Dear Buddhist friends,

On behalf of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and its member churches I send you greetings of joy and peace as you observe the festival of Vesakh.  As you reflect upon the life, teachings and death of Gautama Buddha on this auspicious occasion may you be inspired by his vision of a world free from inequality, injustice and all forms of suffering!

Recently the World Council of Churches organized its 14th Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Arusha, Tanzania - a conference held roughly every decade. The over one thousand participants who participated in this conference issued a ‘call to discipleship’ at the end of the conference. In their call participants noted: “We observed the shocking accumulation of wealth due to one global financial system, which enriches few and impoverishes many (Isaiah 5:8). This is at the root of many of today’s wars, conflicts, ecological devastation, and suffering (1Timothy 6:10). This global imperial system has made the financial market one of the idols of our time. It has also strengthened cultures of domination and discrimination that continue to marginalize and exclude millions, forcing some among us into conditions of vulnerability and exploitation”.  In such a context the conference participants emphatically affirmed the call to be “faithful witnesses of God’s transforming love in dialogue with people of other faiths in a world where the politicization of religious identities often causes conflict”.

The world we live in today testifies to the need for religious communities to work together towards a just and sustainable world. The WCC is grateful to our Buddhist partners for the valuable cooperation we have experienced in moving towards this goal over the past several years. The WCC’s engagement with our Buddhist sisters and brothers in recent years has touched some of the most crucial issues of our times including corporate greed, climate change, just finance and  gender justice.  We have been inspired by the examples of several Buddhist communities across the world who seek to lead their lives in accordance with the principles of metta (loving kindness); karuna (compassion); mudita (sympathetic joy) and upeka (equanimity). Without seeking to dilute the uniqueness of our respective faiths, I can also say that it is not difficult  to see connections between these cardinal Buddhist principles and what we as Christians call the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ namely love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). There is a lot that we as Christians and Buddhists can do together building on these values. Our friendship and partnership can be a strong basis for a future with hope in a divided world.

This year is an important one for the WCC because we celebrate the 70th anniversary of our formation. Our interreligious engagements over these years have been important signposts on this journey reminding us of the indispensability of dialogue for justice and peace.  We intend to move forward in this spirit of dialogue walking and working together with neighbours of all faiths and people who care. We hope and wish that you will partner with us on this journey. May this time of Vesakh be also a time of renewing and strengthening our bonds.  As you light your colourful lanterns in prayer and reflection, I wish and pray that you, your families and your communities will be blessed with health, happiness and harmony.

With best wishes,

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary