was held in the White House on May 26, 2021.

Candles were lit and prayers offered on behalf of all three Buddhist traditions: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Most Venerable Uparatana (Sri Lankan/American) on behalf of the Theravada tradition; Rev. Marvin Harada (Japanese/ American) on behalf of the Mahayana tradition; and Venerable Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche (Tibetan/American) on behalf of the Vajrayana tradition. It was an honor to share this historic celebration with Second Gentleman, Mr. Douglas Emhoff.

Jill and I extend our warmest wishes to Buddhists in the United States and around the world as they celebrate Vesak, a day honoring the birth, enlightenment, and passing of the Buddha. The ceremonial lighting of a lamp, the symbol of this holiday that has been celebrated for over 2,500 years, reminds us of Buddhism’s teachings of compassion, humility, and selflessness that endure today. On this day, we also commemorate the many contributions of Buddhists in America who enrich our communities and our country as we all work together toward brighter days ahead. — President Joe Biden 

“It is wonderful that prayers were offered from all three great traditions of Buddhist practice here, at the heart of American democracy. It is so auspicious that this should happen on this day of celebration of the life and teachings of the Buddha. May the prayers we offer today bring peace and healing to all peoples, particularly to our brothers and sisters in India, the heartland of the Dharma, and may the light that radiates from here, the White House of America, bring wisdom and harmony to the whole world. We are lighting a million lamps today to honor this historical moment in our Buddhist history in America.” — Wangmo Dixey, President of the International Buddhist Association of America

“Today Buddhists in the US and across the world honor Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing with the celebration of Vesak—a symbol of compassion, unity and care for each other. These lessons couldn’t be more important today. Doug and I wish a Happy Vesak to all who celebrate!” — Vice President Kamala Harris via Twitter 

“On this occasion, we celebrate the invaluable contributions of Buddhist communities the world over. We join these communities in recommitting ourselves to upholding the universal principles of compassion, peace and respect for human dignity. May this day inspire us all to reflect on our shared values and to collectively work to build a better world for Buddhists and people of all belief traditions.” — US Secretary of State Tony Blinken via Twitter

“Vesak, one of the most important Buddhist festivals, is a time of reflection on the Buddha’s teachings of peace, compassion, and enlightenment, and reminds us of the importance of USAID’s work to advance the cause of human dignity and serve those most in need. On this day, we commemorate the many contributions of Buddhists to humanity’s progress and recommit ourselves to building a more enlightened and peaceful world.” — US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power via separate statement

The event was coordinated by Wangmo Dixey, President of the International Buddhist Association of America through the good offices of Shekar Narasimhan, President of the Dharma Into Action Foundation. 

Official White House photos by Cameron Smith.