VIENTIANE, Laos — During his trip to Laos on Tuesday for the East Asia Summit, Barack Obama lauded the Buddhist religion as giving “strength” to its people, and toured a Buddhist temple where he had photo-op with monks.
“[I]n countless stupas and in your daily lives, we see the strength that draws—so many of you—from your Buddhist faith, a faith that tells you that you have a moral duty to each other, to live with kindness and honesty, and that we can help end suffering if we embrace the right mindset and the right actions,” he said during a speech at Lao National Cultural Hall in Vientiane.
“And in literature like the epic of Sinxay, we see the values that define the people of Laos, which is modesty and compassion, and resilience and hope,” Obama stated.
He also spoke of the partnership between the U.S. and Laos, and his plans to work together on educational, economic and environmental issues, as well as to continue to make amends for the 1960-1970’s bombings in the country that left millions of undetonated explosive devices throughout Laos.
“Over the years, thousands of Laotians have been killed or injured—farmers tending their fields, children playing. The wounds—a missing leg or arm—last a lifetime. And that’s why, as president, I’ve dramatically increased our funding to help remove these unexploded bombs,” Obama said.
“But there is still much more work to do. So today, I’m proud to announce a historic increase in these efforts. The United States will double our annual funding to $90 million over the next three years to help Laos expand its work,” he explained.
Obama additionally addressed what he believes are human rights concerns, referencing matters of religious freedom and homosexuality.
“We believe that societies are more stable and just when they recognize the inherent dignity of every human being—the dignity of being able to live and pray as you choose, so that Muslims know they are a part of Myanmar’s future, and Christians and Buddhists have the right to worship freely in China,” he said.
“The dignity of being treated equally under the law, so that no matter where you come from or who you love or what you look like you are respected,” Obama added.
During his trip to the nation, Obama also toured the Wat Xieng Thong Buddhist Temple, viewing statues of dragons and other sculptures, and taking time for a photo-op with a group of Buddhist monks.
In January, the president outlined in an interview posted to the White House YouTube page that—among other trinkets—he sometimes carries a Buddha statuette in his pocket.
“Ever since I started running for office, people started handing me things … lucky charms or keepsakes, or things that meant something to them,” he explained. “And so now, I always carry around … I pick out a few things that I just stick in my pocket to remind me of all the people I met along the way and the stories they told me.”
Obama then pulled out a rosary gifted to him by “Pope Francis,” a Buddha statuette gifted to him by a monk, a “lucky poker chip” gifted by a biker, a Hindu statuette of the “monkey god Hanuman,” and a Coptic cross from Ethiopia.