Vesak message from Albanese

Did anybody see this, it was on the BSWA website, just thought I’d post it here.


It’s nice to be acknowledged, even if it looks like this letter may have been originally drafted circa 1890.


Holy wow you are so right. How to say you know nothing about Buddhism without saying you know nothing about Buddhism.

“Isn’t there something about a moon? And, like, koans or something? Put that in there! And you know what Buddhists do? They go to temples with flowers! I saw it on a Nightline once. That’ll make them really feel like we are connecting with them! Because you know, Buddhists are so detached from material things, they wouldn’t care about things like housing prices, or education outcomes for their children, or immigration policies, or government corruption, or minority rights, or relations with China, or heaven forbid the climate crisis. Nah, moonlight and candles, we’re all good!”


The letter showed insight. Albanese mentioned impermanence, which is a Theravada hallmark, unlike the opponent:

“As you commemorate the birth, the enlightenment and the passing of Guatama Buddha, the
founder of Buddhism, may you take the time to reflect and celebrate the universal and
timeless teachings of compassion and peace.”—22 Vesak message, Hawke, Minister for Multicultural Affairs

Moonlight and joss sticks.

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These messages are often crafted by the communities themselves and then sent off to the relevant minister or member for signing and distribution, so perhaps the Buddhists only have themselves to blame.

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I just sent this email to Albo’s office, and similar one to ScoMo:

Dear Minister Albanese,

I am Bhante Sujato, a senior monk within the Australian Buddhist community.

I’d like to acknowledge with gratitude your Vesak message to the Buddhist community.

However, I and many others feel that this kind of message is inadequate. It is exoticising and othering to depict Australian Buddhists solely in terms of the moon and joss sticks, and telling us what the meaning of our practices is.

And for your information, we do not normally speak of using “hymns”: that is a Christian term.

Australian Buddhists make up a diverse community. We care about many different things: about climate change, about education, about immigration, about the erosion of liberties, and about the co-opting of religions to justify discrimination. Please take the time to learn about these things and represent us better.

with respect,

Bhante Sujato


Bhante you should’ve attached the selfie that he took of you and Melani and said “Remember me?” :joy: Just kidding :anjal:


I find the term joss stick inappropriate/mildly offensive.

Joss is a corruption of the Portuguese word deus (god), a term which has been applied by outsiders to Chinese traditional religion in a colonial context.

As a Buddhist, I am not a practitioner of Chinese traditional religion, which is a distinct faith. The modern term is incense stick.

To the best of my knowledge, no Buddhist temple has ever been referred to as a joss house in Australia, and definitely not post 1950s. Most of the historical Australian joss houses are dedicated to Chinese deity Guan Gong.

Exoticising indeed.


I’m with a former federal Member of Parliament up here in Cairns and he said it was likely written by a low level staffer or office researcher!

But I do feel that kind of flowery old fashioned language does have a bit of a precedent in certain Buddhist. Cultural Traditions

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That’s good to know, thanks Bhante.

So I guess that’s kinda like lying in a way? Someone drafts the blerb and then they put someone else’s name on it and then publish it.

It probably happens all the time as well in the corporate setting.

Oh, I seriously considered it!


When I was an electorate office researcher*, yes, that was exactly how it worked. You write the stuff, the MP may make a few minor changes if any. MPs name is on everything.

It’s not that hard to write material as there will often be media advice for whatever it is the party is pushing. I.e. it’s not the most creative job in the world (or at least it shouldn’t be).

But yeah. Publishing anything with the word celestial in it is still a bit cooked. Don’t think there was media advice on that one.

*I was only there long enough to get an email

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Celestial is a word commonly used in the Mahayana and Himalayan traditions and even appears in the Theravada Amaravati chanting book.


Good to know, thank you Ayya :pray:

It’s also used in the academic literature, e.g. “celestial bodhisattvas”.

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For balance, I think it is also beneficial to note the good things about these messages… not just to focus on shortfalls. If you want to educate people who have shown some interest, but don’t understand it yet, there is lots of scope for doing that in a way that is beneficial for all. This is an opportunity for kindness and growth :slight_smile:


Ah finally a splash of positivity, Sadhu X 3 @Viveka :pray:

I had meant anything published via the electorate office, with chanting books constituting a different genre.

Yes I understood that. I think my original post’s point and my response to the ‘celestial’, is that the language and imagery used by the writers is in fact informed by the available Buddhist culture, which includes a lot more than just western Theravada perspectives (including but not limited to chanting books. :laughing:) So maybe we need to do a better job informing them! It seems like the writers have just gone to Wikipedia :laughing: and folks here will know that Bhante Sujato is frequently lamenting the poor Buddhist pages on Wikipedia… It really is bad but I wouldn’t be surprised to find mention of joss sticks, sermons, worship or priests and hymns there, since this is also the language many diverse Buddhist communities use to talk about their cultural practice.

These messages are formal documents, only a few paragraphs long, usually designed to be sufficiently bland to not offend anyone. I wouldn’t expect overt political messages in such salutations. The biggest clanger for me, however, is the PM’s message which gets overtly political. He alludes to religious freedom which has been his defining obsession during his tenure as he tried and failed to push legislation through which would have actually created more discrimination and erode human rights. If he had done his research he would know that all the peak Buddhist organisations opposed this legislation.

But as @Viveka points out there are many positives here in Buddhists being recognised and included. We are less than 3% of the population so it’s not surprising people from different backgrounds are less familiar with our practices or beliefs. Indeed many (convert) Buddhists in Australia don’t really know what Vesak is all about…

Even the ultra conservative, heavily Christian minister for immigration and multicultural affairs, Alex Hawke, had to write/sign a letter - and it’s not too bad, talking about peace and compassion and all that (no joss sticks)

I hope even this little bit of interaction with Buddhist concepts helps to inform more compassionate policies in government (especially refugees, which is in his portfolio) but somehow I doubt it !