At the Vesak festival, the reunion of Buddhists in France after two years of Covid

For almost two years this emblematic building, housing the largest Buddha in Europe – cross-legged on its imposing base, it rises to 9 meters – was closed to visitors. On Sunday May 22, several hundred faithful and representatives of Buddhist congregations in the Ile-de-France region were able to gather once again within the grounds of the large pagoda in the Bois de Vincennes, overlooking the surroundings of Lake Daumesnil (Paris 12and). On the occasion of Vesak for Peace, one of the most important religious festivals commemorating the birth, awakening and death of the historic Buddha, they celebrated the possibility of reuniting, after long months of dotted activities .

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“It’s a joy, after almost two years without anything… We felt that the communities were missing it. They are at the origin of the organization of this whole day, placed under the aegis of the Buddhist Union of France (UBF, federation bringing together a hundred congregations of all traditions present in France, Ed), explains Antony Boussemart, co-president of this body in charge of dialogue with the public authorities and member of the Conference of leaders of worship in France ( CFCR). It’s really a popular event, not only institutional, which also helps to restore the great pagoda to its place of buddhism lung in our country. »

Inter-Buddhist ecumenism

Ceremony of recitation of sutras, time for meditation practice, screening of a film on the history of the Buddha, lecture by Lama Thrinlé (the other co-president, in charge of internal relations at the UBF since March) on “inner peace and outer peace”… A dozen activities, the progress of which was not disturbed by the rare showers raging at lunchtime, shelled the day. “We hadn’t been able to celebrate Vesak here since 2017, first for organizational reasons, then the following years because of the Covid…We are very happy that so many people have come today, believers or not. It was really devotional in the morning,” abounds the nun Elisabeth Drukier, director of the Buddhist center Kalachakra (Paris 10and).

For her, the event contributes to the development of an inter-Buddhist ecumenism on the territory and reinforces the capacity to carry out future collective projects, beyond the differences of sensitivities. “It’s really an opportunity to do something together, while our congregations, our different currents do not often have the opportunity to meet, and may tend to live a little on their side”, she insists. This Sunday, May 22, followers of the three main currents of Buddhism (“Mahayana”, Zen Buddhism; “Vajrayana”, Tibetan Buddhism; and “Theravâda”, mainly practiced by Thais, Sri Lankans, Cambodians, Burmese and Laotians) indeed answered the call.

A “common reflection”

“It’s been seen in other faiths too, but the pandemic has hurt our communities a lot. The use of virtual tools – like Zoom – should induce a common reflection on our way of transmitting Buddhism, today and in the future”, she continues again.

“We are not specifically seeking to develop Buddhism in France, but to encourage the search for peace in every human being. It’s important to have moments like this to exchange “, abounds the monk Tenzin Penpa, honorary president of the Terres du Coeur association, which helps the Tibetan population. “Without being a practitioner, I am sensitive to Buddhist philosophy – and in particular to the principle of non-violence – and came today out of curiosity. Buddhism would benefit from being more visible, better known in our society, and the organization of celebrations like this can contribute to this,” believes Pierre, a 48-year-old teacher from Clichy (Hauts-de-Seine).

→ REPORT. At the pagoda in the Bois de Vincennes, the currents of Buddhism dialogue with each other

Notable moment, several official personalities (including Richard Bouigue, first deputy mayor of 12and district, Laetitia Avia, LREM deputy for Paris, or even Chems-Eddine Hafiz, the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, etc. briefly spoke at the end of the morning before the assembly. With nearly 1 million practitioners and 5 million supporters in France according to UBF figures, “Buddhism is a religion which knows a certain dynamism in France, linked to immigration and sometimes to the drama of exile, but also because people have been able to find their bearings in it”, underlined Clément Rouchouse, the head of the central office of worship at the Ministry of the Interior. Before indicating “having a lot of fun talking with the UBF” and hope that the links between the State and the body can “strengthen again” in the future.

At the end of the afternoon, religious representatives – Protestant, Catholic, Muslim and Jewish, mostly officiating in the 12and arrondissement of Paris – were still to speak, during a “interreligious moment”to deliver “messages of peace” on this day colored by prayers and thoughts for the war in Ukraine.


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