Red Shadows on Sacred Paths: Unveiling Communist Influence on Vesak in Asia & Sri Lanka
Posted on May 26th, 2024

Palitha Ariyarathna

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Image by Honey Kochchaphon kaensen from Pixabay

Communist regimes, particularly in countries like China, have had a complex relationship with Buddhism. They often view it through the lens of Marxist ideology, which prioritizes materialism and atheism. In China, the communist government’s historical suppression of Buddhism has deep roots, dating back to the mid-20th century Cultural Revolution.

During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong’s regime targeted Buddhist temples, monasteries, and practitioners as part of its broader campaign to eradicate what it deemed as old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas.” Buddhist monks and nuns were persecuted, temples were destroyed or repurposed for secular use, and religious rituals were banned.

This systematic suppression of Buddhism during the Cultural Revolution had a profound impact on the practice and observance of Vesak and other Buddhist festivals in China. Vesak, which traditionally involves public rituals and ceremonies at temples, faced severe restrictions, if not outright prohibition, during this period of intense ideological crackdown.

Even after the end of the Cultural Revolution, communist governments in China and other countries with significant Buddhist populations continued to exert control over religious practices. They often promoted secularism and discouraged public displays of religious devotion. While Vesak may still be observed by Buddhist communities in these countries, it is often under the watchful eye of government authorities, who seek to monitor and regulate religious activities.

Moreover, communist regimes have attempted to reinterpret Buddhist teachings through a Marxist framework. They emphasize social justice and collective welfare while downplaying or even dismissing the spiritual and metaphysical aspects of Buddhism. This ideological reimagining of Buddhism has led to tensions between communist authorities and Buddhist practitioners, particularly those who seek to preserve traditional religious practices and teachings.

In contemporary Asia, where communist governments coexist alongside vibrant Buddhist traditions, Vesak celebrations can be seen as a battleground between competing ideologies. While Buddhist communities strive to uphold their religious heritage and commemorate the life and teachings of the Buddha, communist authorities may seek to control or manipulate these celebrations to fit their own political agendas.

How Ever in Sri Lanka Despite these challenges, Vesak remains a poignant reminder of the enduring resilience of Buddhism and its ability to adapt and evolve in the face of adversity. As Buddhists across  Sri Lanka gather to celebrate Vesak, they not only honor the Buddha’s profound insights into the nature of existence but also affirm their commitment to preserving and transmitting the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of Buddhism for future generations.


The only thing that I understood from this year’s Vesak festival was that the miracle of Vesak was not buried by the communist murgasam rain that hit through recent political years.” – By Dr. Lage

Dr. Lage’s quote highlights the resilience of Vesak and the enduring spirit of Buddhist traditions in the face of challenges, particularly those posed by political ideologies such as communism. Despite attempts to suppress or undermine Vesak celebrations, the festival continues to thrive, symbolizing the indomitable spirit of Buddhism and its teachings.

In  Sri Lanka, where Buddhism holds significant cultural and religious importance, Vesak celebrations have faced their share of challenges over the years. From colonial restrictions to modern-day criticisms and communist perspectives, the festival has endured various attempts to diminish its significance. However, as Dr. Lage suggests, the essence of Vesak cannot be extinguished by political storms or ideological conflicts.

This year’s Vesak celebrations in  Sri Lanka stand as a testament to the enduring strength of Buddhist traditions, particularly in rural village areas where the spirit of the festival shines brightest. Despite the pressures of modernization and secularization, communities across the country come together to honor the Buddha’s teachings and celebrate the wisdom of enlightenment.

In village areas, Vesak celebrations often involve vibrant processions, illuminated streets, and colorful decorations adorning temples and homes. The air is filled with the sound of chanting and the aroma of incense as devotees gather to chanting and pay homage to the Buddha. Traditional rituals, such as bathing the Buddha statue and offering flowers and lamps, are observed with reverence and devotion.

Despite the challenges posed by critics and social media campaigns questioning the relevance of certain rituals, Vesak remains a time for reflection, renewal, and spiritual rejuvenation. It serves as a reminder of the timeless truths taught by the Buddha compassion, wisdom, and inner transformation which continue to inspire and guide Buddhist communities around the world.

In the midst of these challenges, it’s evident that both young and old crowds, influenced by political ideologies that may underestimate Buddhism, exist. However, it’s wise to recognize that even those with radical, liberal, and communist leanings find themselves drawn to the magnificence of Vesak celebrations in village areas. People in these rural regions celebrate Vesak not because of their political leaders, but because of their deep-rooted reverence for Buddhist traditions and the profound significance of the festival in their lives.

In village areas, Vesak transcends political divides and ideological differences. It serves as a unifying force that brings communities together in a spirit of harmony and collective celebration. Regardless of their political affiliations, villagers join hands to illuminate their surroundings with the light of Vesak, symbolizing the triumph of compassion, wisdom, and inner transformation over the darkness of ignorance and division.

As Vesak illuminates village landscapes across  Sri Lanka, it serves as a powerful reminder of the universal appeal of Buddhist teachings and the enduring legacy of the Buddha’s wisdom. In the humble settings of rural villages, amidst the sounds of chanting and the glow of lanterns, the essence of Vesak shines brightly, inspiring all who witness its beauty to reflect on the timeless truths it embodies.

As  Sri Lanka celebrates Vesak with joy and devotion, it reaffirms the country’s deep-rooted connection to Buddhist traditions and its commitment to preserving the rich cultural heritage passed down through generations. In the face of adversity, Vesak shines as a beacon of hope, reminding believers of the enduring power of faith and the timeless message of peace and enlightenment.

Today’s world of the growing significance of cultural diplomacy and soft power has led to the revival of Buddhism, and both India, as well as China, are reclaiming their rights on the centrality of Buddhist core values to connect with the Buddhist world, to propagate an impression of its peaceful, harmonious rise promoting global peace and harmony.” – Quoted by Palitha Ariyarathna

Note: In previous years, former U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the United Nations, which formally decided to observe the day at its offices in 1999, have all offered words of recognition to the larger Buddhist community in honor of Vesak.

Note:Geopolitical – This Article Based on rigorous journalistic research, this article delves into the intricate relationship between communism and Buddhism, particularly exploring its impact on Vesak celebrations in Asia & Sri Lanka.

By Palitha Ariyarathna

Analyst of Buddhist affairs, Desha Abhimani Surya Vansa Ratna Vibhushan Palitha Ariyarathna from Senkadagala Sinha Dwaraya
TCFBI PEC President Unethical Conversion of Buddhist
TCFBI International Co-ordinator
JBB Convenor and President and Founder Sinhala Buddhst Policy Centre
Hela Abimani National Foundation-Secretary
Author Publisher and Journalist

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