One hundred thirty Buddhist, monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen, academics, and organizers met on Thursday May 14 for the first “White House—U.S. Buddhist Leadership Conference,” the subject at hand being “Voices in the Square—Action in the World.” Ven. Hui Dong , the Abbot of Hsi Lai temple and Ven. Miao Hsi, the Executive Director of Fo Guang Publishing House were the representatives from Hsi Lai Temple.
The one day event was organized by William Aiken, Public Affairs Director of Soka Gakai International with the help from Bhikkhu Bodhi of Buddhist Global Relief, Dr. Sallie King of James Madison University and Dr. Duncan Ryuken Williams of University of Southern California.
The morning program was held at George Washington University featuring presentations on some public concerns. A video from Mary Evelyn Tucker and a talk by Bhikkhu Bodhi laid out the Four Noble Truths of Climate Change. Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams made the compelling connection between climate justice and racial justice.
Afternoon at the White House, participants met the staff of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. After three hours’ meeting, there was a quick hand-off to White House staffers of two Buddhist declarations — one on climate change and another on racial justice. Finally, Buddhist practitioners and White House staff together were able to chant together the Four Ultimate Bodhisattva Vows, leading by Ven. Hui Dong.
In February 2008, President Barack Obama stated that“Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times.”
Ven. Hui Dong thought that this first productive step expressing the major concern from the Buddhist practitioners in the States about the social issues and the attention and respect from the government to Buddhist belief.